I caught my boss listening at my door, using a fake name for job hunting, and more

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

1. I caught my boss listening at my door

I have been a manager for more than 20 years. I started at a new company about three months ago. About a week and a half ago, I was having a meeting with my team of two in my office. The door was closed. I have frosted glass but I could see my boss pacing back and forth outside the door a few times. Eventually, I saw him stop and I could see that he was cupping his ear to listen at the door.

My department has had a lot of turnover. Though I have not been there long, I can already tell you that my boss is the reason for the turnover. I have literally been losing sleep while working for this man. How do I confront him? I’m generally a very blunt, straight shooter type personality. I’m having a hard time right now for fear of losing the job but his behavior shows a clear lack of trust and I may lose my job whether I speak up or not. I guess I just have to chalk that up. I can’t stand the distrust and disrespect.

Listening at your door was ridiculous, but it sounds like there are much bigger problems with your boss and I don’t think there’s a ton to be gained by “confronting” him over this. You could certainly say, “It looked like you needed something while I was meeting with Jane and Maximilian — feel free to knock if you need me urgently while I’m in a meeting” … although since it’s been a week and a half since it happened, the window for saying that is probably gone. Ideally, you would have addressed it while it was happening, like by opening the door and saying, “I’ll be done in about 15 minutes if you need me” (which is a way of responding assertively without making it adversarial).

But if you’re losing sleep working for this guy, there are bigger issues than his eavesdropping, and I’d focus on deciding whether there’s any bearable way to stay (and actively working on leaving if there’s not).

2. Not accepting a job that drug tests, and being honest about why

My partner is an engineer who has been casually job searching. She was recently offered a role at a very large company and is inclined to accept, but recently discovered she will have to be randomly drug tested. She is fully remote and does not do any work in the field.

We live in California and regularly use cannabis (both recreationally as well as for medical reasons for me, so it’s always going to be around). Not only does my partner not want to stop smoking, we both are morally against the war on drugs and the way that cannabis has been criminalized and demonized.

She wants to mention this when refusing the offer and make clear that she believes it’s a DEI issue to drug test remote workers who don’t operate any machinery, pushing out people who are disproportionately non-white or disabled.

Is it worth it to mention this to the recruiter? She doesn’t expect or desire any change to their decision, it just seems right to flag that candidates care about this. Would that be appropriate?

Hell yes. One person pushing back on something like this usually won’t in itself create change, but multiple people doing it absolutely can. Be one of those voices. That kind of pushback is often what tells employers when the tide is turning on a whole range of issues; it’s often how companies realize that something that they thought was uncontroversial no longer is. (Note: It’s possible this policy is outside the control of the company, like if they have certain types of government contracts. But it’s worth speaking up regardless.)

Read an update to this letter

3. Using a fake name for job hunting

With my unusual last name (think similar to Butts or Dicks), I have found that I get zero, zip, zilch response to any online application. I’m accustomed to websites stating that I can’t use my last name since it violates their profanity policy (Disney and Citibank are recent examples). Even if I have a contact at the firm I’m targeting and I’ve spoken to them on the phone, they always say I still need to submit my information online to their applicant tracking system. And there’s where it dies.

Adding to my conspiracy theory, both of my children graduated from college in the past few years. Both have the identical experience (hundreds to thousands of applications, zero responses) with the internet job search process.

Prior to internet job boards, I was always able to get a new position in under week. From all of this, I’m pretty convinced that my submissions are being filtered out early in the process.

What are your thoughts on using an assumed name in my resume, email address, LinkedIn name, etc.? Once we’re at the offer or background check stage, I would let them know my real name.

Using a different last name could be a problem if you’re filling out an application that requires you to attest all the info you’re submitting is accurate … but otherwise, I think you might as well experiment since you’re not getting bites any other way. At this point, it doesn’t sound like you’ve got anything to lose by trying.

Rather than making up a whole new last name though (which could throw people when you have to explain), could you use your middle name as your last name? Or a parent’s maiden name? Or even add a suffix to your real last name (so Dicks becomes Dickson or so forth)? That way when you do explain it, it doesn’t seem like you just threw a random false name in there. Also, when you explain, be very matter-of-fact — “I’ve starting using Dickson because a surprising number of online systems think my legal name is profanity.”

It’s ridiculous that this is happening, by the way.

4. Conflicting cover letter advice

I’m stuck between two different common sources of bad advice: my parents and my college career center. While writing cover letters for internship applications, I’ve bounced back and forth between the two and gotten wildly different feedback. For instance, my school suggests starting with something like “I’m delighted to apply for X position at your company.” My parents, however, suggest I leap straight into the cover letter and start discussing myself. For comparison here’s the first few sentences of a cover letter after being reviewed by each:

Career center:
Dear X company hiring committee,
I’m delighted to apply for Y internship and honored to have the opportunity to learn from a business that values the explosive imaginations of both players and employees and whose colorful, distinctive franchises have reached around the world.

Hello, X company hiring committee!
Professional whimsy, artistic science, playful programming: these are terms many might consider oxymorons, but in Y industry, it’s never either-or. The best entertainment (to me) always embraces these paradoxes.

Whose advice is better? On the one hand, I understand my parents’ point that the career center version feels a bit lifeless/personalityless. On the other, I feel weird not acknowledging the company or posting until the end of the first paragraph. Because internship cover letters are a different beast than job applications, a lot of the cover letter advice online is irrelevant to me, so I’m left ping-ponging between these two. Help! Whose advice is better—or is there a happy medium? And do you have any advice for writing internship cover letters in specific?

These … are both bad.

You want to write like a normal person, with plain but conversational language and the way you would write if you were writing an email to a slightly senior colleague who you knew a little but not well. I will bet a large sum of money that there is no circumstance in your life where you would truly write emails with phrases like “explosive imaginations of both players and employees” or “professional whimsy, artistic science, playful programming.” Those read like … well, really bad marketing language. Do not take cover-letter-writing advice from either of these sources.

If the question is how to open a cover letter, you really only need to say “I am writing to apply for your X position.” That’s it — then go into why you’d do a good job at it.

I strongly urge you to read some of the sample cover letters in the archives here (like this, this, or this). It’s not true that internship cover letters should be dramatically different; all the same rules apply. When I hire, I’m looking for the same thing in cover letters from intern applicants as I am from employee applicants; the only real differences are that you’ll have less experience to pull from, so they can be harder to write in that respect. But the general goals, structure, and content should be the same.

5. National park passes as gift idea

At the end of every year I’m always looking for ideas for holiday gifts for people in the office, either ones who report to me or not. So I wanted to write to offer a suggestion: annual national park passes. We are fortunate to be located right near one of our amazing national parks in the country, and in December they offer annual passes for the next year for half price, making it affordable for me to buy several for my reports. I realized that these are great gifts for people, a full year’s worth of natural beauty, able to be experienced at any time. In theory it’s a good healthy resource for personal de-stressing, also offers a nice option for something to do either alone or with one’s family whenever they want, on the weekends, whatever. Depending on the park, an annual pass is ~$50, which with the cost of everything going up, is enough of an expense that I predict a lot of working people don’t feel comfortable justifying spending on themselves. Getting it for them as a gift solves that. Finally, it avoids getting people gift cards for restaurants they might not like, etc., or booze or anything potentially fraught, that sort of thing. I just wanted to mention the annual national park pass for your local national park as a good option. Plus that money supports the national parks, another good thing.

Consider it passed along!

{ 696 comments… read them below }

      1. Lexi Lynn*

        Or just do an intentional typo and leave out the vowel. If you get a call, you can mention that you did it as applicant tracking systems seem to consider your actual name fake. They can figure out why and blame the system rather than your name since you don’t want them thinking that hiring you will cause constant problems and I think everyone knows that ATS are “quirky. “

        1. MuseunChick*

          This is what I would do. Intentional typo. Either leave out a letter or change just one letter. Something like, “Bttz” or “Ducks”

        2. Cait*

          I was a talent manager for years and we often had clients with unfortunate last names add or subtract some letters to make it less of a distraction. For example, a “Kelly Prick” might become “Kelly Pruick”. It really didn’t affect official paperwork since we still filed her W2s and such under her real name. OP would just have to mention that to HR.

    1. Well...*

      My husband recently changed the capitalization of his name on all of his professional documents, including publications. He didn’t change it legally (does capitalization even matter for that?) He did this because he recently learned more about his family history and the origin behind how it was chosen to be capitalized/what it means, and he wanted to go back to the older version.

      Also, lots of people have names that don’t fit traditional firstname lastname conventions. I worked in Spain for a while and constantly filled in placeholders for my nonexistent second last name in online systems (using my middle name as my first last name ended up creating more problems). I imagine many people who have the reverse problem have inconsistent names in online systems vs. legal last names. There are also many people with English/American sounding first names and Chinese legal first names/middle names. I’d be surprised if employers hadn’t seen such discrepancies between online system names and legal names before.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        I have a coworker who does not have a legal last name. At all. Think about the fun this creates with visa applications and the like!
        He has two typical, western first names (like Michael George) and many systems will automatically “promote” the second one to family name status.

        1. Empress Ki*

          I didn’t even know it was possible. I am curious to know which country doesn’t have last names for its citizens.

          1. BatManDan*

            Doesn’t have to be a country. I’m in the US, and 35 years ago, as a youth, I was with a group of youth on an excursion and the van driver (one of the leaders) was a man in his 30s or 40s. I sat up front, and got to hear a bit about his backstory. He had some falling out with his family, and had his name legally changed to his nickname (think a particular brand of frozen turkey, three syllables, alliterative). Straight up. On his driver’s license, his checks, everything. Which led to a circumstance 30 years later when I was introduced to a young man with one name only (no last name, no middle name). I remarked that it reminded me of my former youth-group leader, and told him the story. He let me finish, and said “I see you’ve met my father.”

            1. Twinkle lights*

              I know someone who wanted to go by her first name only. She was told a last name was mandatory. So she changed her legal first name to ‘Just’ and is now Just Elizabeth on all legal documents.

          2. Anon for this*

            I know someone with exactly one name. From Mongolia. They sometimes just put it down twice. It ends up being a little silly, like Emily Emily.

            1. WantonSeedStitch*

              In my workplace, we have a database full of people, and of course it requires a given name and a surname for each person entry. A very of the people in question have only one name (the one I think of off the top of my head is from Indonesia), and we repeat that name for the surname for the purposes of data entry.

              1. Aggretsuko*

                Yeah, we have the same issue at work and no matter what “solution” we can come up with, we get constant complaints. Duplicating the name, writing “None” or “FNU” or “LNU” (first name unknown, last name unknown) or even putting a ., they complain. But WE HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING IN BOTH BOXES, THE SYSTEM DOES NOT ALLOW FOR ONE NAME. They’re not going to fix that (or anything else with names that has problems, ever).

                1. Liz*

                  Our system also requires names in both, but for legal reasons we have to have a last name, so we use FNU in those cases.

              1. doreen*

                There’s also another possibility – I can’t remember which culture it is, but there is at least one where people do not have surnames and instead use their father’s name as a second name. Usually it will be something like Matthew Joseph but Matthew the son of Matthew will be called Matthew Matthew.

                1. Miss Muffet*

                  This is the naming convention in Ethiopia, although I wouldn’t say they don’t have last names, just that the father’s name becomes the last name of the child. The parents just have different last names based on who their fathers were.

                2. Kesnit*

                  My former boss was from India and that was the situation with his children. His name was (say) Mimtis Woonee. His oldest daughter went to law school and a few years later, I looked her up in the state bar to see if she had passed. I found her under Musa Mimtis (also a fake name).

                3. Vio*

                  This actually used to be the case in many cultures if you go far enough back. Most English language surnames that end in “son” date back to that convention.

              2. Jo*

                Same. We had a co-worker from Indonesia that had only one name. For US systems that had the typical first/last fields, she’d repeat the name.

            1. ECHM*

              As a newspaper editor, one day I received a dean’s list from a college and one student’s name was actually a number.

              1. stacers*

                The former NYT journalist Jennifer 8. Lee comes to mind. And, as a newspaper editor, too, I’ve long said that what I learned about using ‘common sense’ to check the spelling of names simply doesn’t account for other traditions, creativity or my lack of imagination. That said, I’ve found young reporters almost never forget to ask sources to spell their names, something that seems more frequently overlooked 25 years ago.

                1. Aggretsuko*

                  With a name like “Jennifer Lee,” i.e. most generic one of all time, I always liked that she threw in an 8. I read a teenager book at some point with the heroine’s name being “Sus5an Smith, the 5 is silent” because of her having such a dirt common name.

          3. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Many people in India use just one name. I’m told, by a colleague there who has just one name, that it was part of a social movement in the last century to eliminate family names because they very clearly identified which caste the family belonged to. People from both traditionally upper and lower castes participated in dropping them, but it was not universal, so you’ll still see plenty of people using both names.

            1. AnonRN*

              I know a doctor who has only one name. Our system requires two names so his first name is listed as Fnu (for First name unknown). Not sure how many people try to call him “Fnoo” (first names are commonly used otherwise) before realizing!

            2. Onyx*

              I had a friend from India who explained that what she used as her “surname” in the USA was actually her father’s given name because she only had one.

              1. James*

                Yep, same for a friend of mine from college, let’s call him Akshay. When he and his wife had a son they gave him her last name, since Akshay’s “last name” was his dad’s first name, so there wasn’t really a “carrying down” of the name in the same way. They figured the wife’s family, who valued that tradition, could partake in it and the kid would get to be part of both cultures in that way and have an easier time legally. (They do get a very weird number of people asking how will people know the kid is his. C’mon, people.)

          4. Charlotte Lucas*

            In Iceland most people don’t have surnames. They use patronymics, which are identifiers, but not a surname like most USians would understand them.

            1. jojo*

              Swedish and Norwegian use hansdaghter and hansson.or similar. Also Dutch. Paternalistic society most places for previous centuries.

          5. Siege*

            Myanmar – Burmese people don’t have last names. That’s slowly changing, but it ain’t there yet.

            1. Phony Genius*

              I knew somebody from that country. They gave themselves the last name of U, reversing the style of former U.N. Secretary General U Thant. My understanding is that U is similar to Mr. in that country. I have no idea if any computer systems would reject a single-letter last name.

              1. Siege*

                They routinely reject names that are less than 3. It’s a huge pet peeve of mine (with my luxurious 9 letter last name) because it’s absolutely evidence that developers aren’t thinking inclusively about names but are defaulting to white Western standard. In 2023 it’s inexcusable and has been for years; it’s not as though you have to hand-code your form’s constraints. You just have to care about names less than 3 letters, apostrophes, hyphens, mononyms, and the user’s experience and identity.

                1. I am Emily's failing memory*

                  Indeed – I work in digital and when I put together forms there’s very little validation you can really use. When it comes to user-input content, you ultimately have to assume people are putting in what they’re putting in for a reason and they probably know better than anyone else what they need to be able to put in. About the only fields I validate are enforcing *@*.* in the email address field, where * is a wildcard/ can be anything, and only accepting numeric digits in the phone number field (with separate optional fields for extension and in some instances country code).

                2. Observer*

                  It’s a huge pet peeve of mine (with my luxurious 9 letter last name) because it’s absolutely evidence that developers aren’t thinking inclusively about names but are defaulting to white Western standard.

                  I agree that it’s ridiculous. But I highly doubt it’s because of “white western standards”.

                  You just have to care about names less than 3 letters, apostrophes, hyphens,

                  THIS is why I don’t think that this is a “white western thing” at all. 3 letter names do exist in “white western” culture. As for hyphens and apostrophes? Not only are those pretty standard, in some respects they are seen as a marker of higher status.

                3. Observer*

                  @I am Emily’s failing memory

                  I’m going to disagree with you. For most fields, there is a lot of validation you can and SHOULD do. Both for data integrity, but also for security (especially if you are doing a front end for an SQL database.

                  For instance, dates almost always have some reasonable parameters. What those are depends on what you are recording. Figuring that out needs to be part of the design and implementation process.

                  Correct validation need to be both sufficient and not too much.

                4. danmei kid*

                  I work with so many talented people whose last names have two letters: Li, Wu, Xi, Ho, Lu, for example. In fact Li is one of the most common surnames in the entire planet. That 3 letter rule may not be intentionally r*cist/xenophobic, but that doesn’t make it any less so.

                5. AllY'all*

                  I think it’s more that Americans have to care about names that aren’t stereotypically American. My grandparents are from France, a (traditionally) white Western country; you can’t throw a brick without hitting someone with a hyphenated name or multiple middle names, and two-letter last names aren’t unheard-of. Even England has a long and occasionally hilarious tradition of hyphenated surnames and giving their children three or four middle names, and it doesn’t get much more white Western than England.

                6. Chilipepper Attitude*

                  This is also a pet peeve of mine as our family name is 2 letters.

                  I do think it is due to the default being the yt, western standard. I don’t know many names in the yt western world that are 1 or 2 letters.

                  I have had to throw in some other letters to be able to use online systems and loyalty cards but it is getting better.

                7. Well...*

                  Yea the examples from Europe just don’t hold up. They are much easier to fold into forms than non-white or non-western naming conventions. Dropping and extra name or a hyphen/apostrophe is just less invalidating than adding fictional names, period.

                8. fhqwhgads*

                  Yeah. I worked in a system once that had a minimum of 2 characters for surnames, but there was a family in the system whose surname was one letter. I had the user enter it wrong from the front end, and then I updated it to the correct name from the back end.

                9. Jo*

                  I hit that often with user names and security questions such as “childhood nickname”. They want at least three letters and I only have two.

                10. Gato Blanco*

                  Less than 3 is crazy! I know a ton of people with 2-letter last names. Li, Lo, An, Su, Si, Ho, Le, Lu, Ko, etc.

                11. Splendid Colors*

                  So many Chinese names are transliterated as 2 letters, and many common Vietnamese names are 2 letters. (Those are the two most common languages in my city after English and Spanish!)

              2. Observer*


                For security questions, this makes a lot of sense. Because what makes these questions even remotely useful is that even though it’s something you should be able to easily remember, it’s tool long to *easily* brute force crack.

                The thing to keep in mind with this stuff is that for these fields there is no reason you have to use your actual nickname, etc. And in fact a lot of security experts will tell you that you should NOT use your real nickname, first bet, school car, etc. Because if you use real information it make social engineering based hacking much easier.

                1. Observer*

                  Somehow I nested this wrong – it was was response to ” hit that often with user names and security questions such as “childhood nickname”. They want at least three letters and I only have two.”

          6. Linda*

            I’ve worked with student databases for large universities and having one name or several family names or a patronymic were all scenarios we had to account for, which was a big eye opener for me when I started, too. IIRC I saw single names for a few people from India and Malaysia.

          7. Clisby*

            My husband once had a single-named co-worker from Indonesia. It wasn’t a problem for his co-workers; I don’t remember whether he needed some placeholder name for W2s, etc.

          8. Also Alex*

            You would be amazed. Look up the articles “”Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names or, for a somewhat deeper dive, “Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names – With Examples.”

            1. Loredena*

              That was such an eye opener! Even though I’m no longer a developer I think of it often when working with forms.

          9. waffles*

            My father is an immigrant from India. For his experience (he was born in the 50s and things have changed in India as well), it was more that the convention of naming was different from the American system, and the American system makes no compromises. His name on his original Indian documents indicates his given name, his father’s given name, and where he was born – there isn’t a ‘family name/last name’. His American name puts his father’s given name in ‘first name’ and his given name in ‘last name’. My last name is my father’s first name. For example, let’s say his dad’s name is Ravi, and his parents named him Arjun, in all of his US paperwork his name shows up as Ravi Arjun, and my name is Waffles Arjun.

          10. Beth*

            Iceland is one. Also Indonesia and other countries with Javanese heritage, Bhutan, Burma, and parts of India and Afghanistan; there are also indigenous tribes in Canada and the US with mononymic traditions. Look up “Mononym”.

        2. Bryce*

          In a similar vein, I knew a guy growing up whose full first name was a single letter. Caused all sorts of issues.

      2. Niltiack*

        Oh yeah. My PhD advisor as well as several of our group members were Egyptian, and Egyptian naming conventions can be difficult for US based systems to navigate. Because of how the US views their legal names, my advisor was listed legally by a different last name than he used professionally, causing no end to confusion among undergrads taking his classes. Another friend just had too many names and they didnt fit on a SS card and then he couldnt get an ID, etc. a lot of these automated systems struggle because they are programmed to not let you submit things that are incomplete (or ‘explicit’) but it can be hard/impossible to find a real person to help override the blocks programmed in.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          When I was job hunting I was on the list for a well known medical equipment company.
          Eventually, a job came through that I was interested in and I tried to apply. Ran into a block – don’t remember if it was the degree or something else. Then I started looking for a human contact.
          I spent more than an hour looking at the large, complex, global application, site that listed locations all over the world. At one point I thought I’d found a live person on chat, but it became clear within 10 minutes it was only a bot. Deceptive as well as inhuman!
          When I had spent more than an hour trying to find a contact, I realized it wasn’t worth my time. What kind of company treats its applicants like this? I removed myself from their list and moved on. Some companies ask why you’re leaving their list. This one didn’t.

          As I think about it, companies are using the ATS to discriminate against people from other cultures with different naming conventions. They could simply list all the applicants by the first letter of the first name that’s entered, but no…
          *Sigh* companies always find a way to discriminate and enforce biases no matter what we do.

          1. Observer*

            As I think about it, companies are using the ATS to discriminate against people from other cultures with different naming conventions.

            I highly doubt it. For one thing, I think you are giving the designers waaaay too much credit. I mean when you look at some of the other stupidities you see in design in general and ATS systems in particular, it’s hard to think that anyone is quite that intentional.

            Also, it’s a really bad tool for this kind of discrimination. A lot of these problems hit people of the “right” background, while people who are used to this mess often have found ways to works around some of these quirks.

            1. ArtK*

              I agree. “Never attribute something to malice that can be easily explained by incompetence.” I write software for a living and the kind of things that have shown up in this thread bug the crud out of me, but they’re extremely common.

                1. Chilipepper Attitude*

                  Exactly! It does not have to be intentional discrimination. But organizing all the things around yt western standards does cause these problems.

                2. DJ Abbott*

                  Also, applying this too broadly lets malicious people get away with more.
                  IMO at best, the powers don’t care if their ATS is discriminatory. Just like they don’t care about paying a living wage, and many other examples.

          2. Tib*

            It really is mostly a matter of coding for the familiar and not thinking things through or researching the topic. I remember working with a program years ago that didn’t accept zip codes with a leading zero. I don’t think their intent was to discriminate against all of New England, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and a few other locations; they just didn’t realize those sort of zip codes existed. And 30 years ago, hyphenated last names were a nightmare because systems couldn’t handle the hyphen and so only one name was used or something. I had a friend who’s Dr used the first half and her pharmacist used the second half so getting prescriptions was always an ordeal.

            1. top hat wombat*

              Okay, but passive or unintended bigotry and exclusion has the same end result as intentional discrimination sometimes, and this is an example of that.

        2. UKgreen*

          I have students who come from parts of Asia where family names with two letters are common (Hu, Wu, etc.) They quickly discovered lots of UK online forms (job applications, retailers etc.) don’t accept names of less than three letters.

          On a similar vein, Sri Lankan and Thai students’ surnames are often too LONG for the form field. Meanwhile my name is British but double barreled and systems either don’t accept double barrels or concatenate it, or turn a hyphen into a garble so I end up being something like Smith&%HYPHEN*&Jones…


          1. MAC*

            My situation isn’t nearly as frustrating, but I do have occasional agita over how my first name gets treated. I have a 2-name first name where the 2nd name is capitalized but there’s no space (think BobbieJo). All too often it comes out Bobbiejo. Not anything to raise a stink about but still annoying if you’re a picky type (I am). All this advanced technology and we still can’t handle non-standard capitalization?

            1. AllY'all*

              Even advanced technology has to be told what to do, and when there’s no regular rule you can use to tell it, it’s hard to program. You can tell a computer to take the text in a field and turn it all lower-case, turn it all upper-case, or make it proper case with an initial capital letter, but there’s no way to tell a computer to transform user text input to camel-caps. It won’t know where Bobbie ends and Jo begins. So you use the case that will result in the fewest mistakes the most amount of the time, and edge cases like the BobbieJos of the world kind of have to take their annoyance up with their parents.

          2. Ssssssssssssss*

            I have a very uncommon French last name that is three words long, with spaces. Think “Suzy Field of Green.”

            Many times, the poor clerk trying to register me has had to add a hyphen between them or mush them together into one word. Or the first word becomes my middle name. (Alas, my real name is not “field” and the result is not as pretty as “Suzy Field…”) I can live with the first two options because what else can I do? The last option I hate. LOL

            As for double-barrelled names, there was a trend for a while to have double barrelled last names AND first names for Quebec babies and I’m not sure how many were able to get their full names on their health cards.

            1. Artemesia*

              I raised my kids in the US south with a hyphenated name. Because it is so common for southern girls to have double first names, she was more often than not called by her first name and then the first of her last names. e.g. if her Name was Mary Smith -Rogers, she would be called Mary Smith in the classroom as if this was a name like Mary Jo or Linda Sue.

              1. MidWasabiPeas*

                In the South, that doesn’t surprise me at all-I lived in MS for over a decade and knew many women with double first names where the second name was either their father’s name (in a family with no boys) or their mother’s maiden name. I knew (more than one of each) people who named their daughters Mary William, Mary Thomas, and Mary Elliot.

            2. Been there*

              I also have a last name that is three words long, but they are common in my country. Forms here know how to deal with my name, but I run into problems in other countries. Also, not all the words are capitalised to add to the fun.

          3. Observer*

            On a similar vein, Sri Lankan and Thai students’ surnames are often too LONG for the form field.

            It’s not just those areas that can have this problem. “Double barrelled” names often are also “too long.” And it makes me nuts. Once upon a time there was reason to worry about the waste of space, so trying to calibrate it at least made some sense. But today? Even the really EXPENSIVE, high performance stuff is less than a dollar per GIGABYTE. In other words, the incremental cost of allowing plenty of space for long names is too small to worry about if you have any sense.

            1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

              A young man I know has a surname with an apostrophe in it. Like MBappé but written M’Bappé (which is more accurate). Computer systems can’t take it, and it’s a constant source of problems for him. Before we accuse the system of being racist, we might remember that it’s not only African names that have an apostrophe, after all there are plenty of O’Brians and the such like to denote Irish descent.

                1. EvilQueenRegina*

                  We had confusion when we got a new filing system three years ago – let’s say we have a file for “Sinead O’Connor”. If this had been one of the existing pupil records ported over in the job lot from the old system to the new at the time of changeover, the system would have set her up as OConnor without recognising the apostrophe, but the system that allows us to create new records does allow us to put one in manually so if someone created her as a new record she could be put in as O’Connor and we end up with both versions. It can get confusing if someone’s trying to look up such a record.

          4. DJ Abbott*

            Way back when I tried to tell my programming 101 teacher fields should be more flexible for names from other places. He overruled me.

        3. Texan In Exile*

          I was volunteering at a voter registration drive at a mosque. The online voter registration form in WI has fields for only first name and last name, but hits against the DMV database, which has first, middle, and last name fields, to validate information.

          For people with compound last names, this does not work at all. The voters and I were trying all kinds of combinations to try to get MyVote to match with the DMV names, but finally gave up.

          Another woman at the League of Women Voters told me that for this sort of thing, she always has people use the paper forms instead. That’s what I have started doing as well.

      3. allathian*

        When I was an intern in Spain in the late 1990s, I used my mom’s unmarried name when a second last name was required, even though I’d never use it otherwise, and neither does she.

      4. Green great dragon*

        I find it really depressing how many forms reject so many names. It’s not like it’s hard to solve – all they have to do is not put error checks in! It’s actually easier! The person has probably put their name in correctly, spaces, punctuation, capitalisation and all. And if not, well, letting a customer’s error stand seems less bad than creating an error because you don’t accept the customer’s name.

        1. Artemesia*

          airlines which require the name to match the passport do not allow hyphens in the last name which of course means they don’t match the passport.

          1. Well...*

            This is almost always okay because of the sheer prevalence of nonstandard names, especially on international flights. Many of my colleagues have gotten on flights with tickets that totally garble their names and do not match their passports.

        2. AllY'all*

          That… would not be how you would solve the issue. Not only would it be an enormous gaping security vulnerability, but the number of follow-up customer service calls (because people make typos and it’s NEVER safe to assume they’ve entered all information correctly) would be unmanageable by anyone but large companies.

          Like most things, if a solution seems super easy and obvious to you, it has probably also occurred to the people who do that sort of thing for a living, and there’s a reason it wasn’t implemented.

          1. del*

            I can’t see how forcing names to be entered with at least three characters, or not contain apostrophes or hyphens, or using a certain capitalization makes things more secure or more accurate. We’re not talking about validation against an existing database (like I’ve seen on occasion for validating street addresses), we’re talking validation based on arbitrary rules that many names don’t fit within. Jane Smith could still enter Jnae Simth, which would be accepted. But Li Hyphenated-LastName can’t enter their accurate info.

            1. Green great dragon*

              And if you are validating against an existing database, preventing people from entering their name correctly does not help, unless that database has made the same arbitary decisions.

          2. Kitry*

            Respecting people’s names and identities is not a security vulnerability, for heaven’s sake. Imagine having the audacity to tell someone that their actual name is unacceptable.

            1. Database Developer Dude*

              Not having any validation or error checking whatsoever -IS- a security vulnerability, no matter how much anyone here wants to insist it isn’t. SQL Injection is a thing used to break into databases ALL THE TIME.

              I’m betting many who claim it isn’t a security vulnerability have no clue what they’re talking about. Data breaches occur on the regular due to stuff just like this.

              1. Cyber security test lead*

                This is a disingenuous point though – it’s perfectly possible to validate against SQL injection and other attacks and also not discriminate against 99.99% of names that people in the world have and there are places that do manage to do that. Places that have a diversity of humans in the BA/Engineering/QA team, usually, or places that have an alternate and straightforwards way for people to contact them and then act on the feedback they get – which, to return to the original problem, ATS suppliers rarely do and they’re mostly horrible from a EDI, accessibility and general UX point of view and often even worse from a security point of view.
                There’s quite a broadly used one that is vulnerable to SQL attack out of the box, but still won’t accept a two letter name or an apostrophe.

                Discriminatory programing isn’t usually all that difficult to fix, but it’s almost always easier to ignore.

              2. Observer*

                Not having any validation or error checking whatsoever -IS- a security vulnerability, no matter how much anyone here wants to insist it isn’t.

                I agree. But that’s not what is being argued. What is being argued is that when it comes to NAMES, you need to cut waaaay back on the data validation and “error checking”. Because claiming that an apostrophe in a name is an error is insanity. Same for dashes, spaces, “too long” or “too short” names, etc.

                And there are better ways to sanitize input than arbitrary limits on fields that simply cannot, by their nature, be categorized this way.

            2. AllY'all*

              You understand that there’s a difference between emotions and computer programming, right?

          3. Observer*

            Like most things, if a solution seems super easy and obvious to you, it has probably also occurred to the people who do that sort of thing for a living, and there’s a reason it wasn’t implemented.

            And sometimes the reason is obliviousness or laziness.

            For names, most of the so called error checks are there without any really good reason. The Length USED to have a good reason, but not anymore. No apostrophe? No good reason. No Middle name if you need to match an existing database that uses middle names? Not only no good reason, but malevolently incompetent. etc.

            Yes, there are some checks that make some sense, but none of the common ones people are complaining about qualify.

            1. Cyber security test lead*

              100% this, yes, discriminatory programing isn’t usually all that difficult to fix, but it’s almost always easier to ignore and people get in some really bad habits.

            2. DJ Abbott*

              I doubt if it’s as much laziness as management not being willing to hire the people and spend the $$ to fix it.
              Why should they care if it actually works? Or if they’re insulting more than half the population by refusing to respect their names?
              Just take it out of the box and set it up so we can appear to be up to date and inclusive. That’s all that matters.

            3. AllY'all*

              Sure. But I was replying to someone who was saying that it was super quick and easy and obvious to just have literally no validation for text at all.

    2. I edit everything*

      I remember hearing a story on the radio a few years back that there are some people with the last name “null,” which causes all kinds of problems when typed into a field on a form.

      1. getaway_girl*

        My mom had no middle name and it caused problems for her in the early days of computers. There are probably still some documents floating around that list her as FirstName None LastName, because that was the only way she could get around it.

        1. irianamistifi*

          Ah. You have solved my mystery of how my father, who has no middle name, keeps getting mail addressed to him as firstname “N” lastname. That N must stand for None or Null.

          1. Artemesia*

            In the military NMI (no middle initial) was used for guys who didn’t have middle names — at least in WWII when my Uncles told me about this.

            1. Petty Betty*

              In the databases I’ve used, we always did NMN for No Middle Initial. If there wasn’t a last name, NLN. Alaska is an immigration hot spot and we see a lot of naming traditions.

        2. Jay (no, the other one)*

          Pretty sure you’re not my kid. I have no middle name and didn’t change my name at marriage. My mother took her birth name as her middle name when my parents were married and she assumed I’d do the same thing. The computer system at college (early 80s) once gave me a middle initial. My junior year grade report came to Jay R Lastname. I would have understood if it had been N because of NMI, which is what I always used if I had to fill in a middle name. No idea where they got R.

          My husband, OTOH, has one of the most common English surnames and one of the most common male first names. Think John Jones. We moved a lot early on and another John Jones moved into one of the places we rented which caused all kinds of havoc on our credit report – same name, same address, same year – so he started using his full middle name on everything. Which led to our tax return getting rejected because his Social Security number was registered to John P. Jones instead of John Paul Jones….

          1. Aggretsuko*

            My mom’s boyfriend has a common first/last name combo and there were two of him working at a high security lab. Well, the other guy brought his boat to work(!) and the boat had weed on it(!) and he got busted. Suffice it to say boyfriend had An Interesting Time getting into work that day, until he proved he had a different middle name than Mr. Pot. His coworkers found this hilarious.

          2. whingedrinking*

            My dad’s the same. When he and my mom bought their first house, he had to sign an affidavit swearing he was not the John Jones who had defrauded the provincial government of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Reminds me of the story of RB Jones. He did not have a first or middle name, just initials. The IRS rejected his tax return as incomplete. He resubmitted: R (only) B (only) Jones.

          After that, he was referred to Ronly Bonly Jones. Heh.

          1. NoIWontFixYourComputer*

            My dad did not have a first name, just an initial J.

            I suspect he was in a lot of systems as “Jay”.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Like on M*A*S*H, where the character BJ Hunnicutt did not have a full first or middle name–just “BJ”. Purportedly, his parents derived if from their own names, “Bea” and “Jay”.

    3. LondonLady*

      Agree with this eg Dix(on) for Dicks(on).

      Some software blockers are daft: years ago I worked with software that blocked a number of English placenames which was a pain for our clients there. Penistone and Cockermouth among others! We had to create an exceptions list…

      1. Justice*

        Am I the only one who wants to take a driving tour of English towns with amazing names like Penistone and Cockermouth?

        1. londonedit*

          There’s also Cockfosters at the end of the Piccadilly line. And innumerable other amusing names for villages and towns! Scunthorpe also frequently falls foul of this sort of thing.

          1. Magpie*

            I heard a radio story about a road in England called Knobhead Lane, I think they eventually changed it to avoid people stealing the sign too.

        2. SarahKay*

          Allow me to add in Virginia Water, Staines, and Maidenhead. And yes, I promise they are real towns.

        3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          You’ll need to pop over to Fucking in Austria too!
          (Except that they officially changed their name a while back, they were fed up with British tourists stealing their signs)

            1. Avery*

              Even the US itself isn’t exempt. Intercourse, PA; Bald Knob, AR; Balltown, IA; Beaver City, IN; Blue Ball Village, MD; Conception, MS; Cummings, ND… there’s definitely room for a cross-country road trip in here.

              1. Avery*

                Oh, and how could I forget! Perhaps especially relevant to the original topic, there’s Dixon, IL, which inspired the naming of Dix, NE…

              2. Kit*

                PA also has Blue Ball and Bird-in-Hand, both in the same county as Intercourse. It’s a three-for-one day trip!

        4. Empress Penguin*

          Don’t forget to visit Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate in York – the shortest street with the longest name!

      2. Marion Ravenwood*

        I have a system set up to scan for news articles relating to my field as part of my job, and Scunthorpe often falls foul of my work’s internal scanning system for similar reasons.

      3. LizB*

        This whole phenomenon of proper names getting caught up in overzealous profanity filters actually has a name related to an English town whose residents are often victims of it: The Scunthorpe Problem.

      4. LizB*

        (lol, I responded to this with another example, and that comment appears to have gotten nabbed by the profanity filter… further evidence that this is a widespread problem!)

      5. MigraineMonth*

        There was a profanity filter for a blog site that changed all the objectionable words, for example changing “cock” to “penis”. Which led to an unintentionally hilarious post about someone trying to get rid of all the penisroaches in her apartment.

    4. ThatGirl*

      I find this interesting – I grew up Mennonite and I have relatives with the last name Dick*. I never thought much of it, but some folks have the spelling Dyck instead. So that’s certainly an option.

      *yes, like on Letterkenny, though my great aunt’s first name was not Anita

    5. Michael Butts*

      Yes, that could work. My main concern was starting off a relationship with “By the way, my real name is _________” but I do like Alison’s suggestion of “I’ve started using Dickson because…”

      1. Bird of Paradise*

        If you use Buttz in the ATS and have Butts on your resume, you have plausible deniability for a typo.

  1. Aggretsuko*

    I feel sorry for #3, and I’ll probably get yelled at for this, but if the last name is THAT big of a problem for #3 and their kids, maybe legally changing it might be worth it to avoid these issues.

    I kind of wonder how Matthew Dicks (note: author/grade school teacher/storyteller/misc. jobs guy) handles it, because he’s a grade school teacher and is using that…. I don’t recall him mentioning having any issues, though.

    1. RedinSC*

      I knew a guy in high school whose name was Joe Stoner. (Sorry Joe, if you’re out there)

      But really, I suspect he has these kinds of problems. The teachers at the time would literally laugh when they said his name for the first time.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Hah, I met a girl freshman year of college with the last name of Stoner, and the email convention was first initial, middle initial, last name. And her brother with the same initials was already here and already had her initials (M A). So he talked her into “imastoner@school.com.” I bet that was an interesting 4-5 years of college with that.

        I did think later maybe the last name here is Weiner, which brought on reminders of Anthony…oy.

        1. Niltiack*

          My uni was first initial, middle initial, first 4 charaters of last name. They’d sub in X if you didnt have a middle name, or had fewer than 4 characters in your last name. One history professor (Ed Crapol) was able to get them to change his id from epcrap@uni.edu to history@uni.edu. A girl on my freshman hall (last name Suk) was not able to get any concessions to avoid having sukx in her email, nor were any of the Lees (leex) or other embarrasing email ID having students. I believe they’ve since changed the convention, I was there 20 years ago, but I’ll never forget Prof. Crapol complaining about how he had finally convinced them to approve the switch, but IT took forever to actually do it.

        2. Totally Minnie*

          I had a high school teacher named Ms. Weiner. It went about as well as you’re imagining it did.

            1. UKgreen*

              During the period of Covid lockdowns in the UK when schools were closed, the BBC ran a full programme of educational / revision content on weekday mornings. One of the presenters was a teacher called Mr Mycock, which I bet his year 9s don’t snigger at AT ALL…

              1. EvilQueenRegina*

                My ex at university had a friend with that last name. Unfortunately, his first name had a possible short form which also had that connotation. While he didn’t use that particular short form, people did pick up on it and not let him forget it.

          1. Ripley*

            In my high school, the two Home Ec teachers were named Ms Boner and Ms Cocker. I am not making this up.

          2. Avery*

            A family friend was married to someone with the surname Weiner. They pronounced it “whiner”, which… isn’t that much better.
            Though the past tense there is because the friend’s ex-husband turned out to be, well, a real Weiner. So it fits.

            1. Aggretsuko*

              As I thought with Anthony many a time, if you already have a last name like that, why are you stupid enough to literally act like it?! And in his case, flash it around?!

          3. alienor*

            One of the teachers at my kid’s middle school was Mrs. Hooker. I always wondered how the 12-year-olds responded to that one.

            1. HoosOnFirst*

              If you visit the MA state Capitol building in Boston, you have to enter at the General Hooker (military guy) statue entrance, it’s literally called the Hooker Entrance, and it’s never not funny.

          4. top hat wombat*

            I went to high school with a girl whose last name was Semen. It’s extremely fortunate that she was extremely nice and funny and popular because otherwise I suspect her life would’ve been living hell.

        3. Pugetkayak*

          The ballet artistic director at our city ballet is named Stoner. She is female. Not sure if that is a middle name from a family member last name or what, but she definitely goes by Stoner.

        4. Hudson*

          Poor Ima Hogg doesn’t even have email as an excuse, her parents were just cruel. They didn’t even give her a middle name, which was apparently against convention at the time.

      2. Siege*

        I used to work with a guy whose last name was R*per. He married a coworker and they changed the last name to Rapier. I guess I genuinely wonder what I would think if I met him with the unchanged name now; I knew him pre-2008 when I wasn’t as thoughtful about that kind of thing as I am now.

        1. Sharpie*

          R@per is a form of Roper from the northern part of England where vowels tend to be pronounced flatter than they are in RP English. I’m not sure if the Great Vowel Shift had anything to do with it, though it may well have done.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I’m in the north of England and I know at least one person with that surname. I think it’s just one of those things you file in your head as a different word, like oilseed rape!

        2. HQB*

          There is a very large truck/RV/SUV dealership in Indiana run by a guy named Tom Raper. The billboards say things like “Tom Raper SUVs, 97 miles!” and “Tom Raper RVs, 73 miles” and “You’re in Raper country now!”

          1. DJ Abbott*

            Yes, I remember seeing his commercials long ago. I wondered if he understood what his name meant.

        3. Nia*

          There used to be an RV dealership called Tom R@per RV that had tons of billboards on the highway my family road tripped on to get to my grandparents. Once I was old enough to know what that word meant I wondered why he didn’t change it or if it was pronounced differently than it looked.

              1. Nia*

                This is the one. I don’t know if the dealership is still there but he used to have like 10 billboards in a row, you couldn’t miss them, and those at least aren’t there anymore.

      3. Merrie*

        It’s a name a few generations back in my family. Too bad it’s an epithet for something else now.

    2. Artemesia*

      I worked with a guy with an unfortunate name whose father when immigrating had changed it from a Polish name with a lot of consonants. He had wanted to be ‘more American’ so he took the name of a supervisor in his first job, who had a name very close to the body part commonly referred to as the glassbowl.

      When his kids were in elementary school and being teased, he had had enough and changed the family name back to the original.

      If your name is this embarrassing — well you could change the spelling, change the name, take wife’s name. You don’t have to live with it.

      1. plumeria*

        I really don’t understand why more people don’t take the wife’s name in cases like this! One of you is already changing your name, and your kids easily escape the fate!

        (jk, we all know why)

        1. WS*

          The British politician Ed Balls was going to take his wife’s surname (she’s also a politician, Yvette Cooper), but then realised that everyone would know his name anyway and he didn’t want to look like he was hiding it. So instead they gave their kids her surname, thereby sparing the next generation. I thought this was a good compromise for the situation.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          This was my first thought: I understand not wanting to change one own’s name, but WHY, OH WHY did he saddle his kids with that problem?

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Well, in fairness, prior to automated screening systems he didn’t have a problem. As a fellow person with a sometimes-screened last name, you don’t necessarily want to change it just because someone occasionally idly snickers. It’s only when it starts blocking you from more significant things that changing it occurs to you.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              Sure, which is why I understand not changing one own’s name. But why saddle one’s children with even just the snickering and occasional disbelief if there is another easy option right there in the form of the other parent’s name?

              1. Observer*

                Because actually making that change is not as easy as it seems.

                It’s not just the paperwork, it’s what happens when a parent has to interface with any organization on behalf of their child(ren). I mean, it’s utterly ridiculous, but as this whole letter and all the comments show, a LOT of ridiculous things happen around names.

                1. This is She*

                  Presumably this is a problem already, for whichever parent doesn’t have the same name as their children. Is there a difference?

                2. Aitch Arr*

                  I think Emmy was referring to the ease of giving a newborn the other spouse’s surname.

                  It’s quite literally a form you fill out for the birth certificate.

              2. Harper the Other One*

                Well, names are meaningful! They’re part of your family history and even if people snicker, they can be important to you and your partner.

                Plus, there is a LOT of cultural bias involved in what names are weird/funny/etc. We really shouldn’t have to change our names because people laugh, just like someone shouldn’t have to change their last name from Wu because “3 characters minimum.”

        3. TinySoprano*

          A mentor of mine did this. His surname wasn’t that bad, but he’d still experienced problems with it, so the children were given his wife’s surname. Problem solved, and they just grey-rocked any pushback they got.

          Surnames are all weird anyway. My gran’s maiden name was a funny spelling because of a mistake on a birth certificate in the 1880s.

        4. Niltiack*

          My HS biology teacher married a guy with the last name Blob (no, really) and decided to hyphenate her own name, and then saddle all her children with the surname of Blob. Blob! If my last name were Blob I would change it so fast when I got married…

          1. Missb*

            My maiden name was horrible and it was the source of many jokes as I was growing up. My oldest brother changed his last name while in college- just slightly redid the spelling. I don’t blame him at all.

            When I married Dh, I hyphenated for a bit because I was at a critical point in my career. I eventually shifted to just using his last name.

            Another brother only had daughters who have since married and taken their husbands last name, so the family name will die out. No loss- none of us kids liked our last name.

          2. Nessun*

            My high school counsellor’s name was Mrs. Crapper. She married into the name, and she and her husband used to give out toilet-themed Christmas presents (pen holders shaped like toilets, joke TP, etc.) – they just doubled down on it and enjoyed the humor.

            1. JustAnotherKate*

              I know men with the last names Glasscock (maybe just one S, but still) and Lipshitz (no relation to Ralph Lauren, who also started life with that unfortunate surname as I recall). Neither of their wives changed when they got married, but I’m not sure what they did about the kids!

              1. JustAnotherKate*

                There’s also (or was) a major-league baseball player whose last name is Putz. The broadcasters pronounce it “puts,” but it’s on his uniform!

                1. Lanlan*

                  In German that is how “Putz” would be pronounced: like “puts”. The guy may just be of German ancestry and enforcing it.

                  My surname is German and I get well-meaning Yanks mispronouncing it all the time. I correct them because I actually CHOSE my last name as a direct cultural nod to the side of the family that acknowledges us.

      2. CreepyPaper*

        When I got married I took my husband’s surname which is Polish with a lot of the back end of the alphabet in it. I did this to escape a surname which had an apostrophe in it (think O’Connor and similar) which I was told by several online systems wasn’t valid. Including online banking which led to some interesting conversations with the bank.

        Now I’ve accepted the fate that nobody can pronounce my surname and it does look like a cat sat on the keyboard, but it’s still better than being told my name isn’t valid.

        1. WS*

          My partner’s surname is Italian with an apostrophe and we had to redo all of our home loan documents at literally the final hour because the bank put the apostrophe on one part and not the other part (matching, respectively, her credit card and her debit card, issued by the same branch of the same bank). It was massively stressful and I applaud your choice to opt out of systems that can’t cope!

          1. Chilipepper Attitude*

            We knew we had to get consistent with my husband’s name when the hospital billing person, trying to help me sort out a problem, asked me for the name of the responsible party and I turned to my husband and said, honey, what is your name?

            My husband has a last name that is traditionally Chinese and a western middle name. At work they had the legal name and his passport had his legal name, but with everything else, it was completely mixed.

            I meant, which name does the hospital have? I always wonder if we got flagged for possible insurance fraud!

          1. Siege*

            Would you like some of mine? My last name is Italian via Ellis Island, and has a lot of vowels in it. I’ve never had a problem with forms other than the ones it’s too long for, but it’s a beast to say over the phone because no one can spell it and the last five letters all basically sound the same – lots of b and e and t – which means every so often I get to spend time with the people who don’t understand the phonetic alphabet.

            1. Artemesia*

              A lot of American surnames got massacred at Ellis Island — have a friend whom I assumed was of Italian descent but no — French. They changed the ‘eau’ at the end of his name to ‘o’ when his ancestor immigrated.

              1. This Old House*

                FWIW, names weren’t actually changed at Ellis Island. Spellings weren’t standardized in many places anyway, many immigrants were illiterate and didn’t spell their names at all or in any one particular way, and many others – probably the largest set – changed their names to Americanize them once they were already here. Ellis Island had a robust staff of interpreters who spoke many languages (Fiorello LaGuardia being probably the most well-known) – a French speaking immigrant would have been assisted by a French interpreter who would have had no reason to think that “eau” was spelled “o.”

                Upon arrival at Ellis Island, your name was checked off against the ship’s manifest, not written down anywhere. Even if it had happened to be “misspelled” on the manifest (recorded where you boarded the boat, not where you arrived), it would have just been a misspelling on the ship’s manifest. You didn’t go home with any lasting reminder of that misspelling – I’d imagine you never even saw it – and you certainly were not in any way compelled to adopt it.

                1. EllisIslandNames*

                  Tell that to my Polish great grandmother Molly Brown. Ellis Island certainly changed her name, and there were several exhibits at Ellis Island that talked about how/why they Americanized names and how those names got proliferated onto official papers and became legal.

              2. Loredena*

                My paternal grandfather immigrated from Syria so a complete change in alphabet. He and his siblings spelled it one way — and the cousins who immigrated 50 years later had a slightly different spelling (sub an a for an o). It was interesting to realize the pronunciation shifted accordingly!

                1. Magpie*

                  Something similar happened to my family immigrating from Norway to Canada – the branch I’m descended from came in the 1880s and had their last name anglicized to (for example) Shelburne. The next cousins came a bit later and their last name is more like Challborn. The last group of my family immigrated much later and retained the original Norwegian spelling.

        2. TinySoprano*

          A dear friend of mine took her husband’s short, simple surname to escape her own, which was full of hyphens.

          1. LifeBeforeCorona*

            I was very happy to marry a generic “Smith” and escape a name that was similar to “Butt”. The jokes stopped being funny many years ago.

            1. Sz*

              Butt is actually a legit surname in the part of Pakistan I live in. You’ll see signs all over the place announcing the businesses started by people bearing this name. The two I find the most : Butt Bakery and Butt Engine Tuning. A Pakistani called Salman Butt committed a crime in England and British media persisted in referring to him as “Salmon Butt”.

              1. londonedit*

                Nicky Butt played for Manchester United a few years ago. Butt doesn’t really have the same connotations here as it does in the US (we use the word ‘bum’ instead, so butt is more like cigarette butt or something) but it still falls into the category of fairly amusing names (probably on the same level as Pratt).

                1. UKDancer*

                  Yeah I’ve worked with a couple of chaps of Pakistani origin with the surname “Butt” and it’s never been something I ever found that amusing. I’d say Pratt would be more amusing to me on the whole which says something about my sense of humour as well as reminding me of Boris Karloff (real name William Pratt).

                2. Jules*

                  My last name is Odom (pronounced O Dumb) and my fiance’s last name is Pratt. When discussing how to arrange our names the first elimination was Odom-Pratt.

                3. Albert "Call me Al" Ias*

                  There’s also an American Football player named Jake Butt. And he plays Tight End. (For those not familiar with American Football, yes, that is an actual position. They usually play “tight” to the end of the offensive line (as opposed to the “wide” reciever), and will sometimes be used as an extra blocker, but are also able to catch passes)

              2. Essess*

                There is a drugstore in Indiana called “Butt Drugs” based on their family name. They finally gave in and started poking fun at their own name. They even made a local commercial making fun of their own name (check out their website under ‘our story’ and watch the commercial at the bottom of the page)

                1. Lucien Nova*

                  Ahh, now I feel like watching Rhett and Link… :D

                  We’ve got a florist here, Butt’s Florist.

            2. Kesnit*

              I used to be an immigration attorney and did an immigration visa for a Butt family from Pakistan. I kept thinking the daughters (both under age 10 at the time) would be teased horribly once they got to the US.

              1. JustAnotherKate*

                I have a friend whose last name was Butt! (US-born, not sure of her family’s origins.) She changed it when she got married, but was stuck with it through school.

                If you happen to be in Texas, you may be interested to know that the B in H-E-B supermarkets is Butt — or you might already know!

        3. EvilQueenRegina*

          A former coworker had a Polish maiden name and would tell stories of how when she was a child, people would ask her to spell it, she’d get as far as “D-z-” and get told not to be so silly. In a later job I worked with her brother’s wife, and she got letters addressed to all sorts of spellings.

        4. Lady_Lessa*

          I have a similar apostrophe issue, except mine is in my address. Think Rider’s Circle when near by there is a Rider, and a Rider’s Way, etc.

          Even the Post Office has to remove the apostrophe at times.

        5. I edit everything*

          I took my husband’s name to escape having the same name as a 1980s military action movie hero a (and the movie itself). I regret it now.

        6. Mockingjay*

          I have an accented vowel in my middle name which I no longer use, because it’s so difficult to get it typed correctly. It’s on some of my docs, but not all. Fortunately it didn’t cause too many problems with getting passport and RealID, I suppose since the letter remains the same, with or without the accent mark. But it’s still something that niggles in the back of my mind – “your docs don’t match!” It’s just an accent mark! (And on the wrong vowel to boot, because my mom wasn’t that good at high school French.)

          1. Artemesia*

            My name is Swiss-German and at some point the u umlaut was changed to a y — I don’t think there are Europeans who spell it the way it is spelled in the US.

            1. Avery*

              Oh hey, same! Also Swiss-German and what was an o with an umlaut got changed to an oe in my last name. I used to wish I still had the umlaut because it would look cooler, but even before reading this thread I’d decided it was more trouble than it was worth…

              1. Aggretsuko*

                I can say from my job that I wish people wouldn’t insist on putting accents in their name because every few years all the computer systems break on them and print everything wrong (which happened yet again this year). Which is to say, I talked one guy into using “Koehler” instead of using an umlaut so his paperwork wouldn’t be likely to be effed up. He said it meant the same thing and I said I’d go with that if I were him.

                I note that all of our name things in our systems have been broken/shitty for twenty years and will never be fixed, accents are just one of the many, many problems. You don’t want to have a long first or middle name here either. We’ve been told those COULD be fixed but tech absolutely refuses to fix them because they might cause other problems.

        7. Kit*

          Ah, my sister-in-law was pleased to escape her Polish surname in favor of my brother’s Irish one – which is commonly misspelled but at only five letters long, in a CVCVC pattern, very easy to pronounce. She did have to cede a B surname for an H one, though.

          Of course, her situation was exacerbated by the fact that she and her twin sister were adopted, and do not look ethnically Polish; I suspect that fact didn’t hurt her calculations either.

      3. Asenath*

        You could change your surname, but aside from the annoyance and sometimes expense, it must be very unpleasant for someone who likes their surname because of the family connection and history to be forced to change it because of a quirk programmed into some computer. The solution should be to figure out some way around the computer quirk short term, and fixing the computer programs long term. The latter should be possible – It’s now quite rare for me to encounter an online system that claims that the correct version of the name of my city doesn’t exist, forcing me to guess what or if they will recognize (sometimes omitting punctuation, sometimes changing the spelling of one part).

        1. SweetestCin*

          Frustrating thing that I’ve not learned to get around: the English language profanity that the last letters of my surname contains. My surname is not a profanity, its just the last couple of letters are; why on earth cannot I not get the spam filter at work to handle this?

          1. ecnaseener*

            You might get a kick out of older profanity filters that didn’t check whether curse words were part of a valid word before automatically changing them – leading to such results as “buttistance”

            There was also something fairly recently about an archeology forum (or something?) that censored the word “bone”

            1. metadata minion*

              Yup, it was a conference over a videoconference tool that had an aggressive profanity filter. There’s a very famous fossil bed that had to be temporarily renamed the Heck Creek Formation.

              1. Pine Tree*

                I worked in a lab doing reproductive studies on wildlife. I had to change my very serious emails to request swabs from the animals’ “hoo has” to escape the email filter.

          2. UKgreen*

            Ah, The Scunthorpe – Penistone problem, the scourge of government spam filters – we used to get data for those towns censored out of datasets, and I’ve heard of companies losing orders from people living in those towns becuase their email filters nuke them.

            A friend of mine lived on the Orkney Islands for a while. She had a heck of a job teaching her kids that it wasn’t OK to call people a twat, when the next village along was quite literally called Twatt..

            1. EvilQueenRegina*

              When I dated a guy from Shetland who had a friend from Orkney, I learned that actually both sets of islands have a village of that name.

        2. Aggretsuko*

          As per a post I made upthread, it is literally easier/quicker/more effective to legally change your name than expect a computer system to be fixed to accommodate your name–at my work, anyway. They ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT FIX ANYTHING at my job and haven’t made any changes the entire time I’ve been here. The grandchildren of current employees will have the same problems I do, I’m sure.

          I have suggested that people claim their long double barrelled first name is a first and then middle name (whether that’s the “legal name” or not) because that’s the only way their name will be all in the system. Our workarounds are terrible and don’t really work.

    3. Missing person*

      I went to school with a girl of the last name Nipple. I hope she got married at 18 and promptly became a Smith or Jones.

      Nobody can spell my first name to save their lives (even my dad misspelled it and it was his idea), but I am eternally grateful that it doesn’t make people snigger and laugh every time they say it.

      1. WS*

        I went to school with a girl whose surname was Cocks and she was determined to change it when she got married. Her husband-to-be’s surname was Dicker and he had also wanted to change his name when he got married, so they gave up and made a new surname for both of them.

        1. Lirael*

          I used to work in an organisation that had someone with the surname Cockburn. Pronounced Co-Burn. Yeah, I got it wrong.

          Also, I read a book last year about a guy who had the surname Null who had exactly this problem. I laughed for days about that one.

          1. Well...*

            A bit off-topic, but this reminds me of a bus stop I had to take in college once a week to get to Bonar street. The bus driver steadfastly pronounced it “Bonner” every single time. The first time I had to get there, I asked her if the bus went to Bonar street, and she answered, “Yes, this goes to Bonner street.” She had had enough and wasn’t going to say anything close to “boner.” Afaik nobody else used that pronunciation but her.

        2. Smithy*

          I had an English professor named Peter Cocks who once a semester would give hilarious rants about how he knew his parents could never have loved him by a) the name and then b) sending him to boarding school at 6 with that name.

          As someone who grew up self conscious with my own surname for assorted reasons it he definitely put my own insecurities into perspective.

        3. Slow Gin Lizz*

          I would love to have been a fly on that wall when they found out each other’s last names. I bet that was a hilarious or ridiculous day for both of them.

        4. Artemesia*

          It was no surprise that they were attracted to each other with their shared misery over their names. Glad they figured out the obvious solution. So are they the Docks now or did they go all out and become Walkers or Hendersons or something unrelated?

          1. WS*

            The name they went for was completely unrelated! Not quite as common as Smith or Jones, but pretty nearly.

        5. Antares*

          Ahaha. My friends got a business card from a couple that were named something like William and Yolanda Butts. We always wondered how arguments went in that household. “You’re mad at me??? I TOOK YOUR LAST NAME!”

    4. T.N.H.*

      Actors and writers use a stage name or a pen name all the time without incident. I think you can safely put in your middle name, maiden name, or something similar and it will be fine. For best results, add it to your resume and Linkedin so it looks less fishy.

      1. DinoGirl*

        ATS often feeds to background check. I think it’s likely to look suspicious.
        I’m in camp change your names…it’s not that hard and if it’s hurting employment prospects this badly….

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          Changing your legal name is very easy to easy in some places (UK, US) but hard to nearly impossible in others (Germany, for example), so it’s not always an option.

          1. Myrin*

            That’s what I think whenever I read about name changes on this site, but the situation in this letter is actually one of the few where you’d likely be able to change your name even in Germany – if you have a name that is such that you’d be disadvantaged in everyday life because of it (e. g. because it has vulgar associations or is shared with a widely-known criminal), a name change is generally possible.

          2. Avery*

            Even in the US, it takes time, money, and dedication to not just change the name legally, but then change it every place that uses your name. I can understand people who might want a name change if it were entirely hassle-free, but have decided that it’s not worth the trouble.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          It sounds like the trouble is in the initial screening and presumably they would speak to several actual humans before reaching the point of a background check. Plenty of people apply for jobs with a name that is different than what would be used for official documents and background checks so I can’t imagine that should be a problem!

    5. Maz*

      It’s probably less of a problem for LW3’s kids to change their name, but LW3 probably has a work history and reputation in their field which could be lost by changing their name. Obviously it’s an easy explanation, “Oh, LWIII has changed their name to LW3,” but the explanation doesn’t always happen or work.

    6. linger*

      Let us pause to consider the case of Leonhard Fuchs.
      He’s the 16th-century German botanist for whom the fuchsia was named.
      Sometimes it’s easy to see where a name is going to cause difficulty.
      Other times, it’s harder to tell what the fuchsia may hold…

            1. Myrin*

              That’s the spelling that most closely aligns the German pronunciation and an English spelling, actually.

      1. Myrin*

        I mean, that’s a problem with not pronouncing the name correctly (as tends to happen with non-anglo names) – it just means “fox” and you could even pronounce it that way and it would still sound closer to the right pronunciation than “fucks” does.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        I can remember once reading something about an actor whose last name was Furze. In his native Australia it meant nothing to him, but he met a German person who seemed very amused by it, ended up asking her why, and she said that in her native language it meant fart.

    7. UKDancer*

      The chief of the London Met Police used to be Commissioner Cressida Dick. I always thought it took a special level of resilience to be a police officer with that last name. She must have endured a lot of hazing from her colleagues when she was in training and as PC Dick in uniform on the beat.

      1. BubbleTea*

        Especially a FEMALE police officer, particularly since that was even less common when she started than it is now. I don’t have much respect for her, but that is one thing I can admire – she certainly has grit.

      2. fort hiss*

        Oh I know her from the Bad Gays podcast. She has worse problems than that last name lmao. (Recommend the podcast, it’s great.)

    8. Teach*

      I would also urge your kids to look into job fairs, networking, interest meetings, any friends and family who can put in their name…just so they can talk to someone before doing the online application. They can explain the situation and ask what the company would prefer they do, or maybe even bypass the system!

      I say that mostly because throwing hundreds (thousands?? really???) of applications into a void sounds terribly disheartening.

      1. BuffaloSauce*

        Also see if there are any local networking groups on facebook. I found a job that way and it was at a smaller company and I just had to email my resume in. It wasn’t just lost in the company’s employment tracking system abyss.

    9. FashionablyEvil*

      I knew someone in college whose first name was Kittiporn. My understanding is that -porn as a suffix is pretty common in Thailand (sort of like -son), but he only went by Kit. Some things just don’t translate well.

      1. Siege*

        And I worked with someone who just used Porn as his name. I’m not sure if it was short for a longer name or if it was his full name, but it was on his name tag. I also worked with someone who was half Thai and her name spelled it -pon. Not sure whether that was her white parent pointing out the issue or a real shift, but it’s the pronunciation of -porn in my part of America at least.

      2. Beebis*

        I was wondering why one customer’s last name wasn’t in the subject of an email like it normally is. Very quickly realized why they skipped that step when I saw the guy’s last name was Porn

      1. Anon4This*

        I went to high school with a guy whose name was Colby Dick. Not bad enough that his last name was Dick, but his parents also named him after cheese.

        1. Merrie*

          I also knew a Colby with a comically bad last name and a questionable middle name too. His brother had an eminently normal first and middle name. I don’t know what their parents (both of whom also had normal, common names) were thinking, recognizing with one kid that it’s best to give an easy/common first name if your last name is weird, and then just pitching that all out the window with the second one.

    10. Kacihall*

      There is a teacher (or at least prospective teacher) named Dixrek Beavers. I wish to god I was lying. Apparently he has a YouTube channel with education videos; I admit I have not actually watched any of his channel because I did not want that in my search history.

      1. Siege*

        A classmate’s mother (an extremely rigid Christian lady) was named Beverley but went by Beaver. I did not understand that choice.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Reminds me of Arcadia University in PA. It changed its name to Arcadia U. from Beaver College in the early 2000s. It was also a women’s college for much of its history.

          1. Nana*

            I went to Beaver College (I’m old). One of our favorite cheers was “You can always tell a Beaver by her long, flat tail”
            I transferred to Boston University. Dull, but easily memorable.

        2. UKDancer*

          I will say the funniest experience I had was having to work with an American chap in a previous job who went by “Randy.” In the UK that’s pretty much exclusively used to mean aroused. So when he came over to me at our first meeting and said “Hey I’m Randy” I had to work pretty hard not to fall about laughing and say something inappropriate.

    11. Sanity Lost*

      Or you have a friend like I did in college who’s name was Phuc la Duc (pronounced phonetically)…. He went by Ducky due to all the sniggering.

    12. Home*

      I also think LW may have to just formally change the name. It’s not cheap, it’s tedious, and it’s a total PITA to do…but it may be the best way. Their kids will probably also have to do that as well and yes, I’m speaking from experience.
      My family went through something similar–our original surname couldn’t be confused for a curse word or anything but it was hard to spell/pronounce for anyone who wasn’t a native Polish speaker. Even my dad’s family (who have been in the US since the early 1900s) didn’t pronounce it the way it was “supposed” to be. My mom had grown up with a maiden name that also threw people for a loop because of one letter. So a few years into their marriage, they decided to change the last name to something more Americanized (like Smith). One of my uncles did the same thing because he was starting his own business and running into similar issues. Years prior to that, one of my dad’s uncles had simply shortened the original, very Polish surname into something that wasn’t so “5 consonants in a row” but still a nod to their heritage.

      The only potential hiccup is that my older sister was about 3 years old when this all happened so she also needed a new birth certificate with the new name. But that was one of the reasons why my parents made the decision when they did–they didn’t want to put it off longer, have my sister start school under one name, etc. Again, it’s not cheap (I think my parents paid at least $250 back in 1970s money) or easy (they had to go to court to show they weren’t dodging debts or old criminal charges, in addition to getting new EVERYTHING issued in the new name) but in the long run, it worked out. As annoying as application tracking systems are (and oh god they are awful), they’re not going away anytime soon. So any edge that the LW can give themselves and their kids is going to help.

    13. Critical Rolls*

      When someone enlists in the U.S. Navy, their initial rank is Seaman, and they’re addressed as Seaman Lastname. Once in a while I encounter someone and hope no one in their family has naval aspirations.

      1. FashionablyEvil*

        Oh, it works at many levels in the military! Captain and Major offer lots of opportunities for silliness too (Captain Wang, Major Stoner, etc.).

      2. Kacihall*

        I’ve known of someone whose maiden name was Seaman. She became Mrs. Sample after marriage.

        I really hope she never wanted to hyphenate her name.

      3. Spicy Tuna*

        I have a cousin through marriage whose last name is Seeman. Now I wish he was in the Navy so he could be Seaman Seeman!

    14. Sharkie*

      I guess some people just accept it. In high school we had one teacher named Dick Burns and another named Dick Slocum. Brave souls those two

    15. Avery*

      I’m surprised the last name Johnson is so popular, given… well. Especially since there appear to be a number of men out there named Dick Johnson…

    16. Citra*

      Yeah, I actually wondered that, too. I worked with a guy who changed his last name from Pecker to Peck, for obvious reasons. It was a very simple and fairly inexpensive process, and he was much happier when he could use “Peck” legally as well as just socially, as he’d been doing for a couple of years.

      My husband and I have considered changing our last name for years, since not long after we got married; it’s not a very euphonious name, and changing one vowel turns it into a cuss word. We never got around to it, for various reasons, but we still talk about it on occasion. It’s really not an unusual thing for people to do.

    17. Magpie*

      I had a teacher in highschool who’d changed his name from Mr Dicks to Mr Dycks to avoid such a problem. Of course it didn’t stop high school student from joking about it, especially as he shared a hallway with Mr Long and Mr Harder. Also our vice principal was named Mrs Cumming. It was a good time.

    18. Wendy Darling*

      Yeah he’s who I thought of. I heard him on a podcast and I think he said he taught like sixth grade or some similarly gonna-be-brutal-about-that grade and I was genuinely impressed that he got through teaching tweens with the name Dicks without becoming a bitter shell of a human.

    19. Space Lasers*

      I knew a girl in college named Amanda Strogoff. It always reminded me to Bart Simpson calling Mo’s Tavern and making up names. Anyway, she’s now married and has a different last name.

  2. RedinSC*

    My partner got a national park pass 2 years ago for his work holiday gift. I was really hoping he’d get another one this year, but sadly, he did not.

    I think it’s a great gift, and I was really happy to travel around to see a few parks with it.

    1. Jackalope*

      If the LW is in the US, another option would be the America the Beautiful pass. It’s a little bit more expensive, but covers all national parks, Forest Service locations, and so on.

      1. Hoosier*

        Depending on your state, a state park pass could also be a great one! I’m in Indiana so now we have the Dunes and I guess we aren’t too far from Mammoth Caves, but it’s a lot easier to go to the state parks (and there’s some surprisingly good ones!)

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Seconding the suggestion for a state park pass, depending on the location/state! In most of the places I’ve lived, state parks have been easier for me to get to than national parks.

        2. Trina*

          We’re also in Indiana and this is the second year we’ve gotten a state park pass for Christmas from the in-laws! We really need to branch out in using it though, we just keep visiting Turkey Run.

        3. Third or Nothing!*

          In Texas a state parks pass is for more useful than a national parks pass (unless you live near Big Bend, which the majority of residents do not). I live in a major metropolitan area and have 12 state parks within a 2 hour drive* of me. It’s glorious.

          *2 hours is considered a day trip by my family and most other Texans I know. I know that’s a significant drive to most folks but here it’s not as outrageous.

        4. Drago Cucina*

          This would be very office and state specific, but a state park pass would be great. In my office a national park pass wouldn’t be helpful because 90% of us already get free admission as US military veterans. Not so for many state parks.

      2. WoodswomanWrites*

        I second the America the Beautiful pass, which covers all federal lands, if the LW is in a location that’s close to these in addition to national parks. For example, I use my pass for national wildlife refuges to geek out on birds and other wildlife as well as a national park near me. As Jackalope points out, it’s a bit more expensive at $80 a year if that’s feasible.

        The America the Beautiful pass provides lifetime access for anyone who is at least 62 if you have employees in that age range, or you can purchase a one-year senior pass for only $20. Additionally, if you have employees with disabilities, you can gift them an Access Pass, which is a lifetime pass that’s free. Both the senior and access passes typically include half-price campsites, too.

        1. EPLawywer*

          Also it is good for up to 4 people. So you can take your family on one pass.

          FYI — it is FREE for Veterans. Just need to show proof of being a Vet (we have it on our driver’s license and that’s all we needed to get our passes).

          1. VeggieBubba*

            We took advantage of this. Thank you for bringing it to folks’ attention. Wish there were more parks we could get in, but the trip to see the Wright Brothers Memorial at the Outer Banks in NC was totally worth it. The Junior Ranger thing is cool.

    2. T.N.H.*

      This is the best gift idea that I have heard! I’m glad to see others agree in the comments.

    3. JustSomeone*

      It’s a neat idea, and I would be happy that gifting dollars went to a worthwhile cause…but I would definitely never use this.

    4. Green great dragon*

      The main risk is that people already have a pass. I don’t know if it’s possible to make it so that recipients can pass it on to someone else in that situation?

      1. Jessica*

        Or could it possibly work in such a way that when you buy a gift pass for someone, they’ll spot the existing membership and process the gift to tack an additional year onto it? (I know that doesn’t help if they have a life membership already.)

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Along the lines of may already have a pass – if you have active duty military or a large military veteran population in your work force – they may have a lifetime access pass (it’s free lifetime/time in uniform pass that grants free admission to all national parks in the United States and it’s territories. If this population is your employee base a State Parks pass may be just as good a gift – because the Access Passes do not apply to State Parks.

        Source: my coworkers, half of whom are veterans with Access Passes.

        1. Snow Glob*

          Well this is good to know. (Married to a military retiree, who has never mentioned this in the many times we’ve visited the parks.)

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Go to the National Parks website – they have the rules for who, w, and where. I’ve just been told it takes a touch of digging.

        2. Artemesia*

          Although this has changed, there was a time when seniors could buy a lifetime pass for a very small price; I have one. Now they are more expensive but still a good deal. So an older person may have a lifetime pass already if they are the sort of person who enjoys visiting national parks. Something to check out — or give the gift by announcing it and THEN buying it which gives the recipient the change to say ‘oh I love this but I already have it.’

          1. Glacier is my favorite.*

            As soon as my husband hit the age to get the lifetime pass I ordered it. We live in the West – Glacier, Yellowstone, Yosemite and on and on and we hit at least one if not more parks every year!

      3. Emily*

        I just came back from an Arizona National Parks trip yesterday and we used the Annual pass. It comes as a blank card with two signature spots. Any two people can sign it and if either one of them is going into a national park, they just have to show their ID along with the pass and they can drive in. Anyone else in the car also gets in.

        We decided that my partner would sign one spot and my mom would sign the other so multiple groups can use it throughout the year. National parks are normally $25 and the pass is $80.

      4. Morgan Proctor*

        You can literally just hand the pass to someone else, and they can use it, no questions asked. Your name isn’t on it. Source: I used to get a Joshua Tree pass every year, and when I moved away I gave my pass to a friend.

    5. RVMan*

      Honestly, as a gift, the National Park Pass, or similar, makes a lot more sense in some places (like DC, which has a bunch of nearby options) than others (Dallas and Houston, which are hundreds of miles from the nearest National Park). Consider your local state park pass as an alternative if you are in a state with a decent system.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        I posted this way below, but yes.
        It’s a 12 hour drive for me to Guadeloupe Mountains or Big Bend national parks.
        But only half an hour to Brazos Bend or an hour to Galveston State Park.

      2. ECHM*

        Michigan allows purchase of a recreation passport for $12 when you renew your license; it grants you access to all Michigan state parks.

    6. Kimmy Schmidt*

      Some public libraries also have passes you can “checkout” for National and State Parks, as well as local museums and tourist attractions!

    7. tessa*

      Agreed. Also, the debbie downer comments here are unbelievable. If a park pass doesn’t work, pass it on to someone else and bask in the thoughtfulness of the gift in the meantime.

      It’s not complicated.

  3. Zee*

    LW5: I, personally, would love a pass to a national park! But keep in mind that if you have anyone with limited mobility on your team, this would actually be a pretty bad gift.

    1. Jackalope*

      It depends on the park. Some parks aren’t set up to be friendly to people with mobility issues, but many of them have some trails that are, for example, wheelchair friendly, and more of them that I’ve gone to have beautiful scenic drives. Obviously it won’t be perfect for everyone, but no present is.

      1. Fikly*

        Wheelchair friendly often isn’t, especially in parks.

        For example, if the path isn’t smooth – say it’s a boardwalk, planks of wood, anything that adds a vibration, anyone in a wheelchair who has issues where added vibration will cause pain will have a major problem.

        If you haven’t actually lived life with a variety of mobility issues, you don’t realize that wheelchair friendly, or technically in compliance with the ADA really isn’t enough.

        Not to mention the many people with invisible disabilities for whom a park would be impossible.

        Which goes to show, rather than shrugging and saying well, no gift works for everyone, and then giving gifts that exclude people, the best gift is to actually ask people what would work for them, or to have a few options they can select from.

        1. MEH Squared*

          I would like to add those of us with allergies. I joke that I am allergic to everything under the sun including the sun, but it’s not a joke. I really am allergic to just about everything in nature. I like the outdoors just fine as long as it’s outdoors and I’m inside.

          I think this is a wonderful gift for so many people, but a terrible one for others like me. As Fikly said, the best thing to do is ask people what they want or give a range of gifts from which they can pick. Or, my personal favorite, give cash/days off.

          1. metadata minion*

            And I *adore* going to parks, but without a car, the vast majority of them are inaccessible to me.

          2. Underemployed Erin*

            Yes, gifts should be aware of the recipient.

            I am allergic to nature and some food.

            Not all nature is the same nature, and allergy shots can help some people with nature allergies. I am still not a fan of grass and trees when they are doing very high pollen things, but I live near a lot of very nice nature.

            A friend recently told me about The Wave National Park, and that does not look like it would trigger so many allergies.

            1. Antares*

              Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area! I went to the south side, and there were lots and lots of plants and flowers until you get to the actual rock formations. Beautiful once you get to them, though!

            2. Splendid Colors*

              I am also allergic to pollen, but during the pandemic I discovered that an N95 is fantastic to protect my airways. I like the 3M Aura because it has “weatherstripping” over the nose piece. I can even use it while bicycling because it has a lot of surface area for breathability.

              Also, antihistamine eye drops prevent burning, watering eyes from pollen and other irritants. I use Pataday and my optometrist confirmed it’s a good idea.

          3. Giant Kitty*

            I grew up being allergic to everything in nature, so my family did not do a lot of really normal things like camping, hiking, national parks, regular parks, etc. While I don’t have the same allergies now, I have other disabilities that would preclude the use of this.
            For my husband this would be an excellent gift! He loves the outdoors.

        2. Happy meal with extra happy*

          On one of the many threads last month about office gift giving, someone suggested a gift card service where the recipient could pick what gift card they wanted, and there was at least one comment saying that they didn’t like this idea – they didn’t want to have to pick out their own gift. So, there really is no one real answer.

          1. ecnaseener*

            Sure, but I’d argue that making sure everyone gets a gift they can use is more important than some people’s preferences for surprise gifts, or feeling like their manager picked something out with them in mind, or whatever it is. (And you *can* still indulge that preference if you know someone on your team has it, by saying “if you’d rather be surprised, let me know and I’ll pick out what I think you’d like best”)

          2. Aggretsuko*

            Ugh. I think letting people pick is still better under the circumstances.

            Like I have a friend who would LOVE a park pass, but another one who doesn’t do outdoors. I think something like that will only appeal to certain people. Giving options sounds like the best one.

        3. EPLawywer*

          Just an FYI – not all National “Parks” are Nature Stuff. Boston is a National Parks Site. Many historic homes are National Parks Site.

          Basically if you love history. You can find something indoors to do and STILL use the pass (many sites are free, this pass is only for those that are NOT).

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            Yup, Independence National Historical Park in Philly is under the national parks system.

            1. Splendid Colors*

              The most popular state park in California is (or was back when I lived there) Old Town San Diego. Which is a square of historical buildings including restaurants and shops selling artisan goods (such as Mexican glass and ceramics) not just postcards etc. The locals visit the restaurants regularly–it isn’t just a tourist trap.

        4. Clairebones*

          Absolutely on the invisible disabilities – my lung capacity has been destroyed since I got severe covid, so anything with more than 20mins walk becomes less enjoyable and more painful.

          I also used to work with someone with Crohns that was severe enough she had to send her partner shopping in the lockdown because bathrooms where closed everywhere, and she couldn’t reasonably go out for hours at a time and assume she wouldn’t need a bathroom, so big empty nature parks are not her idea of a good time either.

      2. Delta Delta*

        Definitely depends on the park. I live 2 miles from a national park that’s very accessible. And also, the National Park system isn’t all just giant tracts of land with trails, there are lots of different facilities under their care and that offer different experiences.

    2. Triplestep*

      It would be a terrible gift for me because I do not enjoy being in nature for the sake of being in nature. What can I say? I prefer exploring urban environments.

      I’m not saying this to yuck anyone’s yum, but because I have found that people who enjoy the great outdoors can be pretty presumptuous that this is universal. The idea that everyone must enjoy a natural setting is so pervasive I just avoid talking about it, or I might say “I’m not outdoorsy” and leave it at that. I suggest that before getting someone this gift, you make sure you’ve actually heard them speaking about spending time in nature and enjoying it.

          1. Pointy's in the North Tower*

            My idea of camping is a Motel 6 or any such place with no continental breakfast (no matter how lackluster) or coffee makers in room.

        1. Malarkey01*

          One of my son’s new friends asked him “are you an indoor or outdoor car?” I almost did a spit take and have now stolen that question.

      1. LadyAmalthea*

        Would the pass include indoor sites run by the National Park Service? I’m also indoorsy with bad seasonal allergies, and have loved these historical sites, so could see using the pass to visit those.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          It really varies from pass to pass, so the best bet is to talk with the organization you purchase the pass from.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            My state historic society sells passes to state-run historic sites. Both indoor & outdoor.

        2. EPLawywer*

          It includes ALL sites run by the NPS that participate (I think some do not).

          From the NPS Website:

          Each pass covers entrance fees at lands managed by the National Park Service and US Fish & Wildlife Service and also standard amenity fees (day use fees) at lands managed by the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Army Corps of Engineers. A pass covers the pass owner and all occupants in a personal vehicle at sites that charge per vehicle or, the pass owner and up to three additional adults (16 and over) at sites that charge per person. Children ages 15 or under are admitted free.

          1. Tango Maureen*

            Yep — I use mine all the time to go to National Historic Places and similar! Much of historic Boston is part of the Boston National Historic Place, for example, and I was able to get around pretty well even when I pulled out the cane.

      2. JustSomeone*

        This is me, too. I grew up Very Outdoors, on a farm and playing in the woods/prairies/lakes/etc. constantly. It was an absolutely delightful childhood for me, but I feel like I’ve now had a lifetime’s worth of the outdoors. As an adult, I like mini outdoor activities like growing veggies in my tiny garden, walking trails along the river, backyard bonfires…but I’m pretty over outside for the sake of outside. Weather is nearly always unpleasant (too…hot/cold/moist/stagnant/windy/etc) and the payoff of a pretty view just isn’t worth it 99% of the time.

        1. Anotherone*

          This is fascinating, because I had the exact same childhood but different outcomes in adulthood. We’re all different!

      3. Grits McGee*

        I have found that people who enjoy the great outdoors can be pretty presumptuous that this is universal.

        As a former NPS employee who was deemed insufficiently outdoorsy- yes, 100%. National Parks, even with their variations of wilderness, are not universally appealing for everyone for a myriad of reasons.

    3. The Prettiest Curse*

      Agreed on the access issues, which may also be exacerbated during high tourist season during to crowds.

      This would be a great gift for some people, but my memory of national parks I visited in the US is that you would have had a really difficult time getting there and getting around without a car. So this gift would probably also exclude anyone who isn’t a driver or can’t easily access a car.

      A local parks pass may be a better option for non-drivers, or just let people choose their own gift, because there’s no one type of pass (museum, gym, park, streaming service, cinema etc.) that will work for everyone.

      1. Carrot*

        I came here to say this, I would be so disheartened! Even with local parks, our nearest is at least 2 bus rides away, with popular remote areas I just can’t reach. I think it can be a great gift, but keep in mind the giftee’s situation. Non-drivers are often forgotten/left out accidentally, and it would suck to feel that from my team.

    4. JM60*

      Or people with various medical problems that might not be obvious. I would never use a pass to a national park for medical reasons, but people wouldn’t guess it by looking at me.

      It’s an interesting gift idea that might be great for many people, but just like giving a giftcard to a restaurant to someone who might not like that restaurant, it’s not going to work out for everyone.

    5. irianamistifi*

      And Distance can be an issue too! I live in a part of a country where the nearest national park is at least 4 states away. I always think it would be neat to live out west where there’s national parks every which way. But the east coast is a little thin on them.

      1. Tango Maureen*

        Ironically I have the opposite experience — I moved from part of the Southwest where the nearest National Park site was over a hundred miles away and the rest even farther (although they were all in my state, to be fair) to a part of the east coast where there are over a dozen national and state parks within 100 miles, several of them easily accessible by public or private transit.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        That is technically true, but some disabilities have needs not met by the ADA.

        One commenter already mentioned “wheelchair accessible” paths with a rough ride that can be painful for some people. Other people need to be close enough to a bathroom that they wouldn’t get to see enough of the park to be worth the trip. I imagine some people may not want to risk getting stranded where they can’t recharge their medical equipment or mobility equipment.

        Also, if someone has kids whose disabilities mean they often bolt away suddenly, they have to be careful where they travel. You don’t want your kids running into the volcanic hot springs or groves of poison oak/ivy. A museum where I was on the disability access panel had parents requesting adult-size changing tables because they had teen or adult children who needed help with continence products. (Might apply to elderly family members too.) That’s not required by ADA so you’re unlikely to find it unless a public place has worked on “universal design”. The parents felt it was undignified to change their grown child’s diapers on the tailgate of the van/SUV/whatever in the parking lot, and I agree.

    6. Cinnamon Chiclet*

      For a permanently disabled person it would not perhaps be the best gift – but only because if they are a US citizen or permanent resident, they are entitled to the interagency “Access” pass which gives lifetime access for Free.


      As an aside, my brother is in a wheelchair and he would be livid if someone assumed he would not enjoy something outdoorsy (and excluded him/got him an alternative gift) without asking him first. Like, contact the EEOC/discrimination lawsuit, livid.

      To him, the onus to be accessible is generally on the establishment, not the gift giver.

  4. LW4*

    LW4 here. Oh dear… I hope I’m not passed over because of those intros for the CLs I’ve already submitted! :( Thanks for the feedback, it truly helps to get an outside perspective.

    1. Appletini*

      Most of the time you just won’t hear back and trying to figure out why will drive you around the bend. Just read, absorb, and apply Alison’s good advice, edit your cover letter a bit to fit each job, and keep going. We’re cheering you on!

      1. updating plagues*

        I second this – I wrote easily 100+ cover letters to Allison’s specifications (and had mentors agree they were strong) and heard….nothing back. Early in your career, most of the time you will get silence no matter how good your application is, so don’t be too hard on yourself and keep applying!

        Once you get your foot in the door, the next job search should be easier with higher odds of responsiveness.

    2. They Don’t Make Sunday*

      Please don’t feel bad! It’s not your fault that you tried to follow the advice you were given. College career centers often give bad guidance (which is so weird! in most other areas, you can generally trust that your school is teaching you correctly).

      You’re not alone in having sent out the examples you gave. Most cover letters out there sound like that. I sent some myself as a college student. The great thing is that you’re just starting out, and now is the perfect time to learn. If you practice and get good at applying Alison’s cover letter advice, you will really stand out from the pack.

      Good luck with your internship search!

      1. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Yes, this is good for OP to realize! Most of the entry level roles I hire for receive cover letters that sound awkward in some way – overly stilted or formal language is especially common. Which means both that bad ones don’t stick out little a sore thumb at that level, and also that good ones confer a much larger competitive advantage. If you can master them early in your career it will give you a big leg up, but if you haven’t yet, it won’t really hurt you much.

    3. Stitch*

      I mean it’s possible, but there’s nothing you can do, so you just have to keep applying and work in your cover letter.

      For what it’s worth whole the one suggested by your college’s office is bad, I don’t think it’s “throw the application in the trash” bad. It at least explains why someone is applying for the job although quite badly.

      The one suggested by your parents, though, is spectacularly bad. That language isn’t even selling yourself and shouldn’t be anywhere in your cover letter. I’ve been in the room when an application got tossed out for language like that.

      1. MsM*

        Yeah, of the two, I would definitely err more on the side of the career office version: it’s stilted, but it does at least demonstrate that you know what company and position you’re applying to and have done enough research to figure out their stated values. Which puts you ahead of anyone who’s just clicking “submit” with an application package designed for any and all jobs, instead of showing why they’re a good fit for this job.

    4. accidentally employed far away from home*

      Don’t worry, just go ahead and apply the brilliant advice.

      Generally, there are three sources of advice that you should doubt:
      1) parents: often decoupled from your field and stuck to the times of their youth and believe knowing everything
      2) college career centres: often run by people who were not so successful in their own job searches or teachers assigned the task unvoluntarily, but anyway believing that being senior is sufficient competence
      3) professional recruiters: they may just want to make their job easy, not help you to get the job

      Moreover, official employment offices may lave limited experience for white collar jobs and internet gurus may be bound inside their own bubble.

      Sure there are exceptions.

      Finding a good advisor for your field, region, culture and personal demography is even harder than finding a job. I do not remember ever getting coherent and comprehensive advice for job hunting but huge amount of junk advice, often unsolicited. Most jobs I have got were against general advice. I do not know if anyone does scientific research about job seeking.

      1. recovering admissions counselor*

        Whoa, can I push back on your assessment of college career center staff here? Based on your spelling choices, you might not be in the U.S., but for a lot of people in the States working in higher education is a career choice, and many people who work in college career centers chose that path not because they “were not successful” in other careers, but because they find working with college students fulfilling.

        The issue with college career centers tends to be because of my above description: it can be hard to advise on professional norms of a field that you have only very broad strokes knowledge of. But it isn’t necessarily because they are bad at finding jobs. They had to get the job they have somehow!

        1. Splendid Colors*

          My problem with the career center I used most recently was that we weren’t assigned an advisor, it was just whoever was available, even if you scheduled an appointment. None of them agreed with the other advisors, so if one told me to format my resume this way, when I brought it back for review, the next would yell at me for using an unprofessional format. I quit going because they wouldn’t let me access job search until someone approved my resume and nobody would approve it.

    5. Just me*

      Don’t worry too much about the ones you’ve already sent.

      For what it’s worth, I’ve been on intern-selecting panels at work, and I’ve never made up my mind about an applicant based solely on one part of the application. (I guess if the applicant revealed themselves to have an ethics problem or a terrible attitude toward the job, I would, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.)

      If the rest of your application is compelling, and if your cover letter gets better after the introduction, your application could still be fine — especially because you’re not the only internship applicant who’s gotten terrible advice from parents and campus career centers. So don’t despair.

      And now that you’ve gotten good advice from this site (kudos for taking the initiative to reach out to an expert, btw), you’re poised to do even better on future applications.

    6. Jessica*

      LW4, I hire for entry level roles, and while I agree with Alison’s advice, I also do NOT think your letters were standout bad. I set up our online application to require the submission of a cover letter because it’s important to me (both to know about the candidate and as my best shot at seeing their writing ability, which is relevant for the position), and some people will either upload their resume again in that slot, or submit a document with like one sentence that’s neither coherent, grammatical, nor framed as a letter. Those are the worst ones.

      Good cover letters do stand out. But ones that are sort of stilted and jargony and sound like the poor writer doesn’t know what they’re doing and has absorbed a barrage of bad advice? Those are just the middle of the pack, and I don’t judge people harshly for it.

      Given the overall level of cluelessness I see among job seekers, I can’t imagine that anybody is getting such high-quality applications that they’re scoffing at yours and dropping it in the trash. Think of Alison’s cover-letter advice (which is excellent) not as “here’s how to avoid being terrible in a field where everyone else is competent” but more as “here’s how to shine in a field where everyone else is mediocre.”

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yes, both of those strike as very much as “skip over the fluff and see whether there’s anything useful further down” rather than, “good heavens, never let this person darken our door”. That kind of very formulaic and impersonal cover letter doesn’t ADD anything to your application, but it doesn’t really take anything away either, except space that you could be using to make your candidacy more effectively.

        Good luck!

      2. ferrina*

        Yep, agree. The examples from LW were a pretty ordinary level of bad, nothing that would stick out (though the parent example is a bit pretentious). My only thought would be “this person struggles with writing a cover letter- that’s pretty normal for this age”. Bad cover letters need to be really bad to stick out, but good cover letter stick out just because they are so rare!

      3. Quinalla*

        Agreed, these cover letter examples are in the middle road for intern cover letters based on my experience. They won’t be positive or negative, just neutral. Take the advice going forward and don’t sweat it on the jobs you already applied to!

    7. Emmy Noether*

      Don’t worry too much about it. I used to worry about having the perfect cover letter, and advice everywhere was that it should be “original” and “attention-grabbing”, especially the intro. Unfortunately, attempting that often just results in gimmicky and ridiculous.

      Now having been on the other side, I’ve learned a few things. The most important being that very good cover letters are rare. Most that I get are mediocre to ok*. They have to be really terrible to disqualify a candidate. And while your samples would elicit an eyeroll from me at the parts Alison flagged, it’d be pretty clear to me that it’s just an inexperienced candidate trying too hard on bad advice. Interns often aren’t polished yet, it’s to be expected. As long as the rest of the application got the needed info across and you have the qualifications I’m looking for, I wouldn’t hold it against you.

      * Tech field, recruiting straight from uni. Writing (self-)promotional material is rarely a strength for our candidate pool, and it’s not a requirement of the job either.

    8. MuseumNerd*

      I hire for entry level museum work and honestly you would get some points with me just for including a cover letter that seems well thought out, even if it wasn’t completely ideal. I don’t get many applications that have a cover letter at all. It’s true that a really great cover letter will move an application to the top of the pile, but I definitely wouldn’t discount one that started like your examples. Just take Alison’s good advice for the future but don’t sweat the ones you already sent out too much!

    9. anxiousGrad*

      I also wanted to add that MIT and Harvard have really good online resources for writing resumes, CVs, and cover letters.

    10. Goldie*

      I do a lot of hiring and for me, rarely does the cover letter make a difference. It’s the experience and education listed on the resume.

      1. Stitch*

        It is very, very job dependent. I’m coming at this from doing a large resume/cover letter review for a job that does require writing skills and a bad cover letter would get you tossed out.

        A college level intern? They might be okay. But yeah don’t use either of those or similar language going forward. Definitely don’t take cover letter advice from your parents anymore.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I also do a lot of hiring, and the cover letter *does* make a difference to me, particularly for similarly-situated and entry-level candidates where there’s not a lot of work experience to base the decision on. I also work in an industry where proofreading is a key skill and being able to communicate in writing clearly and concisely is also important – if you send me a rambling cover letter that contains word usage, grammatical, and/or spelling errors, that is likely disqualifying.

        Neither of the letter LW4 submitted would be disqualifying – the first one sounds like a form letter and the second is a little cringey with the over-the-top language, but if they’re brief with good spelling and mechanics, I’m happy to consider their application.

        I don’t see a lot of stellar cover letters, but they tell me enough about someone’s attention to detail and writing mechanics to be useful.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Agreed — especially for someone early in their career. Either of those read like potentially someone I could work with on their writing.

      3. Mockingjay*

        In my industry (comms/IT, government contracting), cover letters are pretty staid. Mention the job first: “I’m applying for Position X,” so we know what position you are going for (there’s usually quite a few open) and can sort quickly. Highlight your interest in the field or program and mention at least one reason/qualification for the intern position. As an intern, we know you’re not going to have much relevant experience. We’re looking for someone who has done some minimal research into our company (read our website, check our social media posts), has a decent transcript (we’re not looking for Ivy League, just solid coursework), and who can articulate a willingness to learn in the letter and in the interview.

      4. AllY'all*

        I honestly don’t even read cover letters. The information I need is in the resume; the cover letter is just a sales pitch and I’m not hiring for a sales position. I understand I’m in a very small minority in that – I guess I just legitimately don’t see what value other people see in cover letters unless you’re trying to make sure the person can communicate comprehensibly in written English, and the resume should give you some idea of that as well.

        1. Quinalla*

          Cover letters are pretty rare in my industry, so I get where you are coming from. If there is one I’ll read it to see if there is anything interesting, but I agree the resume is what I’m going to focus on.

        2. AllY'all*

          As an aside, most of the time I couldn’t read cover letters if I wanted to. At companies where I’ve been on hiring committees, the HR department usually only passes on the resumes to the hiring managers. So maybe the cover letter gets you past an initial HR prescreen for written communication, and that’s its value? All I know is that in twenty years of contributing to hiring decisions a cover letter has never swayed my opinion in either direction.

    11. BuffaloSauce*

      LW4 do not feel bad. This maybe an unpopular opinion (esp here), but I very rarely write cover letters unless the job posting requires it. I have gotten plenty of interviews and jobs without them. Please do what is most comfortable for you, but know you are probably doing just fine!

      1. ecnaseener*

        I think it’s very situation-dependent – mainly, if your resume (and portfolio if applicable) speaks for itself, great, you probably don’t need a cover letter. Like if you’re applying for a teapot painter job with teapot painting experience already. But with internships, you’re almost by definition not at that stage yet with your resume.

        (In my experience, I’m involved with hiring for a job that’s uncommon enough that we only rarely get candidates with direct experience llama grooming. Entry-level candidates might be new grads with a biology degree, higher-level candidates usually have some zoo experience and maybe even llama contact, but not grooming – I really wish more of these candidates included cover letters!)

    12. Erie*

      LW4, what struck me was the contrast between the quality of your writing in the letter to AAM (and this comment), and the quality of the cover letter. You clearly can write well and concisely and explain your situation! Just do that on the page, too.

      Often I find that people come to me and say “I’m trying to say [perfectly phrased, cogent thing]. How do I write this?” and I have to respond “Just use exactly the phrase you used just now to explain it to me!” They think they need some kind of fancy verbiage and can’t just write the way they speak. Don’t fall into that trap.

      1. Sharpie*

        LW4, writing the way you speak is a learnable skill, which just means it takes practice. If you don’t know how to say something on the page, try saying it out loud and then writing it down the way you said it. Once it’s written, then it can be cleaned up, but you’ll have a basis to start from.

        1. Not Your Trauma Bucket*

          Yes yes yes!!! About 90% of my job is translating input from subject matter experts into strong, persuasive text, and this is exactly the advice I give those SMEs. Just write down exactly what you want to say first – use placeholders like “blah blah blah” or “XX” for anything you can’t quite capture – then go back and edit.

          1. I am Emily's failing memory*

            This right here is often the idea people are missing with long form writing. I don’t recall ever really being taught *how* to write in school – I was taught what finished writing should look like and how to edit a piece of writing to correct grammar and spelling errors, but I was in graduate school before I realized I didn’t need to write a paper from beginning to end, and then go back and edit the spelling and grammar. That I could just stay by writing out the ideas that were the most clear in my head, and the phrases I wanted to use. Once I have that core of my ideas on the proverbial paper*, I can then go back and edit – where edit now just mean “fix spelling and grammar errors.” It means rearrange the pieces, flesh them out where more detail was needed, craft some transitions to pivot between sections – turn the sentences and phrases you wrote earlier into a cohesive piece of writing. (And of course, add an introduction as the very last step!)

            *Actually, since I went through public school in the 90s, although I had access to a family computer at home most of the essays I wrote and handed in were pen on paper until I got to college, and I’m wondering now if the reason my teachers never taught us to write that way is because of how much more laborious it is to do so without a word processor to make cutting and pasting almost effortless.

            1. Texan In Exile*

              I worked in corporate communications and so often, my subject matter experts were embarrassed that their first drafts weren’t perfect. I explained to them that in all the history of the world, nobody has written a perfect first draft and that it takes my friend who writes NYTimes bestsellers an entire year to write each book.

        2. AllY'all*

          I think an awful lot of mistakes like the LW’s second letter could be avoided by using a simple test: Could I say this out loud to another human being in an interview without mortally embarrassing myself?

          If the answer’s no, don’t put it in your cover letter either. A lot of people do not deal well with second-hand embarrassment, and some of them might be reading what you wrote.

      2. NervousHoolelya*

        I’m a Writing Center Director, and so many of my conversations with students boil down to this exact point — especially the students writing senior seminar papers and grad school papers. Somewhere along the line, people pick up this idea that big words and convoluted sentences make you “sound smart.” A very tiny percentage of people can use those strategies and still end up with coherent sentences. Everyone else just winds up with a jumbled word salad.

        A fair number of professors around here (and in higher education more generally) do tell students “Don’t write the way you speak,” but what they mean by that is “Don’t turn in papers that look like text messages and/or like the slang-y conversation you had with your friend over lunch.” We need to shift that messaging to something closer to “Write the way you would speak to a professor in this department who is interested in your subject area.”

      3. AnonyAnony*

        LW4: Please listen to this. Hiring manager here. I don’t know if Alison did any editing to your original letter, but if she didn’t, and if you write your CL in the same clear and concise way you wrote to AAM, then you’ll be all good to go.

        To me, the career center letter wasn’t THAT bad. As a hiring manager, I can overlook the “explosive imaginations” thing and view it as the candidate is going for a middle of the road, conventional approach to convey their interest in an internship, and I don’t have a problem with that. I wouldn’t ever judge it as lifeless of personalityless.

        On the other hand, the parent letter was way worse. The choice of wording and sentences came across as so overly dramatic that it was bizarre. The more concerning issue was I have no idea what the applicant was even trying to convey. Not only would it make me doubt the candidate’s writing and overall communication ability, it would also make me wonder if the candidate has a bizarre personality and it’s coming straight through in the CL.

      4. L'étrangère*

        #4 don’t stress too much about the spilled ink, just write your future letters just like you wrote to AAM and success will soon follow. But I have a related question. Here you are, all grown up and graduated, applying for jobs, why are your parents and career center reviewing your letters? And before you send them out even, it sounds like? Presumably you’re doing this by email, which should be entirely private (be sure to change your password today if you suspect it’s not). If you have that kind of relationship, you can try to kindly explain to your parents that it’s been n years since they applied to a job cold, likely in a very different field, and that while you very much appreciate their concern and efforts you need to get more current/applicable advice. Blame changes on the pandemic if you have to, everyone knows that has had a radical effect on many social interactions. Get them reading AAM, it might also help them. If that doesn’t work, you can produce an acceptable decoy for their inspection while applying the way you know would work better. And you can simply fail to show anything to the career center, or only show it after the fact, continuing to ignore their advice as you go. This application process is stressful for you, you might take advantage of the upheavals it implies to gently but firmly set some boundaries which will make your life easier in the long term. Wishing you good luck :-)

    13. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Don’t be discouraged! In my opinion (as HR, as a hiring manager, as someone who has job searched successfully), cover letters matter insofar as they are the thing that can make you stand out in a competitive field or give more context to your resume. As you’ve discovered there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there, and as such a LOT of people write bad cover letters. It’s never, in my opinion, an automatic disqualification, especially if your writing is decent and your resume is strong.

      If I got either of the letters you gave as examples I’d assume you were taking bad cover letter advice. The second one in particular I might, honestly, roll my eyes at, but I wouldn’t throw your letter away over it. I would see how you write in the context of what I know you’re doing and look at your resume. You definitely haven’t made a fatal error.

    14. Lacey*

      Following Alison’s cover letter advice will help you a TON. It can take some time to study her tips and practice applying, but it really pays off.

      That said, I did get jobs before I knew this website existed and there are tons of people just like you who have gotten lousy advice – so you’re not doomed. You just don’t want to do it like this going forward.

    15. Biobrains*

      Don’t worry, OP4, I get multiple bad cover letters every week. It has gotten to the point where I often reply with advice on how to do a better job since apparently people have nowhere else to learn.

      If you take Alisons advice and keep it focused and to the point, you will already rise to the top of the pile.

    16. AllY'all*

      LW4 – the bad news is that, yes, you might be. The good news is that you asked and got a useful answer, so whatever has happened with the ones you’ve already submitted, you now know better and can produce a much better cover letter. You were wise enough to understand that two sources of terrible information do not suddenly become good information just because you chose the slightly less terrible information, and you found another source. Now you have better tools.

    17. LunaLena*

      Don’t feel too bad, I’m pretty sure we’ve all done some pretty dumb stuff when we were starting out; it’s just how life works! I certainly cringe when I think some of the really dumb things I did as new grad (including showing up uninvited with a downloaded application in hand to show my enthusiasm for the position), but what matters is that you learn to do better and keep moving forward. How else do you get experience, after all? :)

      If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been on hiring committees and I’ve seen cover letters that were literally two sentences (usually with typos and grammatical errors in them) from grown-ass people. The examples you gave are really not that egregious. Every committee I’ve been on has also taken into account what kind of position we’re hiring for and adjusts expectations accordingly; while we’re certainly excited to see well-written cover letters that wow us, we’re not exactly expecting the next coming of Shakespeare for an entry-level internship position either.

    18. Bunny Lake Is Found*

      During busy season (back in a prior life), I was reviewing something like 50 resumes, cover letters and writing samples a day. Many people on the hiring committee I was working for were doing the same and we could present something like 10% of the applicants, at most, to committee for a potential interview At that volume, you have to find a way to make it manageable.

      I know at least one person used the cover letter to make their first cut because they believed being able to communicate persuasively and clearly was the most important aspect of the job. That person would have passed you over and usually only ever recommended moving forward on a few candidates a week (Don’t worry, we circulated packets so at least 2 people read each application so that Cover Letter Clyde didn’t reject someone truly outstanding because they didn’t use the active tense enough). In contrast, I read the resume first, and made my (I admit, pretty significant) cuts then I skimmed writing samples, and only then read the cover letters. Meaning by the time I would have read your cover letter, I already thought you would be a great fit for the role, so you would have to write something pretty horrific to get bounced by me at that point.

      It’s also important to say, this is how we dealt with internship and entry level (advanced degree) positions because all the candidates were pursuing a very hard field of study and were largely excelling at it…we could have hired by a random number generator and still had 70% of the candidates brought in for an interview be fantastic. Experienced hires were totally different because when you need someone with 5 years in Obscure Specialty, even if their cover letter was SHOCKINGLY BAD (not offensive, just bad) you would never pass them over.

    19. Tsalmoth*

      FWIW, as a hiring manager, yeah, the letter your parents suggested would absolutely stop your application in its tracks for me. The career center one is more “traditionally” bad, but I might at least look at your resume (but if I’m comparing your resume to someone else’s with similar experience/skills, it could still matter). As others have noted, though, you’ll almost never know why someone rejected you (especially during the early stages), so the best option is to just not worry about it and move on.

  5. Heidi*

    Does anyone else try to guess what Alison is going to write in her answer before reading it? While reading Letter 4, I was totally thinking, “I really dislike both of these examples.” The first sounds a bit too obsequious and the second sounds like the LW is trying to explain the industry to someone in the industry when they don’t actually have any experience in the industry. I’d find both off-putting.

    Internships are supposed to be stepping stones to larger careers. Without tons of prior experience, the LW might consider describing their larger career goals and how the skills provided by the internship will help them to reach those goals. It shows a realistic understanding of what the job entails and a commitment to a career trajectory that will motivate them to do well in even a temporary role. Good luck!

    1. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      I read and think about what Alison would say/what I think the response should be–and am smugly pleased with myself when what I have in my head matches her reply. lol

      1. Cj*

        Interestingly, some of the cover letters that Alison posted in the past of examples of good ones seemed to me to use the same type of over the top language. Not the ones that she has links to in this post, but I remember one in particular where others in the comment section thought the same thing.

        1. I am Emily's failing memory*

          I think you might be remembering the third linked “this” example, for the Intergalactic Services Intern. They were applying for a public-facing education role with a non-profit and projected a lot of cheerful enthusiasm which a lot of the commenters found off-putting because it sounded too rosy to be sincere. Alison jumped in a few places in the comments to emphasize that what made it such a good letter isn’t that it’d work for every job, but that it was exactly the right note to strike for that specific role, where an ability to project cheerful enthusiasm to the public, even when things may not really feel so rosy, would be highly valued.

          1. I am Emily's failing memory*

            (And to add – the difference with that letter is that while some of the statements may have strained credulity for some, like speaking of how working at Starbucks as a teenager shaped the person they became, the vocabulary and sentence structure was still very plain and conversational. It didn’t read like they’d busted out Roget’s or modeled the letter on the cadence of luxury cruise line ad copy.)

    2. Manchmal*

      The first version is incredibly common in academic cover letters. It probably is over the top for an intern application, but the first version reads much better to me than the second!

  6. PiB*

    Radiolab actually did an interesting episode on names that don’t fit into our computer programs: https://radiolab.org/episodes/null

    Unfortunately, they did not have any solutions to fix the problem, just commiseration. If your kids were still in school, I might say that they could go to one of those college job fairs to ask a recruiter for advice, but I imagine it’d probably be similar to Allison’s.

    1. Mialana*

      That was an interesting podcast episode, thank you for sharing! I had no idea this problem existed…

      This does remind of a similar thing that happened to me when I was staying in the UK for an internship. I was unable to register for services that asked for my phone number because I didn’t have a UK phone number (I stayed with my German phone number for the limited time of the internship). The websites used the number of digits to check whether the entered text was a phone number. UK and German phone numbers have a different number of digits!

      Of course entering a fake number worked, but this is really not a good option if the company needs your number to actually call you.

      1. Not Australian*

        I regularly encounter a similar problem in other contexts because I don’t have a mobile (cell) phone. I had one for years, I hated it, and now I just don’t bother. I’m often told “but everybody’s got a mobile phone!”, which is clearly not the case at all. I’m available via e-mail anyway, and if anyone actually wants to speak to me there’s a landline number they (or I) can always use. I resent the notion that everyone uses the same technology all the time, and that there is something odd or suspicious about not doing so. /rant

      2. Tau*

        I have this problem with the IRS every year. If you’re gonna do worldwide taxation of you citizens regardless of how long it’s been since they lives in the country you need to assume not everyone has a US phone number. But alas.

      3. londonedit*

        Yeah, back in the earlier days of online shopping it was fairly common to encounter address fields that were set up for US addresses and flat out wouldn’t accept a UK postcode (which is in the form of something like W1A 1AA, nothing like the US zip code numbers). And there were also plenty of online forms that couldn’t cope with the fact that my parents’ address was in the form of house name, village name, county name – there’d be a field for house number and street name and we didn’t have either of those. Even pre-internet I had trouble giving my phone number when I was still living with my parents, because it was in the form of a 5-digit area code followed by a 5-digit number (being a rural area with not that many houses) at a time when most phone numbers were a 5-digit area code and a 6-digit number. People would think I’d left a digit off the end.

        1. Tinkerbell*

          I live in Alabama (which comes up first when the US states are sorted alphabetically), and I’ve come across a few online sites that wouldn’t ship to me because they forgot to include a blank slot in the “choose your state from the list below” drop-down menus. If you pick Alabama, the site tells you you haven’t picked yet :-\ Luckily it’s been a few years since I ran into this, but it’s infuriating!

          1. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

            That happens occasionally when living in DC as well… sometimes we get left off the list of states :(

            1. I am Emily's failing memory*

              I’ve encountered this quite a bit on those lead gen forms where you enter your work contact info and consent to be solicited in order to download a white paper or other resource. I think those forms are more likely to be home-brewed/DIY coding and it’s shocking how many leave DC off entirely (and also weird is how many don’t leave it off, but list it as “Washington, DC” at the bottom, right between “Washington” “Wisconsin”).

        2. bamcheeks*

          Was a problem very recently in Ireland (and in some places probably still is?) as they only started using postcodes/Eircodes less than a decade ago!

        3. BubbleTea*

          I still occasionally run into this sort of issue on old systems. My favourite example, which I’ve probably shared here before, was when my police records check application insisted that I had to provide my UK postcode… for my address in Paris, France.

        4. Missb*

          I used to have issues with ordering items to my home, because my address started with a zero.

          Recently, our numbering system was changed up to remove the leading zeroes because the 911 (emergency) system also couldn’t handle the leading zeroes, making response times too long. So, problem solved, I guess.

        5. EvilQueenRegina*

          There’s still a few of those in existence even in bigger areas – I know Worcester still has 5 digit numbers, there’s been times when I’ve taken calls from such a number and had people going back to me with “Are you sure about that number, it looks like it’s missing a digit?” and that’s been quite recently.

      4. ArcticFoxy*

        As a programmer for a US and Canada based app, I had to fix an issue like this because we had a couple of customers with Mexican and UK cell numbers.

    2. WS*

      Yeah, I have some Indonesian friends who only use one name, which is pretty common in parts of Indonesia. When they tried to open bank accounts, the system just couldn’t cope, but of course if they made up a name (like using a patronymic, also pretty common) then that didn’t match their passports… They were told this was illegal in Australia, but thanks to their embassy, they could show guidance from the federal government that one name is indeed legal, and the bank manager managed to sort it out after several visits.

      (There were actually some legal restrictions on names, such as you can have a maximum of five names, and hyphenated names can only have two parts – you can be Smith-Jones but not Smith-Jones-Brown!)

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yeah, another fun thing with names is the “every single piece of legal paperwork has to line up and be the same.” Which is another issue in my work…

    3. DistantAudacity*

      To this topic, there’s the classic “Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names”, which details out all of this (and really, this should NOT be an issue in any systems in 2023) – link in reply

    4. The Prettiest Curse*

      My first name has a hyphen and whenever I buy an airline ticket, I have to leave out the hyphen (which is part of my legal name) because airline ticket systems don’t like hyphens. There are so many people in the world with hyphenated names that you would think it wouldn’t be an issue by now, but nope.

    1. Monday Monday*

      This is great!!
      And dates!! Did we learn nothing from Y2K? I still see systems that request a 2 digit year. I guess they want to make sure future generations have jobs around the year 2099 :P

  7. NationalParksDontWorkForEveryone*

    LW5, a national parks pass is a terrible gift for many people, especially if it’s for a specific park that’s mainly focused on being out with nature, but even one with museum components. It would exclude many people with a wide variety of disabilities and those with various medical issues such as allergies or other breathing issues exacerbated by prolonged contact with the outdoors or by exercise.

    Perhaps offer it as one of several options people could choose if you’re dead set on supplying them.

    1. Zzzzzz*

      Agreed… for these reasons and depending on where you live, there might not BE one located near you or that is accessible without also owning a car.

    2. 653-CXK*

      Wow, that’s a pretty harsh and rude response.

      How do you know people with disabilities or health issues may not enjoy a trip to someplace else other than being cooped up in a house all day and feeling miserable? Yes, they may have allergies or breathing issues, but there are likely other things that these parks offer so they can enjoy a good day, and the parks would likely go out of their way to recognize health and disability issues. (“If you can’t hike, we have a nice flat trail with a great view of the mountain range.”)

      Perhaps the disabled and those with health issues will take the park pass as a challenge to defy their setbacks, and they feel that “No! You can’t do this! You’re not healthy!” by someone who doesn’t know their disabilities is patronizing and rude.

      1. Seashell*

        I don’t think it was a harsh or rude response. I think it’s odd that you assume people with disabilities should just get over the things they can’t do or struggle with doing and that they must feel cooped up if they’re limited in doing outdoorsy activities.

        Try putting yourself in others’ shoes instead of believing they’re exactly like you.

        1. 653-CXK*

          After a second read of what the original poster said, I fully retract my previous statement.

          1. Supervillain Intern*

            653-CXK, I want to thank you for rethinking your comment and flag that you might want to spend some time reading and thinking about disability before you jump in to similar discussions.

            I’m so glad you retracted because as a (n outdoorsy) person with disabilities your comment had my hackles all the way up! I actually found it all the things you accused NationalParksDontWork of being: patronizing, rude, etc. People with health issues definitely don’t need random coworkers “challenging them to defy their setbacks” or assuming that we’re “cooped up” or miserable. We challenge our setbacks every damn day (we literally have no choice), and are more than capable of figuring out for ourselves how to have fulfilling lives (indoors or out!).

            And I can’t imagine you’ve ever had significant breathing problems if you think it’s something people can just ignore! Breathing is… pretty important to being alive, and like being hungry or thirsty for a prolonged period of time your body is going to flag it as something more important than a pretty view.

            If your point was that some disabled people would enjoy this gift, then you’re not wrong, but you are missing the point. As a disabled person who would in fact enjoy a Parks Pass, my first thought was still “Oh, that could be a really alienating gift”.

    3. Hiring Mgr*

      Isn’t this kind of like the “sandwiches” thing? Of course there’s no one gift that works for everybody. (also plenty of folks with disabilities and allergies can go to parks)

      1. londonedit*

        Yeah…a while back there was even a whole post from Alison asking people to recommend group office gifts that had gone down well, and we still had a load of people in the comments saying ‘I wouldn’t like that, I wouldn’t use that, some people can’t have that’ etc. There is absolutely no gift that works for everyone. Except maybe money, and then you’d probably still have people griping about the amount or that ‘they just give us cash, no thought whatsoever’.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          I had a team member pitch an absolute wobbly about getting a raise once. She wasn’t mad that it wasn’t a big enough raise, she was absolutely IRATE that she had gotten a raise at all.

        2. Happy meal with extra happy*

          Ooph, I remember the arguments in the comment section about people getting upset that raises were less than the stated amount because of taxes/deductions (because, you know, clearly they expect that their offered salary is going to be the net amount and not gross).

      2. BuffaloSauce*

        I agree with any gift that is given to a wide group of people, someone is going to find fault with it. Whether it be they simply don’t like it or can’t use the gift to its full capacity.

        I do agree that a National parks membership could prohibit those with disabilities from using the gift. Also those employees that may care for a spouse or family member with disabilities too.

        Perhaps if this were a gift idea, it could be presented with a few other options to choose from.

      3. Cormorannt*

        I agree that this has gotten a little sandwhich-y, but the OP seemed to be recommending this as a gift idea people should consider more generally, not just something that worked well for her team. I think it’s valid for people to point out why this might not be the ideal gift for everyone, and to point out the people it might not work well for.

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Totally! It would be a terrible gift for me to receive, but I actually thought it was a great idea for me to consider for other people.

    4. Bebe*

      The parks may not work for everyone, but they do work for enough people with disabilities that the NPS offers free lifetime passes to anyone with a permanent disability who asks. I have a relative with a disability that severely limits her mobility, and she loves going to large national parks (Yellowstone, Grand Canyon) and driving around to see the beautiful scenery.

      So it wouldn’t be a great gift for her, since she already has a free pass, but not everyone with a disability would be automatically excluded from a national park.

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      Man, I feel like I must have missed the part of the letter where the OP said that this was the perfect gift for absolutely everybody on earth and that they would be forcing it upon their colleagues regardless of age, location, disability, allergies, driving ability, degree of outdoorsiness and personal interest in parks. So many people seem to be responding to that bit and yet all I can see is the bit where they call it “a good option”.

      1. NoHamAndNoWine*


        The part of this discourse that confuses me is that company gifts that aren’t perfect for you, are still often good for regifting (assuming it’s not just company branded swag). I don’t eat ham but I’d I received one, I’d be happy to pass it on to the nearby encampment of unhorsed people. Similarly, if I received a nice bottle of wine (I don’t drink wine), I’d be happy to regift it to a friend who enjoys it, and be glad to save money.

    6. Nah*

      Agree. I have a state parks pass, and love it, love the outdoors, but the nearest National Park is a three hour drive to another state (I’m in Texas). Not really practical.

    7. AY*

      I mean, it’s one idea. You can use the suggestion, not use it, or file it away as a future idea for the perfect recipient. It’s not the “one true gift.”

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Of course no gift will work for everyone. It’s one idea. Presumably the LW knows their recipients enough to know they’ll enjoy the park passes.

      Also, though, as long as you’re reasonably thoughtful in your gift-giving (and are aware of the big categories of potential no-no’s, and remember info people give you about themselves, like that they’re vegetarian or kosher), there’s no obligation for you to know every single quirk/restriction/preference someone might have, particularly in a work context, and sometimes even a great present will fall flat for a recipient. That’s just the nature of gift-giving and gift-receiving. You don’t need rip apart every single idea someone presents because you can think of people it wouldn’t work for, which is what always happens with gift ideas in the comment section. Again, it’s one idea.

  8. fluffy*

    LW2, there are definitely employers who are required to drug test but also will disregard results that involve cannabis or other locally-legal drugs. It’s worth discussing this when it comes to the next steps in the interview process, and it might not be the case that your partner will be excluded purely on the basis of the drug test results.

    That said, I absolutely agree with you and your partner regarding the DEI issues inherent in drug testing, and I hope that taking a stand will make a difference.

    1. Green great dragon*

      Yeh, I wasn’t clear if they were withdrawing on principle, or because they were assuming any drug was an automatic firing office.

      1. Cj*

        It sounds like it’s a lot on principle, but also the fact that they do random drug tests. Sure, they can just not hire you if you feel the initial screen. But if you are quitting your job to take this one, fail a random drug test, and get fired, that’s a lot worse than not getting the job in the first place.

    2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Was stopping by to mention this. It can be worth asking the company what, precisely, they’re drug testing for – sometimes the answers make sense. I had one interview during early COVID where the company was very upfront and clear that the drug testing wasn’t negotiable, but also screened only for specific substances, of which marijuana wasn’t one – Their reasoning was that the job would have been on the data management side of warehouses where fentanyl and methamphetamines (and/or the materials to manufacture them) were regularly handled, so the company was testing to make sure no potential employees were users of those substances. For similar reasons, they also were doing a credit check to make sure there weren’t any major debts that might mean you would be tempted to make a pallet go missing.

      1. Cj*

        I’m currently looking for a job, and I imagine some of the places I’m applying to do drug screens even though it’s not in a manufacturing environment where they would be dangerous. Just last week I was given a medical marijuana card by my pain clinic, and I’m wondering how that will be handled on a drug test.

        Over a decade ago I was fired from a job because they thought I had been drinking. I hadn’t been, but it probably did seem like it because I had an interaction of two medications. They did not test me at the time, although it was required by law and stated that they would in their own handbook.

        They fought my getting unemployment (and lost), and during the unemployment hearing they were shocked to hear that I had passed the drug screen I had been given before I started the job, because I do take a couple of prescribe narcotics. The drug screening company called and asked for the prescribing doctor, the pharmacy, and a prescription number. Because they were legally obtained prescriptions, the positive results were not reported to the employer. Apparently, this was not the employer’s intention. They wanted any positives reported to them. I worked in the accounting department of the corporate office, but most of the jobs were in manufacturing, so I can kind of see their point.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          Side note: can they actually request that (all positives be reported to them)? I’m on the side of “they shouldn’t be” able to request positives for legally obtained prescriptions.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            I agree. If someone needs to use prescription meds for pain, ADHD, whatever that isn’t the employer’s business.

            Even if the employee needs an ADA accommodation to be able to keep regular medical appointments to get refills on those prescriptions, the employer doesn’t need to know WHAT condition or WHICH prescription.

    3. MK*

      I would be very hesitant to accept a job that does drug tests and disregards the results, because I assume the tests are the official policy and the disregard an unspoken one, or even worse an unauthorized decision. Any change in leadership or how the policy is enforced, and whatever assurances you were given about it won’t matter.

      1. SqueakyWheel*

        There are places where the explicit policy is that weed is not precluded, but much harder drugs (let’s say, meth) are deal breakers. Without knowing the specifics of the company in question, you can’t really know if weed is covered by policy or not. At my current job, the pre-screening language referenced federal law, so it was clear that weed was a no-go.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Yes, I work for a company in a state where weed is legal. They drug test prospective new hires, but do not screen for weed in the drug test. So if your stance is weed-specific (not against testing for all drugs), it may be worth having a conversation with the recruiter about whether the company screens for weed during the drug test.

          1. DataGirl*

            I have the opposite – I work in a state where weed is legal but industry standard (Healthcare) is to drug test and you will not get hired/ can be fired if you have Marijuana in your system. We’ve been told it’s because we receive federal funding- i.e. Medicare/ Medicaid payments for patient care provided. It’s ridiculous that a doctor can prescribe Marijuana to a patient but can’t use it themselves. But prescribed opiods are fine.

            1. Santeria*

              That’s a great point that I hadn’t thought about – physicians can prescribe, but can’t use.

              The federal piece is really sticky. A few months ago I applied for a federal job that’s hard to fill. I got the feeling I was one of the few qualified candidates they had, but I ended up withdrawing from the process and the agency wasn’t able to fill the position. They’ve recently relisted it, and are willing to take applicants with fewer qualifications than they were asking for in the first round. The reason that made me withdraw my application has been fixed and I’d be happy to reapply, but I’ve been using cannabis medically in the interim and would fail a test. That’s still a hard line with federal jobs in a lot of places but it’s going to make these hard to fill jobs even harder to fill as time goes on. They’re going to have to do what the tech companies did and either change the laws or turn a collective blind eye, especially in fields where people are leaving in droves.

              1. Married to a stoner*

                My partner uses recreational marijuana and drug tests are common in his field at hiring.

                It is apparently pretty easy to pass your run of the mill drug test. You aren’t monitored typically in the bathroom. They verify that your urine is body temperature in order to determine that it’s your urine. You can purchase powdered urine online, in vape shops, and smoke shops. He’s never had an issue with this product not being accepted. His typical move is to put the urine in a bag that he tucks into a tall sock under his loose pantleg. If it won’t be the right temperature, he adds one hand warmer. He did fail a test once because he feared the old hand warmers we had weren’t effective and used two hand warmers — the mixed urine was too hot, they tossed it, and he was stuck using natural urine.

                We’ve talked about starting a consulting hustle talking applicants thru what to expect and how to handle this testing, lol.

      2. hbc*

        Sometimes you have an across-the-board policy on what’s tested because it’s easier to do that with your screening company, but then the internal policy is clear that, say, only positive results for drugs that are illegal in your area and/or not prescribed to you will prevent you from getting the job.

        I tried to get weed taken off the list of things tested for since it became legal in our state, and our testing company just…refused.

    4. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Marijuana is legal in Canada Most workplaces seem to treat it like alcohol in that you can’t come to work impaired. However, there are probably still jobs that drug test for safety and/or compliance reasons but I’m not sure. It’s been several years and aside from cannabis stores on every corner, there doesn’t seem to be issue. Other drugs like fentanyl are much worse and more destructive than an occasional edible.

    5. EngineeringFun*

      I am an engineer who has worked on government contracts for 2 decades. Think aerospace which many are located in CA. Drug testing comes with those types of jobs. It’s a very conservative workplace but the work is exciting!

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Worked in construction for a firm that had many federal government contracts. Drug testing was a part of the package.

        Always found it irritating that the “random” tests seemed to hit my particular department with a LOT of regularity.

      2. Antilles*

        Fellow engineer who’s worked on government contracts, same experience that pre-employment drug screening is just part of the deal.
        And in my experience, such requirements usually apply across the company, to anybody who could potentially work on such projects. OP mentioned “she is fully remote and doesn’t do any field work” as though that should matter, but I’ve never found that to be the case: If the company does drug screens, they do drug screens, regardless of the actual job you’re being hired for.

        1. M2*

          A relative of mine works for a defense contractor and has for years. Mandated drug testing including cannabis. She uses cannabis & in her state it’s legal but still against policy since it’s still not allowed federally. She has always passed her drug tests which actually makes me a bit worried! She freaked and called me because she had used cannabis the night before a random test and she passed the drug test (which included cannabis). So clearly something is up with the company they use for drug testing.

          Always good to ask what drugs they test for as some places do it also for safety reasons or a federal contract.

          1. AnonFed*

            I’m a federal employee. I’ve never actually been drug tested for my job but every time cannabis is legalized in my state they send out a general reminder email that it’s still federally illegal, we technically could be tested, and we could be fired for testing positive. We’ve also been warned that CBD ingested products can cause you to fail a drug test. (CBD under a certain THC content is legal under one law, but technically CBD edibles/supplements are adulterated foods under FDA, it’s complicated)

        2. lilsheba*

          Not necessarily. My company supposedly drug screens, but I was hired remote and will always be remote, and they never have …because I’m remote.

      3. Glomarization, Esq.*

        Yeah, when I saw the letter open with, “My partner is an engineer,” I wondered if the employer is federally regulated, or if it’s simply a place where they won’t allow any risk of any employee working impaired. As an example, I’ve had gigs in oil and gas (on the lawyering side of it) where it was a zero-tolerance workplace for all employees, not just the rig workers. It’s about making sure that nobody makes errors, whether it’s an accountant, an engineer, an IT specialist, an executive, a document controller, or even the receptionist. Errors can cost money or, at worst, can lead to injuries or deaths. DEI doesn’t enter into it.

        1. lilsheba*

          Good! Great policy to have. I wish my husband’s workplace felt that way. He works in a warehouse with TONS Of machinery and only drug test if someone has an accident. I think it should be random, and there are people that are known potheads who get away with it. It’s not right. If my husband gets injured or worse because someone else is high? They will not hear the end of it.

          1. hbc*

            You know that the test for pot doesn’t actually show whether you’re high, right? It’s not like a breathalizer–getting a contact high at a concert 3 weeks ago can show up since THC is fat soluble.

          2. New Jack Karyn*

            I don’t care if a warehouse worker got high two nights ago, on their weekend. A drug test catches that just the same as if the person was actively high while at work.

        2. sundae funday*

          Yeah, I probably sound like someone’s out-of-touch aunt, but just because someone is working remotely doesn’t mean they can’t make an engineering mistake that costs someone’s life…. I do think cannabis should be excluded from drug testing unless the company also forbids alcohol, since in my opinion, the impairment is similar.

          I was also confused by the statement that remote workers are disproportionately non-white. Is there a source for that? I’m genuinely curious to know if that’s the case.

    6. Bananaleaf*

      Yes, came here to say that you can ask what they test for and why. My sister is a daily smoker and was very nervous when her dream job said that her job offer was contingent on a drug test, but it turned out that they disregard marajuana. In her case there are some safety issues at the job so it makes sense to test for hard drugs. Of course, if you are morally opposed to all drug testing, and can afford to push back, then you certainly should!

    7. No Tribble At All*

      Large Engineering Company is almost certainly following rules for a government contract. The company wouldn’t care otherwise. It is worth trying to clarify with the recruiter what specifically they’re testing for & if you can flag something as prescription or a false positive. If you’re worried about asking about weed, ask about prescriptions in general.

      1. Anon For Now*

        For anyone looking for a script to ask – I live in a state that recently legalized and work in a neighboring state that has not.

        When I was informed my offer was incumbent upon a clean drug test, I told the recruiter that I “would be interested to know if recent legalization efforts in (neighboring state) effected” the company’s drug use policy / recruiting for the position. The recruiter picked up what I was putting down and was able to ask tactfully about the inclusion/exclusion of cannabis on the results in her backchannel with the hiring team.

        (Cannabis was included, iirc for insurance reasons and because we’re headquartered in another country.)

        (Recruiter was also able to tactfully ask for time to, uh. Study. For the test. I have heard lots of stories about bad experiences with recruiters on this site but she was really great.)

    8. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      Absolutely this! My employer holds federal and state healthcare contracts, and we still drug test but cannot test for marijuana. We stopped that a few months ago BECAUSE the state/federal contracts told us we couldn’t anymore.

      It’s worth asking what they are testing for.

    9. Totally Minnie*

      The city I used to work for uses the standard drug test panel, which includes marijuana even though it’s legal in our state. But it would be more expensive to run individual tests for the other drugs included in the panel, so they run the less expensive test and just ignore marijuana positives. There’s also a process for submitting doctor’s notes to verify that you use a prescription medication to treat a medical condition, so a person who takes, say ADHD medication, won’t be penalized when their test comes back positive for amphetamines.

      I’m against mandatory drug testing on principle, but I was glad that they at least tried to design the system to be less harmful.

    10. HR Jeanne*

      Yes, this. As soon as marijuana became legal in our state, we stopped testing for it. We are in healthcare, so we still test for opiates and other controlled substances, but not legal ones. It would be worth it to ask about this if she hasn’t already.

    11. Generic Name*

      My company has some federal contracts, and we also work on projects where our clients have drug testing policies, but unless you do work on those projects specifically, we do not drug test our employees. So companies who choose to do random drug testing on every single employee aren’t necessarily doing it because they are required to.

    12. AngryOctopus*

      I had to drug test for my current job, but I could see the test parameters, and it was for heroin/opiates/meth/cocaine, and nothing else. It may be worth OP asking what drugs they test for (or asking the testing site). Cannabis is pretty accepted in my state and I don’t think anyone would care if you tested positive for it (other than asking that you don’t come into work high/smoke at work, given that we do sensitive lab work).

    13. Tio*

      Yes, my previous employer did this as we were in a legalized state. They did not screen for cannabis but still drug tested new hires. And if you’re dealing with certain levels of secure data, there are requirements around that. To obtain my government issued professional license, I had to pass a background and credit check as well, because they were concerned that if you had bad credit you would be bribeable.

    14. Curmudgeon in California*

      My current employer required a drug test. I’m a medical marijuana user. When I disclosed this they said they don’t look for marijuana in California. I got the job.

      OTOH, my last company said they just did a background check, so I took the job. Well, that “background check” turned out to be an actual clearance, with wanting all the relatives birthplaces, etc, plus a drug history. I disclosed I’m an MMJ user. They demanded that I stop. Since it’s medical, not recreational, I could not. (Insomnia is very hard to treat. MMJ works very well – I don’t use it recreationally since it just puts me to sleep. Prescription sleeping pills have horrible side effects.) I lost the job.

      So, if you life in a cannabis legal state, many, but not all, employers will not care about marijuana unless it is a federally regulated thing like equipment operator, truck driver or work on a federal contract. IMO, the federal government is incredibly out of touch, but that’s what happens when you let the racist war on drugs continue for so long.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        From what I’ve heard about prescription sleeping pills, I’d be worried about employees coming to work impaired by those, especially if heavy equipment were involved. (And I’m not safe to drive within 48 hours of using Benadryl.)

    15. Tweedy*

      One of my old accounts – big automotive manufacturing plant that is located near a large university with a very successful football team – would conduct their random drug testing the Monday after a big football weekend. This was only done when they need to cut down on personnel and it was their way to avoid giving any severance packages.

    16. Still trying to adult*

      Personally I have long been opposed to the general drug-testing programs that American industry have developed in the name of ‘safety’ and other feel-good words. At least there are enough people who now understand about false positives and false negatives, that there has been move away from 1-strike policies. Policies which have destroyed countless careers and lives.

      IMO, if an employee has a performance problem that is because of substance abuse, then supervisors & management should handle it without having to resort to drug testing; random (of which there are plenty of verified stories of it NOT being random, but targeted), scheduled, or whatever. That is simply their job. Sadly, a lot of managers shirk their responsibility in this area.

      Lastly (for the moment), if there is a drug testing program in a workplace, it should be applied to every single person from the loading dock up to the corner office, no exceptions, and results to be posted publicly.

      So, yes, LW2, your partner should push back on this. Workplace drug testing has not garnered the safety that it was touted for, and it’s time for industry to stop wasting its money on an unproven and unprovable activity.

    17. Spicy Tuna*

      My SIL lives in a state that has legal medical cannabis (they have legal recreational now as well, but at the time, it was only medical). She had a medical cannabis card for a legitimate medical condition. Without getting too much into the details, her options were to be on an opioid based painkiller that would have made it difficult to work because she didn’t tolerate it well, or to use cannabis. She disclosed this fact during her job interview and was told it wouldn’t be an issue. They required a drug test prior to her starting and they again said it wouldn’t be a problem. Then she started work and they fired her for failing the drug test.

      1. Cannabis Questions*

        Wow, that blows my mind.

        Did they in any way address why she was told something completely different?

    18. Monday Monday*

      The drug testing may be a non-issue as far as getting rejected for the position.
      Over 15 years ago I got a position in an office that also had a manufacturing plant. The initial hiring process required a drug screen (not sure what they tested for, but marijuana is illegal in my state).
      They also said that the company would do random drug screens. I was there 17 years and never screened. Same for all my friends/co-workers who had office jobs or the same roles as me. We supported some of the laboratories too, were on the lab floors, and were never screened.

      The contractors had yearly drug screening and they knew about it in advance.

  9. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP3 (unfortunate names) – it’s legal to go by a different name in most places as long as it’s not for nefarious reasons, so in that sense having to attest that the name is ‘true’ is OK since it is a name you legitimately go by… My legal first name is (say) Catherine but I go by Kate so that’s what is on my resume and goes into online applications etc.

    I hope employers (when the applications do make it through the system) aren’t thinking “hurr hurr, nah I’ll pass as it will generate too many jokes in the office and doesn’t look professional” or whatever.

    The last option is legally changing it, which it may be time for!

    1. Tinkerbell*

      I had to look into this recently when my teenager (who is now non-binary) wanted to legally change their name. In my state, you can go by any name you want unless the intent is to defraud people or further some sort of criminal activity… but unfortunately for kids there’s a ton of things all tied into their birth certificate, so even though my kid did get their name changed we’re still going to have to fight the school district on it for years to come.

      1. Not my real name*

        You can get a new birth certificate issued with the new name. That was the first thing we did when my son changed his name.

        1. rinathin*

          It’s possible Tinkerbell’s kiddo wants to wait to change their gender marker as well, as not all states have an X option or even let you change the gender marker (*glares at Ohio*).

          1. Tinkerbell*

            Yep, Alabama isn’t going to allow gender changes anytime soon. Luckily you can now get a passport with your preferred gender (including “X”) and don’t need to submit any medical or legal proof of change, so for future employment and travel my kid is covered, but that’s not going to help with a lot of local stuff unfortunately :-\

    2. MK*

      Eh, the legality of going by a different name can become very complicated. E.g. in my country it’s not illegal to introduce yourself by another name, but your employer has to file your legal name with various government departments, so you would need to inform them.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I think nicknames like Catherine/Kate are a special case, too, as opposed to changing your name more fully. I have so consistently used a variation on my birth name along those lines that even my passport has the variation. It’s just my birth certificate that has the original. But it would be easy enough to find me if you were looking for the birth certificate name, if you see what I mean. It’s not like my original name was Susan and I go by Becky.

        1. Deb Lawrence*

          3…As far as applying for a job when you have a name that you worry could cause problems, I’ve always wondered what the best way is to handle that. I encountered that situation several years ago when I was an assistant manager at a store. I was the one who was tasked with hiring hourly employees. One day I received an application from someone who had a first and last name that was identical to a very well-known fictional character. On top of that, this was a very unusual name. The person included a separate note stapled to their application saying that this was indeed their real legal name and that the application was not a joke.

          That was back in the day when applications were typically on paper, so I think that was probably the best way to handle it in that situation. With applications these days being submitted online so much, there may not be an option to include a note like that that will be seen. Perhaps a little notation under the person’s name on their resume would be a good idea? Otherwise, I suppose using a slightly altered name might be justified. I think most reasonable employers would understand why that was done and not hold it against the person, especially if the application is being blocked by computer software over the issue.

      2. Newly minted higher ed*

        I just had a car rental canceled because I used my nickname, which is the end part of my legal name. The company tried to explain it by saying it was illegal to use a nickname and always had been…which made zero sense since it had never been an issue for me before in 44 years and because it’s, well, really obvious in my case. And my online bank doesn’t care when I deposit checks made out to my nickname. So it really depends. I have way more problems because people make my last name plural and insist I don’t know my own last name. And it’s caused issues in employment when I got a W2 filled out with the wrong name or all my electronic stuff i couldn’t sign on to. Do you know how hard it is to get a corrected W2? And I still can’t login to the HR systems to get my health insurance discount, 4 years after proving that in fact I do know how to spell my own name.

        At this point if a company I want to purchase services from can’t take two seconds to ask or figure out I go by my nickname almost solely, I don’t bother using that company again. With work…I just keep making appointments with whatever department. It’s exhausting.

      3. Splendid Colors*

        I forget where I ran into the problem with “using an alias” (background check? ID application? second traffic ticket?) but it happened when someone ELSE used an alternate spelling of my first name. I got a traffic ticket on my bike when I was about 13 and had no driver’s license because I was 13. The officer didn’t ask how I spelled my first name and used the most common spelling, which my mother didn’t use on my birth certificate. Then this other event happened and I was grilled about why I had been using an alias, obviously for something nefarious.

    3. saby*

      Yeah, I don’t think you have to go to the trouble of legally changing your name, if you like it otherwise.

      My dad doesn’t technically have a legal name… more specifically, he has different names on different legal documents, so he doesn’t have “a” single legal name. A combination of him going by his middle name, having an Italian birth name but using the anglicized version for most of his life, and a few other factors. This didn’t used to be a problem in a less computerized era but it can be one now.

      At one point in the 90s, his job at the time freaked out because the name on his SIN card was different from the name on his accountant certification. So he actually had a notarized statement drawn up listing all of the aliases that have appeared on his different Canadian and Italian legal documents over the years, to prove he’s not trying to hide/obscure his actual identity with all these different names.

      If you’re really concerned about legal ramifications I guess you could do something like that?

      (My dad also had his identity stolen once back in the 70s, so I think he likes having this thicket of different aliases as a kind of protection. If someone starts using one that he doesn’t use often, he can narrow down what document they got it from!)

  10. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (boss listening at door) – generous interpretation: he’s highly strung and wanted to see if the meeting seemed to be wrapping up imminently, rather than wanting to know the content of the meeting in its own right. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he thinks (probably correctly!) that he’s being discussed in those meetings.

    I would have just opened the door and pointedly said “hey John, did you need something?”

    1. Allonge*

      I would definitely consider that boss was handling this awkwardly instead of this being an obvious sign of distrust and disrespect. It’s suboptimal for sure, but if the relationship is so bad that OP automatically goes to the worst interpretation, than, as Alison says, this is not the problem that needs a solution most.

    2. Ron McDon*

      I was going to say this – my boss in my previous job sat far enough away from her door and around a corner so you couldn’t tell from looking through the glass if she was on the phone/in an online meeting.

      I (and other staff) would regularly press our ears against the door to have a quick listen to check if she was talking to someone or not.

      With the other issues LW1 is experiencing it probably doesn’t have such an innocent explanation, but I would assume the boss was just trying to work out how long the meeting was going to last, rather than think he was trying to hear something he could use against me.

      1. amoeba*

        Haha, yep, definitely done that for my former boss. Even just to know whether he was in and on the phone or something or just… not there. (You could check whether the door was locked but that wasn’t always reliable). Very helpful to decide whether to come back in 15 mins or give up for the day. And now I’m just realising how great MS Teams or any kind of chat system is for that kind of thing!

      2. CTT*

        Thirding that I’ve done this. My office also has the frosted glass paneling, and there’s something about it where we’re all like “I SHOULD be able to tell if they are on the phone, and therefore it would be rude to knock,” even though you can’t really tell, because frosted glass.

    3. Cait*

      And watch him as he fell into the office when you opened the door. I’m baffled at how someone can think they’re invisible when they’re standing behind GLASS! It might be frosted glass but it’s still glass!

      1. Bird of Paradise*

        “I’m baffled at how someone can think they’re invisible when they’re standing behind GLASS!”

        That’s one take. Another take is that he knew he was visible bc frosted glass is not opaque, and he was not trying to hide. Sometimes, nothing nefarious is going on. What do you lose by considering that option?

    4. What's Behind Door 2023??*

      Years back, at my church employer, I caught a pastor with his ear to the door of the bookkeeper. He fancied himself as a power behind the throne, and gathering information was part of that. Horribly nosy man. He would get angry with me because I wasn’t trying to listen in on every chat in the office, so I could report back to him. I was trying to focus on my own work, but he didn’t care.

    5. ferrina*

      At best he’s not confident enough to knock; at worst, he’s actively trying to eavesdrop. Honestly, neither option is good. When I had bosses that lacked the confidence to have a direct report, that always led to the boss undermining a competent direct report. I had one boss that felt so undermined by my work and my strong working relationships with other departments that she tried to fire me. I had been praised for those things under previous bosses, but she felt that people liked me too much and I could stage a coup (which was ultra weird, because I had recommended her for the job and was openly excited to learn from her). HR forced her to do a lay off instead because they knew I had performed well, but it still left me without a job.

      As Allison said, this is probably the tip of the iceberg, and odds are very low that it will get better.

      1. Bird of Paradise*

        Or neutrally, he is confident enough to knock but has another reason for not doing so.

        I don’t think this is the tip of the iceberg. I think it’s an ice floe that OP is focusing on bc the iceberg behind it is too overwhelming to address.

    6. Tg33*

      I don’t think you have to be pointed about it, if he’s hanging around it would be normal to think he’s looking for you and isn’t sure when you will be finished, or he wants something.

  11. Double A*

    The Parks Pass could be a good gift in specific circumstances, but I think it’s something that is not broadly advisable. I know a lot of people are of the “gift experiences, not things!” mindset, but a lot of experience gifts impose costs and burdens on the recipient (gas, time, incidental expenses like food or parking). I love parks and camping, but I have two young kids and a husband with a lot of health issues. A national park trip in this phase of life sounds exhausting (though I hope I have phases of life ahead of me soon when it will sound delightful again!).

    If you like the fact that you’re supporting the parks, there are things like calendars, mugs, etc you can get where the proceeds support the parks.

    1. philmar*

      I have more than enough mugs, calendars, trinkets, etc. If you don’t use the pass, it’s supporting the parks (which I do like) without cluttering up my desk/home.

    2. bamcheeks*

      a lot of experience gifts impose costs and burdens on the recipient

      Eh, I think that about physical gifts too. What’s it called when gifts are the opposite of your love language?

      1. Double A*

        I’ve just noticed a lot of people suggesting experience gifts are if they solve all the problems with physical gifts and are, like, morally superior. Maybe that was a bit of the vibe I got from the post that I was reacting to, but maybe that’s not fair. Or maybe it just kind of hit home how I can’t access them parks very easily right now and that bums me out, but that’s a me problem.

        I am actually in a phase in my life where I prefer stuff! The experiences I can manage to arrange are few and far between and I spend a lot of time at home, so stuff that makes me home nicer is helpful.

        My original comment should have sounded a little more “both/and.” Passes can be great for some people, but for other people there are some physical objects that also support parks and you just gotta know which are good gifts for your people! Which is true of literally all gifts.

    3. to varying degrees*

      There’s also going to be an expenditure cost to producing those items though. Unless it’s a one time thing, most companies are not going to be able to have the production of those items donated on enough of a routine basis to make it as profitable to their revenue as park passes.

    4. doreen*

      Actually, experience gifts don’t impose costs and burdens on the recipient- if someone gives me a National Parks Pass that I don’t use, it imposes no more costs or burdens on me than the bottle of wine I won’t drink, the mug/calendar/trinket I won’t use or trees planted in my honor by the Arbor Day foundation. The fact that someone gives you the pass doesn’t mean you have to take a trip – and it’s not like this pass is a certificate for a vacation worth hundreds or thousands of dollars where the giver might be annoyed that it wasn’t used.

    5. Somehow_I_Manage*

      While I see what you’re saying, I think you may be overlooking that many parks are a lot more easy and accessible thank say a two week camper trip to Yellowstone! Many people live within a short distance of a national (or state) park, and could take advantage regularly of an access pass to facilitate a fun afternoon out of the house.

      For example, where I live in DC, this would give you free access to Great Falls- a stunning waterfall about 20 minutes outside the City. The park has a museum and and ADA accessible lot, picnic area, and overlook (in addition to abundant walking and hiking trails). If all you want to do is drop in, take a photo of the waterfall, have a picnic and leave- you can do so.

      Keep in mind, that similar to any gift card, you can also choose to re-gift the park pass (before signing the back) to someone else if you’d like.

      /I really think this is a wonderful gift idea- mostly for the reasons above- it can be a means to make folks more aware ways to take advantage of these beautiful shared resources. But of course I’ll concede it’s not for everyone.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Absolutely this. I live near a national park (I will not say which one for continued anonymity enjoyment) that isn’t at all what people would think of when they think “National Park.” It’s educational and has programs and is widely enjoyed by lots of people of different abilities. In my area, if a boss gave a pass to that park (because you can get passes just to specific parks, I believe) that would be generally considered pretty thoughtful.

    6. MeepMeep123*

      I’m pondering the idea of decluttering my house at present, and I can tell you for sure that tangible gifts impose significant costs and burdens. I anticipate the cost/burden to be at least one day’s worth of work, possibly two, plus the drive to Goodwill to donate all the stuff afterwards.

  12. Jessica*

    LW5, I agree with everything that’s been said about how a parks pass wouldn’t be a universally good gift. On the flip side, someone for whom it’s awesome might already have one. I think that’s the downside of any kind of subscription or membership as a gift.

  13. Casper Lives*

    LW5 Thanks for bringing this up! I didn’t know it existed. I’m going to look up what I could access with it near me.

    I appreciate that this isn’t the gift for everyone. However, we’re approaching sandwiches territory already with the post up less than 3 hours.

    I want to thank LW 5 for this unique gift idea.

    1. Allonge*

      Yes! As we concluded here many times, there is no universally appreciated corporate gift. I think this threads the needle nicely between something that could be of use for a lot of people and that contributes to a good cause.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      Agreed. It also doesn’t have to be for everyone in the whole wide world, just for a specific set of people that presumably is somewhat known to the giver. Outdoorsyness is usually reasonably ascertainable from smalltalk.

      Also, if it goes unused, it will at least support a relatively uncontroversial good cause, not take up much space, not be annoying to get rid of, and not clutter up a landfill much. So a relatively mild fail.

      1. londonedit*

        I agree. I admit I was picturing something more like our National Trust membership (which gives access to loads of NT-owned stately homes etc) as our national parks (like the Lake District and New Forest) are all free to access, so there’s no camping or big trips involved, but yeah even if I couldn’t use a pass like this then at least it’s supporting a good cause. And maybe I could give it to someone who could use it. A relative once sponsored an animal for me as a Christmas gift – and the sponsorship included a free visit to the wetlands centre where the animal in question lived. You had a year to use the free visit, but for whatever reason I never got myself organised enough to go within the year – it was a bit disappointing that I didn’t take the chance to go, but the money still went to the wildlife organisation and I could still go anytime I wanted to and pay for entry. No big deal.

        1. Buck Mulligan*

          LW here, thanks for the comments, glad some thought it was a good idea. For those who didn’t, that’s okay too. But for those who thought it might be a bad gift if my reports aren’t outdoorsy, I had thought of that, and my reports are, so no worries there. For those concerned if might not be a good gift if we’re in an urban area, we’re not. Even if we were, I want to point out that there are several handicapped accessible national parks and monuments in cities, just google “urban national parks.” Again, I just thought this was a fun idea to give people the chance to see new things. Something different than booze (one of my reports doesn’t drink) or restaurant gift cards (some are picky eaters and/or on diets, so I thought staying away from anything food related was a good alternative).
          Finally, America the Beautiful pass is a great idea, but it’s outside of my budget for the number of people I was buying for. Thankfully none already had a park pass for this year, if they had already gotten one it’s possible to regift it. Like some commenters pointed out, you always run the risk of getting somebody something they might already have. It’s the thought that counts and worst-case scenerio the money would go to a good cause.

          1. EngGirl*

            I think if you know your reports well (like actually well) this would be a great gift. I do think you have to make sure you know ALL your reports well. Like is that new guy in the team actually outdoorsy or just trying to relate to the group?

            You mentioned that you were near several parks so it sounds like this would be a great gift for your area, for me I’d have to drive about two hours and most of the national parks near me are in the old mansion category with free grounds, so this wouldn’t be great.

            I think what many of the commenters are trying to point out is that this may be a more niche gift than you initially realized and since the purpose of your letter was to make others aware it’s an option they’re trying to make sure people are aware of the pitfalls. If your team fits the niche for your gift that’s awesome and I’m extremely jealous of the fact that you have all your gifts worked out!

            1. Michelle Smith*

              This is exactly right, I even said in my comment that I think it’s a cool idea, just not one I can use at all. “Handicapped accessible” doesn’t mean accessible to everyone with every disability. For example, it might have paths that someone using a wheelchair can take, but since I don’t own one and can’t walk for long distances, that wouldn’t help me. Still a good gift idea for someone more able-bodied than me though!

            2. Lily Rowan*

              Honestly, I’ve gotten plenty of useless gifts from work, and one that doesn’t take up any space in my house seems better than a lot of things!

            3. Allonge*

              I think if I was ‘trying to relate’ to a work team by semi-pretending to be outdoorsy, I would still consider this pass a reasonable corporate gift, (especially if it’s regiftable).

              It’s not my employer’s business to try to figure out if I am really truly 1000% into something before daring to give me a gift connected to it. As long as it’s unoffensive and can be easily ignored, it’s as good as anything – worst case scenario I would consider it a donation in my name.

            4. Supervillain Intern*

              EngGirl totally nailed it in your last paragraph! I know commenters (and Allison) think people are nitpicking, but I think if you present (no pun intended) a gift option as good general option without acknowledging the obvious downsides it does sound like you haven’t thought it through. Like if I was going to suggest a wine of the month club I would include a disclaimer to make sure you weren’t gifting it to anyone who didn’t drink, because that could land really wrong. If the letter had had one sentence along the lines of “Of course consider accessibility, this might not be a great gift for everyone especially if you have people on your team with certain health issues or without access to a car”, I don’t think there would have been any real pushback. It’s less about “this doesn’t work for everyone” and more about “this could actively harm your relationship by making you seem insensitive”. Which is a thing that isn’t true of all generic gifts!

              1. Casper Lives*

                I don’t want to derail too much, but there’s no such thing as a “generic gift.” There is no gift you could name without pushback.

                E.g., my assistant doesn’t drink coffee or tea. She’s be upset if I got her a mug, which is quite a generic gift, as it would indicate I don’t care to remember something we’ve chatted about multiple times.

              2. Myrin*

                “If the letter had had one sentence along the lines of [disclaimer], I don’t think there would have been any real pushback.”
                Oh, I can practically guarantee you that there would’ve been pushback.

              3. EventPlannerGal*

                “If the letter had had one sentence along the lines of “Of course consider accessibility, this might not be a great gift for everyone especially if you have people on your team with certain health issues or without access to a car”, I don’t think there would have been any real pushback.”

                This is one of the least accurate things I have ever heard.

                I second what Caspar Lives said about there being no such thing as a generic gift. And I mean, people are bringing up objections like “but what if they don’t like it” or “what if they already have one”, which can be applied to pretty much every gift in existence and really just seems like pointless negativity. You could come up with the most perfect, accessible, tactful, thought-through gift in the world and the recipient might just not like it. That’s not a helpful critique.

              4. Office Lobster DJ*

                “I think if you present (no pun intended) a gift option as good general option without acknowledging the obvious downsides it does sound like you haven’t thought it through.”

                I don’t quite agree. To me, as long as you are making a simple suggestion, it shows that you trust that people can consider their own circumstances in relation to it.

              5. Els123*

                Or just have slight false faith in the humankind that people who visit this site has some critical thinking skills.

            5. Swiftie*

              “Like is that new guy in the team actually outdoorsy or just trying to relate to the group?”

              Jesus H. Triscuits–the LW is not a mind reader and at some point, you have to be a mature adult and USE YOUR WORDS to say “oh, I’m not really into ‘outdoorsy’ stuff” (whatever “outdoorsy” means to that group) but thanks anyway, Boss!”

              I never really got into Westworld or Game of Thrones but somehow, my Westworld and GoT-loving coworkers did not hold that against me. Just like I didn’t hold their “meh” attitude about Doctor Who against them.

          2. Sylvan*

            Even if we were, I want to point out that there are several handicapped accessible national parks and monuments in cities, just google “urban national parks.”

            Thank you for this info!

          3. Enn Pee*

            I really liked this idea…as someone who has been to dozens of NPS sites from the most remote (like camping in Dry Tortugas) to the most urban (NYC)…there is something for nearly everyone. As with all good gift-giving, you know the recipients and what they’d like.
            (For those who are interested, the America the Beautiful pass covers not just NPS sites, but Forest Service, BLM, etc.)
            I’m a bit disappointed that people couldn’t follow the commenting rules (you ARE the expert in your own situation). I’m surprised no one complained that you didn’t check to see if your employees didn’t have a fourth grader (entitled to “Every Kid in a Park.”)

            1. Splendid Colors*

              Definitely consider your local area. Something I would use the MOST would be a County Parks parking permit. There are a lot of county parks that are close enough I could drive there for a 1-hour walk, 2-hour hike or 1-2 hour bike ride, but paying the parking fee for such a short visit for one person makes me think twice.

              Also, looking at the list of places you can get a NPS pass in person close to me reminded me that San Francisco has a lot of NPS sites too.

    3. stahp*

      So much this. You can always count on someone to push back on every single gift idea here. Not that gifts don’t have problems, but the discourse here is the same every single time.

      In this particular case, some of the response, I suspect, is because people don’t know what the national park system offers and don’t want to look it up.

      1. Buck Mulligan*

        LW5 again here. For the record, this was a personal gift from me to reports who did great work last year, on top of the corporate gift they had already received. I know these people well, and had a hunch they would like the pre-paid pass and the opportunity to go to the local Nat’l park any time they wanted. If I had felt it wouldn’t have been appropriate and/or appreciated I would have definitely gotten something else, or instead donated money in their name to The Human Fund, or, you know, gotten sandwiches. . .

    4. Your Computer Guy*

      Agreed. I’ve gotten a lot of gift cards for stuff I’ll never use/do from my job – I just regift them (usually to mail carriers, bus drivers, teachers, etc). No big deal.

      This is another easy, regiftable idea that isn’t just an object I need to then dispose of (no more mugs ever please).

  14. Rainbow*

    Nobody knows me by my legal first name other than my mum and like, one person I still talk to from primary school. I always apply for jobs with my preferred name instead, and then when the need for a legal name comes up (typically around the right to work checks, background checks, etc) I just tell them. The response has always just been “oh, okay”.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Using a preferred first name is far more common than using a different last name on a job application. I’m not going to be surprised that Bill Jones is legally William Jones, but finding out that Bill Jones is legally William Smith is going to be unusual.

      Our application system asks for a preferred first name when you apply.

      1. Cj*

        I have a phone screen tomorrow for a job where they ask for your preferred name when you set up a time on their calendar. And they verified my preferred name, which in my case is the same as my legal name, in the confirmation email.

  15. fgcommenter*

    LW2, I strongly support pushing back against unreasonable behavior, and I wish you the best of luck. I hope your letter inspires others to follow your example. Thank you for sharing.

  16. philmar*

    Even if I had no intention of ever using a national parks pass, I would prefer it knowing that the money went to support the national parks, rather than a gift card to a store I don’t shop at or another coffee mug or whatever.

  17. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    LW1 – wait until the next time he’s got his ear against the door, open it quickly and watch him fall to the floor.

    Then say innocently “Oh, did you want me for something?”.

  18. Harper the Other One*

    OP 3, commiseration as a fellow person with a name that often gets screened! There was a period early in both platforms where I couldn’t get Hotmail or GMail accounts because I wanted to use my actual last name. Fortunately screening systems in my area don’t seem to completely block me but I’m pretty sure it’s happened sometimes.

    Also, if you ever email a new contact directly, be aware that you may also get routed to spam folders. If you ask someone to connect you with a hiring manager etc., it might be good to get them to CC you on the first email

  19. MuseunChick*

    LW 3, I would do an intentional typo. Either drop one letter or switch up the vowels. Buttz = Bttz, Dicks = Ducks.

    1. Sylvan*


      Works for my coworker whose last name is ~explicit~. It’s just one letter. Anyone will understand if you explain it.

  20. Minimal Pear*

    RE: the name, I feel you. My name has multiple punctuation marks (think something like M. Minimal O’Pear) AND the whole thing is difficult to spell/commonly mistaken for other names. (I’ve complained about people completely screwing up my name in at least one Friday thread.) I’ve personally run into more issues in medical contexts, but I’ve had to get VERY used to intentionally mistyping my name to get through the system. It’s always such a toss-up what is and isn’t allowed! My credit card allowed one punctuation mark but not the other, so I always have to be careful when typing out my name for online shopping so that it matches what’s on my card.
    I’ve also had the delightful experience of discovering the hard way that the woman who used to be HR/who onboarded me is physically incapable of spelling my name correctly, and in fact misspelled it differently every time.
    Anyway, I’m team “type it incorrectly and tell them it’s incorrect and why later”.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I had a similar issue with my maiden name. 99% of my decision to change my name when I got married was simplicity.

      1. Minimal Pear*

        Yeah, I’ve thought about changing my last name to one a few generations back in my family (there are several good options) and that would get rid of one common misspelling and one common punctuation issue. But I’d still want to keep the rest of my name, and those parts are where most of the issues come from.
        I’m always so annoyed that my parents nailed it and gave me the perfect name… and that said perfect name had to be such a pain!

    2. rinathin*

      I had a friend who wanted to get their at-the-time preferred name of Lana on a credit card. Citi, for whatever mind-boggling reason, has a whitelist for what preferred names are allowed. Imagine trying to list every possible name someone might go by. And of course, of bloody course, Lana wasn’t allowed because it’s something inappropriate when reversed. Which is insane, Lana is a ridiculously common name.

      1. rinathin*

        Dammit, I forgot how HTML works. Didn’t mean to have half the comment in italics.

        I had a friend who wanted to get their at-the-time preferred name of Lana on a credit card. Citi, for whatever mind-boggling reason, has a whitelist for what preferred names are allowed. Imagine trying to list every possible name someone might go by. And of course, of bloody course, Lana wasn’t allowed because it’s something inappropriate when reversed. Which is insane, Lana is a ridiculously common name.

  21. pearldust*

    Man, commenters love to rise up and say why XYZ is a terrible gift idea every time something gets suggested. All of the suggestions are just things to consider, not absolutes! Chill out.

    1. Mailer Daemon Targaryen*

      It is SO frustrating and it happens every time! A suggestion is not a mandate!

    2. to varying degrees*

      +100. Listen, I don’t do nature. I don’t walk, I don’t hike, I don’t do any of that. I have allergies and asthma, but I can acknowledge that a park pass is something that a lot of others would use and would enjoy. It goes to funding and maintenance of parks and relatively unobjectionable. There’s no one perfect gift and sometimes you just got to go with something.

    3. kiki*

      No gift is going to work for or be appreciated by everyone. I think that’s why my office picks a few options every year and lets folks pick from them. A nice bottle of wine, a snack basket, and a variety of gift cards are all normally options, with a few different things thrown in each year. A park pass or something like it would be a well-appreciated option, I’m sure.

    4. LilPinkSock*

      Bingo! A few years ago, someone here was crowdsourcing ideas for something. I offered a suggestion that had worked perfectly for me recently and was absolutely screamed at by multiple commenters. I felt like garbage for a long time, and stopped contributing by that username entirely because how much crap I got for suggesting something small and petty.

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I also think that a certain set of commenters react like a gift is some sort of compensation they are entitled to…a transaction or wage…instead of, you know, gift. No one is owed a gift.

  22. Goldie*

    For the awkwardly named, I too have a body part last name which I prefer to my previous extremely long, hard to pronounce and hard to spell last name.
    You could test this but I don’t think your theory is true. I routinely get a hundred applications for each job I post. We have several people who apply for all of them. Even when they make the first cut, they never seem to make the next cut. Basically their experience is just not aligned to most of our positions. If they asked, I would tell them this, although most employers won’t.
    I would like at your strategy for applying. I can’t imagine not picking a great fit for an interview because of their name. I want highly talented staff.

    1. LizW.*

      I don’t think it’s the people who are rejecting this type of name but the settings within the computer driven keyword searches.

    2. Rosemary*

      That is great if the applications are all screened manually, but it sounds like OP is concerned they are getting blocked by machines – not humans.

  23. Lusara*

    For LW5, that’s a great idea if you are near a park as the letter writer is. If you are not, then it’s a waste because the recipients would have to travel to use it.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      And someone like me can’t use it at all in part for that reason. I don’t have a car to travel out of the city and I wouldn’t be able to walk around much when I got there because of my disability. It’s a cool idea, but like anything, use your critical thinking skills when determining if it’s an appropriate gift!

      1. LizB*

        This comment is not meant to disagree with you at all, just to share some cool info – some of the state and regional parks around me have recently gotten several wheelchairs that are specially designed for unpaved trails that can be borrowed by any guests who need them! I’d love for all parks to have them so more of nature is accessible to more people.

        1. Happy meal with extra happy*

          (This is also me sharing more info and desperately trying not to be “not everyone can eat sandwiches!)

          One thing to note though (and it just shows why there’s no easy solution/know the people you’re giving gifts to), even rentable, off-road wheelchairs don’t solve the problem for the population of wheelchair users who have a specific chair they use and aren’t able to just use any wheelchair, such as due to lack of body strength to hold oneself up in the chair/not fall out. The same goes for beach wheelchairs. (For the beach, there are mats that can be put out as paths on the sand that do allow the use of a variety of more typical wheelchairs on the beach.)

          1. LizB*

            Oh for sure! Wheelchairs are not universally usable and often need to be very tailored to the user, so this expands access but sadly still doesn’t make it accessible for everyone.

        2. LilPinkSock*

          Yes! For the last five or six years of his life, my dad had escalating mobility issues and ended up using a wheelchair. I was delighted to find that many state and national parks, and even a few beaches around us, had chairs for rent with multi-terrain wheels. It was great to be able to take him on the sand one last time!

  24. gw*

    LW2 – this is a place that I’d strongly disagree: If you’re a well known, highly regarded engineer, maybe. Or if you’re applying for a really senior level position (15 years plus experience, leading 8-9 digit programs or more, etc.)

    If you’re another face in the crowd at a “really large company” – this isn’t the job for you. Really large companies are about a measure of conformity. That’s both their strength and their weakness; they tend to do a poor job of rewarding individuality, while simultaneously helping to provide guiderails and what they expect from people. Pushing back on something that’s generally standard in engineering fields and large companies because you think they need to hear your voice, puts you in the same category as people who think they don’t need to follow basic configuration management, OSHA standards, or any of a host of other things, because they don’t understand why and know better, and they think Someone Needs to Hear Their Opinion, because the Really Large Company is desperately waiting to hear from someone who’s working remotely and won’t do field work. That makes as much sense as a fry cook applying for a job at McDonalds and saying they want the corporate hierarchy to go vegan before they’re hired.

    Most very large companies have two or three tiers of recruiters. The ones who are recruiting for anything other than super senior positions are usually disposable. One of the best ways to extend your network is to connect to a lot of them, because they have such huge turnover that you’ll end up connected to multiple companies fairly quickly. They don’t have input into onboarding procedures – that’s usually an entirely different team, 3 or 4 levels up, and no recruiter is going to take this kind of thing up to their boss’ boss’ boss, and say “we think this is the right person for our large company, but they know better than us and want us to know that.”

    Saying that because the role you have now doesn’t need a drug test is also a red flag, because that means you’re not looking to become a cog in their machine, and they now have to know and track that you aren’t eligible for certain other jobs or customers. No really large company does this.

    Stick with a small company that values and focuses on individuality, and hope they don’t have a goal of being acquired by one of the big companies.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Drug testing is standard in engineering fields? o_O

      Randomly addressing some things you’ve mentioned:
      Obviously this job isn’t for the LW’s spouse. That’s why they’re rejecting the offer. They’re not trying to get hired, they’re providing feedback.

      The point is that there’s nothing inherent to the job that justifies drug testing, so your McDonald’s analogy doesn’t apply.

      You seem to be implying that the LW’s partner would be less valued because they don’t do field work. I read it as their job description doesn’t involve field work.

      A recruiter isn’t going to say “we lost this one person because we do drug testing”, but they will notice the trend if it happens a lot. It’s not unusual for a recruiter to provide feedback that a company’s policies are reducing its applicant pool.

      1. DomaneSL5*

        Drug testing has been standard in all the banking jobs I have had. Never once touched any equipment beyond a computer. To be fair engineer is a pretty broad field and title.

        Honestly this LW to me feels like someone who feels they shouldn’t be drug tested because they WFH, therefore never steps foot in the workplace.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          None of the banks around me drug test. It’s not a ubiquitous practice. I don’t work from home, have never had job in any field that drug tests, and would respond exactly like the OP if this came up.

          The extent of change might be regional but this is something that’s changing.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            Yeah, I personally know two banks that don’t drug test (at least for typical office jobs).

        2. ferrina*

          The LW’s spouse is pushing back against the why of the practice. In some jobs, drug testing makes sense because the nature of the job means that impairment risks lives. But LW’s spouse is not in that kind of job. So what is the purpose of the drug testing? And in applying this policy so unnecessarily broadly, they’re excluding people who may need cannabis for medical reasons (as LW does). That’s worth pointing out.

        3. New Jack Karyn*

          “someone who feels they shouldn’t be drug tested because they WFH, therefore never steps foot in the workplace”

          I think it was more like, never steps foot on a construction site or factory floor or mining operation, and thus isn’t going to cause an industrial accident due to intoxication.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Seconding all of this. It seems like the spouse is in a position to push back and pass on the job, and applicants doing so (especially in a tight market) are how things change. See: how many companies are offering remote or hybrid work right now even though they don’t want to.

      3. danmei kid*

        Drug testing is standard for many companies who may need to work with US Govt. Including engineering, banking, pharma, etc etc.

        1. ferrina*

          I worked closely with pharma, and it’s not standard for that industry. It may depend on the role within the industry- for example, R&D may have different rules than sales or marketing. Safety standards depend on the impact your role has.
          For U.S. Gov’t, part of the concern is whether you can be coerced by enemies of the state- i.e., can you be black mailed? It’s also why they run financial background checks (in that case for bribery potential). U.S. Govt is also glacially slow to change.

      4. Curmudgeon in California*

        IME, drug testing for every little job in the world was all the rage in the 1980s. I resented it then, even though I was clean. I avoided jobs that demanded it.

        Now, only federally regulated companies do it. I think it’s due to the expense. Plus a lot of people refuse blanket drug testing for ethical reasons. Companies that treat people like jail inmates (random drug testing happens in jails) are not popular with creative types.

    2. Roland*

      > puts you in the same category as people who think they don’t need to follow basic configuration management, OSHA standards, or any of a host of other things, because they don’t understand why and know better

      No, it means you have certain principles that you’re willing to lose a job over. I feel like you don’t actually understand why OP and their spouse are against drug testing even though the letter makes it pretty clear.

  25. Cannabis Questions*

    First off, I have to say, I’m thrilled to see a letter addressing cannabis-related issues in the workplace. There is a great deal to discuss around this topic.

    Second, I applaud the LW for pushing back on this. I am in a somewhat similar situation. I work from home and sit in front of a computer all day. There is no “risk” in my work. And, fortunately, my current company did not do pre-employment drug screening for my position. However, the company policy is that the “use of any illegal drug” is potentially a fireable offense.

    I’m not personally worried about it, but I do take CBD that also contains THC (derived from hemp), that very much could cause me to “fail” a drug screen. The thing is, as I understand it at least, THC derived from hemp IS legal at the federal level per the 2018 Farm Bill. (Anybody correct me if I’m wrong here.)

    While, I’m not worried about it at this point, it still bothers me quite a bit that, in theory at least, I could be drug tested and fired for consuming a substance that is legal on both the Federal and State levels, simply because the source of the THC cannot be proven one way or another.

    Thanks to the LW and to AAM for raising this topic. Given the insane antics we frequently read about on this blog involving alcohol use, it is high time ;) the use of legal cannabis products in non-safety sensitive jobs gets more thought and discussion.

    1. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      Totally agree! I’m a secret medical user and have been pushing on my company do to away with drug tests. I have a desk job and medical marijuana has enabled me to work and lead a fulfilling life.

      1. Cannabis Questions*

        Exactly. It is medicinal for me during the week (I’d otherwise be in a lot of pain or taking lots of prescription painkillers.) and recreational on the weekend. It does a lot to help me sleep, help me get up and go to the gym, and otherwise take care of myself and feel “normal” most of the time.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          I take medical marijuana for pain, migraines and insomnia. I don’t use it recreationally, since all THC does is put me to sleep. My quality of life has greatly improved now that I am sleeping through the night instead of waking up 3 or 4 times for a half hour or more. I’m getting older, and high CBD gummies help a lot when the weather makes my joints ache. It’s not for everyone – my spouse is allergic to the smoke, and is not wanting to risk gummies because of that allergy – but for those it works for it can be life changing.

          I don’t go to work stoned – primarily because for me, stoned == asleep. But as long as people don’t show up to work impaired from any substance, legal or otherwise, I consider it an issue.

          The federal government is very conservative (to the point of being reactionary) on this, but they are the exception, not the rule.

  26. KatEnigma*

    LW5: That is a great idea, and it could be amended for people who don’t live near National Parks, to state or regional park passes. In the SF Bay Area, EBRP has an awesome park system (superior to the other parts of the Bay Area for hiking, picnics, etc for less crowds and more variety!) and Wisconsin had a great State Park system. Even in ND, we weren’t near a State Park, but there were county parks with annual passes, including a nice swimming lake- and with the exception of EBRP (*cough*) usually cost less than a NPS pass, even at half price. We paid $25-$35 in those other locations for our annual car pass.

  27. Fabulous*

    #2 – I used to work for a pharmaceutical company in the corporate office. When I was hired, had to do a hair follicle test – once when I was hired as a temp, and then again when I was hired full time by the company. In the time I was there, there was so much issue with people passing the test and getting hired as phone sales reps that they finally abolished the test for the office staff. Definitely speak up; it may help them change.

    1. Judge Judy and Executioner*

      I’ve only had one hair test and never again. One, I’m a medical user, and two, they took SO much hair from my head it was noticeable for weeks.

  28. just another queer reader*

    My company stopped screening for cannabis after they were having trouble hiring enough frontline workers.

    (I still think that drug testing is bs, but it’s a step in the right direction.)

  29. Sylvan*

    LW4: Don’t write anything that you wouldn’t say out loud. I think you should read your cover letter ideas and eventual cover letter draft out loud, or use Word’s text-to-speech function to listen to another voice reading them. Edit until you have something that sounds professional and natural.

  30. Retired Engineer*

    LW2: Since I’m retired, my information is a few years old.

    Cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, and a large engineering company will have government contracts where the employees and the company are required to follow federal laws. Some industrial clients had similar policies. I worked with clients where I would travel to the site, and had to pass a drug test before I could enter the property. I assumed part of this was for liability reasons.

    Even though the position is remote now, the company is probably hoping you will have a long career with them. At some point you may want or be drafted for a role where passing a drug test may be necessary. The company wants employees, especially at the entry level, who can grow into many opportunities.

    Companies already know these policies are costing them candidates, just by the number of people who fail the drug tests.

    I think the long term solution will ultimately be legalization at the federal level. Even then there may still be testing. For example, alcohol is legal but it’s still acceptable to fire someone for being drunk at work.

      1. Cannabis Questions*

        Exactly. And these drug tests only screen for THC. Which can come from illegal street cannabis…0r federally legal hemp.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Right. Or the whole poppy seed issue. It also flags things you’ve done on your personal time that have left your system and have no bearing on your ability to work at the given moment.

          And people do come into work drunk or hungover, it happens even if it’s unacceptable. The solution is to put it in the handbook that it’s not acceptable and address individual instances as they come up. In industrial accidents, they’ll take a blood test. But for a random Tuesday, we’d typically find searches of our bodies pretty invasive. I think looking back we’re going to find random drug tests at office jobs REALLY weird.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I find them offensive, and would not take a job where they were required for a non-safety related cause. That means that I will not work on certain types of federal contracts, for the federal government, or for any company that does random testing just because they can. Because, quite frankly, it is invasive, humiliating, and treats employees like they were jail inmates.

        2. Totally Minnie*

          We also don’t have a test for cannabis that answers the question “is this person high right now?” The existing test tells you whether the person has used cannabis in the last 30 days, which is useless, really.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Seriously. The “high” is over in a few hours, but the test will show it for 30 days? Plus, you can get a secondhand “buzz” if you walk through a heavy cloud of marijuana smoke, and *that* will show up for 30 days.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              No, walking through a heavy cloud of cannabis smoke will not show up on a test, and it certainly won’t show up on a test 30 days after the fact. I’m as anti-drug testing as anyone, and pro-legalization & normalization, but the claim above is untrue.

      2. Totally Minnie*

        Exactly. I’m opposed to random testing and pre-employment testing, but for-cause testing can still be important, particularly in industries where people’s safety can be impacted if someone is impaired in the workplace.

        1. Cannabis Questions*

          Absolutely. I do not condone driving under the influence of cannabis (or anything else) or performing any safety-sensitive job under the influence at all.

          That said, I don’t work in a safety-sensitive job (on purpose) and don’t have a good answer for what companies/employees should do around cannabis and those types of jobs.

          But testing, and potentially firing, people in NON-safety-sensitive jobs is just as, if not more, absurd than requiring in-office work for jobs that can be done remotely. Yes, of course, employers CAN require those things if they choose. But as they are slowly and painfully learning you drastically reduce your hiring pool of great candidates and wind up expending a lot of company resources to not really solve anything.

          My hope is that more of these types of discussions on work-related forums like this can help normalize this situation into something resembling a reasonable solution.

  31. sc.wi*

    LW3, my mother’s maiden name was also… attention-drawing. She used my grandma’s maiden name often; maybe that would be an option for you? I also knew a woman whose last name was Perfect. Not profane, but it was shocking how many people (including government orgs) thought she was lying about it. I believe she started going by her middle name.
    I’m sorry that’s happening to you! It must be such a pain.

  32. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

    I just came here to say I love the Park Pass idea. Would 100% be happy to receive something like this. Or a Zoo Pass. (You usually get in free to your local zoo and at a discount to others) I would have loved either when I was a struggling single mom and would still enjoy them as an empty nester.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes, it’s a great idea! I live in a state where we don’t have a national park but we have state parks and it would be awesome if someone gifted me a state park pass (or a pass to one of the other orgs that have outdoor stuff, like Audubon Society or something). Which reminds me, I need to renew my state park pass.

  33. Temperance*

    Re the last letter: you can get an America the Beautiful pass as well, which costs not significantly more, but can get you in to tons of parks and historic sites.

    That said, annual passes to local attractions are nice gifts!

    1. Splendid Colors*

      What kinds of local attractions? I wouldn’t use a pass to Local Rollercoaster Amusement Park because I don’t like rollercoasters and the rest of the attractions aren’t attractive enough to justify spending $50+ on parking, food, etc. You’re not even allowed to bring your own water into the park.

  34. Pink Geek*

    Re: #5. With any gift you have to know your recipients. Something for people to consider when thinking about the National Park membership is if everyone on the team owns a car. In my experience public transit options to or inside of parks are pretty limited.

  35. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    As others have commented before, I think this is 100% due to government contracts – specifically national security. This has nothing to do with ‘stodgy big company’.

    If Llama Dynamics has defense contracts, then they are obligated to have a drug screening program, and most of the time it’s much simpler to put every employee under that regime than to try to slice up the workforce and identify 30% of the staff who will never, under any circumstances, touch the Pentagon contracts.

    1. Holyoaks*

      This is so weird for me. My ex husband worked for the Feds and had security clearance first with the DoD and later another agency and was apparently never tested because he was a drug addict and surely would have failed.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        I worked for DoD contractors for about 15 years and was never tested either. It’s a random sample of the employees – it’s not like you’re an Olympic athlete and get tested 4 times a year.

        1. jojo*

          I had one employee that sent me every time they had to sent a group because they knew I was clean.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        They don’t always test, but if he is a user and lied on his clearance forms? That can actually lead to criminal charges IIRC.

    2. Splendid Colors*

      Agreed. When I applied for Federal contractor status, there were all kinds of requirements that I had to maintain a “drug-free workplace” or I’d violate Federal law. Luckily, that doesn’t mean I’m in violation if neighbors down the hall from my home office use/sell drugs as long as it isn’t happening in my apartment.

  36. RussianInTexas*

    The nearest national park is a 12 hours drive away from me. I will probably never make it there. The nearest National Monument is San Antonio Missions and they are very interesting but free.
    However, Texas has a ton of really good state parks. If you are in a state where you have a lot of good state parks, that might be the better option. Because I would go to Brazos Bend, for example, because it’s only 19 miles from me. But not to Big Bend, because it’s half way to California.

  37. Ho-ho-holey hose*

    Radiolab has a great podcast episode called “Null” on the topic of names and computer systems. Really worth a read! As many commenters have pointed out, there are many ways in which automated online systems can mess up with names.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      Yes! That was really interesting to listen to! One part of the podcast: a person changed his name to ‘Null’ to avoid getting traffic tickets, and instead, he got all the tickets where the name wasn’t specified.

      1. Bird of Paradise*

        He actually requested a vanity plate with NULL and got all the tickets where the license plate wasn’t specified. He was a programmer and wanted a vanity plate meaningful to CS. The possibility of never getting tickets was a bonus, until it worked out otherwise.

  38. Jessica Fletcher*

    #2, pass on the job if you’re in a position to do so, but for what it’s worth, I’ve only worked at jobs that say they randomly drug test, and I’ve never seen anyone randomly drug tested.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      And I have gotten caught in the randomness several times in my 10 year stint at one company.

      I see it just like jury duty, in CA, I was called up multiple times, but in Ohio only once in 16 years. (similar but shorter time in CA)

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, I think lots of places “reserve the right” to blood test for cause or at random, and the “random” option is there so you don’t have to prove cause and you can rerun your supposed randomizer until the guy who comes back from lunch with bloodshot eyes is on the list.

  39. Dirk*

    Some years ago I worked for three Brits here in the States. One of them thought it would be cool to have an office dog. His name was “Flash.” Once I was having a personal conversation with a co-worker and I noticed that Flash was aware of someone in the hallway eavesdropping. I made a hand gesture to my co-worker and we both shut up and the mystery Brit slunk back down the hallway. Thanks, Flash!

    There was once a man with the surname of “Hoare” and he changed it so his three daughters would not have to suffer that horrible fate. It isn’t hard to change one’s name so if you don’t like it, change it. Ralph Lauren was once little Ralphie Lifshitz.

    1. Roland*

      Idk about using Ralph Lauren as an example of “if you don’t like it”. That’s part of a long tradition of American Jews trying to avoid antisemitic discrimination.

    2. Dirk*

      I have a friend who changed his uncommon Germanic name (and not a name that makes people giggle either) to one that is very bland and very English for no other reason than that is what he wanted to do. The judge rolled his eyes and moved on to the next case.

  40. Meep*

    LW#3 – funny enough my financial advisor’s last name is Butt. He is a family friend and was the best man at my dad’s wedding. He is pretty successful so hang in there!

    1. LT*

      When I visited my friend in Houston a couple of years ago she pointed out how the “B” in Texas’ H-E-B supermarkets stood for “Butt” (H.E.B. is the founder’s initials)

  41. Indubitably Delicious*

    Came here to mention Sri Lankan names. We use what’s on the passport as the legal name, but they often use a different portion of their name as a “first name” and that isn’t always reflected in our info systems. This is yet another place where a “preferred name” field ends up being really helpful.

  42. Sammie*

    Dr Horsey is an orthodontist in my city. There are lots of radio commercials for Horsey Orthodontics and it makes me laugh each time.

    1. wendelenn*

      My city had an orthodontist named Dr. Ichinose. I always thought he should have trained to be an allergist or ENT instead.

      1. JustAnotherKate*

        I have a family member who is Dr. Gore (now retired). He was an OB-GYN, so I have to give props to the pregnant folks who chose Dr. Gore to deliver their baby.

  43. nora*

    I don’t have a middle name. Never have, never will. You’d be surprised how many online applications won’t let you leave the middle name/initial box blank. There’s at least one major corporation in my area that thinks my name is First X Last.

    1. Nana*

      My uncle served during WWII. He had no middle name, so he was always listed as FirstName NMI* LastName

      *No Middle Initial

    2. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      My father had no middle name. He died in 1988, before online applications were a thing, but it was inconvenient not having one even back then.

  44. lifeandlimb*

    #3, I’m so sorry this is happening to you. Could you use your last initial instead of your last name? Ex. Tim B instead of Tim Butts. Or a shortened version of your last name if that is possible?

    #5, great idea on the national park passes!

  45. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#5: An intriguing idea for a gift. Thank you for the suggestion! I do think some personal knowledge about the recipient is needed before selecting and using this type of gift. But I really like the idea – the right annual pass or membership for the right recipient. Thinking about what would be applicable in my own area, I would expand this gift idea as follows:

    National park pass: for nature lovers who have easy access to one or more national parks and sites.
    State park pass: for nature lovers who have easy access to one or more state parks site
    Beach pass: for beach lovers who have easy access to a local beach that requires an expensive pass
    Historic trust pass: for old house lovers who have easy access to historic houses/sites managed by a trust
    Museum membership: for art/museum lovers who have easy access to the museum.
    Botanical garden membership: for gardeners and plant lovers who have easy access to the botanical garden

    1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      One more idea to add:
      Theme park pass! If you know that someone loves amusement parks or theme parks and has easy access to a local one.

    1. Giant Kitty*

      When I telemarketer got the local cable company in the 80s I encountered a customer by the name of Dick Reising.

  46. Bird of Paradise*

    “Though I have not been there long, I can already tell you that my boss is the reason for the turnover. I have literally been losing sleep while working for this man.”

    I suspect that you are focusing on the way he momentarily and very obviously listened at your door as a discrete act that you can articulate bc the larger problem is less easy to discretely identify and articulate. Stopping to listen at a glass door (note: he wasn’t hiding, so you didn’t “catch” him) for a moment after waiting outside could easily be innocent, as many commentors have already noted. Let this specific incident go.

    Instead, look for the larger pattern and think about your options. Are there parts of the larger pattern that you can try to change? If you are limited in your ability to change your boss, is there a change to your framing and responses that you can implement? And of course, the obvious change that you can make is to change your job.

    But the first change should be differentiating the real problems from the things that look like real problems but aren’t, and letting go of the latter.

  47. No Longer Working*

    LW#5 – what a fabulous idea! One of the big reasons my husband was looking forward to turning 62 was to get the lifetime parks pass. If I wasn’t retired, I’d ask to be your boss. :-)

  48. Kyrielle*

    Oh gosh, flashback to trying to make our system (I used to write software for 911 centers!) work with a place that used leading zeros as a form of negative numbering. We didn’t have to get the software to treat it as negative, but we did have to convince it that “102 FAKE ST” and “0102 FAKE ST” were different addresses (because they were). That was fun.

  49. pcake*

    Even though I haven’t been to a national park in decades, and probably won’t go to one in the near future, I love the idea of a national park pass, particularly if a brief note explains that it helps supports national parks.

  50. Ollie*

    My husband uses a small amount of THC for pain relief. He says it works better than the morphine he was on before. He was in an accident (not his fault) at work and had to be drug tested. His level of THC came up as 51. Chaos ensued. They threatened to fire him if he didn’t go to rehab. I did some research and found that Virginia had just passed a new law saying that you can’t fire someone for a low level of THC. It has to be the level considered “high” for them to fire you. That level is 1500. States with legal marijuana should consider passing such a law since THC stays in your bloodstream longer than alcohol. Funny thing, they were fine with him being on morphine in the past.

  51. A USAF Veteran*

    LW #5: I think it’s a nice idea, but also be cognizant of the fact that veterans get into National Parks for free.

  52. PlainJane*

    I’m curious as to what prompted the system to start looking for obscene words as names. Do they have a lot of fake applications submitted by thirteen-year-olds who think they’re being funny? And if so, wouldn’t those be caught on the answers to the questions about experience and education? Lots of people have surnames that have acquired different meanings over the years. Some probably have first names that do as well. Are women named Karen going to be kicked out because of the Karen meme? Why would the name even be a filter? What on Earth are they trying to filter out that way?

    1. Ima Goodlady*

      I had the same thought – I highly doubt there’s a large enough contingency of trolls who randomly pull up local job listings and make up whole fake personas and resumes full of school information, previous employment, etc just for the 2-second giggle (with absolutely zero other payoff) from applying as Seymour Butts. Spam, sure, every online form attracts spam. But an otherwise legitimate and average submission should not be rejected just because the last name is Dicks or whatever, just on the incredibly unlikely chance someone is making a joke. (I’m also wondering if non-offensive but still meme-y names will get caught because someone, somewhere is afraid of a submission from Karen Wheresthemanager.)

  53. I should really pick a name*

    Random thought:
    I hear about companies that do drug tests, but I don’t hear about ones that do breathalyzer tests.

  54. Kelly*

    Re: #3 – The issue of whether or not you can complete an application with a name that is not your “legal” name (but one you use IRL for a non-fraudulent reason) has been raised in the context of transgender deadnames. Some argue that you should be able to complete an application with a preferred name provided that you DO provide your legal name at the point the employer has a need to know. This LW’s case may be different though since they aren’t using an alternate name to avoid divulging membership in a protected class (but rather mere embarrassment with their legal name).

    1. PlainJane*

      It seems like it’s not so much embarrassment as a technical issue with the name being caught on weird electronic algorithms, which should be understandable. (Though I wonder if the people would deny that’s what’s stopping it?)

  55. Jules*

    Just a park ranger popping in here to say that National Park passes are $80. They are annual passes, never on sale though. They get punched for the month they are purchased and are good until the end of that month the next year.
    FYI if you are in the US military, are a veteran, a 4th grader, or a person with a federally recognized permanent disability, you are eligible for a free pass. If you are a US citizen age 62 or older, you can get an annual park pass for $20 or a lifetime pass for $80.

    1. Jules*

      Oh. I did just reread– I misunderstood the original comment. Parks do have an annual pass only for their park. The park I work for sells it for $45.

  56. Fez Knots*

    LW3: As someone with an a-typical name, I feel your pain. But as someone who is a contract worker and regularly applies for work online, I wouldn’t say hundreds or thousands of online applications is NOT unusual. Seriously. In 2019, my partner tracked more than 1500 applications on LinkedIn before being offered his full time role (and his name is totally generic).

  57. Married to a stoner*

    If oP’s spouse ever _does_ want the job and there’s drug testing required:

    My partner uses recreational marijuana and drug tests are common in his field at hiring.

    It is apparently pretty easy to pass your run of the mill drug test. You aren’t monitored typically in the bathroom. They verify that your urine is body temperature in order to determine that it’s your urine. You can purchase powdered urine online, in vape shops, and smoke shops. He’s never had an issue with this product not being accepted. His typical move is to put the urine in a bag that he tucks into a tall sock under his loose pantleg. If it won’t be the right temperature, he adds one hand warmer. He did fail a test once because he feared the old hand warmers we had weren’t effective and used two hand warmers — the mixed urine was too hot, they tossed it, and he was stuck using natural urine.

    We’ve talked about starting a consulting hustle talking applicants thru what to expect and how to handle this testing, lol.

  58. Married to a stoner*

    My partner uses recreational marijuana and drug tests are common in his field at hiring.

    It is apparently pretty easy to pass your run of the mill drug test. You aren’t monitored typically in the bathroom. They verify that your urine is body temperature in order to determine that it’s your urine. You can purchase powdered urine online, in vape shops, and smoke shops. He’s never had an issue with this product not being accepted. His typical move is to put the urine in a bag that he tucks into a tall sock under his loose pantleg. If it won’t be the right temperature, he adds one hand warmer. He did fail a test once because he feared the old hand warmers we had weren’t effective and used two hand warmers — the mixed urine was too hot, they tossed it, and he was stuck using natural urine.

    We’ve talked about starting a consulting hustle talking applicants thru what to expect and how to handle this testing, lol.

  59. judyjudyjudy*

    LW5: It’s certainly a creative gift that minimizes waste from knick-knacks people don’t want. It seems like it will be a hit with a lot of your coworkers and you have a national park very close. Hot take, though: I’d way rather give my money to the U.S. Forest Service than the Park Service. The parkies already have their big hole in the ground and all the famous geysers. What more do they need?

  60. Michael Butts*

    LW3 here, I have a some more background on this issue:
    -It didn’t start until applicant tracking systems utterly replaced humans about 15 years ago
    -After 59 years, I think I’ll stick with my original name
    -According to a few sources, the “Butts” name probably referred to someone that hauled water in England. The barrels were known as butts so it’s another case of the person inheriting their profession’s name, like tailor or tanner.

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