I can’t afford to buy breakfast for my team, should you always ask about a gap on someone’s resume, and more

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

1. I can’t afford to buy breakfast for my team every month

At my job, we have weekly meetings where my whole team gets together in the morning. At these meetings, one to three people present what they’ve been working on for the past month. We are an academic research lab in a university, and 15 members of the team attend these meetings. At these meetings, my boss requires that one person presenting bring breakfast of some kind for the whole team. This means most people bring breakfast about once every one to two months.

This has been irking me for a few reasons. I am the lowest paid member of our team (think sub-poverty level for our area) because I am still a student and I am expected to pay for breakfast for all the higher members of our team once a month (my boss makes, literally, 10 times what I make). Additionally, not everyone on our team performs a research role (i.e., support staff/admin staff) so some people are never required to bring breakfast (since they never present), despite also eating it every week. And finally, I rarely eat because I’m still Covid-conscious in small rooms and prefer to keep my mask on, so it’s not like I’m saving money on getting myself breakfast during these meetings (oftentimes I don’t even end up getting to eat any of what I brought).

I know it’s something my boss is really married to, and he has done this for many years if not decades. Financially, I can make it happen since it’s not terribly often, but with rising food prices and inflation, my budget gets tighter and tighter every month. Should I just grit and bear it to keep the peace? I know many people in our group look forward to eating during this meeting every week.

No, you should speak up. And really, they should have been exempting you all along. While I don’t love this kind of system for anyone, you’re a student! You should never have been asked to buy breakfast, not even once.

Say this: “As a student, I’m not in a position to buy breakfast for the team — I really can’t afford it. So I need to exempt myself from the rotation. If that means I should opt out of eating, I will.”

Don’t get into how some people are never required to bring breakfast; that’s not really the point. The point is that you can’t afford to do it, so you won’t be. Period. And notice that with this language, you’re not asking for the favor of being let off the hook; you are telling them you cannot afford it and thus cannot do it.

You could say this privately to your boss, although on some teams, it would be more effective if said in front of the whole team (you could raise it as a sort of housekeeping measure at the end of one of these meetings). Which will work better depends on your boss and your team.

But whenever you say it, say it forthrightly! Don’t be shy about it, or embarrassed. You’re a student, for F’s sake. They’ve all been there and they should all get it.

2. Should you always ask about a gap on someone’s resume?

Should you always ask about a gap on someone’s resume?

Not all gaps, no. People have gaps on their resumes for all sorts of unremarkable reasons — took some time out of the workforce after having a baby, dealing with a health issue, taking a few months off in between jobs, travel, and on and on. The existence of a gap on someone’s resume shouldn’t be a big deal in and of itself.

Ask about a gap if you’re genuinely trying to figure out someone’s career trajectory and there’s a glaring hole that’s genuinely getting in the way of that. Generally that should mean that gaps of only a few months won’t be relevant and gaps from years ago shouldn’t matter at all. (And gaps from during the pandemic shouldn’t surprise anyone.) Personally, I only ask if the gap is a current one (“what have you been doing since leaving X?” — and that’s not a gotcha, it’s genuine interest in knowing because there could be info that’s relevant professionally — like a job they left off not realizing it would be relevant or, for some positions, whether they’d done anything to keep their skills up-to-date during that time if the gap is a long one) or if there’s a pattern of multiple gaps (and then I want to understand what keeps driving them to leave jobs with nothing else lined up — not because that’s an inherently bad thing, but because it can be a bad thing depending on the reasons — like if they’re constantly getting fired, always walking off in a fit of rage, etc.).

3. Invitations to a retirement party that’s much bigger than anyone else’s

Our CEO’s admin assistant asked me to design retirement party invitations for one beloved coworker, who is liked by many any our organization and has been a big part of being involved in many company activities, as well as philanthropic work in her 30 years at the company.

Our company normally only hosts cake/punch in a large conference room, no matter how many years a person has worked here. However, this particular employee is having a big dinner party planned by the company at an off-site event venue with drink tickets, etc.

The admin asked me to somehow word the invitation so that it doesn’t insult others who don’t get this kind of retirement send off. How would you word an invitation in this circumstance?

That’s an impossible task, because of course others are going to notice the difference and be hurt or demoralized. It’s likely to be a major messaging issue, and asking you to come up with the messaging yourself without any direction is ridiculous.

You could try going back to the assistant and saying, “I’m struggling with how to word this in a way that doesn’t raise questions about why Jane’s event is so much more elaborate than other retirement parties have been. Can you explain to me what the messaging is supposed to be so I have something to work with?” My guess is the assistant may not know either and it probably wasn’t her call, but since she’s the one asking you to do it, you’ve got to point out that you can’t do it without more information.

4. My coworker refuses to reply-all when she needs to

I have a coworker who works at an off-site location who I need to email frequently with questions. I often include her team lead and our manager in the emails so they are in the loop and can also see her replies with information I’m trying to find out.

The problem is, she is terrible at the reply-all function and always ends up only replying to me. At times this is fine, but many times there are instances where she is having problems or issues I can’t help her with, and instead of replying-all so her team lead also reads it, the message only ends up with me.

I know the usual problem is more commonly with too many people hitting reply-all when it’s not necessary, but this is a reoccurring instance where I really need her to reply-all. I’ve even pointed it out to her for the more serious issues, letting her know that she should be looping in her managers to draw attention to specific problems. Is there another way to deal with this? I find it constantly frustrating and not sure if there’s anything I can do.

Ask her one time very clearly and explain why (“can you please reply-all when I’ve cc’d Jane and/or Cecil since they need to see the answer too?”). If she continues not to, you can try one more reminder … but after that, you probably need to accept that for whatever reason she’s not doing it and you can’t make her. In that case, you can just forward her replies to Jane and Cecil with “FYI” or “You were left off the cc, but looks like Ophelia needs help with this” or so forth.

Some people will just never manage their email the way you want them to. It’s reasonable to ask once or twice, but after that you’ve just got to work around it. (There are exceptions to this, of course, like if you happen to be their boss or if they’re causing havoc with customers by not doing it.)

5. Do I have to reveal my arrest on job applications if my record was expunged?

I was arrested years ago. Later the case was dismissed and all records of it were expunged.

When applying for jobs, sometimes they ask if you’ve ever been arrested. I answer yes because I have. However, I’ve been told that since my record was expunged and if you look it up there’s no evidence of it, I should say no. But I feel like that’s lying. I don’t mind telling anyone the story because they would be able to see that I didn’t do anything wrong. But I worry about people just seeing “arrested” and having a negative opinion about me. What are your thoughts?

You can answer “no” to that question. That’s what expungement is — legally speaking, it never happened and you’re permitted to say no. You might feel better about it if you reword the question in your head to, “Do you have any legal record of arrests?”

Caveat 1: Certain government jobs or jobs working with vulnerable populations (like children) may still require you to disclose expunged records for relevant charges, so make sure to closely read what you’re answering. (You could also check with the lawyer who handled your expungement to be sure.)

Caveat 2: Order a copy of your own criminal history to make sure your record was actually expunged correctly. I recently had an old arrest from a political protest sealed (it was a bad arrest; I was there to bail out other activists but they arrested all of us, and having it on my record annoyed me on principle) and when I double checked my report months later to be sure, it was still there, despite the judge’s order to seal it. It’s fixed now, but if I hadn’t checked I wouldn’t have known they’d messed it up. My lawyer told me the same thing happened to another one of his clients, who didn’t find out until a prospective employer ran his background check — and his offer was pulled over it. So definitely check.

{ 504 comments… read them below }

  1. Zee*

    I disagree with Alison on #2. I don’t think you should ask about resume gaps, EVER. Judge people on their work, not on what they do outside of work. Who is the hiring manager to judge what’s an acceptable “excuse” to take time off work or not? Do you really have a list of things that says “pregnancy okay, taking care of an ill aunt not okay, travel okay, mental health break not okay”?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, and that’s not why decent interviewers ask. They’re asking because they want to make sure it’s not that you’re constantly getting fired or walking off all your jobs in fits of rage, or trying to hide something else that would be concerning if they knew about it. If it’s nothing like that, it’s going to be a non-issue with any decent interviewer. It’s a check to make sure it’s not an situation that would be alarming, and that’s it. I do think it should be asked less than it currently is, but not for the reason you gave!

      That said, there are bad interviewers who will draw weird, unwarranted conclusions, but for bad interviewers that’s the case with any question they might ask.

      1. GythaOgden*

        Yup. I have an issue in that a lot of my skilled experience is ‘off the books’ in terms of being volunteer, being at uni doing my Masters/chasing PhD funding that never materialised, or very very part time stuff while doing a day job almost in my sleep, but now that I’ve accumulated nine years since the gap, I’m looking at ways of consolidating all the stuff that gives me experience onto a CV and looking at my public healthcare organisation’s talent recruitment programme with my regional manager.

        There are ways and means to build back from a gap, and people are now telling me it’s not as big a deal as it was when I was originally looking for work nine years ago, but it’s still relevant when summing up your experience, your capability to stick at jobs despite other issues, and proving to an employer you won’t just flounce out or flake or burn out, or vanish once something better comes up. Employers aren’t psychics; they need to know you’re consistent.

        It definitely sucks and it makes writing my CV a bit of a challenge (my RM told me to put as much as I could on my CV to prove that I’ve been doing stuff with my intellectual skills both before and during a period of effective underemployment), but it does give a general pattern to the sorts of things that can’t be quantified by accomplishments or documented employment.

        1. Cmdrshpard*

          Maybe I am wrong, but being in school is not really a gap.

          Sure there is a gap in jobs/employment, but if it is

          job 1: 2011-2016
          school: 2016-2024
          job 2: 2024 to 2026
          that is not a gap.

          I would think a gap as

          job 1: 2011 -2016
          job 2: 2024-2026

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yeah, you’re right! Awesome, thanks so much. (Side note, it always tickles me to see Americans refer to uni as school. It makes total sense, but it requires a mental leap. Also when you refer to K-12 staff as faculty. My mother and sister are both teachers and I never heard that term used here.)

            It would be covered under education/skills and then I suppose I’d document it under the gap part, since I did also spend some time unemployed after finishing the Masters before my incapacity benefit ran out. (I was allowed to study because I’d been on it for enough time prior to doing the degree.)

            As someone once said, ‘nothing is ever simple with you, is it?’. Just after I’d asked her to translate a Russian phrase into English so I could use it to work out the title of a Lithuanian book. I’m almost coming full circle — I started off training in financial accountancy in 2001, and I’m looking at analytics as a way of hooking up my server-like brain to the government neural network and finally making something of myself.

            Once again, thank you so much. (And lastly, Mass Effect rules…although I do play as fem!Shep.)

      2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

        I still disagree.

        At one time I had a layoff a year for over ten years. Lots of gaps. Another time I got laid off right into a depressionrecession. I have had economic driven gaps of over a year – layoffs and a dried up job market for my skills. Plus I had a really big gap when I had a stroke and had to change careers.

        I’ve also had tenures of over three years, so I have proven that I can stay at a company that doesn’t lay people off for small economic ripples. They’ll still dump you over large ones.

        Yet people in tech obsess over gaps. I’m an older worker, and for every year over 30 it takes longer to get a job. So it’s just another form of discrimination. It’s just nonsense.

        Every time some idiot asks me why I had a long gap in 2009/2010, I just look at them like they sprouted a hole in their head. Half the time they were still in college at the time, and blissfully unaware of the economy and hardship going on around them.

        Please, for the love of dog, don’t ask about gaps.

        1. Tupac Coachella*

          I still think there’s value to asking about gaps. I DO care why an applicant has a gap, because their past employment patterns help me understand whether the way they think and work makes sense for the role. However, your perspective is a helpful reminder to phrase those questions thoughtfully. I feel that the applicant deserves the opportunity to control some of that narrative instead of counting on my imagination, but I don’t want to ask about it in a way that puts them on the defensive or creates pressure to share private information. I’m just trying to make an informed hire, not judge their whole life. Maybe a combination of “what were you doing during that time” and questions about what factors have shaped their career path so far would be sufficient?

          Also, a plea for some understanding on the job seeker’s part, too: there’s a fine line between critical thinking and jumping to conclusions, so if I don’t assume something about your job history that seems obvious to you, it doesn’t make me an “idiot.” Again, it’s usually me trying to suspend assumptions and allow you to tell your own story. Plus I’m not someone who thinks in terms of what year things happened, period. “Recession” won’t come to mind, even if it’s one that I lived through, because I think in units of “the year I moved onto Main Street until after my cousin’s wedding,” not “2004-2007.”

        2. Verthandi*

          Former IT worker here. Every other year I’d get laid off through no fault of my own.

          A forced career change later, I have a much more stable career. I had the opportunity to explain to a hiring manager that small gaps and a string of two-year tenures is not the red flag she thought it was.

        3. umami*

          I think you might serve yourself better by explaining your work history in the introduction, because the interviewer doesn’t know you or your circumstances. Lots of gaps will justifiably be something that needs to be questioned, for the reason Alison stated, so maybe you can preempt them with a concise explanation that covers your work history and related gaps. But asking about work consistency is not a gotcha kind of situation, it’s really just … a question.

      3. Alumni of Life University*

        I think that gaps in employment are much less worrisome than someone who has worked for 10 years but never been any one place for longer than a year. There might be very good reasons but that is definitely something worth exploring further as it could be symptomatic of a lot of things. (And if the break was because they were in prison then that will be on the criminal background check we run on all employees we make an offer to.) As a hiring manager, I am tasked with making sure that this person has the ability to do that job and is a cultural fit for our organization. Even though curiosity is human nature, I do not need to know that they took two years off to take care of a baby or other family member, deal with a health/mental health crisis, back pack across Europe, raise llamas or whatever. While some of these things might be fascinating (llamas!), it is just none of my business as long as they possess the experience and meet the qualifications and culturally align with our values.

      4. Katherine Boag*

        I recently had a gap of five years while recovering from burnout and depression, after which I changed industries so it wasnt a problem for me. But about a year in, when i was still thinking Id go back to the same industry, I had an interview where the interviewer asked about the gap, I said I’d taken time off to work on my mental health, spend time with family, and do some volunteer work. The interviewer then kept asking me what I’d been doing in the gap – very confusing since Id just told him! I wish Id been able to think of a way to ask what he really wanted to know. Some interviewers indeed get weird no matter what you do.

        1. Reluctant Mezzo*

          I had a gap of over 10 years with a special-needs child (which didn’t stop me from free-lance stuff, but it is hard to keep a regular job when you’re called by the special school to come get him, or the special school has a different schedule than anyone else in town). But I did get a job that I later held for 15 years after I’d explained that, so it can be done.

      5. DocVonMitte*

        I have two gaps. First, because I had a child, and a second because I had brain cancer. I’ve really struggled with how to answer gap questions. I work in startups/tech and so often assumptions are made about women in my field, so I try to avoid disclosing that I have a child until I’m hired.

        However, some employers really pry. I typically say my gaps were for “health-related reasons” or to “take care of my health”, only for a recent interviewer to respond “Do you think that’ll be an issue again in the future? We are hoping to find someone stable to stay long-term”. Sigh. Feels like there’s no good way to talk about it without risking discrimination.

      6. Fussy Tuxedo Kitten*

        Thing is, anyone who is constantly getting fired or walks off job in fits of rage is not going to be honest about that kind of thing.

        There are lots of reasons for job gaps. Try interviewing between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. The recruiter calls slow down and fewer companies are interviewing because everyone’s on vacation, yet the job seeker is getting penalized for that because people with resume gaps are stigmatized, often through no fault of their own.

        The question is invasive and the answers could be deeply personal. It serves nobody.

    2. Unkempt Flatware*

      Well, I’ll offer an example of why I’d want to ask about a gap. A commenter recently lamented here on a Friday thread that she took a break from work since before the Pandemic hit and is now searching. She was annoyed that she wasn’t getting interviews for the high level management positions she felt she was qualified for. However three+ years out of management is a long time, especially with the working world so different. What good reason is there for the gap besides perhaps advanced education? Even parenting or illness or caring for a parent means skills were lost, as brutal as that may seem.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I actually think those are two different issues! I agree with you that for some jobs a large gap can mean the person’s skills may have stagnated/not kept up with trends, and you’d want to probe to find out if they’ve done things to stay up-to-date. But that’s a different issue than not having a good enough reason for it — and I don’t think people should need a “good enough” reason for a gap. Why should people have to fill all their adult years with uninterrupted work, if their financial situations don’t require it? So I would encourage anyone involved in hiring not to mix that second concern in with the first.

        1. Unkempt Flatware*

          Yes, thank you for saying it the way I wish I had. I meant Good only from the loss or gain of skills perspective and I was graceless and clunky about it.

        2. NotMyNameForThis*

          I’m lucky enough to be in a financial position where I have been able to leave jobs that were no longer the right fit without something else lined up (I am an obsessive saver!) and I have never found a good way to explain it that does not make me sound like the kind of person who is so privileged she does not need a job. (Definitely not the case—my savings will not last forever, and I don’t have, like, a secret trust fund or something. I’m just a good planner). What language might one actually use in an interview when the reality is “I left because I could?”

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            “I was in a position where I could take some time to really think about what I wanted my next move to be.” Or, “I was in a position where I could be selective about my next role, so I took some time to find something I was really excited about.”

            (Also, I think it’s problematic that some interviewers would be concerned about hiring “a person who is so privileged she does not need a job” — that’s a manager who wants too much control over you.)

            1. NotMyNameForThis*

              Thank you. That’s a good way to describe the reality.

              And amen to how problematic it is that some managers like dependent employees. My best hires have always been people whose talent and reputation give them lots of good options in our industry.

              1. Dragon*

                OT, but that was actually a factor in The Firm by John Grisham. When hiring its one new associate each year, the Bendini firm always chose someone without family money so he’d be all the more handcuffed to them.

          2. Alice*

            Perfect response from Alison- it could be any reason- you could have received an inheritance or just live super frugally. I’ve done this twice for 1 year each time and it does seem to baffle some interviewers that not everyone lives pay check to pay check and can choose to take time off to prioritise their mental health or take time to find the best fit for a new job (even in highly paid industries). If someone does bring it up that should indicate they are not an employer you want to work for (having financial stability gives you the immense privilege of being able to turn down jobs for any reason you like).

      2. Same Same!*

        Well, that’s a completely unfair assumption. Lots of people who are out for parenting, caring for a relative, or even cancer treatment DON’T lose skills, and frankly, they are still worthy of employment.
        “as brutal as that may seem” – frankly, it IS a brutal, unfair and inaccurate attitude.

        1. WantonSeedStitch*

          Exactly. Or even if they do lose some skills, when do you not have to train someone who’s a new hire? Everyone comes into a new role with a different skill set. If I were to hire someone who’d worked in my field but had been out of it for, say, five years, I might have to train them up on some new tools or have them read some articles on various subjects to help them catch up to some recent changes. But it’s possible someone could have been working all that time and might never have tried those new tools because their workplace didn’t have them, and they could probably still benefit from reading those articles if they haven’t had to deal with those subjects in depth. So it’s not a huge difference.

          1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            This kind of translates as hiring managers shouldn’t care about the skills and experience of the people they’re hiring, which doesn’t make a lot of sense. If people haven’t lost skills, they can explain that in response to the question.

            1. WantonSeedStitch*

              No, that’s exaggerating what I was saying. I meant that if someone has significant experience in a field, a few years out of it are not likely to make a huge difference in the amount of training needed. At least in my field, there are enough differences in the way things are done at different places, that we need to train people pretty significantly anyway when they start.

              1. Sasha*

                If it makes no difference, of course it shouldn’t matter. But in many fields it will: if a surgeon hasn’t picked up a scalpel in three years they will definitely have de-skilled. If a tax advisor has been a SAHM and hasn’t kept up to date, it’s likely their knowledge about current tax rules will be out of date.

                None of that means those candidates can’t refresh their skills or shouldn’t be employed, but if the tax advisor who had been out of practice told me she was still reading ^Tax Code Monthly^ regularly and attending workshops to keep her CPD hours up, I’d feel much happier employing her. So it is worth asking instead of assuming they’ve done nothing.

            2. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

              Let’s be honest, though, lots of job ads way overrate the level of skill many jobs need.

              1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*


                They interview you like they expect you to be leading a brand new greenfield project, but the reality is that you’re just maintaining stuff from several years ago, and won’t be creating anything new. It’s very disheartening.

                They present you with a laundry list of skills and experience that you must have recent, high intensity experience in. But the job only actually uses a quarter of them, and in a non-standard way, so you are learning their bespoke solution anyway, and your laundry list of recent skills is now worthless.

                A lot of companies are extremely full of themselves (I’m looking at you, FAANG) when it comes to demands they make of applicants.

                There is a meme where it had Godzilla vs some other monster as the job you interview for, but the actual job is pictured as two little kids dressed up in dinosaur costumes playing monster fight. This is the state of tech interviewing.

        2. alienor*

          How does someone lose skills, anyway? I can understand “haven’t learned new skills” or maybe “certification has lapsed,” but the skills you’ve mastered are yours to keep. For example, I haven’t been a full-time writer in several years (have been working in related, but different roles), but that doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how to write.

          1. Valancy Snaith*

            What? Skill fade is an actual concept, not invented for this letter. Even mastered skills do not remain at the same level of ability for years of non-use. Fluency in languages can be lost, technical and physical skills can be lost, cognitive skills can be lost. It doesn’t mean they are lost forever, and frequently someone can be brought back up to speed in these things more quickly having done so before, but skill fade is an actual, true thing that happens.

            1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

              “Skill fade” does happen, yes, but not hardly to the extent that most interviewers imagine. Any skill I haven’t used in a month “fades”. But whether it’s been a month or a decade, I can revive that skill pretty easily by looking it up and refreshing my mind on the details of what’s involved.

              Not knowing how to revive skills is an artifact of inexperience. The fact is, most of the people that assume your skills fade so badly with age or time are young, and are, in fact, discriminating based on perceived age.

            2. Alumni of Life University*

              I haven’t driven a stick shift in over 15 years. But I drove one for 15 years prior to that and I’m fairly confident that while I might be a little bit rusty, I could be proficient once again very quickly. I know that I would definitely not need to learn from scratch. Granted, I would probably not want a surgeon who hasn’t performed surgery in 15 years to operate on me without some practice but I certainly wouldn’t expect him to go to med school all over again. Nor would I necessarily trust someone directly out of med school over a surgeon who may not have done it recently but has years of prior experience.

              1. Splendid Colors*

                I haven’t touched a plate of C. elegans or a fluorescence microscope in a decade, but I don’t think it would take me more than a week to get back to speed on the lab skills from my thesis research.

                I haven’t touched an Epilog Helix in 5 years (been using Chinese industrial lasers) but I’d probably get back to speed on the software in a day.

                I haven’t used Adobe FrameMaker in 20 years, but if I had a time machine I’d be better with it than that piece of junk InDesign. Likewise WordPerfect vs. MSWord.

          2. Ferret*

            Speaking for myself I find that my coding or language skills have a very steep drop-off it I don’t use them pretty regularly

          3. ijustworkhere*

            People are usually worried about your comfort with technology, and in my opinion that is the absolute easiest thing to remediate.

            I can see someone whose job includes highly technical skills in a fast changing field–think computer coding, cyber security, maybe even engineering–where being out of the workforce for a long time (and by long I’m thinking maybe 5 years?) would mean you may not have enough current knowledge of your field to step into a role equivalent to your last one.

            But for most, I just don’t think a gap of a year or two means very much in terms of skill loss.

            1. RussianInTexas*

              That is the field my partner is, and he’s been in it for almost 30 year snow.
              He has to continuously learn new things. He asks the potential hires how they kept up with the new skills during their gaps. He doesn’t care why they had the gaps.

          4. Allonge*

            Totally depends on the skills. Of course you can write, but if in the meanwhile the sector moved on to a new standard editing software and there is a new style guide and AI assist and whatnot, your skills need more of an update than if you were in the industry when all this happened.

            But maybe you kept up-to-date! That is what this question is looking at, it’s not a gotcha!

          5. RussianInTexas*

            I mean, I lost about 70% of my Excel skills in the last 5 years of my current job, because I haven’t used them.
            I do not remember at all how to build a pivot table anymore.

            1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

              I haven’t been a heavy Excel user for over a decade. It would take me exactly 30 minutes to look up how to make a pivot table, practice it, and then do it. I used to write macros for Excel, and it might take me a few hours to brush up on the changes. It would be like I’d been doing it all along in less than a week.

              I never expect to remember the details on any skill I haven’t used in six months. I look them up anyway, because my memory is a sieve. I write notes, because my memory goes away over the weekend.

              What the benefit of my experience with so many things is that I know how and where to look them up quickly, and that refreshes my memory. I know what skill to apply where, and don’t have to flounder trying lots of things.

              I have memory issues with details because of a stroke, so I just learned to look things up and check out of habit, plus to make notes for my future self (and others.)

              The ability to learn on the fly is my secret sauce, and so few appreciate it, instead expecting me to have memorized every skill or piece of trivia about everything I’ve ever done. This might be an acceptable expectation for an early career person who hasn’t done many different things, but it’s ridiculous for anyone with over ten or twenty years in the field.

              When I train people in my field, I teach them to make notes, and how to look new things up. Because, quite frankly, that’s the most valuable skill to have: The ability to learn, or relearn, on the fly. The field changes to fast to memorize stuff and expect to use it the same way in ten years.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                I think the biggest thing is that you know that the Pivot Table exists, so when someone describes a process that needs one, you know exactly what to look for. That’s the other part of the secret sauce, IMHO. It’s certainly what I count on in my office life: “Oh, I remember doing that from back when ***. I know where to find it.”

                1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

                  Bingo. In my field, a big part of both expertise and experience is knowing where to look things up, either for changes or for fiddly little details that went on walkabout.

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          And there are plenty of managers who have stayed during the whole covid epidemic who have not covered themselves in glory in how they handled it, so it doesn’t necessarily compute that someone who was otherwise occupied at the time would do worse.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            *Looks at AAM Pandemic Hall Of Shame*


            I’m also not sure how management has really changed over the pandemic. Some jobs were remote before the pandemic, some went remote, some stayed in-person (sometimes in defiance of local ordinance). If I were looking for someone with experience managing remotely, that could have been acquired before the pandemic; if I’m not looking for someone to manage remotely, why would I care if they managed recently?

        4. CommanderBanana*

          I agree, and I would really love it if we could move away from this mindset that anyone who leaves a job without another job lined up is bad and wrong. I work a part-time job and have savings, so I don’t NEED to have another full time job lined up right away, and sometimes leaving without another job offer is the right choice for various reasons.

          It’s fair to ask why someone left a job, but I don’t think it’s fair to ask why someone left a job without another job lined up, because frankly, my personal financial situation isn’t your business.

          1. WillowSunstar*

            Sometimes you have to leave a job without one lined up. Back when I temped, I was at a small company where the CEO was a raging bully. He regularly (and I do mean actually raised his voice in a hostile manner, not just chastised or warned) hollered at staff members until they cried. I waited it out a month to see if the first week had been a bad week and out of the ordinary, but after asking around, I learned it wasn’t. This guy definitely had issues, I got yelled at once for using a pencil to write something instead of with a red pen, and no one had informed me that I had to use the red pen beforehand. Knowing it was only a matter of time before it happened to me, and that I grew up with a toxic parent who emotionally abused me frequently, I wasn’t going to stay and let it happen. So I quit.

            1. WillowSunstar*

              Forgot to mention, the small company’s HR department consisted of a couple of women who regularly kissed the CEO’s behind. So that wouldn’t have been a route to use.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            It’s the way that some people take “this is something that bears a bit more looking into” to the extreme of “something that needs to be looked into must *always* be bad.” Super annoying.

          3. MourningStar*

            Perhaps this is a blind spot for me – but is leaving a job without another one lined up really a societally bad and wrong thing? I have always viewed that as one of two things “wow, that must have been a *terrible* job” or “that person is potentially a capricious job jumper” – but I only jump to the latter if I have actual evidentiary support for such an opinion (ironic). Leaving a job without another lined up always says more about the place of employment than it does about the person.

      3. Lilas*

        In management specifically, how could a few years out of work diminish management skills? Like, if you’ve never managed a fully remote team you might be less considered for that opening then for a hybrid or in person workforce, but knowing how to effectively manage other people doesn’t seem like the kind of skill that would diminish in just three years of not using it. It’s not like technology you’re not keeping up to date with.

        1. Pudding*

          It’s not so much that they’ve diminished, it’s that everyone who has managed through the pandemic has gone through kind of a management boot camp, that someone who sat the pandemic wouldn’t have experienced, and some of those advanced skills are still important in workplaces today.

          I learned to manage remote workers, while working remotely myself, I learned so much more about storing and tracking information electronically. I learned how to manage people’s difficult medical and other life situations empathetically and with minimal prying into their personal lives. I learned how to figure out what my team needed when everything was upside down, and how to be transparent and vulnerable with them when I honestly didn’t know what to do. I learned SO MUCH about managing up to leaders who didn’t get it and responded poorly to the pandemic. I learned a ton about myself and my principles and what mattered to me. The experience was pretty transformative.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I can see some of this, but equally, a lot of managers didn’t learn this. (I have now worked at two different places which are still electronically a mess because the move from shared N-drives to the cloud was completely ad-hoc, and we’re still figuring out how much we lost / misplaced / need to re-create / re-classify to get back to where we were in 2019.) I think anyone with the right basic skills to be a manager– caring about people, caring about the work product, caring about the systems that people use to create the work product– will learn all that stuff pretty quickly, and many of them will learn it better because they’re not in an emergency situation.

          2. KewiP*

            But there will be new managers coming in from like… this or next year, who will have no experience managing in the pandemic. Or possibly any pandemic work experience at all.

            1. Sunny*

              That’s always going to be the case – there will always be people who start after whatever the last big thing was. Whether that’s global or specific to the company.

            2. Allonge*

              And presumably companies are also careful when hiring completely new managers / people and ask questions related to any office experience.

              I really don’t get why asking about something on a resume is such an outrage.

          3. metadata minion*

            There are plenty of jobs that weren’t able to go remote, or that conversely were already partially or completely remote. It sounds like you learned a huge amount during the pandemic, and that’s awesome! But other managers’ workplaces may not have been as directly disrupted by the pandemic. Others were, but the managers just kind of tried to survive and didn’t effectively learn much other than “pandemics suck”.

            It’s really unfair to hold other people to the standard of your personal situation, and could bite you pretty badly if you assume that someone who managed during the pandemic emerged with the skills you have when they actually didn’t.

          4. Artemesia*

            Great point. Successfully managing through the pandemic is a real accomplishment and the world of work has changed. I’d be very interested in managers with a strong record of being able to effectively manage WFH employees or deal with the challenges of the last couple years. They are just likely to be stronger candidates than someone who sat this out.

            1. Skippy*

              The implication that someone who was unemployed during the pandemic was simply “sitting this out” is why I hate questions about employment gaps.

            2. MigraineMonth*

              I think it would be easier to just ask candidates if they have experience managing WFH employees, or if they have experience overcoming management challenges, than trying to guess based on management experience from 2000 to 2003.

              1. Allonge*

                If someone has experience managing remote employees 2000-2003, I would have a lot of quesitons on how this translates to today’s reality!

            3. Lenora Rose*

              Anyone who has worked for the last 3 years may seem to be a stronger candidate than someone who did not seem to be working for ANY three year span in nearly every field. That STILL doesn’t justify assuming that the person who “sat this out” wasn’t doing anything — or even anything applicable to work — with that time.

              Which is why the question should be “What did you do to keep up your skills during this time?” and not “Can you explain this gap in your resume?”

          5. Spero*

            That’s just not universally the case. I’ve been effectively managing remote employees for six years, and that didn’t change during the pandemic. Also, I was never remote because I’m at an essential industry. We got CV-19 related grants for technology that made info sharing easier, but it’s the same process as always. Honestly the biggest change was that my partners have all been massively short staffed for two years and we were forced to cut a lot of corners because of it. Now that staffing is increasing back to regular levels we are actually having to undo a lot of that ‘fast and dirty’ mindset and go back to higher quality of care services.

          6. Artemesia*

            Great point. Someone who can show effective management accomplishments during the pandemic has a set of skills that were not common before this. If I were hiring into this work climate today, I would be impressed with someone who was effective in managing the WFH mess of early COVID and who had shown abilities in dealing with change and challenge and hybrid workplace organizations. This is a real skill. The challenge of course is demonstrating effectiveness — but someone who did this well is a better candidate than someone who sat the last two years out.

            1. Skippy*

              I would argue that there are plenty of people who “sat the last two years out” who developed a strong track record as managers who could deal with adversity and constant change. There are also more than a few who didn’t “sit out” who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near management.

      4. bamcheeks*

        It’s not so much brutal, as self-defeating. I can’t imagine what skills or sector knowledge which has grown rusty over three years wouldn’t be back up to scratch within a matter of weeks.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Yeah, 3 years is really not that long. There’s a learning curve for any new job anyway, unless it’s exactly the same tasks with the same processes and same tools as the last job. For most jobs, any slightly rusty skills can be polished back to a shine in the ramp-up time while one learns the specific idiosyncrasies of the new company’s processes.

        2. Allonge*

          Law (not necessarily in common law countries like the US, but still).

          At some point in my home country the civil code, civil procedure and labour law were all rewritten in about 4 years. It was brutal – if you were out for 3 years, you almost had to start from scratch.

          But as others are saying here: if this is not an issue in your field, then it’s not a problem to answer the questions on technical skills and you can give a vague response for what you were doing.

          1. Allonge*

            Or for something that is a lot less extreme: driving.

            I have a driver’s licence but have not driven a car in the last ~five years or so. Would it be unfair for a company to ask when I was last driving anything? Would you like to sit in the car when I am driving for the first time in half a decade?

            1. bamcheeks*

              I have actually done nearly exactly that, and it was fine! I hadn’t driven at all for three years (no car, not insured on my parents’ car), then got a sales job driving ~300 miles a week. Honestly, it was less than a week before it felt completely normal again, and after three weeks I was a lot better at parking and motorway driving than I had been before. :D

              I can think of several other examples where I’ve started a new job and had to re-pick-up a skill or a software package that I used fairly intensively at some point in the past but haven’t touched for several years. I was very familiar with a particular piece of policy in 2010-14, and then worked in another sector where it wasn’t relevant from 2014-2020, and had to catch up with the ways it had changed in those six years. With a very few exceptions, I am nearly always the most knowledgeable person in the room about that policy, simply because I know how it functioned in 2014, I know what questions to ask, I know what it was trying to do then and how the principles have changed since, I know how it affects the data we collect and all the challenges we have in collecting that data and what’s useful about the data and what’s a pain. The in-depth knowledge of ten years ago vastly outweighs most people’s more recent but shallow knowlege.

              1. Allonge*

                That’s great – you know it’s hardly universal though, right?

                Otherwise we should only hire people who have not done anything work-related in the last five years. Better yet, ten!

                1. bamcheeks*

                  My point is that I think it’s more common than not. I think there are pretty few areas where the specific changes and developments of the last 3-5 years aren’t something that an otherwise good worker can’t pick up in a few weeks. For most professional roles, it’s the deeper knowledge and skills that are developed over several years of work which are more valuable. It’s the difference between a llama groomer who knows all about the trends of the last four years and can replicate them all perfectly, and someone who knows how to shape six different types of llama beard and can talk knowledgeably about the best types of shampoo and conditioner for any given skin condition, but needs to observe a few llama styling just to catch up on what how today’s llama is styling their eyelashes.

                2. Allonge*

                  Job interviewers ask all kinds of questions where the anwers are more common than not. People who have a degree in X by and large have a familiarity with X. If you worked in an office for a decade, most likely you know the relevant profeessional norms (or in a factory for that matter).

                  I object to the shock!horror! that someone would dare to ask about a resume gap. If it’s not an issue, it will not be an issue.

                3. bamcheeks*

                  Ahh, I think we’re speaking at cross purposes then. The comment I was originally responding to was Unkept Flatware’s: “[s]he was annoyed that she wasn’t getting interviews for the high level management positions she felt she was qualified for. However three+ years out of management is a long time, especially with the working world so different. What good reason is there for the gap besides perhaps advanced education? Even parenting or illness or caring for a parent means skills were lost, as brutal as that may seem skills have been lost”.

                  I don’t think ASKING about a gap is terrible. I think discounting someone before you get to interview stage because “skills have been lost” over three years out of the workplace slid in most sectors and roles bad hiring.

          2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

            IIRC, in law you end up looking things up anyway so that you can have the proper citations, etc. So you might have to relearn some stuff on the fly, but your basic research and analysis skills would still be perfectly valid.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          Mine. The technology that underlies my industry has completely changed over the last 18 months, certainly 3 years, as has related law/regulations. If you’ve been out that long, I want to know what you’ve done to keep current/catch back up. (I don’t care why you’ve been out, though.) I work for a smaller organization in my field and am not in the position to pretty much fully retrain someone – not fair to my current team, not fair to the new hire who would need more than we could give.

          1. Observer*

            So, as you note, the WHY doesn’t matter here. So there is not point in probing that.

            Also, what you describe is not general skill “atrophying”, but missing out on specific industry changes. That’s a different issue, and I would think that anyone who is in such an industry would understand how that applies. But also, I would be equally looking at anyone coming from a different industry.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              This is kind of potato/po-tah-to to me. In a continually-evolving industry, if you miss out on such changes and are out of date, your skills *are* atrophied. It’s like being email in a Slack world, just how email was revolutionary to the paper memo world. The end-result, from a hiring perspective, is the same no matter how you want to diagnose it.

              1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

                LOL! If you understand paper memos and email, you should be able to come up to speed on a Slack/messaging environment quickly.

                Some folks will demand that you’ve use exactly X version of software package D or they won’t hire you, when you’ve use T and W versions of D, plus similar package A, B, and C. They are rejecting perfectly applicable experience in favor of someone who went to a bootcamp for D and has less than six months using it, but has the exact version that you specify.

                Quite frankly, the whole “specific skill, no others need apply” thing is a hallmark of general inexperience in hiring, IMO.

                1. My Boss Is Dumber Than Yours*

                  Bingo. Knowing the fundamentals of the work is far more important than knowing any particular piece of software. I freelance in a somewhat esoteric branch of publication and graphic design, and last year was offered a job required to be set in a software I dislike and haven’t used beyond opening files for at least fifteen years. The job paid more than well enough, and I was originally referred to it by a former client who truly sung my praises for the finished product. So I gave the job a go, and while I was rusty af in the technical side of the software, I knew exactly what the final document was supposed to look like from a decade-plus in the field and thus could quickly look up anything I needed (or even come up with ad hoc work arounds). If the client had auditioned people on how quickly they could do functions X Y & Z in the software, I never would have gotten the job, but he trusted my expertise in the larger context and now refers me as well.

                2. bamcheeks*

                  Right, exactly!

                  I’ve been tangentially involved in lots of conversations around skills/hiring in software at graduate level. And the conversation that people frequently go around and around on is, “do we want someone who can *code in the most up-to-date language*, or *someone who understands the fundamentals of software design and can pick up the language they need– and the one they need three years from now– and the one six years after that– and work as part of a team and eventually lead a team — *”.

                  There are absolutely times when you need the former, no doubt. But generally, the more experienced hirers hire for the latter more often than not. And those aren’t typically skills or knowledge that atrophy over a few years.

                3. NotAnotherManager!*

                  Well, this went down an extremely literal path I didn’t expect.

                  Email/Slack/paper was a metaphor (simile, I guess, if you want to get technical about it) for the fundamental shift in the construction of underlying data and way our work is done post-shift.

                  Long story short, I work with complex data sets whose content and structure format has changed majorly and suddenly in the pandemic, and I have to pass on people who are so out of date that they only know how to force the new, relational data into the old, linear construct. I can and very frequently do train on specific tools – the talent pool so small that I can’t see how anyone could have the luxury of being that rigid and having enough people on their team to meet demand – but I don’t have time to re-lay entire foundations. I could have been more clear about that, but it’s sometimes tough to do without outing myself in a fairly small and specific industry.

      5. SpaceySteph*

        This strikes me as a particularly American train of thought. Someone in a country with real parental leave could easily have a few year gap where they were actually “employed” but on parental leave for a few kids back-to-back. I wonder how all those workplaces deal with the “loss of skills” without completely crumpling.

        1. Allonge*

          They deal with it because they have to, but if there is a choice, you can bet they hire people whose resume does not end with a six-year gap.

          Not to be glib about this: people forget things from one week to the next. Why do you think it’s not fair for companies to select for actual recent experience if they have a choice?

          1. Lilas*

            They forget facts, but not interpersonal skills like managing teams. And while six years is may be more understandable, the comment up thread was about three years. It just seems ridiculous to imagine that you would forget how to effectively be someone’s boss in just a three-year gap.

            1. Artemesia*

              But you might have no clue about how to manage hybrid or WFH employees or meet the kind of challenges the last two years presented.

              1. SpaceySteph*

                Some people who managed straight through covid still don’t know hwo to manage hybrid or WFH employees. Hence the wave of “return to onsite work” going on right now.

                1. uwu*

                  Some people who managed straight through covid still don’t know hwo to manage hybrid or WFH employees. Hence the wave of “return to onsite work” going on right now.

                  THIS. ONE MILLION TIMES THIS.

          2. bamcheeks*

            I think the same thing as any kind of good hiring: make sure you are selecting for the actual thing you want your manager to have, rather than on the basis of prejudice and stereotypes based on outdated cultural norms.

            Your field has changed dramatically in the last five years and you need someone who is up-to-date on the latest thinking and practice around the 2017 law on data privacy? absolutely sensible to make that a criterion and test for it at the interview!

            You need someone with broad knowledge of a well-established field and excellent people management skills? If you cut out the person who meets all your criteria but has been out of the workforce for a few years because of a general sense that she’s not “up-to-date” enough, you’re probably bad at hiring.

            Recent experience, in and of itself, is not that great an asset in the majority of fields compared to deeper level skills and the ability to learn. It’s just one of those things that feels important to managers who don’t put a whole lot of thought into hiring and haven’t really examined their prejudices.

            1. Allonge*

              Sure, it needs to be viewed in context! I don’t think anyone is arguing that resume gaps are an automatic disqualifier in all cases.

              But it’s also not unreasonable to be worried about when hiring, as you say, when there is a large gap or the sector changed. It’s a question amongst many, not a firing squad.

        2. Lilas*

          Plus, I would think that a lot of managers would manage better after having had a break and some time to reflect, rather than being in “go-go-go” mode continuously. It just seems like the lost skills thing is assumed way too quickly and for roles where it doesn’t really apply.

        3. GythaOgden*

          In a number of countries, though, parental leave is not several years’ paid leave. In the UK, generally, it’s a year with pay decreasing in % terms over the course of it to the point where statutory sick pay (£150 p/w, around $175-200) kicks in, and many companies want you to come back for at least a year after maternity to return the favour of keeping your job open. After six years you would NOT still be on parental leave for a single company. I think Americans have a very unrealistic perspective of what European employment law actually looks like, and in many ways American employment is actually more flexible and more generous than ours.

          What happened in my family with my mother, teacher turned headteacher turned consultant, is that she had a number of years behind her when she had me in 1979, and in between kids when my sister (1982) and I were old enough to go to playgroup she went back to teaching part time as a substitute teacher. My sister was a SAHM as well, and went back after her kids started school, but she wasn’t just on 6-8 years of direct leave from her previous school — she and her husband moved around a bit, including to the US and Australia, and then came back to the UK when the kids were school age. We weren’t the best off middle-class family — it turned out my mum’s parents paid part of their mortgage for a while — but we weren’t unusual, and I’m not sure it’s much different forty years on.

          SAHMs, therefore, are not just on nicely infinite paid leave from their old jobs. Nor is anyone required to pay full salary for a year. I get that European mothers may have it better in terms of having a job kept open for them to come back to when the kid is, say, 1, but OTOH you’re not getting full pay for years on end either.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            It very much depends on country and also on specific situation. I don’t know about the UK or even much about the private sector in Ireland, but certainly as a teacher, it isn’t that unusual for somebody to go on maternity leave in say October. Maternity leave is 6 months, so they’d be back in April, then take their six weeks parents’ leave, which pretty much takes them to the summer holidays, then come back for a couple of weeks in September before taking maternity leave for the second child. It wouldn’t be years and years, but I’ve had a couple of colleagues who were out on maternity leave for the majority of 2 years or so.

            And then there are career breaks, which are unpaid but where you still remain on the staff. There is one particular case in my school where a teacher officially has 8 years of service but has been out for I think about 6 of that. This is due to a very particular situation which isn’t likely to arise too often, but while that isn’t common, it is a known thing that teachers in Ireland regularly take career breaks in order to run for parliament. There was a media report at one time about how many of our politicians were still technically employed by various schools. I think that has been tightened up on now, but given that our Minister for Education was teaching…maybe 4 years ago, it is quite possible she is still on unpaid leave from her school and could return if she were to lose her seat in the near future. 5 years is the limit now for a career break, but that is still a long gap if somebody takes the whole thing. Usually they don’t, due to it being unpaid. With the exception of those in the Dáil (parliament) who are getting much higher wages in that role!

            That said, I do agree that there are definitely problems with workers’ rights in…well, every country I know anything about.

            I also want to be clear that I think the maternity leave rights are a great thing and I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with having two children a year apart or in using parents’ leave between them (especially as it can only be taken in the first two years of a child’s life so…by the time a parent returns from the second maternity leave, it would be close to the time limit).

        4. Sasha*

          I live in an EU country, and yes deskilling during parental leave is a widely recognised problem, and we have supported return to work programs in my profession for exactly this reason, for anyone with a gap greater than three months.

      6. learnedthehardway*

        I think you could miss out on some good candidates by not being more flexible about gaps. 3 years – perhaps that’s a big gap for some functions (advanced technology), but it isn’t so long that someone would lose most skills, and a lot of people do keep up with what is happening in their industry/functional area.

        I remember my manager being surprised that I was completely on point when I came back from maternity leave (it was a year in Canada then, now can be more). I pointed out that I had been studying while off.

        1. learnedthehardway*

          ETA – when I interview people with gaps in their resumes, I ask them what they have been doing in that time to stay current / further develop their skills, what the major issues or trends in their industry/functional area are, how they think X issue/law/major change will affect their industry, etc.

          It becomes pretty easy to see who has stagnated and who has kept up.

      7. Observer*

        However three+ years out of management is a long time, especially with the working world so different. ~~snip~~ Even parenting or illness or caring for a parent means skills were lost, as brutal as that may seem.

        If you are serious, I think you don’t understand management. There are fields where 3 years is a REALLY long time and will affect current skills, but for management, that’s really not the case.

        And in today’s world, I think that a hiatus could even be a good thing. Because someone has had a chance to step back and look at what is and is not working, on the one hand, and on the other they haven’t gotten into some of the bad habits and “permanent emergency” mode that so many managers have gotten into.

        Now, that is something that needs to be explored. But the WHY of the hiatus really is not relevant.

    3. Heidi*

      I can think of a few situations where it might be relevant. If we were bringing in a new surgeon and a candidate hadn’t been in the OR in a few years, it would make sense to ask how they’ve kept up with the field during the gap. Questions like that aren’t about justifying the gap, but whether the absence means their skills aren’t current in a field that can move pretty fast.

      1. Sunny*

        Sure, but surgeons (and other clinicians) usually have rules about keeping up their skills, and have to have been in clinic for a certain number of hours to stay licensed. Or at least, that’s the case where I’ve worked, in Ontario. I worked in a hospital where our president was a doctor and still saw patients once a week to stay credentialed as a physician.

        1. Artemesia*

          The difference in outcomes between surgeons who do 10 of X procedure a year and hundreds is staggering.

    4. CatCat*

      Personally, I only ask if the gap is a current one (“what have you been doing since leaving X?” — and that’s not a gotcha, it’s genuine interest in knowing)

      It still bugs me. It’s a weird situation in which a stranger seeks potentially deeply personal information.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t mean “I’m genuinely interested in knowing their personal health situation” but rather I’m interested because it could potentially be professionally relevant — like if it turns out they’ve been working in a job that they left off their resume because they didn’t realize it would be relevant but there’s actually something that strengthens their candidacy about it … or for some positions, the question of whether they’d done anything to keep their skills up-to-date during that time if the gap is a long one. I’ll tweak my answer to make that clearer.

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Is it really that weird? A significant part of an interview is likely going to be one’s work and career history, and if there is a significant gap (as in recent, lengthy, and/or multiple), it’s a valid question. If it’s something personal related, the interviewee can/should say a simple sentence or two of “I was dealing with a medical issue/family care issue/whatever, which has since been resolved” and a good interviewer will accept it. But, to act like an interviewer asking about one’s resume (including gaps that may be on it) is intrusive, it comes off a bit precious.

        1. The Prettiest Curse*

          I have a 13-month gap on my resume because I was unable to work due to visa restrictions after I moved to the US. My resume just says (month, year) to (month, year) – could not work due to US visa restrictions.

          Nobody has ever asked me about it in an interview – and since it’s now 20 years ago, I doubt that anyone ever will.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            I think no-one asks because you already put a reason on the CV. Really, what more could you say than what you already wrote?

        2. Rosie*

          I’ve been interviewing recently and the gap on my resume from May-December 2020 has come up every time. But I’ve learned saying “Well, there was this pandemic” means the interviewer has apologetically finished that sentence for me.

          1. Deejay*

            I’ve heard some employers in certain heavily affected industries will look at a gap in that time period and say “It’s obvious what that was likely to be. No explanation needed”.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              I used to work in telecom and saw massive layoffs during 2000-2002. People with specific skills found it hard to get work in this, or any industry. I’d get resumes from people who were laid off, showing employment gaps you’d expect.

              Even so, my hiring managers would say to candidates, ‘Why weren’t you working in 2001? If you’re good, you’ll get hired no matter what the market is like.’ Gah.

              1. bamcheeks*

                by that logic, you presumably have to hire not-good people whenever the market expands again…

              2. Luca*

                I saw the flip side of this during the 2008 recession. Firms like ThenEmployer naturally experience a certain level of ongoing attrition. When that slowed down in the recession, some members of management said that not enough people were leaving. (Sigh)

              3. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

                Even so, my hiring managers would say to candidates, ‘Why weren’t you working in 2001? If you’re good, you’ll get hired no matter what the market is like.’ Gah.


                There are only so many people who are that goodlucky. Because it’s actually more luck than skill to be able to ride out a major recession or sector downturn, no matter how skilled you are. It’s like musical chairs, but instead of remove one chair in 20, they’ve removed half. Those ten folks got lucky, the other ten didn’t.

                1. Rosie*

                  I also have 2001-2 and 2008 based gaps on my resume (lucky me) and it’s a bore how often I still have to explain them. One recent interview derailed because the interviewer fixated on the layoff I experienced twenty years ago and simply wouldn’t let me talk about everything I’ve done since. Don’t ask me about the logic there, because I’m not sure what it is…

            2. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Lying Around*

              That was my response when recently hiring. But Big Boss, who lived thru the same chaos as the rest of us, genuinely asked me, “Why were all these candidates temping for 2 years?” SMH

      3. MassChick*

        True, but you don’t have to give a deeply personal answer. You could just give a generic low-info answer like “to handle a personal / family situation” or whatever.

        I personally would reveal a little saying I am/was a caregiver for an ailing parent because I think it’s perfectly valid and should be normalized. But on the other side of the situation, I would also be fine getting a generic answer to the question.

        1. JayNay*

          I feel like a generic answer would still leave lots of room for – potentially unfavorable – interpretations. „I was dealing with some personal health issues that have since been resolved“ – that’s still super personal and could leave you vulnerable to further speculation.
          And truly, who is going to reveal the info Alison is seeking? Nobody’s really going to say „I am known for making a scene when quitting, it’s my thing.“ an interviewer can figure that out in a different way, for example by asking how you’ve handled conflicts in the past.
          So what I’m saying is, please let me have my mental health breakdown in peace, I assure you it sucked and it sucks even more having to come up with some office-appropriate cover story for an interviewer.

          1. Colette*

            I think you’d be surprised how many people will share things that are unfavorable.

            Reasonable managers will understand that sometimes people get sick, have children, or have to look after other family, and that won’t be an issue. Giving a generic answer feels more personal to you because it directly affected you, but it’s really not. Everyone gets sick sometimes.

            1. bamcheeks*

              The thing is that when you’re interviewing you don’t know if you’re dealing with a reasonable manager or not, and not everyone is in a position to screen out unreasonable managers.

              1. Colette*

                By the same logic, as a manager you can’t know whether you are interviewing someone who was sick, or whether they have serious issues that affect their ability to do the job (such as getting fired because they assauted a coworker.)

                Yes, you might lose out on a job working for an unreasonable manager, but you also might lose out on a job if they make up their own story about why there’s a gap.

                1. bamcheeks*

                  Yeah, also true. I don’t think there’s a perfect answer here. I understand why employers ask, but I also think you have to accept that it’s often stressful and personal for your candidates and it might throw otherwise great candidates into a tailspin from which they don’t recover.

                  It’s one of the many weaknesses of the interview format: sometimes you’re selecting for “is good at interviewing” rather than “can succeed in the job”.

                2. Colette*

                  It’s true that people can be good at the job but not good at interviewing (or the whole job application process). I don’t know how you correct for that – networking can help with parts of it, but many people struggle with networking – and that also means that people who have connections are prioritized above people who don’t but would be equally good at the job.

                  But if a common interview question throws someone into a tailspin they can’t recover from, that’s on them. They need to prepare more, and prepare an answer to that specific question so that it’s something they can reply to easily without the emotion that would derail them.

              2. Uranus Wars*

                Well, and if they react unfavorably to you saying that, then it’s a sign for you, too, that maybe you don’t want to work there.

          2. Yorick*

            People who rage quit a lot will probably tell you they rage quit from each job, although in different words. They think they were justified in doing it.

          3. Allonge*

            But having an office-appropriate cover story in place for just about everything is part of how you show you understand business / office professional culture, and that is something to screen for.

            Because once you are hired, people will ask things like ‘oh, what were you doing before?’ and fairly or not, they will expect you not to break down crying, even if the answer is ‘I was taking care of my ailing mother who is now dead’.

          4. Observer*

            Nobody’s really going to say „I am known for making a scene when quitting, it’s my thing.“ an interviewer can figure that out in a different way, for example by asking how you’ve handled conflicts in the past.

            No the case. Sometimes people just tell the truth. In others they say things that let you see that there is a problem. I remember sitting in on one interview where the interviewee told us with great indignation about the unfairness they had experienced, with some specifics. It told us exactly what we needed to know – they were NOT going to be easy to work with.

          5. MourningStar*

            I think that many commenters are forgetting that interviews are as much about interviewing the company as they are about them interviewing you. If there are red flags in the interview such as personal questions, it may be indicating this isn’t a good fit.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        It’s a weird situation in which a stranger seeks potentially deeply personal information.

        Everything on your resume could fall into this. Maybe you have a lot of deep feelings about Teapots Inc, or about your Masters’ research.

      5. Critical Rolls*

        I very much agree with Happy Meal (and Alison). This is a basic question that candidates should not be surprised to encounter. It isn’t intended to be personal (unless your interviewer sucks, in which case take it for the red flag it is). I feel for the folks in the comments who have had personally painful reasons for gaps — I’ve been there. But I’d encourage candidates to think of this as the professional question it ought to be, and to expect it as a routine item of business rather than a demand for a full accounting of your time.

      6. Oxford Comma*

        I once asked a friend who had disclosed they had gone on a date with a guy. I asked “oh, cool, how did that go?” They got red in the face and stammered and started saying they didn’t like to talk about their sex life. I had to stop and say I wasn’t asking for details and it was just a polite inquiry.

        I share this anecdote because it doesn’t need to be deeply personal. It’s only deeply personal if you choose to make it so.

        “I had to take some time off to manage a family situation.”
        “I had a health situation that arose, but it’s managed now.”

        Boom. You’re done. I’m not going to press for specifics.

      1. Imprudence*

        That is certainly UK best practice, as I understand it, for this very reason, especially when working with young people or vulnerable adults us concerned. There have been some horrible cautionary tales that identifying this sort of gap is supposed to prevent

        1. Audrey Puffins*

          Yep, in education in the UK at least, safer recruitment guidelines mean we follow up on EVERY career gap. We don’t mind if you were unemployed, caring, travelling, in a coma, blowing a lottery win, whatever, as long as we can prove to auditors that we have followed up on career gaps and are satisfied that you weren’t trying to hide a stint in prison and don’t present any safeguarding risks.

          1. Been There*

            In Belgium we have a certificate of good behavior which you can get from the city. You can only provide this certificate if your record is clean, I think.

      2. allathian*

        Depends on the job. I tend to think that once someone’s served their sentence, they’ve been punished for breaking the law. In positions where a spotless history is essential they have security checks. If serving time automatically means that someone’s unemployable, this will just ensure that people can never break the cycle of incarceration because they can never get an honest job.

        Depends on the crime, obviously. I wouldn’t want someone who’s been convicted of embezzlement to work in finance, or a convicted pedophile to work with kids. But a reformed drug dealer who wants to help others to get out of that life could be the perfect person to work as an expert by experience for a non-profit that works with addicts who want to get clean, regardless of any prison sentences they’ve served for dealing in the past.

        1. PhyllisB*

          Yes, this is my concern for my grandson. He’s in prison for multiple car thefts. (All committed before the age of 18, but I digress.)
          Is anyone going to give him a chance when he gets out?

          1. Sam I Am*

            Check your state laws! He may be able to have his record sealed or expunged at some point, particularly if he was sentenced as a juvenile. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limits what can be reported in background checks, and some states and localities have “Ban the Box” laws that limit what employers can ask regarding criminal history on job applications. There are also re-entry programs that match returning citizens with job training and placement.

          2. Temperance*

            There’s a local pizza place near me that regularly hires people on work release. And there are orgs like Dave’s Killer Bread that make it a priority to hire returning citizens.

            The most important thing for your grandson to do right now is use his time to better himself. Showing that he tried to say, get an education, learn a skill, prevent others from making bad choices will help him.

      3. DataSci*

        Really? What field are you in where everyone who is laid off can find a new job in under a month such that “incarcerated” is more likely than “job hunting” for a gap of a couple months? I’ve been laid off, but with three months severance I was in no rush to find a new position. I’d hate to think hiring managers are out there thinking “OMG a two month gap! She must have been in jail!”

        1. Ingemma*

          I’m not looking for incarceration specifically but I have had a couple of people mention it when I’ve asked about their gaps. (Depending on what it’s for we might hire them still.)

          When anyone has a benign neutral answer I’m completely non phased, but you might be surprised by how many people do answer with something relatively unhinged. (In my experience, probably less than 10%… but it still feels worth asking if a non-insignificant amount of the time you’re going to hear something relevant that either confirms other concerns you’ve had or makes you go back and check a couple other things out)

    5. Michel*

      FYI this question really traumatised me once. I had voluntarily left a toxic job during a very bad job market and was very anxious about being unemployed. The question was phrased as “Apart from looking for work, what have you been doing since leaving your last job?” Firstly, looking for work is a full time job, as everyone knows. Secondly, I managed to have a dangerous miscarriage in that exact period that required multiple days sat in hospitals waiting for scans.

      I actually got offered and accepted that job, so whatever answer I gave must have been fine, but I will never forget how awful it was to be asked that when I was already feeling professionally and personally worthless. I do hope you phrase the question better so it focuses on keeping up skills.

      1. Riso*

        It’s not just about skills, though. There are a number of ways this can be professionally relevant. And there is no reason to take this as a question about your personal life – this is a professional situation, it is only reasonable to assume they are asking about professional matters. The question you were asked was trying to find out what you had done to maintain and develop your employability during a period of unemployment, not probing for personal information. It’s unfortunate that it hit your personal vulnerabilities so hard, but that’s not to say that it shouldn’t have been asked. The interviewer’s job is to find out professionally relevant information to make a good hiring choice. As you were already anxious about being unemployed, it would make sense to have a clear answer focused on professional development/skill maintenance etc. ready to go.

        I’m sorry for your loss.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Maybe the person isn’t able to work on their skills while unemployed BECAUSE they are dealing with that personal stuff. That’s the issue IMO. I’ve never been in this situation, but I can imagine if I had a traumatic miscarriage, taking a leadership course on LinkedIn Learning is going to be the absolute last thing on my mind.

          1. WillowSunstar*

            Right, not everyone has the time to be taking classes when they’re not working. It’s an incorrect assumption that everyone while unemployed has so much free time. Uh, not when most waking moments of your day are spend filling in forms for jobs, sending out resumes, having interviews, and networking when you’re not doing those things. And this goes double if someone has any kind of health issues or is caring for someone else with health issues at the same time.

      2. JayNay*

        This is the core of why this question is so sensitive – for many longer gaps the reason they’re there is likely a painful one. Having to come up with some sort of professional phrasing around that is really hard.

      3. Same*

        I can 100% relate to this, Michel, as I had to do the same thing. It’s awful, and I’m sorry you went through it, too.

    6. MK*

      That is a bizarre take. The hiring manager is someone who has a job to fill and is looking for the right candidate. She will be judging you in terms of that, not based on some list of values.

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        *LOL*…that’s so cute that you think no hiring manager is going to try to impose their own values on job seekers.

    7. Irish Teacher*

      I would assume it’s less that things like a break for something like mental health isn’t OK and more about finding out if the break is something they chose or if they were fired for something serious like embezzlement or assaulting a coworker or bullying somebody and found it hard to get a job afterwards with that on their record.

      While I do think it can be problematic for somebody who took time off for something like mental health (which can be stigmatised) or rehab or who was fired for something that was not their fault, like they were a whistleblower and got blacklisted as a result or who was just unlucky and spent a long period unemployed due to lack of jobs, I can also see why employers would be concerned that a long gap could imply there is something everybody else knows that they don’t and that maybe this person wasn’t taking time out but that they are a really bad choice as an employee for one reason or the other and therefore nobody else will hire them.

      In Ireland, we currently have a situation where a guy was suspended from work as a teacher, kept turning up until he got arrested for tresspass, went to prison, was released, dismissed from his employment and resumed turning up and standing outside the school each day. Now, everybody knows why he will have a gap in his employment as this is making national news over and over again, but if it weren’t national news, I think it is something future employers would still want to know about. Obviously, few gaps are going to be that dramatic, but not all are choice and I suspect it’s the ones where the person didn’t choose to take a break but just couldn’t get a job, not due to bad luck but because of some red flags, that employers would want to know about.

        1. Don't villify the different*

          As in the case of the guy who was stalking and threatening me at work, sometimes it’s both. Mental illness doesn’t automatically make you a jerk, it’s not an excuse for poor behavior even though it can sometimes explain some of it, and even those of us who deal with MI are still responsible for our conduct and for not being jerks.

          1. Dances with Flax*

            If I could ‘upvote’ this 1,000 times then I would! Assuming that everyone with mental illness of any kind is automatically “off the hook” when it comes to personal responsibility reduces those people to the level of infants or animals. Often, this automatic excusing is done with the kindest of intentions, but it’s deeply pernicious nonetheless.

    8. Cat's Paw for Cats*

      I had a gap on a resume once and it turns out that the guy was in jail. He didn’t disclose this, by the way, and it only came to light when we ran the background check.

      1. Employee*

        I mean, was he in jail for something that would impact his ability to do the job? People need to rebuild their life after incarceration, and that includes making a living.

    9. Caroline*

      Sure, but a person having left one job in 2007 and then next job appears to be 2010, that’s… quite a gap, and it’s fair to ask about it.

      1. Rainbow Brite*

        Thirteen years later? I disagree. Most resumes won’t even go back much longer than that. Unless there’s something else sending up red flags, I don’t see how a resume gap that far back is relevant.

    10. Mockingjay*

      I had a 12-year gap on my resume due to multiple factors. The ‘why’ I had such a long gap wasn’t important. I was asked about it; I simply replied with that my spouse’s transfer overseas limited my ability to work (which was completely true). I didn’t get into the rest of it. What I did do was discuss my skills, how I kept them relevant (volunteer work and freelance work), and how I planned to get up to speed on changes in industry during the gap.

      It’s up to you how you answer the gap question; I mentioned it briefly (12 years does warrant a bit of explanation), then turned the discussion back to the prospective job.

    11. NotAnotherManager!*

      I don’t care why people were not working or were not working in my industry, but I do care very much that their skills are current and they’re going to be able to contribute to the team without requiring extensive re-training on the job. I work in an industry that moves and evolves quickly (and I’m sure mine isn’t the only one), so if you’ve been out more than a year and a half, I need to know how current your KSAs are.

      One of the very best members of my team took five years out of the industry (was self-employed/did contracting work in another field) while his child was very small. When I interviewed him, he had spent time catching up on what he missed and was able to articulate where he felt he would need support getting back up to speed (basically, he got some things in theory but hadn’t had practice because the tools are prohibitively expensive for to own personally). He also wrote a great cover letter addressing his industry gap that helped him a lot.

    12. Qwerty*

      I interviewed a guy whose break was because he decided to go back to school to update his skills and get exposure to modern technologies. Strengthened his candidacy, especially since he had (1) inexperienced interviewers who would have just asked about his most recent job and (2) the team usually ignored the college section to avoid learning about age.

      Personally I took a 3month break after my last job and got asked about when interviewing. Was honest that I was taking some time to recover from burnout so that I could start the next job refreshed and that meant my earliest start date was X. Interviewer not only understood, but talked about their workflow philosophy and how they were attempting to prevent burnout at their own company.

    13. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I disagree with you. I have a multiple year long gap in my employment history due to a number of things going seriously mentally wrong with me – and I would ask myself about that gap.

      Because in my line of work, if you don’t use your skills or keep up with new information then they atrophy fast and I’d like reassurance that that isn’t the case. Whether that’s by intensive study, freelancing, what have you.

      I’d also like to know if this is a situation likely to occur again, but that I know isn’t my business.

      Basically I just want to know that the person has the skills.

    14. Worldwalker*

      Part of the work someone is judged on is their reliability and long-term stability in the job.

      Someone who quit a job to take care of an ill aunt is in a much different place as a potential employee than someone who ragequit their last three jobs, for example. Even within a category it can be different. Someone who had the chance to go on a months-long trip of a lifetime and took it is very different, reliability-wise, than someone who likes to travel and leaves jobs every few years to do so. Whether someone is going to be worth hiring and training can be very much related to those gaps on their resume. “I went back to school and got my Masters” is good … “and I’m planning to go for my PhD in a year or to” not so much.

    15. RussianInTexas*

      That’s not quite how it works.
      My partner interviews. He doesn’t ask “why” there is a gap. He does ask if and how the person kept up their skills if the gap is over few months, because in his industry things move fast.

    16. RagingADHD*

      I can’t imagine why an interviewer wouldn’t or shouldn’t ask. Your resume is a story about your work history. They want to understand the story.

      It’s a conversation, not an interrogation, and if you are going to write up a resume and expect nobody to mention or inquire about the story *you* wrote, then there is no way for that conversation to be authentic.
      If you walked in with a bucket on your head, would you think it was rude or inappropriate for the interviewer to ask “Hey, so what’s with the bucket?”

      What the heck else are they supposed to say without sounding like a space alien who has never had a conversation with an Earthling before?

      If they don’t ask, they are going to go away wondering. Because it’s right there on paper in front of them. Better for you to contextualize it or weave it into the story than for them to sit there thinking, “Where was she? Living on a trust fund? In jail? Training with a right-wing militia? Where?”

      1. Becky*

        Your bucket analogy isn’t quite accurate, though, and the way in which it’s inaccurate is kind of the whole point.

        I read a story on LinkedIn yesterday about a woman who was interviewing in a headcap, because her hair had fallen out in patches due to chemo. She wore the cap because she thought her patchy scalp would be less professional, but she overheard her interviewers talking about how unprofessional she looked wearing the cap. I believe there was a discussion on the gap in her resume, as well.

        Yes, people write their story via their resume. But they don’t have full reign over what that story is, because dates are dates. Similarly, this woman “chose” to wear a headcap, but her situation made it such that that choice wasn’t completely free. In your example, would you think it rude or inappropriate for the interviewer to ask “Hey, what’s with the headcap?” because I can definitely see people (including myself) thinking it would be!

    17. Out of work and hating it*

      I’m out of work at the moment and I don’t like being asked about the gap or what I’ve been doing with my time. I’m used to it by now–most of my jobs for the last decade have been contract and there isn’t always a lot of notice when one wraps up.

      The bit about “it’s easier to get a job when you have a job,” seems to be true, though. There is a stigma on those of us who aren’t always able to land a job immediately after one ends.

    1. Chikkka*

      I was arrested at the recent-ish Sarah Everard vigil and honestly this is the last thing to smile about. Police oppression of peaceful protestors is a horrific oppression of our basic human rights. I stand with you, Alison.

      1. Pippa K*

        Yeah, there was maybe a time and place where a civil disobedience arrest was mostly a cool story, not a brutal experience, but that seems less likely in recent years – and of course for some people was always a brutal and costly experience. (I get why people might chuckle at the idea of an unexpected person having something ‘radical’ on their record, but this particular thing doesn’t make me smile these days.)

        1. Observer*

          Yeah, there was maybe a time and place where a civil disobedience arrest was mostly a cool story, not a brutal experience, but that seems less likely in recent years

          Uh, no. The “good old days” were not “good” in that respect. Being arrested was NEVER anything but a really bad experience.

          1. Pippa K*

            I don’t disagree entirely, but that’s what I meant by “maybe a time and place.” I wasn’t suggesting there was a golden past where police power was never brutal, just that the reason some people can chuckle about arrests is that it wasn’t brutal *for (people like) them* so they didn’t see it as inherently brutal. Two things have started to shift that: policing (in the US and to some degree the UK) has gotten a lot more militarized, and people have more information about the ways in which it was always a pretty brutal use of power for some people in society. So, to quote Monty Python, “now we see the violence inherent in the system.”

            1. Observer*

              just that the reason some people can chuckle about arrests is that it wasn’t brutal *for (people like) them* so they didn’t see it as inherently brutal

              That never existed. If they actually experienced civil disobedience arrests (or pretty much any arrest), it was a brutal experience. Far more likely, they have just never experienced it, so the reality of what it means doesn’t really register.

        2. AnonForThis*

          My dad’s a middle-class white man, so his civil disobedience arrest seems to have gone pretty smoothly. Of course, his group called up the police beforehand to tell them the date and time they were going to commit trespassing and that they were going to be unarmed and nonviolent. One person in their group tried to destroy property, but they stopped him. Naturally, the man who tried to destroy property was an undercover cop.

  2. xl*

    Alison, thank you for including Caveat 1 to your reply to question #5.

    I work in such a government job where I had to list *all* arrests, expunged or not, and they unsealed my juvenile record during my background check.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people argue with me that they (the government) “can’t do that” when I’m telling them what I went through as far as the background check.

    1. SnappinTerrapin*

      There are exceptions where a sealed record can be opened.

      The agencies requiring disclosure of sealed or expunged cases are taking on the extra burden of looking deeper than into the mere existence of the accusations in the applicant’s past and to weigh the credibility and probative value of the information they find.

      If the record was expunged, rather than sealed, then disclosure actually makes the applicant appear more credible, since the order was to destroy the record. There should be no record to contradict the applicant’s account.

      1. xl*

        I actually had nothing on my juvenile record and no expungements. It was just policy of my department to unseal your juvenile record as part of the background check, and they’re also one of the departments Alison alluded to in which they also require you to disclose expunged arrests.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Crap, I’m pretty sure my grandma’s poodle thinks I’m a socialist. So does my grandma, but she’s less likely to tell on me.

          2. Distracted Librarian*

            I can tell you that, at least back in the late 80s, the FBI interviewed the friends of a candidate’s ex-girlfriend. Which is how I came to be talking to an FBI agent about my former roommate’s former boyfriend.

    2. tamarack etc.*

      I answered “no” to the question on my Green Card application form “Have you EVER worked, volunteered, or otherwise served in any prison, jail, prison camp, detention facility, labor camp, or any other situation that involved detaining persons?” This was following all the free legal guidance I found online. Then, at my interview, my interviewer probed every single of my answers, and I said something like “Well, I volunteered at an LGBT rights nonprofit [which I had duly listed in the appropriate section of the form] in France X years ago, and once we did enter a prison to distribute information about how to vote to detainees. I don’t think that counts for the question.” My interviewer changed my answer to “yes” and noted what I had said. It was somewhere between mildly disturbing and not relevant to my eligibility. (This was a very nice, and clearly supremely skilled interviewer. I was never in doubt I’d get the Green Card, but I have the greatest respect of her definitely scary skills and don’t take her lightly at all.)

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssss*

        I had no idea that question was on the green card application form. Why on earth is that relevant to stay in America?

        I thought the question about had we ever been involved in genocide on the H1-B visa application was bad!

        1. Cat's Paw for Cats*

          Well, I definitely would want to know if you were involved in genocide, but somehow, I don’t think asking that question on an application would be an effective way of making that determination.

          1. Lexie*

            It would depend on the wording. Is worded that only the perpetrators would be expected to answer “yes” or would the survivors and those who aided the survivors also have to answer “yes”?

            1. UKDancer*

              When I went to the US (which was several years ago) it was pretty clear that they were asking if you were involved as an active participant in the commission of acts of genocide. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was definitely wanting to know if you’d committed the acts in question rather than being on the receiving end. There was a separate question about whether you’d committed any war crimes under a particular piece of legislation relating to WW2 which I think was to do with actions during WW2 specifically.

              I struggled more not to laugh at the one about whether I’d committed any crimes involving moral turpitude. I had no idea what that was and it sounded really naughty in a historical way (the sort of thing cads in romantic historical novels did).

          2. Dilly*

            No one expects people to suddenly admit to a crime like genocide on one of those forms. The point of asking it is so that if at a later date you are found to have committed a crime, you have lied on a government form which has its own set of penalties.

          3. The Man from Chicago*

            They won’t answer honestly – but by lying on the form, if the truth comes to light it’s a deportable offense, even if they’ve broken no laws while in the USA.

        2. Glomarization, Esq.*

          It relates to inquiries about having worked or participated in law enforcement, extra-judicial “law enforcement,” paramilitary activity, displacing persons, genocides, coup follies, and so on. How the question is answered will give the interviewer an idea of the applicant’s honesty as well. It’s 100% relevant as to whether an applicant should be allowed the privilege of residency or work authorization in another country.

        3. Caroline*

          ” why YES Brenda, I have been involved in genocide. Please can I have a visa to live here now?”.


        4. legal rugby*

          It is specifically because of the history in america of letting Nazi guards and prison admins in without consequence for their past actions

        5. Worldwalker*

          I’m assuming it’s to filter out things like concentration camp guards. (of course, if you’re Werner von Braun, you’re a hero instead of an SS officer … once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down?)

            1. Worldwalker*

              “In German und English, I know how to count down,
              Und I’m learning Chinese” said Werner von Braun.

        6. AnotherSarah*

          I’m fairly certain they’re related–there have been a few cases in the last decade or so where former concentration camp guards were found to have entered the US because, more or less, those examining their applications didn’t think about whether the place they worked was a concentration camp (or in some cases forced labor camp), it just didn’t ring any bells for them.

        7. Temperance*

          You should Google I-485 and read the application. It’s bonkers – we make literal toddlers affirm that htey weren’t Nazis during WW2 and have never employed prostitutes.

          1. BorisTheGrump*

            “Were you a nazi in Germany between the years of 1932 and 1945” always gets a good laugh out of my clients, after all of the offensive “did your mother gain financial benefit from selling prostitutes” questions lol

      2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Wow, that changed the question to one of skills and experience with imprisoned peoples, right? Away from ‘have you ever been incarcerated’ to ‘have you ever had experience with someone who was incarcerated at the time’. Or did ‘served’ mean ‘incarcerated’?

        1. Barbara Eyiuche*

          No. They are asking about this because in many countries, some people who work in prisons and similar places will have committed human rights abuses. Answering ‘yes’ to the question does not automatically disqualify you, but it does mean the interviewer will follow up to try to find out what kind of experiences you have been involved in.

      3. BorisTheGrump*

        Yes absolutely. And you absolutely need to disclose expunged/vacated arrests on all immigration applications, unless they were vacated due to constitutional defects in the underlying proceeding.

        1. BorisTheGrump*

          Citation is Matter of Thomas & Thompson, 27 I&N Dec. 674 (AG 2019). And just, in general, please always talk to an immigration lawyer with questions about immigration questions, and not just to a criminal attorney or expungement attorney. Allison’s answer to the expungement question gave me a little teeny tiny heart attack, because that is *not* what expungement means in certain specific contexts.

          -An immigration lawyer

          1. Kelly*

            I believe the LW was asking about job, not immigration, applications (and you are absolutely right about the latter). (Do you have concerns that someone may take that advice and apply it in other contexts?)

            1. BorisTheGrump*

              Oh LW was 100% asking about job applications. In my experience, though, noncitizens sometimes seek out expungement or other types of humanitarian post-conviction relief in hopes that it will make their future green card and naturalization applications easier, when in fact it makes those applications significantly more difficult.

              I love my record-sealing legal aid siblings—they do incredible work. But sometimes they over-promise what certain post-conviction remedies can do for folks, especially noncitizens, so I react strongly.

    3. Phony Genius*

      When I was in high school, we heard a presentation from a member of a super-elite military unit. He said they have the strictest requirements and do the most thorough background checks of any government agency. He said you were ineligible if you had received a total of 4 traffic tickets during your life – even if the judge dismissed them.

      I also heard a hellish story from one of a former president’s personal doctors. Because he has to be alone in a room with him (HIPAA applies to presidents, too), he was given a very thorough background check which somehow led to him being put on the No-Fly List.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Security clearance? When I had a TS, they were VERY thorough and we were strongly advised to disclose everything because it was better to check the box for something bad than for your investigator to think you lied about it or were hiding something.

    5. MassMatt*

      I have been arrested for civil disobedience many times*, I stopped counting after 20. I also work in finance, where background checks etc are very common, for very understandable reasons.

      I would make sure to look very carefully at what the question is actually asking. I’ve rarely ever seen a blanket “have you ever been arrested?” question. Usually the questions ask “have you been convicted of a felony” or “have you been convicted of a SECURITIES-RELATED misdemeanor. My answer to both these questions is an honest “no”.

      The few times I have encountered questions asking about arrests I answered honestly–I committed civil disobedience many times in the 80’s and 90’s, and no one followed up, though at some conservative firms I imagine that might have been a problem. I pulled my own record and went over it with some cops and they said given how those arrests didn’t even appear on the report (states did not share data as quickly or effectively back then, at least for misdemeanors) they wouldn’t even volunteer that.

      An employer asking about arrests vs: convictions is problematic because anyone can be arrested for just about anything, they aren’t guilty of anything until a court finds them so.

      I’d recommend anyone with questions about their arrest history check their own record. In my state this was available free, dispensed by a very bored officer in a very drab office at police headquarters.

      *For the curious, my first arrest was for blockading the (Apartheid-era) South African embassy, almost next to my US senator, LOL. Most of my other arrests were in AIDS related protests with ACT-UP. Yes, I have stories.

  3. Pennyworth*

    I’d want to try and train Ophelia to use ‘reply all’ by telling her to resend any email that comes in without an appropriate reply all. She won’t change if she is always allowed to ‘forget’.

    1. Teddy Duchamp's sleeping bag*

      I personally would copy her email, hit reply all, and paste it in and politely say “I think you meant to include so and so in this reply, this is information they need to know.” Every. Single. Time.

    2. jj*

      If I am understanding the situation correctly, I think OP should stop all forwarding, that isn’t to OP’s own benef. If Ophelia is sending questions to OP that are really for Fergus, why not just reply “oh, did you mean that for Fergus? I don’t handle those questions” and leave it for Ophelia to discern what she ought to do next …

      1. ecnaseener*

        Yes, I like this tactic better than telling her to resend with reply-all every single time (or forwarding every time) – not only could it come off badly to directly tell Ophelia what to do, it still trains Ophelia not to pay attention because LW is taking responsibility for monitoring and fixing her mistakes.

        LW should feel free to mix it up based on how much a timely answer matters to their work, I think. So copy Ophelia’s bosses in directly when they really need an answer ASAP, respond with “I don’t know, did you mean to copy in Fergus” other times, and even pretend not to notice if it doesn’t affect LW.

    3. June*

      Or consider this: Co-worker is not “forgetting” to reply all. She thinks her supervisors don’t need to be CC’d on every single email. It feels punitive to her.

      LW#4, are you sure CCing her supervisors it’s NOT intended to be punitive? Are you certain you’re not just trying to alert her supervisors to things you perceive as problems? Perhaps they’ve told her they don’t need to be on every single email response and so she’s replying just to you. Has one of the supervisors ever chimed in on a subsequent email? Have they seemed “in the loop” if the subject comes up in future conversations (indicating they’re paying attention to these emails)? If not, then your co-worker is probably doing you a favor by replying just to you. If no interest is shown by the people whose attention you’re trying to get, all this CCing could easily come off as attempting to build a case against your co-worker. And that’s not likely to reflect poorly on HER.

      1. Tiered*

        This is what I was wondering. CC’ing someone’s managers is considered passive-aggressive in my experience — very hall monitor type of behavior. Maybe it’s different in LW’s field of work, but if I was Ophelia I would actually think it was the LW who was acting weird.

        1. Sally*

          With some people, if I don’t copy my manager, I never get a response. But I don’t copy my manager until I need to send the second email. So I don’t know if that’s passive aggressive, but I feel like I don’t have a choice.

          1. Distracted Librarian*

            Yep. I have the same issue with some people, and I hate it. I don’t want to give off hall monitor vibes, but I do need an answer.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Alison’s asked us below to chill with that line of questioning, since LW explicitly addressed it in the question.

        1. Mockingjay*

          I think this is an instance that should be handled between OP 4’s and Ophelia’s managers, if Ophelia is not providing information or solving problems and therefore impeding OP 4’s work.

          Reply all, cc’ing, or forwarding emails to a manager isn’t going to solve anything because you haven’t asked them to do anything. A manager might assume the issue is corrected if they don’t hear/see anything else. OP 4, what specifically do you need/want Ophelia to do? Is there a better way to communicate with her? Chat, standing meeting, phone call, shared file?

          Email can be voluminous; managers are going to ignore or put a low priority on “I’m just looping you in” emails in favor of more pressing concerns. There’s no call to action with a cc. If there is a specific problem with Ophelia’s performance which impedes work, flag that to your manager so they can take action with Ophelia’s manager.

          1. fhqwhgads*

            I interpreted it not as the managers being copied as an intentionally punitive measure (although I realize it might feel like it is to Ophelia), nor because the managers have action items, but rather that the task at hand was for Ophelia to get the information to both OP and the managers in question. So dropping them off is effectively not doing the assignment.

      3. triple*

        It doesn’t matter whether she thinks it’s punitive, she is supposed to “reply all” and isn’t doing so, despite numerous requests.

        Why over-think it? Good lord…hammers looking for nails anywhere…

    4. The Person from the Resume*

      but many times there are instances where she is having problems or issues I can’t help her with, and instead of replying-all so her team lead also reads it, the message only ends up with me.

      I would Reply All with “Orphelia can’t answer my question. Can [Orphelia’s boss] answer?”

      Training Orphelia is a nice thought, but I’d want to be efficient with this stuff. The LW just needs her question answered so that she can move forward with her own work. If Orpehlia can’t help, LW just moves the question up the chain of command.

    5. NeutralJanet*

      That’s such an antagonistic and condescending approach, particularly for someone you don’t supervise! It’s one thing to say, for example, “I can’t help you with this, try asking Polonius or Laertes instead,” but telling her to resend the email sounds more like what you would do to train a dog than a coworker (especially when again, it doesn’t sound like OP has any training responsibilities here).

    6. Observer*

      I’d want to try and train Ophelia to use ‘reply all’ by telling her to resend any email that comes in without an appropriate reply all.

      The OP isn’t her manager, though. Which means that she doesn’t have the standing to do that.

    7. Ann Nonymous*

      Why can’t OP put everyone’s email addresses on the top “To” line instead of the CC line so whenever Ophelia answers OP, the reply will go to everyone automatically unless she specifically takes them out?

      1. Aitch Arr*

        That’s not how reply/reply all works though.
        Even if all recipients are on the To: line, it’s only the Sender that gets the reply if only “reply” is selected.

  4. SnappinTerrapin*

    I haven’t seen a job application in years that asked about arrests. I think most employers have figured out that there is a significant difference between being accused of a crime and actually being guilty, but maybe there are still a few who don’t know any better.

    Conviction of a crime may be relevant to fitness for some jobs, but merely being accused doesn’t give an employer useful information.

    Even in law enforcement, the existence of an arrest record is not disqualifying. The agencies I worked for would not have based a hiring decision on a mere arrest.

    Having said that, I agree that an expunged arrest is a legal nullity. In the eyes of the law, it didn’t happen.

      1. UKDancer*

        Definitely, in the UK you need to disclose arrests for some jobs involving work with children or vulnerable people as well as Government jobs.

        This is due to an unpleasant situation involving a low life called Ian Huntley who was a school caretaker in Soham. He had previously been arrested multiple times for having “relationships” with underage girls but was never charged or convicted despite this. If this pattern had been known he would not have got the job.

        Huntley murdered 2 of the girls at his school. There was a public enquiry and the disclosure and checking requirements got a lot tighter for this type of job.

        1. EdRec*

          Just +1-ing this. Recruitment processes for education are my thing. Background checks are stringent and detailed, and interviewers have to query EVERY gap in employment longer than a month (and some will query shorter gaps). Candidates are supposed to disclose any convictions prior to interview, and these should be discussed with the panel.

          That’s not to say you would necessarily discount every candidate who had been arrested or had a criminal conviction – there’s a risk assessment process, so a candidate with one caution for shoplifting a lipstick 20 years ago is unlikely to lose their job offer as a result!

    1. Bluebird*

      One of my biggest pet peeves about our legal system is that somehow we’ve equated being arrested with being guilty when in actuality being arrested means nothing.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, and because minorities, especially Black queer male-passing people, and Blacks in general, are much more likely to be arrested (regardless of whether they’re charged with anything or not) than white cis males, it just helps to perpetuate white privilege.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      > an expunged arrest is a legal nullity. In the eyes of the law, it didn’t happen.

      Is it as clear cut as that? Factually, you (generic you of course) were arrested. Maybe it’s been undone legally after that she to being a mistake or whatever so that there’s no record of it, but the fact is, it did happen. History can’t be undone.

      1. Emmy Noether*

        It didn’t happen *in the eyes of the law*. It happened in the eyes of personal history, or human history, but not the law.

        The law is full of things that retroactively legally didn’t happen, or legally happened at a different time than a layperson would think they did… it’s weird, and counterintuitive, but necessary for laws to apply as they should without softening language and listing a host of exceptions each time.

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          But they aren’t (presumably) asking “have you been arrested according to a technicality of the law”, they are asking “have you been arrested” and factually, ‘you’ have…

          1. Emmy Noether*

            nah, they’re not asking about your personal experience with law enforcement, or the historic events of such-and-such date. They’re asking if the law, or the government, considers that you’ve been arrested. Which it doesn’t. Otherwise expunging as a concept doesn’t make sense, if the arrest is going to follow one around regardless.

          2. Sam I Am*

            No, this is incorrect. The employer has no legal right to the information once the record has been expunged. A question on a job application doesn’t trump a court order, regardless of how the question is worded. You’re being too literal and the law doesn’t work that way!

        2. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Exactly – it’s the best the law can do to correct a wrong that was perpetrated against you, is to ensure that you don’t have to experience any further negative consequences of being wrongfully arrested, and going forward you won’t suffer any penalties that wouldn’t be suffered by someone who was not wrongfully arrested.

      2. I am Emily's failing memory*

        I’d advise checking with a lawyer if there’s any doubt about a particular application form, but as a general rule that is exactly the purpose of expungement, and I was advised by the lawyer who handled my expungement paperwork that I could truthfully report on forms that I had never been arrested, because as far as the justice system is concerned, I wasn’t, and the ability to answer No to that question is one of the primary reasons to get a record expunged.

        1. Sam I Am*

          This is exactly right, at least in my state. The employer has no legal right to know about an expunged arrest (or dismissed criminal case); that is the whole point of expungement and a question on a job application does not trump a court order. People who call this lying are being way too literal, and they misunderstand how the law works.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      You may be in a “ban the box” jurisdiction, where there’s been legislation that prohibits asking about prior arrests or convictions.

    4. Caroline*

      Everywhere I ever recruited for asked about *convictions*, not arrests. I mean, anyone could be arrested for all sorts of rando things, be not remotely guilty, the thing be dropped / expunged in short order, so it’s really not a sensible question. ”Do you have a criminal record” is a more reasonable one, and obviously a lot hangs on the specific circumstances and job concerned.

    5. NeutralJanet*

      I have been asked about arrests, but only once, for a job that would have involved me going into the state prison regularly. The interviewer assured me that an arrest would not necessarily disqualify me from consideration, and that he himself had to disclose an arrest from fifteen years earlier when he had gotten the job.

    6. Johanna Cabal*

      Background checks only show you the individuals who got caught doing the crime or are totally innocent but lacked the resources needed to get through the legal system. I read somewhere that most people convicted of embezzling from their jobs had no prior arrests or convictions.

    7. Worldwalker*

      As we’ve seen recently, in law enforcement, the existence of a felony conviction record is not disqualifying.

      In general, though, I’d think that the effect on a hiring decision would be related to both the nature of the arrest and the nature of the job. It’s unlikely that an arrest for being drunk & disorderly would be a problem for a construction worker, but an arrest for bank robbery — even if the charges were dropped — would definitely make someone hiring a bank teller look askance at that candidate.

    8. PoolLounger*

      Depends on what state you live in. In NY I didn’t see it, but in the south I see it on literally every job that has a formal application.

    9. saf*

      I worked for a university 15 years ago. In my time there they began requiring everyone (EVERYONE. Well, staff. Not faculty) to fill out an application. A little later, they added the “have you ever been arrested” question and made it an automatic disqualification for employment.

      A university in DC. Where civil disobedience is not uncommon. A university that had a legal clinic to help folks prove their innocence after a wrongful conviction.


  5. Dianne Chambers*

    LW 4 – are you sure the reply all is appreciated by the others? In my org I have a guy I’d write in about who won’t stop cc-ing me on any correspondence with my direct report. It’s overkill.

    1. John Smith*

      Or absolutely necessary? There’s a couple of people in my organisation who CC me into the most mundane of emails. I’ll email them individually to ask not to CC me and inevitably, they will reply to me, CCing all original recipients. There then follows emails from other people (CCing everyone) asking why they’ve been included in the reply, followed by requests from other people (CCing everyone else) to ask not to be included. And this continues until our servers break down. Personally, I think it hilarious.

    2. Anon 4 now*

      This. Sounds possible that this person is equally frustrated with you copying their manager on everything. Shouldn’t it be up to this person and their manager what the manager needs to be looped in on? You say in your second paragraph that you copy the manager when you can’t help this person—but shouldn’t it be her role to go to her manager if she is unable to complete a task and needs more guidance?

      1. Anon 4 now*

        I guess what I mean to say is why is it your problem if her manager and team aren’t looped in?

        1. Asenath*

          Because the overall job is my responsibility, and part of the process is notifying the manager of changes, and not leaving that notification to the discretion of the other worker? I’ve certainly been delegated work by a manager who also wanted to be kept informed about what was going on in some detail.

          Because it is absolutely essential that the co-workers know about the change or correction in the reply all email and the recipient isn’t familiar with all the ramifications of the decision and, moreover, the people it was copied to absolutely need the information to do their part of the project, otherwise they’ll be happily going along in the wrong direction in total ignorance of the change/correction? That used to happen to me a lot when I was dealing with a complex process, and some of my email correspondents seemed to think they only needed to deal with their little part and my response to it without bringing others into the email conversation. I’m sure there are other reasons.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Before we go too far down this road, I’m going to ask that we take the LW at her word that it needs to happen. (If it doesn’t, the question has been raised for her to think about, but there are jobs where it would and I don’t want her to come to the comments and find a slew of comments disbelieving her on a detail of her job that she presumably knows better than we do.)

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Yep, and for what it’s worth, I had a manager once that specifically asked not to be CCed on some things and would ask us to remove her when other people did it. I would assume that if this was that LW’s situation, when she brought it to the coworker, coworker’s response would have been “Manager X told me not to.” And then the letter would be written from a different perspective.

      3. Chikkka*

        “ shouldn’t it be her role to go to her manager ”

        Forgot to say that’s the whole point of the letter – making her go to her manager for manager stuff.

    3. Chikkka*

      Don’t we take LW at their word?

      It’s obvious from the context the person is sending LW emails she can’t help with, that only the manager is able to action.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, if I thought about it (and I default into “reply” after all that time shoveling reply alls out of my inbox) then “these people get a few hundred emails a day, they don’t need this routine answer” is often what I’m thinking.

      1. Antilles*

        But there are plenty of scenarios where even a manager who gets plenty of emails every day *does* need to be included on the email. OP specifically says this: “I’ve even pointed it out to her for the more serious issues, letting her know that she should be looping in her managers to draw attention to specific problems. ”
        If we’re talking about a serious issue, that’s the kind of answer where you *should* be replying-all so the manager can be aware of it.
        Reply-all is a tool in your toolbox, no more, no less. Sometimes it’s the correct tool for the job, sometimes it isn’t.

        1. Mighty midget*

          This is how my current role works. My team members deal with stuff and are fairly autonomous, but copy me in on key decisions, which gives me the chance to know that everything is going in the right direction, and chance to step in if it isn’t.
          It also means I’ve got an overview of what’s going on, as it’s me thst the client will call with questions.

        2. Smithy*

          Yeah – this may also be a case of bureacratic tolerance that will fluctate from person to person and team to team.

          For quite a while, I’ve worked in fairly large organizations in a role that interacts with a lot of teams. There is almost no time ever where I “want my inbox to be spared” – I’d rather have fifty less relevant emails to make sure I see the two very relevant ones. Because my reality far more often is chasing down those two emails that folks more often seem to forget.

          All of that to say, it creates a dynamic where for me cc’ing my own supervisor or someone else’s supervisor genuinely isn’t intended as passive aggressive or micromanaging. But far more often as FYI. And given that my own supervisors have never told me to dial it back, and usually are also being like “always feel free to include me” (for similar reasons) – it’s not a tool I’d say I’m over using for the style of team I’m on.

          1. Allonge*

            Yes – do I want to be cc-d on ‘Thank you!’ ‘Welcome, hope to work with you on another project soon!’ ‘Indeed, let’s hope!’? No.

            Do I prefer to be cc-d on things like this as long as I get cc-d also on ‘here is the invoice’ ‘Oh, actually we cannot pay now because X’ and then I can find that in my Outlook? You bet.

  6. AcademiaNut*

    For the first letter writer, I have the mental picture of showing up for the breakfast with a box of cornflakes and a jug of milk. It’s breakfast!

    But yes, making the junior person treat everyone is really crappy. I’ve been in situations where the grad students were given the job of picking up the doughnuts and making the coffee, but the food itself was always paid for by the department.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      We had a comparable system for our team meetings where we rotated who brought in our breakfast, but our department always paid for it. Just because your boss has had his tradition of demanding people pay for breakfast out of their own pocket for years doesn’t make it right.

      I imagine that you’re not the only one who recognizes how unfair this is, and that people have been afraid to speak up because of the power dynamic. Alison’s script is spot on. You’re not asking if you can opt out, you’re announcing it.

      1. Pennyworth*

        It seems incredibly unfair that everyone eats the breakfast but some people are never required to bring it in. Sometimes these situations occur because no-one challenges them or points out how wrong it is. I used to be involved in ordering the food for a work social club where traditionally half the money was used for drinks. Then a newbie pointed out that the drinks half was mostly beer and mostly drunk by the men who did the drinks purchasing, so we reduced the money contribution to just cover the food and everyone bought their own beverages. Guess who complained bitterly.

        1. bamcheeks*

          It seems incredibly unfair that everyone eats the breakfast but some people are never required to bring it in

          I’ve seen this dynamic in a few places where there’s a significant divide in the type of role, with the more prestigious and broadly better-paid group funding snacks and food for the on-average-less-well-paid group– lawyers and support staff, doctors and medical secretaries, and yeah, academics and professional services. In those settings, there are often assumptions made that of course the doctors/lawyers/academics can afford this, because they’ve got the Fancy Jobs, and it really sucks if you are in that group but at a level where you’re precarious and poorly paid and don’t have a handy private income.

          1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

            There was a recent post in a doc FB group about a resident being compelled to chip in for pizza for a nursing week event than yelled at for eating some of the pizza. Not sure this is common but nurses of all people should know that residents have lots of debt and are poorly paid, significantly worse paid than nurses.

        2. DataSci*

          In this case I think it’s appropriate given the salary difference, and I think “students” should definitely be in the “eat the food, but don’t pay for it” group. This is a very different situation from your “split the bill for beer between drinkers and non drinkers” example.

          1. EPLawyer*

            Yes, students should be considered more on the level of support staff and NOT required to pay for everyone. Presenting or not.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      I was also immediately trying to think of the cheapest possible breakfast to bring – pot of porridge with random sugar packets from the coffee machine? Random grab bag of yesterday’s wares from the bakery?

      (don’t actually do that – better to speak up directly)

      1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

        One of my co-workers would occasionally bring in a baker’s dozen day-old doughnuts that cost her a dollar. We were delighted to get them. It was about ten years ago, so they’re probably more expensive now, but those were fabulous doughnuts even at a day old.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          To be clear, I’m not looking down on those options. I was an expert on cheap but filling and tasty when I was a student, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It may still get weird reactions though if it’s not the usual.

      2. Chikkka*

        Do you guy have “Too Good To Go” or Olio? They’re apps where you collect unsold food from restaurants, cafes and shops. I often get a massive bag from the boulangerie across from my flat (like two massive baguettes, a sourdough, six croissants, and some cakes) for the equivalent of $2.

      3. mlem*

        Yeah, I was immediately thinking, “Okay, everyone, here’s breakfast: A sleeve of crackers to share!”

    3. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      Yeah, it’s a terrible practice to have employees provide food for others out of their own pocket for a work meeting. I hope this is something it would make sense for LW to address publicly because I’d bet they’re not the only ones feeling this way, but also the petty part of my heart wants to see them bring a single pack of nabs and offer that as breakfast.

    4. WiscoKate*

      As someone who has worked in higher ed, I’m kind of appalled that faculty and staff would expect students to bring in food for them. It’s always been my policy, and that of those I’ve worked with, that students are exempt from that kind of thing and in fact get any leftovers that are available.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        Right? We had a one-off where one of our student workers baked for the suite but we would never ask them to.

      2. Oxford Comma*

        This is a classic case of where the boss is not aware of their privilege. It’s been so long since they’ve been on a budget (if they ever have), that they don’t realize what a hardship this can be.

    5. Buffalo*

      “But yes, making the junior person treat everyone is really crappy.

      As a former PhD student, group members who are also students bring in the snacks when it’s their turn to present. It’s not like a company. Research groups are not like corporate departments. They don’t typically have budgets for food. Departments are like corporate departments, and department level talks do have department level funding for refreshments.

      Technically, the students, whether grad or undergrad, are junior, but it’s not the hierarchical equivalent to an intern, which is what people seem to think. Grad students are like individual contributors. Summer undergrads might be more like interns, but undergrads who are there all year are also more like individual contributors. Professors and post-docs typically buy better food, but everybody buys food.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Except apparently *not* everybody buys food. Some people just eat the food.

        And I dated a grad student. (yep, married him!) Like most of his peers, he was so poor he could barely pay attention. I doubt if he and the guys he shared an office with (a room with barely enough space for four desks) could have bought breakfast for a group if they combined their funds.

        The idea that students of any level are living high on the hog and can afford to buy breakfast for professors, other students, support staff, etc., on a monthly basis is very specific to the students you know. They’re not all like that. Some are eating ramen noodles and those awful little frozen pot pies.

        1. Buffalo*

          I mean, I was a PhD student. I didn’t say we lived high on the hog. I said we bought cookies when it was our turn to present. I don’t think it’s either outrageous or unreasonable.

          1. Worldwalker*

            The impression I got from the letter was that an actual breakfast was required, at least of the coffee and donuts variety, not just a package of off-brand cookies.

          2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            It was. The fact that you did it does not mean anyone else should be subjected to it going forward.

            If the meeting need snacks/breakfast/lunch/whatever, it is the ethical obligation of the organization to provide it.

        2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

          Poor skill tip: Don’t buy ramen, it is crap nutrition. Buy rice, beans, canned or frozen vegetables, bouillon and eggs. I learned this the hard way.

          1. Worldwalker*

            I ate a lot of beans myself, back in the day. You can buy a bag of dried beans cheap, leave them to soak overnight, and the next day, make bean porridge with your beans, some garlic, and whatever random vegetables you happen to have around.

          2. WillowSunstar*

            Lentils are cheap and you can make lentil soup, maybe if you can throw in a few diced onions/carrots? I eat this a lot of the time during the winter because it’s cheap. Also, vegan chili. (Not vegan but meat costs more!)

            1. Worldwalker*

              My modern version of my bean porridge calls for chopped celery, diced tomatoes, vegetable broth, chopped carrots, liquid smoke, and a few other odds and ends. It still varies a lot depending on what kind of leftovers I have that might go in there. It’s wonderful in cold weather (to the extent we have cold weather in the south), good and hot and filling. I realized a while back that it’s actually vegan.

      2. student*

        This is true, but doesn’t change that it’s a crappy policy. And it is also changing — for example, my university banned the expectation that students bring snacks for the faculty to their comprehensive exams a few years ago. Given that food insecurity is a reality for many students here due to the COL and refusal to increase pay (and that is a widespread problem in academic training), this tradition needs to be extinguished.

      3. Observer*

        They don’t typically have budgets for food.

        So? It’s still not OK to make students pay for the food. Either stick to making only the (reasonably paid) professors and staff pay, or skip the breakfast.

        “I suffered, so now that makes it ok” is not a good look.

      4. PostalMixup*

        I wonder if this partly has a geography component. I also am a former PhD student, and my lab also had a rotation for food for lab meetings. But in our lab, it was typically bagels (which I don’t think is all the way to “bringing in breakfast,” even as someone who eats bagels for breakfast), and you had to attend lab meeting to get any, and we had enough people that it would be your turn about quarterly. But also, this was in a low cost of living area, so our grad student stipends went waaay farther than they would have on a coast.

    6. Another Lab Rat*

      Research staff in a large academic lab here: yeah, this policy sucks. At our weekly lab meetings, where one lab member presents their research, we provide coffee and breakfast but it’s paid for out of our lab’s overhead budget. (I recognize that not all research labs have an overhead budget – in my previous, smaller-and-less-well-funded lab, if my PI wanted there to be snacks at a lab meeting he would pay for them out of his own pocket, since a tenured PI’s salary is at least an order of magnitude greater than a graduate student stipend.)

      Low graduate student stipends/food insecurity issues/etc. have actually been a major topic of discussion within our lab recently. We live in one of the highest COL areas in the country (I’m in Canada) but the graduate student stipends are at sub-poverty levels, and the students in our lab have banded together and lobbied our PI and our department for increases. Fortunately our PI is a) well-funded, b) a reasonable person, and c) in a position to effect change outside just our department, as he’s both a department head and a big name in our field. He’s decided to take the lead on increasing student stipends in our lab and is pressuring our university to enact this across-the-board.

    7. AnonForThis*

      In grad school I had the job of picking up several large boxes of donuts before a meeting. Students would sometimes follow me and my boxes of donuts to find out if they could attend the meeting; I felt like the Pied Piper of university students.

    8. Former Postdoc*

      We had a similar setup in our research group, and we ended up having all of the impoverished fellows (pre- and post-docs) host together and pool our resources. Worked out ok for us but honestly it’s really crappy they make you do this at all. If I was a PI in this scenario I’d be handing my student $50 when I knew it was their turn to host. A plea to mentors out there- take your students out to lunch! They are grossly underpaid.

    9. WillowSunstar*

      Or oatmeal? You can microwave a large bowl of oatmeal, maybe have some cinnamon/brown sugar for people to put on top? That’s what I do a lot of mornings. But I agree that it is dumb to make the person who probably is living on ramen noodles to buy breakfast. At least let them get reimbursed.

  7. Tybert*

    OP1 is going to stand out in a bad way if they use that script, especially if they say that in front of the entire group.

    For readers who are not familiar with how academic research groups work, it is quite typical for the presenter to bring munchies. It is a little unusual for the presenter to be on the hook for a whole meal like breakfast. OP does not say whether they are an undergraduate student or a graduate student — academic research groups typically have a number of both, And neither group is typically particularly well off, although individual circumstances do tend to vary.

    If OP wants to bring up their circumstances with their advisor, they should definitely do so privately, and they should definitely not just announce that they are hereby opting out of bringing breakfast. I recommend approaching it as a problem to be solved jointly and collaboratively rather than a line that you draw in the sand.

    Before taking this route, I would first approach the other presenters on the rotation for my week and ask them whether they want to split the cost of breakfast since it is starting to add up in your budget. The other students will probably appreciate this.

    What do people typically bring, anyway? If it were me, the group would get coffee and donuts from Dunkin, and maybe just donuts if I was particularly poor that week. If somebody is escalating to breakfast tacos, just lower that bar all the way back down.

    1. Heidi*

      I totally agree with approaching the PI first. While it should be perfectly fine to remove oneself from the breakfast rota, the response will depend a lot on the culture of the lab and the attitude of the PI. I could actually see this getting some blowback in some places. Doesn’t mean that the OP shouldn’t do it, but I’d mentally prepare for a spectrum of responses with varying degrees of reasonableness. The weirdness around free food in the workplace can get even weirder in academia.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I don’t know the exact psychology behind it, but it a fact that human rationality goes out the window when free food is involved, particularly if there is any threat of scarcity. Just look at the infamous AAM potluck bad behavior!

    2. Unfettered scientist*

      This is unfortunately true I think. Academic labs really commonly have “bring food” as something the speaker does at lab meeting. It’s messed up but it’s not uncommon for land to not have money they can use for food at meetings (government grants). You could definitely say to your PI that you can’t afford to bring snacks and see what they say. Maybe they offer to bring food; maybe they say it’s fine to bring nothing.

      I don’t think offering to split with other students will help. You’ll at best be paying 1/5 of breakfast 5 times rather than breakfast once and you don’t get to control if someone wants to splurge that way. I would suggest maybe trying something really cheap like bananas and store bought donuts. I don’t think you need to bring coffee, that can really add up and be cumbersome to carry.

    3. tamarack etc.*

      Well, in our institution – any of the research groups I’ve experienced where I work now – this would be definitely *not done*, to pressure a student to go to any kind of level of significant recurring expense. If there are multiple students, I’d advise the OP to band together first and bring it up, either privately with the PI or even in the meeting, possibly after recruiting some of the researchers to the cause.

      If munchies are brought in, it should be from fully employed, reasonably well-paid members -and even then it should be some sort of voluntary self-organization. I’m familiar with PIs insisting *they* provide food/coffee, and if I feel flush and my PI were to do this, I might offer to bring something once in a while. But I also assure the OP that if a student were to bring food regularly I’d damn well make sure there is no financial strain on the student (and if there was, I’d help put an end to this nonsense).

      (When I graduated, I did bring in munchies for my PhD defense, but a) if I hadn’t there wouldn’t have been any disappointment – it’s an optional extra rather than an expectation – and b) it was two kinds of small baked goods, well within grad student level ranges of expenses for social occasions.)

      1. tamarack etc.*

        (And yes, as Unfettered scientist says above, it may well be that there’s no way to pay for the refreshments out of institutional funds available to the PI due to “anti waste” rules. I’ve been in situations that can become rather absurd. But then either the flush members of the team share the private expense, or you have seminars without food/coffee.)

        1. Harper the Other One*

          Yeah, my dad was a professor for 35 years and any time the rule was “the university
          won’t pay for that” then he paid. It never even remotely occurred to me that would be an unusual way for a PI/prof to handle things because it made total sense for the one with a professor’s salary and several decades worth of salary band increases to cover it.

      2. Rock Prof*

        This was my experience in graduate school too. Students were never expected to for the bill for meeting or seminar snacks, but faculty would of the department didn’t pay.
        A group of graduate students at my school did a rotating weekly cookie day where each person was assigned a week to bring in cookies, but it was students-only and mainly a good reason to do some baking.

        1. len*

          There’s no company. It’s a research lab, probably legally prohibited from spending grant money on snacks and prohibited by HR from spending university money on something like this. The humane solution is for the PI or other senior folks to cover meals themselves, there’s no third option.

    4. amoeba*

      I have only been in one research group that did the “snacks at meetings” thing and I personally loved it, even though I was a student! Made the group meeting so much nicer than the scary things I encountered elsewhere. I do wonder what makes it so expensive – I’d probably just bring some breadrolls, marmalade and cheese from the supermarket, which even for 15 people would not be a problem. (Or bake something if I had the time and felt like it…)
      But otherwise, would agree with talking to the PI in private as doing it in front of the group would have seemed quite weird in the groups I’ve worked in.

      (Also, for the PhD defense, a party with lots of drinks and snacks was definitely very expected! However, the rest of the group also volunteered and brought in food. And anyway, it was really the high point of the whole thing and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t genuinely excited and looking forward to it!)

      1. Kt*

        Students at some of our major US universities are instructed in how to apply for food stamps at orientation. It’s the combination of low pay and high rent that is particularly acute now. When I was a grad student, only the grad students with children qualified for food stamps (infant care certainly cost more than a grad salary even at that time so no surprise). Rents in my grad city have doubled since then, though, and paying $1200 for a studio apartment on $18k a year in salary makes even donuts tough.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Bread, cheese and marmalade for 15 people sounds quite expensive to me? I could handle it now, particularly as I do actually eat breakfast, but when I was a student I would have had to choose one of those items for my breakfast! Even today it would be an extra expense; there’s no way to get breakfast for 15 as cheaply as feeding yourself.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          This made me curious, so I looked up prices for rolls+cheese+jelly+margerine for 15 at a cheap supermarket here. Comes out at about the price of a takeout pizza, or two beers at a student bar. Which not everyone can afford certainly, but aren’t unheard of student expenditures either. If I was that broke, I’d also take full advantage of the days others brought in breakfast (mask or no mask, I’d find a way), and recoup most of it that way.

          1. Susie*

            Wow, that’s amazingly cheap! I wish I had a supermarket like that. One other thing to keep in mind is many students may actually not have access to those super-cheap supermarkets, since they likely don’t own cars.

            Why not believe the LW that the breakfast cost is a hardship for her? She probably knows her circumstances better than you do.

            1. amoeba*

              Yeah, I think that’s probably a Europe vs. US thing again… bread and marmalade would definitely be cheap here (Germany, Switzerland), and while students certainly aren’t rich, they’re also in no danger of starving (and also able to afford things like going for pizza and beer, drinks out, etc…)
              That price would be normal here, even in an average bakery or normal supermarket, we don’t really have any special cheap places you’d need to drive for.

              1. sb51*

                Yeah, I think the “marmalade” was part of the issue — marmalade vs another jam is seen as fancy and tends to be more expensive in the US.

                I bake, and enjoy baking, so I would have stretched my budget by making something that used cheap ingredients in this situation, and not spoken up, but I’m glad I didn’t have to make that call.

              2. Susie*

                I’m not American personally, and I would still find it frustrating to afford cheese and buns for 15 coworkers.

            2. Emmy Noether*

              Yeah, I kind of semi-regret writing that comment, because I do believe it’s a hardship for the LW (though probably mostly because the expected breakfast is something like pastries, which does add up quickly, and they’d be given a hard time for cheap supermarket food). I guess what I’m trying to awkwardly say is that it’s not so astonishing that it’s quite affordable to some, depending on expectations and circumstances? Obviously the LW knows best that it’s not for them.

              I gather amoeba is also in Germany – bread and cheese is a standard cheap breakfast here, and Aldi will sell you a bread roll for 19 cents and is reachable by public transport from any university. Probably not so applicable for the LW, admittedly.

              1. Worldwalker*

                My local Aldi doesn’t even have rolls individually, just big packs of them, and the only time I got some, they were stale. :(

          2. Worldwalker*

            Where is your supermarket? I want one that cheap! I’m serious — we have six in this town, and I shop at the second-cheapest (Aldi being the cheapest) and it’s nowhere near that cheap. Takeout pizza is $6 (Little Caesars) to $8 (Domino’s with a coupon) and you definitely can’t feed 15 people breakfast for $6-8. Each of the components — rolls, cheese, jelly, and margarine — would be at least $3 itself. (except maybe the rolls, if you got really cheapass rolls) I want a supermarket cheaper than mine.

      3. J!*

        When I was a graduate student I paid 60% of my stipend on rent for the 10 months I was actually getting paid and scrapped other jobs in the summer months to get by. (And one summer my grandparents offered to pay my rent.) There’s nothing “just” about feeding 15 people when you can barely manage your own expenses.

        1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

          When I was in school I could barely afford to feed myself, much less other people. The idea of bringing breakfast for a dozen or more people once a month makes me cringe even now.

    5. WS*

      I agree. Alison’s advice is great for a moderately reasonable workplace, and probably would work even in some academic jobs. And LW is absolutely right to say this is unfair. But sometimes it would be a permanent black mark and a sign that you weren’t “dedicated” and there is absolutely nothing you can do to push back once that has been decided. That doesn’t mean LW should do nothing, but it means they should proceed carefully.

      1. Butterfly Counter*

        I suppose it depends on the department, but most academic departments I’ve ever been a part of have been very understanding about the economic needs of our students. Heck, I came from an upper-middle class background, but was “making it on my own” all through grad school (quote marks to denote I had a very reliable safety net if I failed, but I did my own budget and stayed within it the entire time).

        Being asked to buy breakfasts for 15 people once a month would have made me cry. I still remember this feeling of being on the brink of poverty. There is no way academics I know would fault a student for not being able to afford 15 breakfasts once a month to the point it would be a permanent black mark against them that would endanger an already promising research career. And if they’re already presenting to the department, they are likely quite promising. (However, there is no way anyone in our department would be so out of it that they would require a student to follow the “everyone brings breakfast when they present” rule.)

        1. Cut short for time*

          It sounded like OP was presenting to their research group, not the department, so not a sign of standing in the department. I’m also glad you only met nice academics! I have met some that a suggestion like what Alison said would be taken as impertinence and be delivered a lecture on appropriate behavior.

    6. Samwise*

      That’s $7-10 / box of 12 donuts, probably needs to bring two or more boxes, depending on how many people are there. A coffee box is around $10.

      Two dozen donuts, 1 box of coffee (maybe two, if one is caf and one is decaf) — $25 – $40. That’s ridiculous for any student to have to pay, grad or undergrad. They shouldn’t be paying anything at all.

      I understand that this is the culture. It’s a sucky culture, and it’s easy enough for the director or one of the higher level (and higher paid) researchers to make it stop. The director could buy breakfast himself. Or look for unencumbered (sorry, can’t remember the correct term) grant or department funds to pay for it.

      1. Samwise*

        If OP can’t get out of it, then I’d buy the cheapest loaf of cheap white bread I could find, cheap butter or margarine, cheap peanut butter, and raid the department kitchen for plastic knives/spreaders. No drinks. At the presentation get all excited about how you were able to get breakfast food for X number of people, it was only $Y, and it j-u-u-u-s-t fits your budget.

        Or let them know you used your food stamps to get it. Or went to the campus food pantry (which, by the way, may be a solution for you — and if you do, I would absolutely say that’s where the food came from). Your director and the higher level folks should all of them be ashamed for asking students to provide breakfast, and this might just shame them.

    7. curly sue*

      It really, really depends. When I was a post-doc, my PI always paid for the coffee & pastries at research group meetings.

    8. Cut short for time*

      In my group, the person who last passed qualifying exams purchased the sparkling wine for graduating members (why was it not my advisor? Great question). I was stuck with five Ph.D. defenses from our group after my qualifying exam. After the second one, the lab passed the hat around for me to purchase the rest. I would think it might be easier to get a pool going, with postdocs tossing in a little more than graduate students, than get an old professor to change their ways, but maybe I’m too cynical.

    9. Some guy*

      Agreed- if LW is an undergrad or masters student I they should reasonably be able to opt out by talking to their PI in many labs, but it would likely go over poorly if they’re a PhD student. Especially if there’s other students in the lab, which is almost certainly true for a lab of that size. I am a little confused though, if they rotate between ~10-12 people supplying breakfast how is OP on the hook once a month (it sounds like one person brings breakfast- which I agree is likely coffee and donuts- even if there are multiple presentations)? Though as others suggested maybe costs can be split among presenters each week or a group could come to the PI and push back.

    10. fueled by coffee*

      Yes, agree that Allison’s advice makes sense in a reasonable workplace with reasonable expectations for employees, and not in an academic lab setting which are not known for being reasonable.

      I have two thoughts:
      1. OP, are you a grad student, and if so, does your department have a graduate representative to the faculty (or similar position)? In addition or instead of your PI, they might also be someone to bring this up with, who can advocate for a broad policy along the lines of “students should not be asked to spend their personal funds on lab expenses, including food/beverages at meetings.”

      2. Someone upthread mentioned this, but I also wonder whether the group – again, run this through your advisor first – might be receptive to a system where whoever is presenting is responsible for making the effort to go pick up the breakfast, but it’s paid for by a faculty member (could easily be managed by ordering online, or something like Venmo). But this way the faculty the students could save on the cost of the food without requiring the faculty to put in extra time/effort into actually picking it up when it’s not their turn to present.

    11. Buffalo*

      “it is quite typical for the presenter to bring munchies.”

      This is what it was like in both my graduate and undergraduate research groups. People brought cookies to talks, including the students, who actually form the bulk of the group. It would be really weird for someone to just announce they weren’t going to do it.

      As I said above, students are more like individual contributors in an academic research group. A student, including an undergrad, who has been with the group for a few years is basically doing work equivalent to an individual contributor in a company. It’s not at all similar to the role of a student at a company. Yes, they are junior, but not as junior as people might be thinking based on their student status. The difference in income is generally reflected in the difference in goodies–the prof brings in better food than the students. For breakfast, I would expect donuts and maybe coffee from students and the breakfast tacos from the prof.

    12. Anon4this*

      I think Alison’s advice is pretty reasonable. A lot of (though admittedly not all) professors are pretty reasonable people who just don’t know what’s going on right now – my boss voluntarily started paying/bringing food themselves when the grad students made clear what their budgets looked like. LW presumably knows their boss; there’s a subset of academics that would hold it against them but most (in my experience) would be somewhere between shocked and uncomfy and would (perhaps awkwardly, but still) be willing to fix the problem.

    13. AnonForThis*

      I was tasked with picking up donuts from Dunkin’ before important meetings when I was in grad school, and fortunately it was a budgeted expense; it would have been a lot more than I could have afforded otherwise. Many grad students go into debt getting their education; asking them to go further into debt to bring food to professors (some of whom don’t even take a turn contributing) is a jerk move.

    14. Database Developer Dude*

      Wow, so the lowest paid is still obligated to bring breakfast or look bad? Remind me never to go into academics, because I’d get fired. People would get their feelings hurt if I was the lowest paid and expected to pay for everyone else’s breakfast whenever I present. That’s idiotic.

  8. deesse877*

    On the breakfast one…I really hate to say it, but ask around among grad students and postdocs before you do anything. You may very well just have to suck it up. This sounds like a big lab at a big school and…frankly, various kinds of bullying and hazing and aristocratic ritual are common. The fact that the LW is a student is well-known by all, and they all know the stipend amount, too; they may not be moved by logic. On the contrary, and especially if LW is already in some way marginalized in the program or in the world, a small self-assertion like that can trigger a cascade of You Are Not One Of Us that can have permanent professional consequences.

    I will, however, offer this idea–I once heard of a program where the tradition was to bring refreshments to your PhD defense (! for non-academics–this is actually much more presumptuous than what LW describes, because the defense is where you prove, under questioning, that you deserve the degree you have been working towards for years). And supposedly someone thought on this, realized that they could not buck the trend, but nonetheless hatched a plot. They brought vats of expensive, fragrant black coffee, and huge, homemade bran muffins.

    The Q&A was expeditious.

    1. Bearly Containing Myself*

      I don’t understand. Was coffee and muffins not considered acceptable refreshments?

      1. Bearly Containing Myself*

        I know both may trigger a visit to the bathroom if consumed early in the morning, but my little brain isn’t sure if that’s what you were referring to.

    2. SeaCow*

      Respectfully disagree to ‘suck it up’. Even as a grad student working multiple jobs, I was not keen nor able to not by groceries, barely make rent, etc. so that my colleagues could snack. The preceptors in our group rotated, not the students. I didn’t realize that it was common to make the students pay? Just because something is ‘always done that way’ doesn’t mean it should be either.

    3. tamarack etc.*

      I work in academia. I do not think just taking bullying in the face is the right thing.

      Where I am I assure you that a student who would point out a strain like this would find allies very easily. Bringing food isn’t an expectation people have of students where I am (in fact, I’ve had to dissuade students!), but students have stood up for their need, say, not to have to pre-pay travel expenses, or to get field work related expenses reimbursed. People can be thoughtless – this is not to excuse them, but to explain why it might not have occurred to the other researchers to make a mental connection between the OP’s stipend and the monthly expense. So they might very well be persuaded by the OP’s point. (And I assure you, if a student made this point in our group – which I don’t lead, but am a fully grown researcher in – I would feel shame that it didn’t occur to me to notice what’s going on and take the initiative. Really, whenever a student brings in food on a regular basis I do in fact check in with them.)

      (As I said above, bringing small refreshments to one’s PhD defense is somewhat common, but where I am at least it’s no faux pas if there are none. And it’s perfectly acceptable to bring something that is well within the range of what one might bring to a get-together.)

      1. judyjudyjudy*

        I think it depends a lot on who you work for. I’ve seen profs do some really unhinged things to students (particularly grad students) and there hasn’t been much recourse for the student other than quitting. I my experience, academics might agree that their colleague’s actions were terrible but say nothing to that person, nor offer any help to the grad student. So sometimes you don’t have much choice but put up or quit. Them’s the breaks, pony boy.

        1. tamarack etc.*

          This does happen. And even where I am, and most things are reasonable, there are assholes (though usually about more impactful stuff than seminar food!!). But it’s far from the norm, and by assuming it must be so it becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m a big fan of norm setting, as in, acting as if the desired, healthy norm was in fact already widely accepted. Giving excessive space to the dysfunctional case in the discourse kinda does the opposite: It makes people assume that academia is of course gonna be dysfunctional. And as I said, this exact kind of dysfunction would not happen where I am – there’s awareness of the social inequalities between students and faculty that prevents it.

          1. judyjudyjudy*

            I’m truly glad that your academic environment is less dysfunctional. I’m just sharing my experience and how I wasn’t in a position to change things, because I was a grad student and the bottom of the heap in terms of influence over academic culture. It also was the experience of lots of my cohorts. So please don’t discount my experience just because it isn’t normal for you. LW1, I really hope you work for a reasonable person and can talk to them about this. If not, proceed cautiously.

            1. tamarack etc.*

              I’m not discounting it. It happens too often, and much of academia has malfunctioning tools to deal with abusive PIs/professors.

              There’s a huge difference between something that only happens with unreasonable people and something that happens regardless of whether the people are reasonable, was my point.

        2. MsM*

          I’d argue that if you’re working for a professor who’s going to ruin your life over not wanting to bring snacks you can afford, better you find out and start taking steps to extricate yourself from the situation this way than after some incident involving your actual research.

          1. Antilles*

            Are you in academia? Because “extricating yourself from a poor research institution” isn’t nearly as easy as just finding a new job in the private sector.

            These positions are often only open at specified times based on the academic calendar. OP is a student, so finding a new position would likely involve transferring schools, which is a hassle. And also even if OP did successfully transfer schools, odds are not all the credits or research would transfer over so OP would likely end up prolonging the “low paid student research assistant” period of their life.

            It’s ridiculous to be expected to buy breakfast once a month, the prof would be a complete jerk for judging you about pushing back on it, OP should resolve to never be this oblivious – but also, the unfortunate answer might be “I hate spending $30 a month on donuts and coffee but leaving would be an even worse choice”.

            1. Buffalo*

              Sometimes it’s as easy as finding a new advisor, though. Lots of people switch advisors for one reason or another, and it’s not a given that you have to go to a new program to do so.

              1. Cut short for time*

                As a person who switched advisors due to harassment, yes, you can, it delays you, and it’s not in my opinion worth over lab meeting snacks.

      2. Artemesia*

        A defense is usually just the committee and the student – sometimes a few other student onlookers. And a box of cookies is not ‘breakfast’ — and can be done for less. Plus I doubt if anyone would care much if the candidate didn’t bring food.

      3. KatieP*

        Just piping up to add my 2 cents as a business office manager in a large US public university, this is a horrifying thing to expect of a grad student. OP’s PI’s Department Head or Chair should* be having a very unpleasant conversation with that faculty member. I suspect that their institution does allow for reimbursement of the expense, and the PI is just being a scrooge. Heck, if you’re talking about a specific research project, the company/entity sponsoring the research might be willing to pay for it (it’s rare, but it does happen).

        * I’ve been fortunate to work with DHs that would be livid if one of their faculty did this to a grad student, and finding a way to pay for it on department funds.

    4. Emmy Noether*

      Hmmm, where I did my PhD (this was in France), the usual thing was to have a small party after the defense, food and drink provided by the newly minted PhD. People usually went all out. I actually think it’s much more reasonable than regular breakfast, because it’s a one-time thing, and you really want to celebrate and thank all the people that helped you through.
      They were very sensitive of student budgets in general (reduced-price coffee, occasional food brought by professors only, loans for travel cost advances, help with finding extra stipends…), so a one time thank-you splurge felt right.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, as I said above – the party was definitely a highlight, you also got a really nice present from your coworkers, so spending money on food for that was not presumptuous at all but fully alright. (Also Master’s students would do a similar, smaller thing after their graduation – bring in some sparkling wine/orange jouce/cake to celebrate with the group.)
        I don’t think anybody considered that a burden rather than a nice tradition! (But then, while grad students in Germany aren’t very well paid, they’re also nowhere near the risk of starving. So that might certainly change things.)

        1. Emmy Noether*

          How it feels probably also depends on one’s relationship with the people. Everyone in my group was exceedingly nice (my then-boyfriend actually referred to my lab as “the land of the care-bears”), none of the bullcrap described elsewhere in these comments. So I genuinely wanted to throw a party! Other people may feel very differently about their group, where bringing food is just one more thing imposed on them.

          1. amoeba*

            Yup, have always been lucky enough to work in groups where most people were friendly or actually friends and always happy to celebrate together.

            1. bamcheeks*

              … whereas I was the kind of solo humanities student whose mind is blown by the idea of actually having people you’d worked with during a PhD. People plural! I can’t imagine.

    5. She of Many Hats*

      LW1 – When you do raise the issue with your director, put it in terms of what it is actually costing you – “Providing 3 dozen donuts for everyone costs me 1/2 day of pay each time. This impacts my ability to pay tuition/eat for the rest of the month/put gas in my car/pay rent. I cannot afford to feed everyone at the meeting.” It can open others’ eyes to how big the imbalance is.

    6. Mockingjay*

      It’s hard to suck up nothing. I remember being a poor student. There was
      no way I could afford to treat others. None. I paid my tuition on a payment plan and literally made the last payment two weeks before graduation. I had about 15 bucks left in my checking account to “celebrate” and put gas in my car to drive home.

      If someone says they can’t afford it, please take them at their word.

      1. Samwise*

        BTDT. I had literally $11 in my checking account the day I got my bachelor’s degree. And no job (1982 was a baaaaad year). I worked about 30 hours/week during the school year, more in the summers, had federal loans, scholarships. I could not work fewer hours if I wanted to buy books, supplies, feminine products, etc. I went to free events for entertainment. I saved up to go to the movies a couple times a semester.

        OK Boomer, I know — but I have plenty of students right now who are in the same or worse situations. Kids who everyone else thinks Life is a Bowl of Cherries for them, when really they’re couch surfing and using the on campus pantry. $10 is too much for them to spend on feeding other people, if they have to spend more (which they will, to feed that many people) means they are doing without essentials.

        And I know the expectation is, Suck it up. Fuck that noise, it perpetuates inequality and reduces access and it’s **immoral**. Shame on every person in that group who makes enough so that paying for breakfast is a blip — they shouldn’t have to be told.

    7. Yorick*

      Agree with asking among students first. If OP is one of many students, it’s gonna look weird if she’s the only one who doesn’t ever bring breakfast. If all the students push back on this together, the professor may realize/have to pretend to realize that this wasn’t a good setup.

      And I definitely can’t imagine any situation, in academia or otherwise, that it wouldn’t be super weird to announce in front of the whole group that you can’t afford to participate in this and won’t be doing it anymore. At least do it privately with your boss.

    8. Buffalo*

      “I once heard of a program where the tradition was to bring refreshments to your PhD defense”

      My mind is currently boggling at the thought of students NOT bringing snacks to their defense. Everybody I know in multiple programs at multiple schools brought cookies or something to their defense. The in joke was always that snacks are a bribe to your committee. I think if you told candidates they were being bullied by the snack expectation, they would stare blankly and shuffle off.

    9. All Het Up About It*

      This makes my blood boil.

      I believe you and other commenters that Alison’s advice won’t actually fly in some places, but this is NOT how it should be. I’ve never worked in the research setting that is described but I’ve had interns and student workers at so many roles and I would never, NEVER ask them to bring food in any situation. They are always the first ones you give left overs, etc. to because you KNOW that the majority of them are struggling financially.

      That asking students to feed people who make TEN TIMES more than them is “just how it is” at some places is infuriating. Flames on the side of my face infuriating.

      1. Once a grad student*

        Being cautious and politic is very good advice, one that will serve students well in faculty life and outside the academy.

        My non-science graduate degree was from a public US research institution, and my tenure track job at another public US research institution. In both situations, no one one ever EVER expect students to pay for snacks. The big exception is you definitely brought snacks to your defense (homemade or store bought cookies depending on your style). This was for 3-5 other people plus yourself to keep the blood sugar up and mood good. Please budget 10$-20$ for this in your graduation expenses it really helps in some cases.

        My spouse on the other hand has a lab science degree from a fancy private research school. They always brought food/snacks during research presentations. (No one attended that I know of who didn’t participate in the rotation, omg that would be so dull.) It was usually at the end of the workday and involved beer, water, juice. It was a way to split the cost of forced work happy hours (see so dull comment above). This is not to say it is correct or fair, but deeply baked into the culture and for some a valued tradition. LW is NOT that one grad student who always ordered the most expensive entree and then tried to play the let’s split the check evenly.

    10. nm*

      In my own experience at various universities–if it’s a big lab it’s weird to NOT have a departmental budget for office meals. In my current large state university it would be quite unheard of to pay out of one’s own pocket for food for a group.

  9. Bearly Containing Myself*

    Alison, you are my shero for your activism! Plus, I’m jealous that I don’t similarly have an arrest story, just that there was once a warrant for my arrest in a southern state which was set aside.

        1. Database Developer Dude*

          Having a separate word implies women can’t be heros. They most certainly can. One of my personal heros is a woman, unfortunately recently deceased. Her name is Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

  10. Waving not Drowning*

    OP1 – In my last position, our office moved, and in the past we had on campus suppliers for tea room amenities, the new location didn’t. It was then decided that the lowest paid person (me), would head to the supermarket, and purchase the milk/tea/coffee supplies out of pocket, and then claim for reimbursement, which would take around a month to be processed, and would be included in our pay. We have pay bands – so I know that everyone else was earning between 50-100% more than I. I very politely told my line manager that there was no room in my budget to be able to do that (was around $20/week), and asked if there was there another way. There wasn’t, so I didn’t buy them, and I was very polite when asked saying that I didn’t have the funds in my budget to purchase.

    Suddenly, they were able to organise a corporate credit card for me…

    Sometimes, those higher up need to remember that not everyone has the same amount of disposable income (and, also, just because you earn $$, doesn’t mean you can afford $$)

    1. Norm Peterson*

      I’ve decided to opt out of our monthly potluck for a similar reason – as academic admin, I make roughly half of what most other people do! They’re all lovely people but I can’t really afford to do something potluck worthy every month, especially since I’ve got several food allergies that mean I can’t be sure I would have anything to eat besides my own contribution. (Plus, I want/need to run errands at lunch, hybrid schedule and living in rural area means that’s my best chance to get groceries).

    2. MuseumGal*

      When I was a grad student doing an unpaid internship, I was expected to pay $1000 out of pocket for a project, which would then be reimbursed. I asked if there was any way to reimburse me as the expenses came in (so I would never be more than 100$ or so out of pocket at a time) and was told no, it has to be done all at once at the end. From the time I submitted the full invoice for the $1000, it took more than three months for the money to come through.

      I was eventually hired on and managed the intern the following year. She refused to do this and said she would be making purchases one at a time, and would be waiting to receive reimbursement for each one before moving the project along. She was very polite but firm about it and when she got a little push back from my boss, suggested we loop in the intern supervisor at the university. Suddenly, my grand boss was able to make reimbursements happen on a weekly basis. It was a really valuable lesson for me about dealing with truly unfair situations at work.

      1. BellyButton*

        A $1000?! That is insane. That is getting close to rent/mortgage amount of money for people, and 3 months! A lot of people can’t do that.

  11. Stripes*

    Regarding resume gaps: I can usually get a good read on if a job is going to be a good fit by the time that question comes up. If I can tell it’s not going to get much further than that one interview, especially due to company culture issues or a misleading job posting, I’ll be brutally honest. The gap everyone brings up is due to a parental death, and in my opinion it was far enough away for it to not be worth the concern. I’ll usually put it at a very simple sentence, like “my dad died”, while I wait for a reaction. Usually they’re uncomfortable. I have a recent one because of the pandemic, but most people have been able to infer the reason based on the year it happened.

    If I have a better feeling about the job, I’ll usually just leave it at personal events that required me to step away from work, or other more professionally vague wording. You don’t necessarily have to be blunt like I am, though. I generally don’t recommend it. I’m pretty feisty. To me though, it can be worth not getting a job offer at every interview if it’ll make them think twice about asking the next person an uncomfortable question. This isn’t the case for everyone, especially when job hunting is a necessity, and I get that. I just hate the idea of the next person interviewing having to relive a bad time in their life if they’re not emotionally detached from the situation like I am; and if I’ve saved even one person from having to rehash something they’d rather not with a stranger then it’s fine by me.

    Lots of words to reiterate what Allison said. Keep it vague, but if you don’t, expect the person asking to be uncomfortable with answers that aren’t professionally vague or ‘positive’.

    1. Stripes*

      *Alison, can’t edit posts. My phone somehow doesn’t believe the name can be spelled other ways, sorry about the misspell.

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (resume gaps) In my corner of tech we’d often ask about what the person has done to keep their skills/knowledge current if the gap is on the bigger side. Hoped-for answers would be something like personal projects or a course.

    The worst I was asked to account for was a week! I had left a job on the Friday, started the new one not on the Monday but on the next Monday. This was for a background check where I was asked to give an explanation and alibi for this “period of unemployment”…

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I would have failed your question so hard.

      I had a four-month gap (to the day) between my last job and this one. My parents sold my childhood home and moved, so I helped them do so–packing, transporting boxes. I reflected on my role in walking away from my last two roles (and how things got to that point). I did a lot of other reflecting, soul-searching, emotional self-care, and tried to reassess if I was truly in the right career.

      I didn’t compose or revise a single line of code while I was between jobs, and I believe I was a better programmer at the end of the gap than I was at its start.

    2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

      Holy cow, really?

      At my age finding new work usually takes months. If I’m lucky, I’ll finish one contract gig and start a new one within the month. This is very seldom the case.

      I would have serious questions about how well the company was rooted in reality if someone asked me that.

    3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Honestly, “I took a week off between jobs” should be obvious! I’m putting my money on an automated system here. A stupidly-automated one at that.

  13. Well...*

    “They’ve all been there and they should all get it.”
    *Sobs in academic*

    Seriously though the wildly out of touch and unhinged things I’ve heard from professors could fill a book:

    – I bought a house in Berkeley when I was a postdoc, it’s easy
    – if someone leaves trash in your office, either clean it up or work next to the trash, it’s your choice
    – you’re degrading atypical career paths when you bring up the difficulties of temporary academic workers
    – I’m giving you honest feedback when I say your questions are stupid

    I could keep going…

    1. ecnaseener*

      Wait, I don’t get the issue with your second example. What is the other option supposed to be, hunt down the trash-leaver and drag them back in to clean it up? (Or was this a recurring issue and you’re saying they wouldn’t even enforce a “don’t leave trash in other people’s offices” rule? in which case yes that’s ridiculous)

      1. Anon for this*

        Yup, there was a recurring problem where (particularly male) grad students would graduate and leave rotting food in offices for whoever was left. Often women were the ones cleaning it up. The dept didn’t care.

        I also think the facilities should be safe and clean to work in, and the university should pay for that labor rather than rely on free grad student volunteers. The offices were so dusty people were getting asthma attacks unless they devoted their weekends to cleaning university facilities.

    2. fueled by coffee*

      -Why do you need a union? Your stipends here are so generous! (Said stipend: literally minimum wage in our area, assuming we only work 40 hours/week. Reader, we do not).
      -expectation that we will share not just hotel rooms but also beds at conferences
      -Now — while you are making literal minimum wage and have sh***y health insurance — is the best time to have kids, because you won’t be able to once you are on the tenure track
      -Why would you need extra time to finish your dissertation when a literal global pandemic prevented you from collecting data for months?

  14. judyjudyjudy*

    LW1, this is a really common occurrence in labs at academic institutions, I couldn’t tell you why. While I think Alison’s script is really great, how it’s going to go will depend a lot on your PI. You might already have some sense of how they will react, or you can ask around. As someone who went to grad school and made peanuts for six years as a grad student, it was a valuable experience and the most messed up work environment I’ve ever been in. Tenured profs, especially at big research institutions have to do something really public and really really really bad to get more than a slap in the wrist. I knew a grad student who got fired for having a stutter “because it was a sign of psychological problems.” And that prof got a position at an even more prestigious school after that! I don’t mean to make you worry. If you work for a reasonable person, it won’t be a problem. Best of luck.

    1. Well...*

      Yea, I think if the prof has an ego (which is a decent wager considering they are still implementing this awful practice and no one had pushed back) the best thing to do is appeal to their soft side and talk one-on-one about struggling with the cost. Then prof gets to be the savior who fixes the problem for LW and stops making LW pay. If LW says something in front of the group, prof could get embarrassed and take it out on LW.

      Sad but maybe true.

    2. Rosa Rosa Rosa Diaz Diaz Diaz*

      Was the firing of the person with the stutter back before ADA? Because surely that’s illegal?

      1. ecnaseener*

        I believe that’s judyjudyjudy’s point, that a tenured prof got away with something illegal.

      2. judyjudyjudy*

        No, this was in 2014 or 2015. That’s what I mean. If you work for a jerk (even worse, a jerk who is a leader in their field), they can get away with doing a lot of bad stuff.

        1. IDIC believer*

          IME it is a much bigger risk for a graduate student to approach her PI than a worker a boss in a nonacademic setting. PIs are judge, jury and executioner.

          I worked for 15+ years at a major research US university in various departments. I saw a lot of mistreatment of graduate students. While technically it’s also a work environment, it is really considered a teacher/student one where work norms aren’t even a factor. The more senior and more grants the PI brings in, the more untouchable the PI is.

          Many professors act as though they’re obligated to pass on the expectations, hazing, excessive work hours, low pay, etc. they had experienced. There were PIs who were approachable and would be understanding of OP’s situation. But even some of them would put a little mental flag against OP’s name because the presenter/food thing is as traditional as it gets.

      3. Junior Assistant Peon*

        It’s grad school. They get away with stuff that would never fly in any company with a halfway-competent HR department. Sexual harassment and safety are pretty much on par with a 1950’s corporation.

          1. Pescadero*

            Faculty have a lot of power… and in many institutions THEY can fire their own boss through a vote of no confidence.

            Throw in tenure…

  15. Caitlin*


    I agree with Alison (go back and ask what messaging they want to use) – but if they want ideas (or just tell you “figure it out”) then maybe there is something else that could be tied into the event? They’ve been there 30 years, so maybe there is a “business celebrating 30 years of success” or “look how far we’ve come since Jane joined the firm” angle, which makes it about more than just Jane?

    1. Generic Name*

      I don’t know. OP had an impossible task dumped on her (and why?). I would just write out the details as straightforwardly as possible: Please join us at Place at Time for Employee’s retirement party. Management can wrack their brains to craft wording to cover up the imbalance.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      If they’re going to bring in all of the donors/philanthropy people she interacted with as a sort of big event, that’s one thing, seeing as she’s had a lot of interactions with them (assuming that was part of her job), then it becomes more of a formal hand-off and appreciation event of the work that continues to happen.

      If she just gets a fancier party than other people, then the CEO can deal with the disparity.

      FYI: at my place of business, retirements can be a big deal as people might stay for decades. However, the in-house events are on the cake and maybe a speech or two level, and anything fancier is coordinated by coworkers and friends and costs are handled by collecting a set amount that is announced in the invite. There’s no “she got more than him” because it’s actually just an outside event that people can go to if they want.

    3. Scandinavian Vacationer*

      yes make this event part of the corporate Foundation and/or Philanthropy work: the Next Chapter or Looking to the Future or similar. Jane gets to schmooze one last time, perhaps gets an award, and donors/contacts get to feel good at this event. Maybe collect ideas for new projects from attendees?

      1. Cait*

        Agreed. As an admin I was also often given tasks no one wanted with very few details about how I was supposed to make the square peg fit in the round hole. In this case I think focusing on retirement AND philanthropic work is the way to go. So while retirement might just be an occasion for cake and punch, a 30-year commitment (not only to the organization) but to charitable causes is an occasion for something more special. Really focus on the latter in the invitation.

  16. pcake*

    LW4 – when someone I work with forgets to reply all in a situation where the information is for everyone, I simply send the email to everyone who needs to know. If I’m feeling passive-aggressive (which is rare) or need to make tthe point that they need to send the email to all, I may include this message on the top of the email “Ted, you forgot to reply all so everyone can read your email, so I’m forwarding it for you”.

  17. Rosacolleti*

    LW 1 I own my business and I’m appalled that people are expected to bring food in for others. It’s lovely that people will occasionally bake and bring things in voluntarily but regardless of income or role, people shouldn’t be expected to

    1. urguncle*

      I’ve always had bosses or owners buy us a meal as a bribe for doing something we might not love doing: a catered lunch to keep meetings going through lunchtime, breakfast to come in early, dinner as an acknowledgement that we were going to be staying late. A rota for bringing in food is fine, but it’s one of those things that should be joyfully offered by participants, not enforced. Plus, who just eats food from anybody’s house in these times? Not me.

  18. Pocket Mouse*

    LW #4- You share a manager with the coworker who doesn’t reply-all, including to your shared manager? This situation is ripe for you to talk to your manager about it! Say that it happens and keeps happening despite you talking to her about it and asking her to reply-all, and ask how “we”—meaning you and your manager—should proceed. Ideally this is something your manager will do, i.e. start managing your coworker. In the event you are asked to take something on, you can agree and state your own reasonable boundaries and concerns:
    “Yes, I can talk to her one more time if it happens again, but after that point I’ll have reached the limits of my authority. If she continues to reply only to me, we may need to take a different approach.”
    “Yes, I can forward emails when I notice she replied only to me, but of course there may be times I’m busy or in a meeting and won’t see it right away, so I’m wary of something time sensitive slipping through the cracks. Could you also talk to Coworker to ask that she use the reply-all function to make sure you’re kept in the loop?”

    Also, does your coworker know that there is a reply-all function and it’s not necessary to manually add people in on a standard reply? I might actually start with asking your coworker this in a lighthearted way- she may genuinely not know about it, or if she does, she may be nudged to action by the slight embarrassment of appearing to not know about it.

    1. Rosa Rosa Rosa Diaz Diaz Diaz*

      Pocket Mouse, the first part of suggestion is great but I would worry that jokily asking if she knows about “reply all” (a very, very old and commonly used feature) would come across super passive aggressive and snarky.

      If you’re going to say something, say it directly. If she doesn’t do it when you say it clearly, being less direct is unlikely to work.

      My guess is that Orphelia doesn’t agree that she needs to reply all, for whatever reason. I think that’s the conversation to have.

    2. Doodles Laverne*

      Thanks for your reply, I agree on all fronts. I have mentioned it to my manager only as a heads up, so they know why I have re-forwarded some of these messages fairly regularly. I did not however, ask them to speak to this colleague about it, so I’m sure they never did bring it up with them. It could be a standard reply message when they check their email on their iPhone (different default formats compared to an office computer) but I don’t know if that’s what’s happening. This person is a rehab/life skills worker and not an office person, so I believe it’s more to do with not quite understanding the MS Office/Outlook functions and knowing when to reply all.

    3. Rosa Rosa Rosa Diaz Diaz Diaz*

      Doodles Laverne, re your last paragraph, has anyone told her, in a very straight forward clear simple way, why x people need to be CCed in y situation?

      1. Doodles Laverne*

        Yes I have explained that to her. So I’m not sure what’s going on, whether she doesn’t understand, can’t be bothered or is worried about replying all to the managers (not sure why, when there are concerns she has that need to be addressed and they would be the ones to help her) She is a life skills rehab worker, and not an office admin person, so that may have something to do with her email skills and knowledge. I’ve already mentioned to her twice that it’s important to include her managers, so if it keeps happening I’m just going to continuing forwarding to them myself. Annoying, but I have to let it go lol.

  19. Kate*

    Regarding arrest records: in the context of U.S. immigration, they must be disclosed. Many of the forms ask about this, and even if the arrest happened in another country or has been expunged and the record sealed, it still counts. The questions are often phrased to include citations and being detained, so something as simple as a traffic ticket or being put into secondary while entering the USA could all trigger a “yes” reply. I’d suggest discussing with an experienced immigration attorney just to be sure: it’s much easier to get it right with the initial application than to try to unscramble the egg later, and the DHS background checks can find all sorts of things. (If you need to find an immigration attorney, AILA, or the American Immigration Lawyers Association, is a great place to start – they have an immigration lawyer search on their website.)

    Source: I’m an immigration paralegal and specialize in green card and naturalization cases where this comes up a lot. But I’m not a lawyer and can’t give legal advice, so do your own research.

    1. Kelly*

      The federal government (or being contractually obligated by the federal government to ask such) is different because the feds are not bound by state or other countries’ laws that relieve an applicant of the obligation to disclose their criminal history.

      (A converse situation which did the opposite by forcing a “legal lie” from the perspective of the individual completing the form was during the DOMA days when the feds did not recognize same-sex marriages sanctioned by a state or foreign government. If you do some searching you may run onto some old articles out there discussing this when same-sex couples did their taxes, etc.)

  20. Brekkers*

    Chiming in for LW1 to say that not only is the PI potentially a source of pushback, the other grads are too. I’m in a humanities/social science program and when I was in coursework, one of the other grads pushed for and organized snacks for our weekly seminars, around 5 pm. Each of us, whoever was enrolled, mostly PhD students but also some MAs, took turns covering snacks.

    A lot of folks were thrilled, but I hated them –– I preferred to eat supper when I got home, so I rarely took advantage of the snacks, and they were always more expensive than I could buy. (Many of my other grad colleagues were a little securer, financially.) It didn’t occur to me to try to opt out, but to be honest, I don’t think I could have without damaging my reputation. “Why don’t you want to participate in this obviously fun thing?”

    If you’re an undergraduate student, compared w/ the MAs and PhDs, you should be able to speak up. At least in my corner of higher ed, most folks know that undergrads have things tough. But if people at your same level are providing breakfast –– sure, ask them, maybe they too are hiding their annoyance, but I’m not sure I’d hold out a lot of hope.

  21. Wendy*

    Regarding letter 1

    I do not know if this would work in academia, but I would rather contribute to the breakfast instead of buying breakfast for everyone due to the cost

    The meeting attendees should contribute to the breakfast as well

    What is done for employees who are on a special diet?

    I am on a lifestyle diet as directed by my doctor for health reasons

    Depending on what is brought for breakfast, I may or may not be able to eat, if I was in the letter writers shoes

    1. amoeba*

      When we did it in a group I was an intern in, people would bring something extra for the ones with allergies. So, like, you’d bake a cake but buy an extra bit of gluten-free cake at the supermarket in addition. Of course, you needed to let the group know about your allergies, but then you’d be taken care of…

      1. Wendy*

        What about people who are one of the following?

        Low sodium
        Low fat
        And so on?

        How should their needs be addressed regarding the breakfast?

        1. amoeba*

          You just asked for dietary needs before going shopping? I mean, I think a vegetarian option was always included, anyway, everything else you asked people to let you know so you could accommodate it…

    2. ecnaseener*

      I’d think that contributing to every breakfast would, if anything, be more expensive for LW than what they’re doing now. When it’s their turn to buy, they can go for the cheapest options – if they had to chip in for meals picked out by others, they’d have no control over how much.

  22. Name*

    #5 – make sure you answer what the question is asking and make sure the arrest(s) were truly expunged. I’m currently an HR manager for a school district and have worked in HR for 3 schools districts. The application asks about convictions. One school district would refuse to hire if there was a conviction that wasn’t disclosed, no matter how long ago. Another would call and ask why you didn’t disclose. Depending on the conviction and your response, they may or may not move forward. Regardless, they can see everything on your arrest record, regardless of conviction or not.

  23. cottagechick73*

    OP2, during the 2008 economic downturn, there were a lot of us that were off for years. My field is related to construction and it didn’t come back until years later. I have a 5 year gap on my resume where I didn’t have work relevant to the jobs in my field that I leave off my resume. I know the pandemic is fresh in everyone’s mind, but we have had two big economic shake-ups in a little more than 10 years apart.

  24. Melissa*

    The resume gap thing is interesting because it seems to vary a lot between fields! I am a nurse, which is overwhelmingly a women’s profession. I’ve never been asked about my LONG employment gap. Because of course, “Hm what could this woman have been doing for six years, when she was between the ages of 28 and 34…”— everyone knows it was probably for child rearing.

    1. Sssssssssssssssssssss*

      Administration and secretarial work is also largely filled with women. A long gap potentially means not being exposed to the latest versions of crucial software. And it’s not unusual to have two stereotypes: the admin who knows all the tech and software and is the one to ask if you have a question; and the admin who is not tech savvy at all and seemingly actively resists keeping up with the tech even with no gap.

      I would be asking something similar to “How have you been keeping your software skills up to date?” if the gap was long enough for those kinds of roles.

      I have a nine-year gap on mine and yep, it was for the kids. I can’t remember if I was ever asked about it. But I could happily tell them how I did keep my Office skills up to date if asked.

        1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

          This is valid even if you are working without gaps. Some companies never update anything until it’s loooong past EOL.

  25. Skippy*

    LW2: I have a rather large gap in my resume from 2020-2022, as I worked in a field that lost thousands of jobs in the pandemic and I wasn’t able to get a full-time job in that field until about a year ago. At this point I expect to be asked about it, and frankly, I’m glad when they do, because their handling of this question tells me a great deal about them as an organization. Some managers are completely understanding of how such a gap could have occurred. But if you are seemingly unaware that our industry went through massive job losses due to months-long facility closures, or you think that taking time away from the workforce for any reason completely negates the 20 years of experience I accumulated prior to the pandemic, that tells me far more about you than it does me.

    1. Maybe too blunt*

      I called my interviewer out for even asking me the question.
      “Why were you unemployed in 2020?”
      Me: “Have you heard of Covid, it was in all of the papers.”

      I didn’t get that job.

    2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*


      “Why were you unemployed for a year starting in 2020?”

      Straight stare. “I was laid off due to budget cuts due to Covid. Very few companies were hiring.”

  26. Heidi*

    My friend applied to a federal job that required a detailed background check. The agent that interviewed me asked me about all of their employment gaps, even the ones that were a couple months between undergrad and grad school.

  27. Long Time Fed*

    I had a coworker who was a sweet lady – everyone liked her and she was the boss’ pet – but her work performance was probably a -10. Everyone overlooked it because she was nice. When she left, the retirement celebration was off the charts. They gave her a flag that flew over the senate, misc. coins, several plaques, an agency award, etc. It was crazy. I feel bad for every other person who has left since then and got, at most, a mention at the all hands meeting.

    So be fair and keep the celebrations proportionate to contributions!

    1. thatlibrarylady*

      Adding an award actually might make sense to signal to people that this is a celebration of philanthropic contributions (non of the other fanfare though). That way you can message it a dinner to celebrate Bobbie Loblaw and their lifetime achievement award or what have you.

    2. Scandinavian Vacationer*

      Make this event about the corporate foundation or philanthropy work. Title it something like “celebrating the next chapter” or “looking to the future” or similar. Then Jane gets her final chance to schmooze, perhaps gets an award, and attendees get a feel good event. Audience should be external stakeholders/donors plus top corporate mgmt.
      Give Jane the same cake and punch event for internal colleagues.
      This is a good example of how roles differ, and require different approaches. These things can be equitable without being equal.

  28. AnnoyingJediIntern*

    Re. #5: My husband was arrested when he was 18 or 19 for pot possession (his loving mother was the one who called the police on him). This got him fired from his job and a whole mess of other complications but no jail time.

    A year or so later, following some bad advice he had those records “sealed” (I believe that was the term) not expunged which has caused even more severe problems – he repeatedly had problems finding a job because there is a record of an arrest but the details are not available, leading people to assume the worst.

    1. Temperance*

      Google your state + “Clean Slate”. He might be able to get it properly removed/expunged with minimal issue.

  29. LB33*

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the retirement party wording – it seems unremarkable that the CEO’s (!) assistant who has been there 30 years (!) and has done lots of philanthropic stuff would get a bigger than normal sendoff.

  30. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    Alison, you are on FIRE today, some great answers! Thanks for making our work lives better.

  31. Susan*

    If I was the person that the letter writer in #4 (Reply All) was writing about, I’d be really annoyed.
    Why was the person’s manager copied in the first place? I may know that this is email that my manager doesn’t want to see unless there’s a problem. Also, I’m capable of managing my interactions with my manager without the letter writer being party to it, and I may have plenty of other, unrelated or personal reasons to keep that conversation private. It’s really the work that needs to be the letter writer’s focus, not the method of getting it done.

    1. Ferret*

      Alison already has a request that we take LW4’s word for it that the Reply Alls are required. In my work it is a pretty frequent requirement that leads are kept in the chain on most emails to keep them in the loop, or just make sure they have access to the whole chain if they want to check something later.

      1. urguncle*

        I’ve never been in a position where I was actively upset and my work severely impeded because I was cc’d on an email that I didn’t need to be cc’d on. I have been in a position where I was actively upset and my work severely impeded because I had been left out of a cc, whether accidentally or not.

    2. urguncle*

      Taking the LW at her word, it was important for the manager to be cc’d. It could be at the manager’s request. It could be a CYA for LW and the coworker to send it out.
      If the coworker needs a backchannel to ask something before sending it to her manager, that can be a separate thread or discussed over instant message. “Hey, before I respond to your email, I just wanted to make sure we’re talking about the llama project due on the 20th. Does that sound right?”

    3. Doodles Laverne*

      When I’ve replied all including the manager, it’s either because initially she included the manager and team lead, or it was an issue about needing more help. i.e. complaining that they had a massive delivery and had to receive, unpack and move it all themselves (not part of either of our jobs) So I would gently remind them to “reply all” so that her manager could see what she was dealing with. I thought I was actually looking out for her and by suggesting that she “reply all” then her team lead would read it and maybe do something about it. I have now ended up doing what Allison and others suggested, forwarding her reply with an FYI to the TL and manager

  32. anothermonday*


    This happens to me all the time. I usually just reply all adding in who was dropped off: “+Cecil & Jane”

  33. Applesauced*

    RE #3:
    Throwing Jane a huge party when everyone else gets cake in the break room is bad optics.
    My office had 2 babies born this year – one to a partner who has been here for like 8 years and she got a virtual shower and basket of gifts. The second was to an employee who’d been with the company for 2 months and they got a card and small gift.
    That felt imbalanced, but I’ve been here 6 months so didn’t say anything.

    1. Colette*

      That actually doesn’t seem off to me – there’s a big difference between 8 years and 2 months.

      1. Applesauced*

        Yeah, I have a second half of my question that can’t quite word it the way I want…..

        What’s the breaking point for equal treatment of life events?

        Is it time based (after a year’s employment every one gets the same party/gift/etc?)

        Role/seniority (like owner of employee) feels icky – which is why this partner/new employee disparity rubbed me the wrong way.

        1. NeedRain47*

          My oldjob had a standard library provided cake for goodbye parties and that was about all the *workplace* provided.
          But other than that it was up to the person leaving if they wanted a party or not, and whether they wanted to invite just their dept or the whole organization. And their dept might also decide to get them a gift or giftcard and ask for (compltely voluntary) donations. And it depended on their role how much to-do their was. I’m specifically thinking of when the main admin for the whole organization retired. Due to her role she knew literally everyone, and everyone liked her, and so many people donated to her retirement gift that they gave her a new Mac Book Pro.
          Point being, the company should do the same for everyone, but humans are gonna human and that involves not everyone being treated the same whether it’s “fair” or not.

        2. Colette*

          Yeah, I think if they had both been there 8 years, there would have been an issue.

          I mean, if it were up to me, I’d say everyone should get the same treatment (card passed around to sign, take collections for a gift) so that even if the results were different (i.e. people gave more to the person they’d worked with for years than the person who just started), the process was the same.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        I’d be mortified if I worked somewhere for 2 months and they threw me a big baby shower. A card and a small gift is already plenty sufficient. (I have 3 kids and declined all offered baby showers anyway.)

  34. Daisy-dog*

    #4 – Does your company use an email service with suggested replies? Because if you hit the suggested reply, in most cases it just sets up the email to just reply not reply-all. It could be that she uses the suggestion as the first part of the email (This has been submitted. or Thank you.) and then adds a little more.

    I had a co-worker years ago with a Reply-All problem. She eventually admitted it was because she used the Google suggested reply 98% of the time – which on her phone automatically sent the reply only to the sender.

  35. HannahS*

    OP4: Say something! So embarrassing, but it took me long time to understand why people used reply-all. Somewhere along the way I developed the impression that it’s rude? Or presumptuous, or used to get people “in trouble” by cc-ing their manager. Plus I didn’t really understand operationally why it was being used (efficiency, duh, but I didn’t KNOW that because no one ever TOLD me.) Add to that, I wasn’t super computer literate for a millenial and just hit reply automatically. Just add it at the end of the email: “I’ve cc’d Cecily and Mo on this email–please “reply all” to keep us all on the same page, thanks etc.”

    1. One HR Opinion*

      Love this comment. When I was training a new staff here, I had to remind her a number of times that copying the manager for certain groups of employees was not getting them in trouble, it was making sure that the manager was aware and they could help us if we were not getting the replies we needed because the employees had sporadic access to email.

    2. Dancing Otter*

      Reply-all in *general announcements* can be a problem. It crashed the mail servers at a F100 company a few years ago, because so many idiots hit Reply-all to tell everyone else not to Reply-all.
      Add in the ones asking to be removed from the distribution list, and the ones replying to them to say it was a HQ-wide announcement, and more people replying to them to stop using Reply-all, with various expletives…
      As I recall, it took about three hours for IT to bring Outlook back up, but part of that may have been trying to wait out the storm.
      This isn’t that.

  36. BellyButton*

    LW1 – I remember those days and how completely oblivious some leaders are about the financial differences among staff. I was a fresh grad and working my first “real” job when I needed to travel for work. We were expected to book everything and be reimbursed 60 days after we submitted the expenses. I didn’t have the money and I didn’t have enough available on my credit card. It caused me so much stress. Even if I had somehow been able to get enough credit on my credit card 60 days when have been a huge hardship. I finally broke down and asked my grandmother for help instead of addressing it with my manager. I was too embarrassed. Looking back now, I shouldn’t have been.

    Managers and HR need to be aware of policies like this.

    I hope you get the courage to speak up, your manager should have a a big bright light bulb moment and rethink this system. Good luck!

    1. NeedRain47*

      For my first conference, my manager (who I was traveling with, and who ) put the whole hotel on her credit card and the employer was able to reimburse her directly for both our costs. But that was a personal favor on her part, for which I am grateful. The employer had zero plan for what to do with someone who didn’t have a credit card with thousands of dollars of available credit.

    2. Anonosaurus*

      Yeah, I remember having to travel for work in my first job after graduation. It was for a nonprofit and I was on pitiful wages but we were expected to front the cost of work travel and seek reimbursement which would eventually be paid. On this trip i ran out of money and I remember begging my bank to extend my overdraft but they wouldn’t, so my then boyfriend had to wire me funds through Western Union! After this, I politely explained this to the nonprofit management and asked for a cash advance for future trips, which I think was eventually agreed.

      I am now the big boss and we pay for staff travel etc upfront, and I would never expect staff below a certain level to pay for so much as a coffee. I get that academia is weird but frankly I think your PI and other senior staff should be embarrassed to have you bringing in food for them on the regular.

  37. Luna*

    LW2 – My answer to many of the gaps in my job history are “I was looking for work” and “I was let go”. So, it was never a case of ‘leaving without having something else lined up’ or ‘busy taking care of infant/relative’, but more a case of ‘I don’t know why they let me go, it came outta left field for me’ and ‘They [the companies I have previously applied to] did not continue with my application past the initial stage’.
    Sounds bad? Probably. But it’s the truth, and aside from one job, I genuinely could not tell you *why* they let me go suddenly.

  38. NeedRain47*

    I’m annoyed that LW1’s people are making her bring breakfast! I worked in an environment where there were lots of student workers for years, and it was pretty explicit that they were never expected to bring anything for treat days, and that part of the purpose was us treating them. (although, as a low paid staff member in a place where we got no raises for years, there were times I didn’t participate due to my own finances.)

    My current job is asks/harasses people to donate to things often, when a good portion of the employees here do not make a living wage. I have not figure out how to point this out to management/HR in a way that will get a response other than “well no one’s forcing them”. No, they’re not, but it feels really bad to have that kind of pressure applied.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Find Alison’s standard comments about gifts flowing down (not up) in the workplace. It’s the same idea: inherent imbalance of power affects people’s responses, regardless of how well-meaning the people in power are.

  39. Lizzo*

    LW1: if you do decide to speak up, whatever script you opt for, take the time to practice your words out loud. Spend some time thinking about what the objections from others might be, and say your script out loud again. Prepare yourself to stay calm and hold firm. Academia can be full of bullies, and they have no problem steamrollering over someone who is below them in the hierarchy, especially if they think they can shame you into walking back your opinion.
    (The “calm and professional” persona will remain beneficial for the duration of your career, so there’s no time like the present to practice.)

  40. Old Hampshire New Hampshire*

    I’m very interested in the comments on this letter. I’m currently looking for work having not worked for the last 18 months. I took voluntary redundancy (I’m in the UK) with the aim of taking a few months off to recharge and then getting back to work. Unfortunately, a very close relative passed away suddenly and unexpectedly shortly afterwards. I then fell ill and underwent months of investigations to get a diagnosis while in increasing daily pain. Fortunately, I had an operation at the end of 2022 and I’m back to full health.

    I’m just starting my job hunt and I’ll be looking for work that’s related to what I was doing previously, but won’t be an exact match. I’m not sure how the gap in my employment history will reflect on me and what effect it could have on hirers’ perceptions of me. I’m happy to explain at interview what’s happened to me over the last 18 months, but don’t really want to give all the gory details on LinkedIn and on my CV. So seeing people’s comments on this letter is giving me some great insight on how to position it. Thank you everyone!

    1. BellyButton*

      I was off for 8 months recently. I only had one potential employer ask about it – I said “after receiving my severance package, I decided to take some time off to enjoy life before I began job hunting. “

    2. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I think you can safely say “I had some medical issues that have thankfully since been resolved” is probably your best bet.

  41. Same*

    Re OP2. Should you ask about gaps in resumes? No.

    It’s literally none of your business. It’s an intrusive question that will land in something painful for a majority of people.

    As for the argument of “we need to know their skills are up to date”, there are a large number of people currently working who do not have the skills required for their current roles, let alone a new one. A lot of so-called “success” in the workplace comes down to luck and timing. It should be a meritocracy but it’s not.

    1. Zee*

      Yeah, I find the “but I need to know if their skills are up-to-date!” argument so bizarre. How does knowing whether I had a baby or whether I was taking care of my sick mom answer that question at all? Ask about the skills if you want to know the skills.

      1. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*


        People’s skills can fade when they’re working, too. If person has skills in A, B, C and D, it shows on their resume. But maybe in their current post they only use A, C and D. They still have B, but haven’t used it in the three years they’ve had at their current post. But they have no “gap” to explain.

        I regularly have to call on skills from four jobs (and more years) ago. That’s what having 22 years of experience in my field means. Not every place uses every tool/tech stack/process in my line of work. Some are bleeding edge, others want stuff that was “hot” fifteen years ago.

        Sure, it’s nice to be fresh and current on the stack that you are interviewing for. But that’s not always possible, and IMO employers who turn down people who aren’t “recent” enough are missing out on a breadth of experience.

  42. One HR Opinion*

    LW#5 – Be sure to answer the question asked, i.e. does it ask about arrests or just convictions, and I definitely agree with requesting your own copy to see what it on your background check. We have definitely had people who thought something was expunged and it wasn’t, or thought a DUI had been changed to a different type of violation but it was still showing up as a DUI. This won’t matter in some types of jobs, but for others it will make a huge difference.

  43. Spicy Tuna*

    Regarding the “reply all” question – I have this happen all the time! I’m a property manager and Realtors who are trying to get a lease for the client squared away will only reply to me, not anyone else involved in the transaction. I recently had to deal with an insurance claim and the insurance agent kept only replying to me, not the adjuster or the property owner!! It’s so incredibly common that I add a line on the email stating, “Please REPLY ALL” if it’s critical for everyone to be cc’d. Even that doesn’t always work, but at least it’s out there.

  44. ijustworkhere*

    As someone who was responsible at one time for background checking everyone we hired in our 1000+ person organization, I can attest that many records you think are expunged are actually not expunged. This is usually for one of two reasons

    1. Candidates had been given erroneous information from friends, family members, or even officers of the court about “this will come off your record after x number of years, etc.”) That is not true. Expungement is a separate legal process. What somebody usually means when they say that is that most companies only consider arrests and convictions within a time period x–usually 7-10 years.

    However, that also isn’t always true–technically a background check can go as far back as records exist for that person. I have seen arrests from 20-25 years ago on background checks. I have even seen juvenile arrest records (which are supposed to be sealed and not publicly available) show up on background checks.

    2. Sometimes, even if you undergo the expungement process, the paperwork hasn’t been filed correctly or something else went wrong and it still hasn’t been removed. In this case, the attorney who handled the expungement should be able to help you.

    Run a background check before applying for jobs if you have reason to be concerned about it.

    So definitely run your own background check to be sure, and if it isn’t get in touch with the attorney who handled your case to get help.

  45. H3llifIknow*

    If the department wants to have breakfast during those meetings, the department needs to fund it, or tell people “this is a brown bag working breakfast” and have each person bring their own. No workplace should be asking any ONE person to buy meals for everyone. And whether the department head is “married to the idea” because he’s been doing it forever is just so out of touch. I hope the student takes Alison’s advice and speaks up.

  46. Abogado Avocado*

    With regard to issues concerning expungement, first, it is essential that you retain all your paperwork regarding the matter and its disposal. As a lawyer who has practiced criminal defense for more than three decades, I can’t count the number of times an individual has told me that a prior case was expunged when, in fact, it was dismissed and remains available in the records for all the world to see.

    Second, nomenclature counts, so retaining the paperwork allows you to know whether your matter was sealed, subject to non-disclosure or some other disposition. And if you don’t understand exactly how that disposal affects future job applications or security clearances, having the paperwork will allow you to consult with a lawyer who can assist you.

    If you don’t have the paperwork, go back to the original attorney and ask for a copy of your file or, at least, the information regarding disposition of the matter. Legal files are the property of the client and lawyer ethics rules uniformly hold that the client is entitled to a copy of the file.

    Also, be aware that if you are applying for a position (even as a volunteer) that involves working with children, the elderly, or other vulnerable populations (even in the private sector), many jurisdictions have passed laws that allow the background check to “go behind” the non-disclosure, sealing, and/or expungement to determine if the applicant ever was charged with an offense, even a minor one. These laws persist even in “ban the box” jurisdictions.

    Finally, local bar associations, many law schools, and legal aid organizations hold free legal clinics to help individuals determine whether they can safely not disclose a prior arrest or disposition on a job application. So, if you can’t afford a lawyer, these clinics are a good place to seek help.

  47. Anony4884*

    1. I can’t afford to buy breakfast for my team every month

    I would speak-up to your boss. I was sort of in your shoes. If you are too shy to ask, then I would ask your boss if you can expense the food (as in company reimburses you for it) since it is a business meeting. That is how I got away with it.

    Here is a trick if you still decide to bring food. You can just get a dozen bagels or muffins and cut them in half! Most people only go for little bite-sizes anyway. Also get small size snack/appetizer plates! Skip the fruit as that is expensive, but bagels are usually on the cheaper end especially if you get them from a big grocery chain and not a local bakery.

  48. Kelly*

    Re: Expungement – The wording of your state’s laws can matter in terms of your rights. Is there a law that explicitly gives you the right to deny expunged records (in other words should the employer find out about the record you weren’t obligated to disclose, and they fire/discipline you for not disclosing it in the application process, you’d have recourse), or are you just relying on the hope that they won’t learn about your past through the usual background check process (with no recourse if they learn some other way, such as through an old newspaper article)?

    1. Kelly*

      My last sentence should read “through that process or some other way” (in other words my point was does the law actually give you protection against not disclosing the expunged record, or does it just remove your record from public inspection without any additional rights on not disclosing it when asked).

  49. Doodles Laverne*

    Thanks for your feedback Allison. I agree that after asking/reminding her to “reply all” a couple of times is enough, and I may have to resign myself to her inefficiency in better email management.

  50. Checkittwice*

    #5 Second Allison on checking to be sure it’s not showing on your record. I worked at a university and our program required a background check for our students. I can’t tell you the number of times a student was surprised to find something on their record that wasn’t supposed to be there. Most of the time it was no-show warrants for speeding tickets (issue was resolved but not properly recorded) but sometimes more serious things.

  51. noname12345678*

    LW#1: If you don’t want to follow Alison’s advice, how about something superbly passive-aggressive? Buy 1 box of Dollar Store pancake or muffin mix, make them, and bring them in. Buy a bottle of Dollar Store syrup as a topping. Grab paper towels from the bathroom as napkins. Walla, everyone has breakfast and you’ve only spent $2.75 (plus minimal additional ingredients as per the instructions)!

  52. JustMe*

    LW 3 – Do you just do cake/punch any time someone *leaves* the company, or anytime someone *retires*. I could see doing something more formal for someone who is retiring because you’re not just celebrating their time at the company, but also in general all their years of work and that they are entering a new phase of life. Emphasizing that you are celebrating a retirement, rather than just having a regular going-away party, may make it a little bit easier.

  53. blueberryfields*

    If breakfast LW is unable to make organizational change (which is unfortunately not out of the realm of possibility), I’d suggest grabbing some “just add water” muffin mixes when they are on sale. Could get a couple dozen mini muffins or a dozen regular sized out of a pack and under $2 a box near me.

  54. Frankie*

    #2 – As a hiring manager I’m not worried about gaps in and of themselves, but exactly how they’re presented/hidden in the application materials. It’s big long gaps with no acknowledgement that it IS a gap (along Alison’s reasoning, I find it harder to understand their career trajectory & story with big unexplained holes), OR the other thing I’ve seen is someone puts in a bunch of contract or temp work into a band of a few years without really clarifying who they were working for, what the duration and volume was like. In the past this has ended up aligning with people exaggerating or stretching their actual work, or on the job, really bad performance issues emerging. Very different for me from something like “layoff, then had trouble finding work,” which is very reasonable, or “time away from work, then unrelated employment that’s excluded from the resume.”

    So for me, a gap in and of itself is not of concern, but the way it’s presented or hidden can be huge red flags for me now. Unfortunately some people do have trouble holding down a full-time job, and sometimes that shows up as gaps that are sort of fudged or obscured or vagued-away.

  55. Database Developer Dude*

    So…..gaps in the resume…this is why I put month and year on my resume, because I have been asked about gaps as small as one month before. One month. Yes, you read that right. I’m about to try to leave my current employer after 9 years, and if a recruiter or interviewer asks me about a gap of one month, I’m going to walk away.

    1. BellyButton*

      A month is ridiculous to ask about. At my current level the interview process alone can take several months. For my current role I started interviewing in July and started in September.

    2. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

      Seriously. At my level and in my field, gaps of six months to a year are normal.

      Yes, sometimes contracting can help bridge those gaps, but sometimes those jobs are sub-optimal, are soul crushing, or are plain “survival jobs” that have nothing to do with your actual field.

      I would rather answer “How did you keep up with your field during your most recent period of unemployment?” (Answer: Webinars and tutorials on newer technologies, plus reading various news about goings on.)

  56. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    LW 5, I agree with Alison about checking up on it to make sure it is properly removed. Expungement legally means it did not happen and is hard to get even if charges are dismissed. But you would be surprised how often systems, including online search systems and criminal background checks, still contain the expunged information.

    Also, I have seen online systems report convictions for the wrong charge, and if you get certified court documents, it can show that the case was dismissed or you were convicted on a lesser charge. These systems are not always as accurate as we think they will be.

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