applicant used mom as a reference, should I apologize for laughing at my coworker’s language slip, and more

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

1. Applicant used mom as a reference

I manage a small team that often includes Americorps volunteers. Americorps members commit a year of their time to service doing capacity-building at nonprofits or within government. They receive a stipend that is decent for our area and an education award that can be used towards student loans or future education.

Many are very recent grads or don’t have much work experience. For this reason, combined with their position as volunteers, I manage them a little differently than our regular employees; I take on more of a mentorship role and we have regular conversations around norms, expectations, and their future aspirations.

While interviewing for the next cohort, we had an applicant whose personal statement was a little wacky; they used a lot of personal, emotionally charged language to describe their desire to do the kind of work we do. The application includes a place for recent work experience and the reason for leaving each position, and theirs included a lot of disagreeing with managers over labor conditions or “leadership narcissism.” As someone who has had rough times in the nonprofit sector, I totally relate, but found the forthcoming nature of their application a little nerve-wracking.

They interviewed well, better than I anticipated, but their first and only reference with a phone number (of the two listed) turned out to be their mom. Apparently, they worked for her as part of a family business, which wasn’t included in their application or mentioned in their interview. I was so thrown I rushed through my typical reference questions. She gave a glowing reference.

For now, I’ve sent a note thanking them for interviewing and expressing that we’re interested in moving forward with their application, but I would like them to provide another reference, and I gave a list of folks who would be appropriate to ask.

I’m not sure how to proceed. Should I give them some leeway as this would only be their third role out of college and most of that work was during Covid, when there wasn’t as much chance to absorb office norms? Or is the emotionally charged language and mom simply too much to overlook for a pretty good interview?

If everything else were good, I’d be willing to overlook the mom reference for an inexperienced candidate, figuring that it reflects the applicant’s inexperience with job norms. But the judgment that led to writing “leadership narcissism” on a job application as their reason for leaving is … startling. To be clear, I’d have no issue with them writing something calm and factual like “concerns over wages and hours” or “problematic labor conditions” (although I’d ask about the latter in an interview to learn more about what they were classifying that way). But — while it’s not that “leadership narcissism” isn’t a real thing — that’s such emotionally charged language to include in this context that I’m concerned this person is going to be Quite A Lot and require too much from you in coaching, oversight, and expectation-setting.

They could end up being fine, of course. But whenever you’re hiring, you have limited data and need to extrapolate based on what you see. What I see here is someone with a much-higher-than-average likelihood that they’ll end up requiring large, unrealistic amounts of energy from you — so I’d turn to other candidates instead.

why is it bad to sound naive when applying for jobs?

And speaking of leadership narcissism…

2. Can I tell my boss I’m not considering her availability anymore?

My boss is the second-highest ranking person in our organization, and I report directly to her in a senior level position. She has a habit of demanding that meetings be scheduled with outside partners and then at the last minute (10-15 minutes before the meeting starts) texting to say she can’t make it so someone should record the meeting and she’ll watch it later.

The problem with this is that she is an extremely busy person with a packed calendar, so these meetings are always squeezed into the most inconvenient time slots to accommodate her availability, and we have to schedule weeks out. If we did not consider her schedule, we could hold these meetings much sooner and have them at times that work better for the rest of the team (think, NOT at 8:30 am on a Monday).

I’m sympathetic to how busy she is and the fact that last-minute issues do come up because of the nature of her job, but this pattern is causing a lot of irritation and loss of enthusiasm around the projects that involve her. People, myself included, think she’s being disrespectful of our time, and her reputation is taking a hit (there are other reasons for that, but this is part of it).

She does not take criticism well, so is there a polite and professional way of telling her that when she requests these meetings, I’m not going to bother looking for a time that works for her since it’s unlikely she’ll show up anyway? What can I do here?

“Because your schedule is busy, I’m finding that we’re frequently scheduling meetings at times that are difficult for the rest of the team in order to make it possible for you to attend, but then you end up not being able to join us anyway. I’m picking up on some frustration from people when they contort their schedules to be available when you can attend but then you’re not able to participate — so I’d like to begin scheduling things like X and Y at times that are easier for other attendees.”

You can also try it meeting by meeting — “There wasn’t a time that worked for everyone, and since I know you’re likely to get pulled into other things at that time anyway, I slotted it for Tuesday afternoon, because I know I can get everyone else there then.”

3. Avoiding my abusive ex at industry conferences

My ex and I work in the same niche industry. We have a similar network and it’s not uncommon for us to know the same people. Our roles are such that we both have to attend several industry conferences each year, either as a speaking engagement or to meet with customers, so my declining to attend can be tricky.

My ex was abusive, a fact that few people know or would believe. My ex is well-known in our niche field and has a reputation as being a nurturing and compassionate person. When we both attend industry gatherings, my ex will approach me when I’m speaking to mutual acquaintances to say hi and ask how I am. Others see the semi-celebrity being friendly, but I see my abuser knowing that I’m afraid.

The professional response is to say hello and make an excuse to leave the conversation. Do you have any tips on how to do that without drawing the attention of our mutual acquaintances? Is there anything else I should do?

I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. There are a lot of professionally approved responses for quickly extracting yourself from a conversation at networking events, and you could make liberal use of them. For example:

* “Excuse me, I see someone I’ve been looking for today.”
* “Excuse me, I need to take care of something.”
* “Excuse me, I’ve been meaning to find the coffee.”
* “Excuse me, I’m going to find the restroom.”
* “Excuse me, I need to talk to the host.”
* “Excuse me, I see someone trying to get my attention.”
* “I’ll leave you two to catch up — I’ve need to duck out for a minute.”

You can say any of these and then immediately exit the conversation.

4. Should I apologize for laughing at my coworker’s language slip?

I work for a nonprofit that shares a building with other nonprofits. The receptionist for one of the other agencies, Sally, sometimes pops into my workplace to share news and that sort of thing. She is delightful, good-humored, and we get along well. When Sally comes into my agency’s office area, she uses a door to which the public doesn’t have immediate access. (It’s a seldom-used stairwell.)

She popped into my agency’s office today, and when I stuck my head out to see who it was, she said “Don’t worry, it’s just me … ‘backdoor Sally.’” Then immediately she said, “That didn’t sound right!”

By the time my brain caught up to my ears, I let out a full-body laugh. She hadn’t realized the sexual overtones of her self-assigned nickname at first, then tried to back-peddle. My laugh was instinctual, and I really couldn’t help it.

I should obviously not have laughed, as funny as it was. She was totally embarrassed, and I definitely made it worse. Somewhat fortunately, I was the only one who heard the comment, and she was the only one who heard my laugh. My question now: should I apologize for my laugh outburst? Or does that just draw further attention to her embarrassing slip?

You don’t need to think about this any further at all. She said something unintentionally funny, you laughed because it was indeed funny (probably made even more so by her acknowledgement of it), and that is a normal reaction to have in those circumstances. You didn’t do anything wrong, she didn’t do anything wrong, language is funny, humans are amusingly human, and no embarrassment or apology is required on either side.

5. How do I keep cat fur off all my work clothes?

I’m hoping you can help me with a “hairy” situation. My office “uniform” is black slacks and usually a dark-colored blouse. As it happens, I have fallen in love with a person who has a long-haired, fluffy, white cat. Her fur consists mostly of these cloud-like, ethereal fibers that either float in the air with the slightest breeze or attach themself to any surface with a static cling deathgrip. “Zsa Zsa” is banned from the closet. I brush her daily. I lint roll my clothes before and after the wash. I use a chomchom roller on the furniture and bedding (love this thing). Cat hair eradication has become a second job. But still: Cat fur. Everywhere. I can’t afford to replace my wardrobe with lighter colored clothing. As a cat mom can you recommend any products, tips, or tricks you’ve found helpful keeping your work clothes (relatively) fur-free?

I have six cats and two foster cats. At this point people probably think I’m wearing a light fur garment over all my clothing. Cat fur is my second skin.

I’m happy to throw this out for suggestions from readers with a more manageable fur situation though.

{ 657 comments… read them below }

    1. Roland*

      LW5, you have to change as soon as you walk in the door. It’s the only way in my experience.

      1. Jinni*

        I mostly wear all black. At the height of pet ownership I had three cats and two dogs — none black. I had two rules:

        1. Always dress in the closet, and leave the house immediately.
        2. Change my clothes immediately after coming home.

        No hair problems ever.

        Oh, and for those years I only had leather furniture.

        1. Nopenopenope*

          This. I had two very affectionate cats, one of whom would sit/lie on me at every opportunity. I only wear black and the cats are mostly white. I had a ‘house uniform’ – shorts and a tshirt. and leather furniture, which they gleefully shredded.

          1. Nopenopenope*

            Second thought – would brushing your cat help ? One of the two would let me, the other would only take 30 seconds of it at a time.

            1. I take tea*

              They said that they brush her daily. It doesn’t really help so much with this kind of hair. Ask me how I know. (Following this thread for tips.)

              1. RussianInTexas*

                I have 3 types of brushes to brush my Floof Boys.
                The regular slicker brush to pull the long top hair and mats. The more comb-looking one, to help the slicker brush.
                And the EquiGroomer deshedding brush for the undercoat.
                That little EquiGroomer is magical.

                1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                  Thank God for Girl With The Dogs on YouTube! I have that magical little grooming tool, too.
                  (And is EXCELLENT at removing the hair that accumulated on fabric chairs!)

            2. Burning Out At Both Ends*

              i have a gray fluffy cat with similar fur to “Zsa Zsa”. Brushing usually loosens MORE fur to float until the static cling attaches it during the immediate.

              The solution I found was to get mine professionally groomed with a lion cut once or twice a year.

              1. Lenora Rose*

                One of ours, too; and it was the white cat who shed everywhere. Vaccuuming the cat was a real thing.

                We were still finding pale cat hair dust bunnies under furniture for months to years after his passing, I think.

              2. eeeek*

                My beloved Minnie (a black plushie cat, with an intimidating undercoat) loved being vacuumed. I had a special “for pets” attachment with nubs on it so it brushed/massaged while also preventing her skin from getting sucked up and causing hickies/bruises. Once a week with that and it kept most of the fur out of the air.
                I would do the same now with the white short-coat barky dog…except that she is terrified of the machine and tries to murder it.

            3. Keymaster of Gozer*

              In my experience it’s like brushing your own hair – doesn’t seem to reduce the amount of it you find all over the carpet later.

              (Also my cat will not let you brush him at all. Tried a few times, got cat acupuncture)

            4. HotSauce*

              I brush my cat twice daily, once with a Furminator. Even though he has short hair and gets brushed constantly he is a shedding machine. I even talked to the vet about it because although my previous cats shed, it was nothing like this. The vet had me switch foods and add fish oil supplement to his wet food, now his coat is silky and shiny and his skin seems nice and supple, but he still sheds like a mad demon.

              1. Cat servant*

                FYI the Furminator may not be helping—I’ve seen complaints from pet groomers that it actually cuts healthy hair, leading to more shedding. Equigroomer seems like a popular alternative for deshedding the undercoat? I mostly use a slicker brush for my short haired cat, but everyone has different preferences.

          2. zuzu*

            Microfiber furniture is the way.

            They don’t get any satisfaction from clawing it so it won’t get shredded, spills clean up easily, and hair comes off pretty darn well.

            1. nonprofit director*

              Yes, my cats shredded every sofa arm we had, until we got microfiber. They can’t easily get their nails into it, so after a few tries, they give up. Every now and then, the male still tries, but is not able to claw and the sofa arms are still perfect many years later.

        2. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

          I had to do something similar when visiting a relative who is super allergic to cats. Obviously, we really didn’t want me to bring cat hair / dander into their home. I got dressed in the basement (the only place the cats weren’t allowed to go), in clothing I had just washed, right before leaving for the airport. Worked very well, except that I brought some knit sweaters that basically had cat hair woven in at that point. We re-washed everything and I borrowed sweaters for the duration.

        3. Kim Wexler*

          +1. I would do everything in a robe/pj’s in the morning, change right before I left the house, and kept pet hair rollers/masking tape strategically stashed in my office.

          When you come home, you **immediately** change, hang back up your clothes, close the closet door. Keep pet hair rollers/masking tape strategically stashed in your house, too.

          Experience level: very affectionate gray/white cat, extremely needy red dog, rotating cast of foster kittens.

        4. RussianInTexas*

          That is all fine and dandy, but George Floof, my fluffy orange, decided he loves to sleep on top of my jeans, which are behind the only place I can hang my pants and dresses.
          So once in a while I pull out the dress and it would be completely orange on one side.
          No, I can’t keep the closet closed, that would have the cats upset. We can’t have that.

          1. Pink Candyfloss*

            We solved this with our bathroom towels in the linen closet by getting those plastic storage bins and keeping the towels in them. Cat sleeps on an older towel on top of the bin. Win/Win

            1. Marianne*

              My friend did a version of this by having a cat owned towel on top of her shelf of bath towels. I didn’t know this and grabbed the top towel and after my shower my wet body was covered in fur clumps.

          2. Linda C*

            FWIW we had a similar problem and solved it with zippered garment bags – the good clothing all goes in hanging bags.

        5. Miette*

          Yes, this is best. I also have banished my cats from my bedroom entirely (for reasons unrelated to clothing, but that’s a side benefit), but your SO may find this a non-starter. Also–you probably already do–but a lint roller at the office is always a good thing to have.

          1. Zoe*

            I tried shutting the cat out of the bedroom. It just resulted in being awoken at 1am by a cat noisily and angrily trying to break into the bedroom.
            Cats do NOT like being shut out of rooms!

      2. Nicosloanica*

        Yep, if I have an outfit I *really* need to keep nice (like, a black jacket I’m wearing to be in a wedding, to which my cat’s fine grey hair would cling like fungus) that outfit stays in a garment bag and I change into it outside the house. I don’t go to this level for everything, of course; I just accept in most cases I’m going to be kind of furry. Also, I have switched my work wardrobe to grey … then I got a long haired black and white dog.

        1. Not SueEllen*

          Seconding this! Garment bag is the way to go for storage. If you can separate your work clothes in other ways as well (don’t launder them with your hang-around-the-house clothes), even better. Lastly, changing as soon as you get home & NOT tossing them in the hamper with cat hair covered clothing will also help.

        2. BellyButton*

          Yes! Especially my wool winter coats. It is impossible to get the hair off of them. As soon as I walk in the door they go into the garment bag in the coat closet.

        3. Kiwi*

          yep, I have a black lab, a grey tabby, and a siamese-esque kitten, and our brown haired dog just passed away. there is no wardrobe color that will encompass all of them

      3. lunchtime caller*

        Agreed as someone who has success with this. I change as the last thing before I leave, don’t touch any part of the home with my body, and do the reverse as soon as I get home. I wear mainly black and navy to work and it works very well!

        1. M2RB*

          We have a fluffy cat who’s grey tabby with lots of white, and her fur is LONG. The other cat is a long-haired black cat, and she’s less of a problem than the fluff monster.

          This approach from lunchtime caller is exactly what I do. I do almost everything else to get ready to leave, then dress, check myself in the full length mirror, then walk to the kitchen to pick up my purse, lunchbox, and keys, and walk out the door. When I get home, I go in reverse: drop my purse, lunchbox, and keys in the kitchen, kiss my spouse hello, and immediately go change. I don’t sit down in my work clothes and I don’t touch the cats or any furniture until I’ve changed. The cats are closed out of our bedroom during the day, and the closet is closed overnight (when the bedroom door is open to the cats).

          I keep a lint roller at work. I check my clothes when I hang them up out of the laundry. My business suits are in garment bags in the closet (usually just the plastic bag from the dry cleaner, not any fancy garment bag).

          Good luck!

      4. Not that other person you didn't like*

        I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way. (Aliens quote, not actually suggesting harm to any cat)

      5. cleo*

        I was going to say the same thing. A Turkish Van cat (almost all white longhair cat) adopted me at a time when I had a mostly black and dark work wardrobe. Keeping the work clothes only for work was the only thing that worked. The last thing that I did before walking out the door in the morning was to put on my work clothes and the first thing I did on coming home was to take them off.

        I did also slowly add in lighter gray pants and sweaters. I had my cat for 15 years. He was a little love radiator but he was also a cat fur generator. He died almost 7 years ago and we still occasionally find his fur on things we don’t wear often.

        1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

          Our orange and white floofball cat passed away over 5 years ago and we *still* find little tumbleweeds of his fur in places we had no idea he even got into. It’s a little bittersweet when we come across it.

      6. Rainy*

        We have two cats and a dog. The only one that doesn’t shed is the dog, who is also the only animal in the house who’s all the same colour! The cats are my perfect grey-and-white angel kitty and Satan’s calico, so light or dark clothing, cat hair will show. The biggest thing is to take your work clothes off the second you get home, change into play clothes, and hang up or otherwise sequester the dirty work clothes in a place where the cats can’t lie on them (ours love the hamper). A lint roller at work and one in the car will help as well. Basically, don’t bother lint rolling until you are already out of the house.

      7. Pat*

        yes–this. Put on clean clothes for work as the last part of your morning routine and change into house clothes the moment you get home.

      8. Euphony*

        I have 2 types of clothes – work clothes and cat clothes and change as soon as I get home.

        What also really helps is not washing the two types of clothes together, emptying lint traps etc on the washing machine/dryer and being careful about what order to wash things in. This significantly reduces transfer of fur to the work clothes, particularly those really fine hairs that are impossible to lint roll.

    2. Amy*

      As a long-time cat-obsessed person, I largely have given up on keeping my clothes totally cat-hair free. I do use a sticky roller on them before heading out, and immediately change out of worn clothes when I’m at home. I keep special items in garment bags, so they don’t pick up the floating cat hair.

      1. Corelle*

        I have a fluffy dog with an undercoat, and a sticky roller is my answer to this problem. I have one at home and one at work, and a quick roll-over gets the worst of it.

        1. Fives*

          I have an orange and white cat who sheds more than any other cat I’ve had. His shed hair is either white or a nice apricot color. It shows up on whatever I’m wearing. Like you, I have a lint roller at home and at work (or in the car) for any last minute hairs that I missed. Ultimately, there’s just going to be a bit of cat hair on me sometimes.

          For the record, I used to have a black cat years and years ago, and she shed terribly too. I don’t know if black hair on light clothing is better or worse.

          1. Abogado Avocado*

            Yes, sticky lint roller and undercoat de-shedding comb are in my toolbox. However, if anyone wants to fund the development of a navy-blue cat, I totally will be happy to contribute!

          2. Annalyn*

            1) I too have an orange and white cat who sheds more than any other cat I’ve ever had. My other cat is a medium hair tortie who seems to barely shed, possibly even LESS than any cat I’ve ever had.

            2) Most of my wardrobe is black. Dealing with the fur, I rely heavily on lint rolling in the car or at work too. I’ve noticed that it’s really just in the time I put clothes on to the time I leave the house in the morning that is the danger zone, so this usually manages it for me.

    3. Mad Cat Lady*

      Agreed! I have two black cats, so I immediately take off work clothes and change into “inside clothes” when I get home… it also saves my nicer clothes from getting plucked by enthusiastic little claws. I also have blankets on my main seating areas most of the time, so I’m careful only to sit on those surfaces when the blanket is removed.

    4. Aphrodite*

      OP #5, what works on upholstered furniture and what might also well work on your clothes using a dry rubber dishwashing glove. You’ll have to hold the clothes still for this to work but rub your hand over the fur to gather it together where you take get it off in larger “sections.”

    5. Aelswitha*

      #5 A someone who had four cats, including a long-haired white and a calico and white, and wore navy blue uniform pants for years … you will always be fighting a losing battle. I kept my uniforms in dry cleaner bags when they were at home and changed at the office whenever possible, although it wasn’t always. And I went through rolls and rolls of that shiny light brown packing tape: one at work, one at home, one in the car.

    6. Clover*

      I actually did a project involving cat hair for my color theory class in fashion design school. I took the samples of hair from my patched tabby, enlarged pictures of them, determined exactly what shade they were, and identified some materials that would successfully camouflage them.

      As part of my project I made a quilt from those fabrics interspersed with fabrics not chosen for that purpose and set it out for her to sleep on. I brought it to class so folks could see the contrast.

      A solid white cat is actually going to be easier, because there’s just one color to work with.

      I’d recommend getting some clothes for home use only. Thrift store pieces are fine! And then be religious about changing out of your work clothes as soon as you’re home. It’s really the only way. Store your work clothes in separate drawers or shelves or whatever from your non-work clothes. Launder them in separate loads, using separate laundry baskets.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I love this experiment.

        My experience as staff of a black-and-white cat is that he will rub his white patches on black clothing, and his black patches on white clothing.

        More helpfully, I find that some fabrics are more cat-sticky than others. I’m wearing a jersey dress today and no hair is visible. I don’t know what LW5’s dress code is like, but what I’m wearing would be suitable for work in all but the most formal venues (I’m frequently the most formally dressed in a room).

        1. Dr.Vibrissae*

          This is my experience as well. some favorites seem to talk and hold hair much more than others. I have 2 dogs and 3 cats. I don’t keep clothes off they keep hair. Is also don’t really have a hair problem. I know LW said she can’t afford to replace her wardrobe, but I’d consider trying to replace the worst offenders if possible

        2. londonedit*

          Yep, we had a Dalmatian. Black *and* white hair everywhere! And they’re tiny little hairs that really get stuck in fabrics.

          We also had two tabby cats with fairly long hair, and we just used the sticky roller/clothes brush method before leaving the house. I also never wore nice trousers or tights in the house if I could help it, because one cat loved to sit on your lap and 99% of the time would then get a claw stuck!

        3. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Tuxedo caff staffer here and can confirm he aims for the right shade of clothing.

          The only material I’ve found that doesn’t hold cat hair is silk (not rough silk). But I can’t afford an all silk library!

        4. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

          I have a black and white cat who has two-toned hair. There is nothing it doesn’t show up on! I have just accepted it.

        5. NotAnotherManager!*

          Our last set of cats were black/gray and white, and we joked all the time that the white fur stuck to the dark clothing and the black fur stuck to the light clothing. We were marked at all times.

          I thought I was being smart this time – we have solid black/gray cats (one of whom is practically invisible in low-light, a problem I’d not foreseen), which has resulted in less obvious furriness since they match my wardrobe better.

          Other than getting cats that match your clothes, good quality lint rollers at home, in my bag, and at work are pretty much the only solution. And not leaving my laundry out for them to snuggle up in because that makes the problem exponentially worse.

      2. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

        Clover, you are my hero, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever heard!

      3. Calpurrnia*

        This is such a cool project!

        I would love to see what you could do with my calico. I have not found anything that her hair doesn’t show up on. Black, white, dark and light orange… maybe some kind of print could camouflage it, but not any solid color really. And of course, she loves to sleep in the clean laundry basket, and has a homing beacon to locate and lie on any item of clothing that I put on the floor for 0.2 seconds.

        Before I worked from home, my primary solution was finding silky fabrics that the hair could brush off somewhat easily. It would embed into knitted stuff but wasn’t as stubborn on woven fabric. And other than that, just… accepting it. I don’t recall getting comments, and I worked in Washington DC for a while, where they tend toward the conservative in professional dress.

    7. LotsO'Cats*

      LW5, I wish I had a good solution. I have almost always had at least 2 cats, and as my sibling/roomie observed when we were in university, “you’d think two smart people would get cats in sort of the same colour so some clothes would look clean”. Readers, we had a dark grey and a creamsicle-orange. Even when I had one cat, she was enough Siamese that 1/3 of her was deep deep brown and the other 2/3 was an extremely fluffy cream – and like OP, the light fluff sticks to everything like the best duct tape ever made. Even now, the tabbies include every white-grey-black gradient, with some orangey-brown “just in case”. I’ve given up and am just part cat now.

      1. Anon in Aotearoa*

        I am you, I think. We have two cats: a ginger and a tuxedo. There is not a single item of clothing in my wardrobe that can successfully camouflage all of the hair.

        1. Worldwalker*

          My Bengal doesn’t shed much, but my calico makes up for it. When I brush that cat, I feel like I get enough fur to knit a kitten. I’ve compared the colors: the white patches really do shed the most! (the black ones least, and the orange ones intermediate amounts, by the way) So I have super-fine tan hair (the Bengal’s underfur), long white, orange, and black hair, and short fuzzy underfur in all of the above colors.

          I’ve resigned myself to just being covered with cat hair. Thankfully, I work from home, and my husband’s job is internal/technical, so there’s nobody who really cares that everything in our house, including us, gets coated with cat hair within minutes of it being de-furred.

          Anything that *really* needs to be non-hairy gets taken to the destination (usually somewhere I have to actually be seen by … the horror … other human beings!) in a bag, and worked over with the sticky roller before I change into it. This happens about once a year.

          It could be worse. I used to know someone who raised Samoyeds.

          1. I take tea*

            I knew a person who had Samoyeds. She swore she had found a hair inside a boiled egg when she opened it.

            1. Thatoneoverthere*

              I believe it lol. I have a Bernese Mountain Dog and her fur is just everywhere. It follows me everywhere, I even find it at work.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          we have two tuxedo cats, a blonde dog and a grey dog. When I leave the house, I do so in skirts of a wild print of many colors – partly to hide the fur (and it’s relatively successful!) and partly because my favorite color is “paint factory explosion”. (And I live in Indiana, home of Vera Bradley, so nobody even bats an eyelash.)

      2. RussianInTexas*

        3 cats, the little old lady who is black and white cow cat, and two ginormous fluffy orange boys.
        What do you think most of my furniture is? Grey and dark blue, and my living room rug is black with pattern. I mean, those things are orange.

      3. cleo*

        we had a tuxedo cat and a fluffy longhair white cat with ginger markings. Nothing was safe.

    8. Ginger Cat Lady*

      I keep a sticky roller in my car. I remove what I can at red lights and finish after I park. You could keep one in the office, too.
      it’s a chronic issue.

      1. TCO*

        Yes, I keep a lint roller in my desk. Once I get dressed in work clothes that might show cat fur I try not to sit down on any unholstered surfaces, but it can still be in the air, on my jacket, in my car, etc. Being able to tidy up at work if needed really helps.

        Like others have said, I also try to change out of fur-catching work clothes promptly when I get home. And I also just accept that occasionally I’ll have a bit of pet fur on me despite my best efforts, and I’m sure many of my coworkers do too. It’s not always as noticeable as we think it is if we’re making a solid effort to eliminate most of it.

      2. FormerFarmGirl*

        I agree, keeping a sticky roller in the car (or.if you take public transit, put it next to your doorway) is the best thing. If you are trying to roll your clothes at.home then fur is still in the air or your pet may come and love on you again.

      3. Tiny Soprano*

        My father used to wear a black uniform when we had a white, longhaired cat, and the very old fashioned clothes brush things (that kind of look like they’re covered in carpet) were the only thing that worked to get the fine fluff out of the weave. Along with accepting that there was always going to be some degree of “looking like a lamington” that comes with black uniforms and white fluffy cats. I found bits of fluff on my clothes years after that sweet cat passed away.

        1. Bibliothecarial*

          I have a similar one from OXO, maybe? It looks like it’s made of orange carpet and is self cleaning. I don’t have cats though; it’s for my hair :(

        2. M*

          Yup, these are great, particularly used alternating with a sticky lint roller – they’ll pull out individual embedded threads better, but are less good for bulk de-fluffing. They also don’t need constant changing like a lint roller, so are more “keep in car/desk/handbag” friendly.

      4. Lily Rowan*

        And if you don’t have a roller at the office, you can use a FedEx or UPS document sleeve!

      5. morethantired*

        This is what I used to do when I had a white cat. I kept a sticky roller in my desk and would get to work a few minutes early so I could go into the bathroom or the storage closet to lint roll myself.

        The other thing that helps is keeping your work clothes in garment bags in the closet. I only do that for the things that are dry clean only, but it’s nice to know if I grab my black blazer and put it in the car still in the garment bag, it will be lint free when I get to wherever I’m going.

      6. Anon Librarian*

        Yes, sticky rollers. I have one at my desk. One in my backpack. One in… You get the idea.

    9. RedinSC*

      Bounce makes a dryer sheet that is supposed to help keep pet hair away. They got good reviews.

      1. Betty*

        I use those, and they pull the straight, short, black dog fur right out of the clothes. I bought it even though I was skeptical, but I know it works because I can see the fur that has been removed when I clean the lint screen. I assume it would work just as well with cat fur.

      2. Be Gneiss*

        They work slightly better than regular dryer sheets.
        Source: have a black & white dog, and gray and apricot cats. Nothing is safe.

      3. MadCatter*

        I have tried these and they may help with just 1 cat. I have 4, of varying colors (brown tabby, brown and white fluffy, black and white, and orange and white – so basically the entire cat color wheel) and have just accepted that I am covered in fur for the rest of my life.

        Some thing that I have found that help are static guard and then lint rolling (outside of the home if possible), lint rollers everywhere, keeping cats away from the items (perhaps you will have more luck than I here), and a damp cloth.

      4. laundryqueen*

        White vinegar will work better than any dryer sheet. Use one-third to one-half cup in the washer (depending on the size of the load) instead of fabric softener and it will loosen stray hair so it can collect in the lint trap, plus reduces static cling so you’re less likely to collect additional hair (unless a pet rubs up on you). It also helps reduce odors that can be trapped in fabric but that’s a side benefit.

      5. Princess Sparklepony*

        I thought of that too. But never used them. They are fairly new. It’s specifically for pet hair.

    10. Wannabe Expat*

      This might sound silly, but handheld vacuum or vacuum attachment. I just lay my nice clothes on a clean spot on my bed, turn it on low, and get the front and back and it works pretty well.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I thought you were going to suggest vacuuming the cat! We had a long hair black cat when I was a kid, and he LOVED getting vacuumed with the upholstery brush. Purred like crazy and gave us The Look when we stopped.

        The other two cats we had shed like crazy and hated the vacuum. We wrapped duct tape sticky side out around our hand and patted down our clothes. Worked pretty well.

        1. Random Bystander*

          When I was a teen, we had an applehead Siamese (the old style) who absolutely loved the vacuum with that upholstery brush. You’d be trying to do regular vacuuming, and he’d come running to it, and so all floor vacuuming had to be finished off with vacuuming the cat (with that upholstery brush attachment).

          These days, I don’t bother. My son keeps lint rollers in his car. He has a brown tabby, and lives upstairs from me. I have pretty much the whole cat color spectrum–I have a bold calico, two black and whites (one tuxedo, one cow pattern), a dilute tortie, a brown tabby, an orange creamsicle tabby, and my latest acquisition is a kitten who’ll be a long hair (everyone else is short haired) who is currently cream with an almost color point pattern of gray. She reminds me a lot of my daughter’s cat who was cream colored with color point gray tabby (that is, all cream colored except for where the color point pattern–legs, ears, tail–was gray tabby. Her cat still has blue eyes and the body turned from cream to golden brown as the cat grew. My kitten has blue eyes that will likely stay blue (she’s older than the typical color change), so we’ll see if she darkens as she ages. Used to have a dilute calico, but my beloved Circe died four weeks ago at age 15.5.

          We have always joked that TV (my tuxie girl) is very obliging–she will shed her white furs when you wear dark clothes, and her black furs when you wear light-colored clothing.

        2. Peon*

          Chiming in to say we also had a cat that we vacuumed. Wish my current cats would tolerate it, they shed so badly and they’re both mostly white.

    11. Leslie*

      You have clearly become this cats servant, as she intended, and now you must wear your badge with pride. If anyone notices the fur on your wonderful clothes explain that the cat is a goddess and you were clearly ment to serve her.

      Also, you can get a nice refillable lint roller handle and refills at Wawak. Do not let The Goddess know that you sometimes remove her decorations your clothing.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        The best part of this whole entry was giving the little feline overlord princess the alias of Zsa Zsa.

        XD XD XD

    12. Jackalope*

      I actually go a step further than everyone else here (I have 4 cats of varying fur colors). I ride my bike to and from work, which means that I change clothes when I get to work. That has proved most useful. So my recommendation would be: wash/dry clothes and then put them immediately in a drawer that the cat cannot get into. In the morning before going to work, pull out an outfit and put it into a plastic bag. Then change when you get to work, and again before you leave your workplace to go home, so you are never wearing the clothes at home at all. It sounds like a hassle, but it hasn’t been as bad as it seems.

      I also looked online under clothes that repel cat fur. I know you said you can’t afford to replace your wardrobe with lighter clothing so this might not be an option either, but if you can, maybe try those options when you are replacing things. Some recommended fabrics: denim, silk, chiffon, tightly woven fabrics like tightly woven cotton. Fleece on the other hand will become one with your cat fur and it will never go away. So maybe do a bit of research on that, including maybe buying a couple of things from thrift stores just to try them out.

        1. Jackalope*

          Yes, I have a drawer that the cats can’t get into. I do my laundry, fold it immediately, and then rush it to my room and put it away right away. I also have a dresser spot too high for cats to reach and I stack clothes there when getting ready in the morning, then take them downstairs right away and put them in my bike bags. So they spend very little time out where they can gather ambient cat fur, and no time where they can be touched by an actual cat. Note that I do this much only for my outside layer that needs to be fur-free; clothes that I wear at home or on weekends just get normal treatment.

      1. Tiny Soprano*

        Ooh yes, fibre content and weave are both important considerations! Synthetics (including processed cellulose fibres like rayon or tencel) hold onto cat fluff with static electricity, and can be impervious to a lint roller even if the weave is smooth. Smooth-surfaced natural-fibres tend to do best. Cottons and silks in sateen, twill, lawn and poplin weaves work well. Even though wools can hold onto cat fluff because individual wool fibres are by nature slightly crimped, a smooth weave like suiting wool will do better than a textured one like a crepe. Napped fabrics like corduroy, flannel and velvet are evil and will hold onto the fluff for eternity.

      2. WoodswomanWrites*

        Okay, I don’t have any pets, but I am nodding my head to the fleece holding on to fur or in my case, my graying hair. I never seemed to be able to remove the white hairs that inevitably showed up stuck to my fleece jacket. This actually was a work issue because I would host professional contacts in outdoor settings. I eventually found the solution–a gray fleece jacket. Success!

      3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        My division sent the management team all branded grey fleece jackets and they’re really nice! … but for my department, every single one of us who got one has at least two dogs, and yeah, the fur will never come out. (Luckily my shed-ier dog is also about the same grey as the jacket.)

    13. Looper*

      I change into my work clothes as the last thing before I leave and immediately change out when I get home. I also keep a lint roller in the car. Also, if you share a car and your partner is less concerned about hair, the drivers seat is a big transfer point, so a seat cover/towel or post-drive roller session may be helpful.

    14. Name*

      Get a lint brush. Makes a huge difference in getting pet fur off your clothes. I keep one at home, one in the purse, and one in the car.

    15. Bit o' Brit*

      I have a white dog with similarly weightless fluffy fur and the “OXO Good Grips Furlifter Garment Brush” works like magic. It’s not sticky but bristly, and the case works to get the fluff off the brush, so it’s infinitely reusable (so far at least). I keep one in my work bag and brush off in the loos when I get to work if I need it.

      I also don’t sit down on anything soft between getting dressed and leaving for work and the dog isn’t allowed on the bed (much easier with a dog than a cat, I imagine) to minimise contamination in the mornings.

      1. Bit o' Brit*

        This reads like an advert because I copied the title of the ebay listing – I promise I’m not a shill, it’s just the first thing that’s actually worked other than making several mittens out of parcel tape sticky-side-out and dabbing at my clothes, which always felt very wasteful.

      2. claritymoon*

        I second this – I have the OXO furniture brush that is basically the same (and works just fine on clothes!). My cat is black and white so whatever I’m wearing, his fur will show up, and that brush really helps, alongside general things like changing out of work clothes as soon as I get home and hanging them up, having the roomba go round the house every day, and brushing the cat when he’s on my lap during a long Teams meeting…

    16. Not Australian*

      LW5, how about changing into your work clothes *at work*, and either keeping them there or maybe in your car? It’s not going to solve the problem completely, but the less your work clothes come into contact with (a) the cat or (b) the cat’s home environment the smaller the problem, right?

      1. Ally McBeal*

        Yeah, this or changing in their garage (if they have one) was going to be my suggestions. I know a lot of people who bring a change of clothes to work for one reason or another – some keep a spare outfit in case of lunchtime accidents or a surprise Important Meeting, some bring workout clothes in a gym bag, etc.

    17. Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet!)*

      I grew up with a trio of labs in each color and am now a step-mom to a tri-colored short hair cat. I use fur catchers in the washer and dryer, and spray my clothes with static release sprays. I also use a sticky lint roller when needed. These all work to keep the cat fur to a minimum.

      Now, if anyone knows how to keep your cat from puking only in *my* shoes and never in her dad’s, let me know.

      1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

        For shoes, my cat doesn’t puke in then but he does occasionally like to grab one and rabbit-kick it to shreds. I’ve found that one of those hanging fabric things with divided cubbies for each pair keeps them out of his reach and he isn’t vindictive enough to fish them out.

    18. Cheshire Cat*

      I used to have a grey tabby and an orange tabby. Every morning I would get my clothes for the day out of the closet and lay them on my bed while I showered. And every day, one of the cats would lie down on my clothes—and of course it was always, without fail, the cat whose fur was more visible on my clothes.

      Eventually I learned to keep my clothes in the closet.

      No suggestions other than seconding a lint roller just before you walk out the door, but I do empathize!

    19. Waitstaff for cat*

      I’m going to be unhelpful here, because I became at one with the cat hair many years ago. I keep a lint roller around for my clothes if I’m going into a situation where it wouldn’t be professional to be mildly fuzzy, and otherwise don’t much worry about it. If you and the cat hit it off you may too reach this state of zen?

      I did want to address the matching-clothes-to-fur-colour option mentioned – my cat is solid black, so we bought a black couch, and even though they’re so well-matched that I sometimes have to poke the couch to ensure I’m not about to sit on cat, the fur he leaves behind is grey. I don’t know how he pulls this off – I’m assuming witchcraft.

      1. Look! A Squirrel!*

        Our mostly black Torti is the same – she has small dapples of orange as her only non-black coloring so I figured she’d be the one cat whose fur wouldn’t be so visible. Nope. Light tawny brown fur everywhere.

    20. coffee*

      I got a roomba and it’s helped a lot by removing the amount of cat fur around the house. (I used to sweep, and it didn’t help as much.)

      1. trvh*

        My roomba picks up more cat hair from my wall-to-wall than my pricey canister vacuum! Different brush, maybe, and the fact it goes over and over the same areas. I love my roomba, and I bought the cheap one at costco. But my clothes… I use the sticky rolls from Ikea as they are paper. The new Scotch sticky rolls are plastic and I don’t like them, although they do work, all that plastic…

      2. Mid*

        Yup—I have a very fluffy cat, and having good air filters (no central air here) plus a roomba helped reduce the amount of fur floating around the house and therefore how much was on my all-black clothing. And I just keep lint rollers in my home, car, purse, and office for touch ups.

      3. Mbarr*

        My cat learned how to turn on the roomba when she’s bored. This wouldn’t be bad, except that it inevitably runs over her toys and stops in an area I trip over it unexpectedly.

        The cat is so used to the roomba, that she doesn’t move when it’s bumping into her. Recently, I came home and found the roomba stuck in the kitchen. I checked underneath and discovered large tufts of fur sucked into its brushes and wheels. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    21. Kate, short for Bob*

      Artificial fibres like polyester and nylon attract the most pet hair so over time if you can move to natural fibres that will help. Viscose is a good substitute for silk.

      Once you’ve got a garment clean, rubbing the fabric with a dryer sheet will cut down its static/attraction till the next wash, though dryer sheets are overall not good for clothes or dryers.

      Damp hands can substitute for a line roller in an emergency, with the added benefit of a vigorous stretching session ;⁠-⁠)

      1. A Person*

        interesting, I find natural can be really bad – my cotton tshirts are full of cat hair.

        I find “smooth” clothing works best, especially the tops that are meant for hiking.

        …but there’s always a little cat hair.

        1. I take tea*

          It depends very much on which kind of cotton, I’ve found. I have a pair of cotton trousers that should be black, but never are and I have other clothes that are not as bad.

      2. Keyboard Jockey*

        I came here to say that the type of fabric makes a big difference! I haven’t noticed a difference between natural/polyester, but the weave makes a huge difference for me. A tight, smooth weave like a chino holds onto a lot less hair than your typical flowy dress pant weave. (Fabrics like water repellent outdoor pants hold onto even less hair, but it might be tough to find the right style for work in that.)

    22. I take tea*

      Can I just add that I really love this description: “Her fur consists mostly of these cloud-like, ethereal fibers that either float in the air with the slightest breeze or attach themself to any surface with a static cling deathgrip.”

      I can add that they tend to end up in the eyes too, and they are impossible to find there, even if you can see them everywhere else.

      1. anon24*

        I swear cats lose their entire body weight in hair every week and still have a full thick coat. I have 2 indoor only cats. I live in an apartment, and have never had a garage. I have found my cats hair *attached to the underside* of my car. (Yes it was definitely my cats, I did not hit a cat. My one cat has a very distinctive color pattern to each strand). I have completely given up on ever being hair free at this point. I consider it their way of coming with me everywhere I go.

        1. CommanderBanana*

          I have a little wire-haired terrier mix, and despite having very wispy hair and her underside being mostly adorable nakies belly, she still manages to produce enough hair to make two more of her weekly, it seems like. It truly defies logic.

      2. Jojo*

        This is why I don’t have long hair cats. My mom had an orange Maine Coon cat and his hair would get in my eye and it was impossible to get out. I would frequently find his hair in my house, even several years after he crossed the rainbow bridge. I’m pretty sure after he crossed, it became the orange tabby bridge.

        I wish I had something helpful to add, but I try to hang up my clothes when I get home form work, and that seems to be the most helpful thing.

    23. WS*

      I have a Burmese cat who has a mostly white body with dark brown mask, paws and back, so he can make hair show up anywhere (and now he is very old so a lot of the brown has grey in it too). He is very short-haired but what he does shed is very light and can fly for miles and attach to anything. I had a co-worker who was allergic and the only way not to have cat hair on me was to change at work or in the garage before coming into the house.

    24. Jules the First*

      As the mom to a small but very hairy white horse and auntie to a part-wolf northern special dog (all the colours in each strand of long, super sticky fur that wafts), I am here to tell you that this will require a multi-pronged approach. Prong one – a designated brushing location that is easy to clean and far from where you keep your work clothes. You might even consider a boiler suit or other overwear while brushing to help contain the floof. Prong two – keep work clothes as far away from the cat as possible. Depending on your level of dedication, you might even consider a laundry service that delivers to your office. An interim step would be a couple of weatherproof plastic tubs (at least one clean, one dirty) that serves as both storage and laundry baskets. Thoroughly clean the inside of the tub while the contents is in the wash. Prong three – regularly clean your washing machine and dryer, and consider a tight-weave wash bag (they make them for washing horsey gear in your home machine or for catching microplastics in the wash) to protect your work clothes from wet cat fur in the laundry. Bonus points for fur catchers in the laundry – I use both sticky gel ones and little balls covered in what I can only describe as the sticky side of velcro. If you have stuff that needs to line dry, consider an enclosed airer or drape a big sheet over the rack to protect from airborne fur. Prong four – a sticky gel roller for picking up fur off fabric and a stiff rubber bristle brush for pulling fur out of the weave and loosening it enough for the brush. Roller, brush, roller. Prong five – never wear those work clothes at home and change as close to the office as you can. Consider a seat protector for your car as well if you drive in both work clothes and cat-friendly clothes.

    25. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I have a very large black and white cat so no matter what I wear the fur shows up. I do the best I can with a lint comb (works great at getting fur out of carpet too) because even keeping clothes in the car doesn’t keep cat fluff off them.

      Firmly believe cat fur is a manifestation of quantum physics. It appears across barriers it shouldn’t be able to pass through.

    26. ARROWED!*

      Changing when I came home is the only thing that worked for me. I’m not even sure lighter clothing would help. I’m convinced cats only developed tabby coloring because every tabby hair has light and dark stripes, so they show up on every color. I would not put it past a white cat to find some way to have hair that shows up even on light colors.

    27. Atalanta*

      I have a small zoo at home (9 cats, 3 dogs and a ball python) plus a revolving number of foster kittens so I spend a lot of time de-furring my clothes before leaving the house. On office days I go straight out the door as soon as I’m dressed, it’s the only way to avoid the fur, and a lint roller will get rid of leftovers. WFH days is anything goes and as long as I’m not wearing a fur coat, it can slide.

    28. Cat Tree*

      My solution is to get dressed as the very last thing I do before going out the door. My entire morning routine is in my pajamas. Then I give my cat a big hug, quickly change into real clothes, and run out the door without touching him or sitting down on anything.

    29. Julia (the Sweet One)*

      If you haven’t already, try a Zoom Groom. It looks pretty uncomfortable, but my cat loved it. It’s great for brushing (removes AND captures hair), plus if you flip it over, the flat side is fantastic for removing errant hairs from fabric.

    30. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I have one black, one orange, and one white cat along with a once-black-now-grey dog.

      Dryer sheets are a must as they reduce the static cling, as is cleaning the lint trap every dry cycle. Heck, get a Swiffer duster to clean it out the area the trap sits in periodically. I get those sticky-tape lint rollers for at the office and will give myself a once-over when I get there in the morning if I have an important meeting. Obviously, changing into work clothes is the last thing I do before I leave for work.

      I’m never fur free, but it’s also never particularly noticeable. I also try for low-static fabrics. If you can’t change your wardrobe, you might get some milage from an anti-static spray, particularly when the air is super dry.

    31. Phosgina*

      The only thing I would add to these awesome suggestions is to try something like uproot clean. It’s similar to the lint rollers but seems to grip hairs better than the sticky.

    32. Zarniwoop*

      The fur is a sign that there is cat who tolerates you, and perhaps even likes you. This is a great honor. Wear it with pride.

      1. calonkat*

        Zarniwoop, I dunno, we had a cat whose superpower (all cats have superpowers, they just aren’t necessarily USEFUL powers) was to directionally shed. Young men from the LDS came to the screen door, and as they were talking to me, the cat directed his fur up, through a hole in the screen, and down onto the young men. They finally left and were COVERED in orange cat fur. No breeze on that hot and humid day, just a very satisfied cat.

        On the topic at hand, I’ve now got Siberians, and their fur is a lot like the newfoundland dogs I used to share a house with. Triple coat, seemingly every length and texture of fur, and it’s EVERYWHERE. I’m becoming very fond of work items with a shiny finish, as they don’t hold onto the hair…

      2. Festively Dressed Earl*

        This. Adopt a Cruella DeVille aesthetic without the cruelty. Your new fur clothing is STYLIN’.

    33. Clarabelle*

      My husband protects his show blacks from our yellow lab in this way: Keep your work clothes in a plastic (dry cleaner-style bag). You can order them online.

    34. Delta Delta*

      Zsa Zsa has been banned from the closet, which means Zsa Zsa is going to do everything in her power (which is vast) to get into the closet. Resistance is futile. Recognize that Zsa Zsa is your overlord now and you are powerless to escape.

      Other idea: as you replace your work clothes periodically, look for fabrics that aren’t apt to “trap” cat hair. I find certain materials are somehow more apt to hold on to cat hair. Look for things that are smooth. Also, brush Zsa Zsa frequently. she probably loves it and it’ll help with the cat hair clouds.

    35. Loose Socks*

      This is going to sound absolutely ridiculous, but pet vacuums exist and are amazing! I have a Great Pyrenees and I vacuum her with a pet vacuum that attaches to a dematting pet brush. There’s obviously still a lot of fur, but couple that with air purifiers that have reusable air filters (you clean them off and reuse them, they are more upfront, but you save so much in the end), the fur situation has become manageable.

    36. Cat Lady, Lint roller*

      My cat isn’t a long hair, more medium, but for myself here is what I do on occasions where I need to look my best, fur free self:

      -Dress only right before leaving. After cat cuddles, after cat feeding, after showering and other morning ablutions.
      – Lint roll myself (with really good, sticky lint rolls. I’ve found some to be only so-so.)
      – Leave house immediately!

      More general, run of the mill activities I do:

      – Take her to a groomer, especially in the spring time when she’s blowing her winter coat. (My cat just gets a good brushing. Yours might call for a lion cut.)
      -Lint roll my cat. (She loves it, I swear! I think it’s like a massage for her! Front ways and back ways, as long as I stay away from her tummy.)
      -Keep cat out of closet.
      -Keep cat out of *bedroom* when I’m not home. (Cuts her fur in my room probably the most)
      – Put towels down i her favorite spots so I can wash loose fur off surfaces more easily. (Back of the couch, foot of my bed)

    37. Snoflinga*

      I have four cats, and wear a lot of black to the office. While it’s not perfect, the best solution is having work / outside clothes and home / inside clothes. I change as soon as I walk in the door – work clothes go in the work-clothes hamper (I also wash my work clothes separately so fur doesn’t transfer that way.) In the mornings I change into work clothes right before I leave. I do keep a roller at my desk at work, but have found that not sitting around the furry house in my work clothes does a really good job of keeping them fur-free. People at work who know I have a bunch of cats have commented that I am unusually free of fur, so it must work at least a little!

    38. Meg*

      I usually just roller myself right before I’m out the door, and that does the trick, but I also find that my 2 cats fur isn’t super-duper clingy?

    39. Too Many Cats*

      I’m the OP who wrote in on whether to admit to having 5 cats at my new job.

      I’ve found that polyester blends work well for keeping cat hair to a minimum. Knits are the worst because the hairs will lodge themselves into the fibers

    40. Longtime Lurker*

      LW5- I haven’t read all the responses but I have had up to 5 cats at a time — masking tape, duct tape — wrap it around your hand and it works great. I have walked into work, directly into a bathroom stall to get the fur off.

    41. Polly Gone*

      At one point in time, I had a black cat, a very fluffy tan dog, and a gray and white cat. Any piece of furniture or clothing was guaranteed to show at least one color of fur. I could not wear black for the duration. Now that my elder tan dog and my cats have crossed the Rainbow Bridge, I have a black dog and can at least wear black again. Lint rollers by the door for last minute de-furring, and one in my desk at work, but mainly it required strategic wardrobe choices.

    42. Dust Bunny*

      Lint-roll them and put them straight into garment bags.

      My brother is horrendously allergic to one of my cats so when I visit him I wash everything I’m taking with me and then bag it up so it can’t get contaminated by dander before I get there.

    43. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      My brother has started turning his clothes inside-out when he folds them and puts them away. It doesn’t prevent the cat hair from getting on them, but it does mean it gets stuck on the inside of his shirts rather than the outside.

      (I’ve just embraced the cat hair)

    44. Legally_Brunette*

      Long-time cat mom (and dark suit-wearer) here – I’m painfully familiar with the “ethereal” whisps of magnetic, downy cat fur. In addition to the ChomChom roller, Fur Zappers for your laundry are a LIFE SAVER! Even keeping your work clothes separate won’t help if you’re washing and drying them in the same machines that see all your cat-haired clothes. These sticky little discs go in the washer, and then in the dryer with a load and they pull out all that embedded fur! They’re very inexpensive on Amazon and are a total game-changer for pet hair! Be sure to get the name brand, because the knockoffs never seen to work as well.

      1. umami*

        Thanks for this tip! I’ve been noticing a build-up of dog hair in the washer that I have to clean out whenever I wash their blankies, so I’m looking forward to trying this.

    45. don't break the ice*

      One unexpected place to look… your car! I have an all-dark clothes wardrobe, but my pets are all light haired. Even though they don’t ride in my car, it’s amazing to me how much of their fur ends up there because driving in my everyday clothes was transferring fur to the driver’s seat. I had been doing everything everyone suggested in this thread to keep my clothes pet hair free, but sitting in the car on the way to work was the last thing I needed to check. I keep a lint roller in the car now to do a wipe down on regular work days. I also have a clean sheet cover if I had to absolutely ensure a pet hair free seat on the drive to work.

    46. Teach*

      I focus on getting the hair off after I leave the house ( I take public transportation, so there’s plenty of time, but might be more difficult if you have a car that’s already be-furred. Maybe a bathroom as soon as you get to work?). Take a lint roller with you, whatever kind you’ve found works best. Duct tape is also great for this, as it is for almost anything.

    47. umami*

      I have two white dogs, and I have made my bedroom a dog-free zone so I can keep my work clothes dog hair-free. I get dressed right before walking out the door and immediately change when I get home. Works great!

    48. Student*

      When you get ready in the morning, is there something you could wear over your work clothes, then take off in the car or in the office? You need an ablative layer of clothing to absorb the cat-hair barrage, leaving the real clothing underneath safe.

      Long, light jacket, or a long shrug. Exercise pants over nice pants, or long loose socks you can cover your lower pants with. Nice shoes that you leave in the car-or-office and wear at work, with every-day shoes you change into for home.

      One of my friends created a cat-free “airlock” at the front entrance of their house by adding doors to create a deliberate little entry room. While it’s mainly to keep the cats from escaping, it is also the safest place in their home to put stuff you don’t want covered in cat hair. I know home remodeling is probably not going to work, but maybe there’s a space near one of the exits to your home that this could be implemented already.

    49. NoOneWillSeeThisComment*

      In addition to the great cat fur-fighting ideas, I recommend hanging work clothes away from non-work clothes, and (if you can afford it) professional grooming! Most groomers can use de-shedding shampoos and techniques that I promise will GREATLY reduce the amount of stray fluffs. Down side is it’s hard to find people willing to do cats, and it can be $40-$60 every 6 to 8 weeks.

    50. LadyByTheLake*

      I follow a strict work clothes quarantine. I only change into my work clothes when I am ready to leave the house, and the moment I step in the door I change out of my work clothes, put them in the closed closet or drawers, and only then is it cuddle time. I also keep a lint roller at work to catch the stray hairs that inevitably follow me wherever I go.

    51. Lady_blerd*

      This may have been said already but I keep lint rollers near the door. If it’s something important and formal, I dress at the very last second before I head out but will bring a roller with me.

    52. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

      The struggle is real. one thing I would say is if you can change right before you leave the house and/or don’t sit where the cat is likely to sit. I also use the furzapper in my laundry and it makes a huge difference.

      You can find it here

    53. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      I don’t live with any pets, so not sure if this would help: Recently, I started using a carpet rake before vacuuming and it helps grab a lot of hair out of carpets. Maybe adding a carpet rake, if the house has carpets, would reduce overall fluff?

      1. nope*

        Same thought but opposite: my cat hates being brushed, but the silicone brush with cone-shaped rakes also works great on carpet! I’ve given up brushing her, but I brush the carpet in her favorite spots and her cat trees, the vacuum. It’s amazing how well it works!

    54. CommanderBanana*

      You have my sympathy! My parents have several rescue cats, including one very friendly Norwegian forest cat whose undercoat is like glorious, gravity-defying clouds of almost invisible fuzz. She is also, of course, the first cat I’ve ever met in my life that I’m allergic to!

      It’s nearly impossible to remove her fur from surfaces. Your best bet may be to just change into something like a housedress or sweats as soon as you come inside and have those be designated inside clothes.

      1. La Triviata*

        There’s a website called Gothic Charm School, with a book of the same name. The woman who runs it has a list of Goth clothing must-haves in the book and at the top of the list are multiple lint rollers – home, office, purse, car and anywhere else you may go. She has black cats and discovered that, at Goth clubs with black light, black cat hair glows. So … lint rollers.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        And I cannot emphasize how fuzzy she is, like a Hindenburg of fuzz. Norwegians apparently have three types of hair for maximum insulation, and she has long, extravagant floofs in between her beans to act as snowshoes, plus fuzzy tufts that come out of her ears.

    55. Cat Person*

      Nothing new to add tip-wise (though I prefer the reusable lint rollers to the sticky tape kind)…just wanted to say I wish everyone could have included pictures of their furry little guys and girls…

    56. Anon-E-Mouse*

      We have three cats, all light-haired. My solutions are:

      1. Embrace charcoal grey and heather-coloured clothes instead of black or navy, where possible. Charcoal grey and heather colours already look a bit fuzzy so cat hair is less obvious.

      2. If you do wear black or navy, be on the lookout for fabrics that are less likely to retain cat hair. For example, I love the fabric used for Athleta’s Brooklyn pants and Eddie Bauer’s Travex / Horizon clothes.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        +1 my black clothes have dwindled significantly over the years, to my eternal chagrin.

    57. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Not everyone has the privilege of extra space, but I have an office and I keep my clothes in there. The animals aren’t allowed in my office. When I get home I take my work clothes off, turn them inside out and put them in the hamper. I never sit on my soft furniture in nice clothes (one leather chair and one folding chair are designated as “sit while getting ready” spaces).

      I also use both an agitator and the pet hair bounce dryer sheets others have mentioned in my laundry. The combination works great.

      And when all that inevitably fails, I always have a lint roller at work to spot clean.

    58. teensyslews*

      If you’re keeping your clothes separate from the cat but they still get fur just from the air – HEPA air filter! And if you have a forced air furnace, a filter rated for fur. We got one because we are mildly allergic to cats but the side benefit is it reduces the amount of fur in the air. Coway makes a great one.

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        This is what I was coming to recommend. If the cat sheds those ethereal, floating wisps, you can’t stop with just regular vacumming/chomchomming. Pursonally, I’ve mostly given up on the idea of not getting fur all over me, but I do try to take steps to minimize it, and to keep my house from becoming covered in a layer of fur.

        You have to change your air filters (and do it more frequently than recommended) and have something that is sucking up that fur out of the air like an extra filter. And you’re probably going to need to wash and dry all linens/duvet covers/comforters/quilts/etc. as well on a regular basis. And don’t just dust furniture/etc. with a feather duster or sweep floors with a broom–use something damp that wipes up the dust/fur so you’re not just shifting it around. That hair gets everywhere.

        The recommendations to keep your work clothes separate and in garment bags are also good.

    59. I'm A Little Teapot*

      I don’t wear black. I wear grey. So much easier to hide cat fur, and when it fades it isn’t noticeable anyway. While I understand you can’t afford to replace your wardrobe, make sure that new purchases are more compatible with fur.

      Otherwise, experiment with different brands of lint rollers. They are not all created equal. The super expensive name brand one for example I find fairly useless.

      I change as soon as I get home. I don’t put coats/sweaters on at home until just before I leave.

    60. Grumpy Biologist*

      I recently bought an Uproot Clean tool on a whim to try cleaning the couch, my clothes, etc. (disclaimer: dog fur, not cat fur, in case it makes a difference) and I have been very impressed! I find that it works better than any sticky roller I’ve ever used in my life, and the credit card-sized one is perfect for throwing into my purse and using for a last-minute de-furring of my clothes before I walk into the office. Added bonus is that it gets into the nooks and crannies of my car, where the fur also tends to accumulate (as other commenters have mentioned).

      1. CommanderBanana*

        I’ve been considering getting one of these – the larger kind for the carpet. If anyone has experience using one and would recommend it, let me know!

        1. RussianInTexas*

          I got one couple weeks ago! I already had couple of scrapers and they work well, but I wanted one I didn’t need to crawl on my floor with.
          It works as advertised. And the handheld tool too.

    61. Data Nerd*

      The only thing I can think of that LW isn’t doing is sanitizing the washer and a full cleanout of the dryer (vacuuming the vents and the lint trap, wipedown of the inside). Otherwise, as has been suggested, keep workwear in garment bags, change as close as possible to leaving the house, lint rollers everywhere . . . and good luck?

      1. BellyButton*

        Yes! I was just coming back to say this. I got a dryer vent cleaner, and OMG the amount of dog hair I pull from it is SHOCKING. I do it once a week now and it has helped greatly. I also have little velcro balls that you throw in the washing machine with your clothes that grab onto hair really well.

    62. Quite anon*

      Running over your pants with a lint roller after you leave the house is effective. Also changing immediately before you leave, and removing your clothes immediately after you get home. My cat has similar fur, although she is a CALICO, so I don’t even get the benefit of being able to wear clothes in her fur color.

    63. ParseThePotatoes*

      I know a lot of people have recommended sticky lint rollers; I would also recommend a “pick-up mitt” in combination with them.
      They’re made with a specially textured fabric – run it the rough way across your clothes, and it will pick up pet hair; run your hand across it the smooth way to remove the fur from the mitt.
      It’s a great way to extend the useful life of each line roller sheet – the first pass with the mitt grabs 95 percent of the fur, and the roller gets the rest.

    64. Catious*

      Brush your clothing- get one of the silicon cat brushes. You can spray or get it a little wet and then rub in small circles. Works for both pet hair and general lint, and you just throw away the hair and rinse the brush and it’s clean!

    65. Tio*

      I have legitimately changed in the garage and left clothes in there if they were something I was trying to get hair free.

      But for general clothes, those cotton dryer balls work well too

    66. anononon*

      Cat fur: resistance is futile.

      I have abandoned all hope, and accept that I am always carrying a small amount of my cats with me wherever I go, despite the liberal application of a sticky roller (there’s one in every room of my house, one in the office, one in the car…)

    67. Carla*

      Noticed this solution when I met my fiancée, who owned a dog but never had fur on his clothes: find a cheap dry cleaner and bring your work clothes there to be washed (not dry cleaned that would be pricey!); they usually send them back covered in plastic on the hanger, so you can transfer these to your closet and keep the plastic on until you need to use it. Double bonus: you never have to iron anything and you have half the laundry the rest of the time!

    68. Corrvin (they/them)*

      Add an accessory in light gray/neutral around your face (like a lightweight fabric scarf)– nobody cares if you have a white cat hair on your elbow, but if it’s at your neckline, that’s distracting.

      Also, lint roller in the car (or your bag/desk/not at home).

      Over time as clothes wear out you might consider going dark gray instead of black? It’s a lot less obvious, I’ve found. We have two black-and-white cats and the gray works pretty well for me.

    69. Jessica*

      Oh man, I sympathize. I have 2 Maine Coons and a fluffy shelter kitty. I run my Roomba daily AND vacuum every day with my stick vacuum, and I still see the occasional prairie-sized tumbleweed of floof roll past me.

      I have some luck with these silicone things you put in the washer and dryer that collect hair and with a Chom-Chom for getting it off furniture. But if I’m dressing up, I still have to go over my clothes with a lint brush.

      1. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        SOME people think having cat hair on your clothing is unprofessional, but I say it’s a conversation starter. If I can tell you have a cat, I will ask to see its picture, and bam! we’re friends!

    70. Bex (in computers)*

      Skimming slowly, but I’ve had animals for always and they NEVER match my wardrobe. A few tricks I’ve learned …

      1: hang slacks/shirts inside out if you can. Not only does this prevent fur from clinging but it also helps me realize how many of my clothes I don’t wear. I started doing this as I put up laundry and man, the number of clothes still hanging right side out is shameful.

      2: pet and love the animals prior to final dressing. I’ll usually give mine attention when wearing my camisole but not work shirt, so for doesn’t cling.

      3: get an air purifier – it’ll help reduce on the overall amount of cat hair in the air as well as dander.

      4: consider slightly damp wipes for Zsa Zsa – I had a very fluffy Maine coon (miss my Cooper dooper), and I found some pet wipes that were ever so slightly damp and it helped pick up a lot of his floaty hairs.

      Orrrr … if that’s too much work, go the other way! Embrace it!

      Smoosh the fur around so it looks like an intricate lace overlay for your clothes

      Hold a weekly contest to guess the amount of cat fur

      Learn fiber arts, collect the fur, make a sweater, and glory in your resourcefulness

    71. Sybil Writes*

      I agree with the idea of putting clothes on last thing before leaving and first thing when coming home. A game changer for me is having over the door hooks on bathroom/bedroom/closet doors so that I am never tempted to throw clothes on the edge of the bed or on a chair before hanging up. clothes on a flat surface are feline magnets!
      Nice seasonal robes are a worthy investment. I don’t stay in pjs until I’m ready to leave; shower, undergarments and clean robe see me through morning chores and help me not leave all of “getting ready” to last moment, just slipping on the office wear.
      Also key is lint rollers in closet, purse, office and car. A roll of wide masking tape can be an affordable alternative, if that’s an issue. Once I met a woman in the office parking lot when we had parked ‘head on’ to each other and both stepped out of our cars and used our lint rollers on the bottom edges of our black trousers. We raised our heads at the same time and laughed in recognition. We became great friends for the several years we worked together. Just saying, sometimes white fur has a silver lining!

    72. Sarah*

      Keeping a lint remover at work to grab any stray bits that evaded you before leaving home would be good. I’ve had good success with a lint brush (corduroy, gathers up the hair easily, nothing to refill). There are large two-sided ones available, as well as folding, pocket-sized ones (to keep in your car, bag, desk drawer, etc.).

      If you’re able to wear shawls at work, those can hide a multitude of cat hair sins. One for cool weather, one for hot, keep them at work, only 2 pieces of clothing to buy instead of a whole new wardrobe.

    73. Owlet101*

      I have a cat, a beagle mix, and a german shepherd dog. The GSD sheds and it shows so badly. I find that there is no “keeping the fur off” of my clothes. I keep a lint roller in my car. When I go to the office if the fur is sticking super badly I use the lint roller before heading into my building. It helps keep the fur out of my workspace.

      Since you’re still getting dressed in the house with the cat around you’re still gonna get covered in fur. The key is to get it off your clothes after you leave the house. Or at least that’s what I’ve found.

    74. SusieQ*

      I can’t offer any advice as I’ve never been in that situation, but I appreciate the question so much. I am severely allergic to cats, and sometimes being around someone with cat hair on their clothes is enough to cause an allergic reaction. (E.g. my husband’s aunt has cats and when she comes to visit, I react to the cat hair on her clothing even though her cats are hundreds of miles away.)

    75. RainyDay*

      Plenty of people have already suggested wearing your work clothes at home as little as possible, which is a solid strategy.

      If your work clothes can be folded, I highly, highly suggest weatherproof storage bins. I found garment bags to be a pain when I had my furry little diva and would store a lot of my good clothes in Ziploc WeatherShield bins. This of course is dependent on storage capacity (I had space in my closet/under my bed), but the weatherproof strip on the lid helped keep the cat hair out better than my dresser or anything hanging in my closet.

      And just….spare lint rollers. Everywhere. At my desk, in my work purse, in my office backpack. The good ones, not the cheapies – travel size lint rollers are often poor quality, just save yourself the stress and lug the big ones around.

    76. Kiwi*

      I have multiple pets and this is what I’ve done to help:
      keep lintrollers everywhere. bathroom, car, office, wherever you keep your car keys
      Bounce makes a pet fur removing dryer sheet – i swear by this thing.
      More lint rollers
      keep a jacket/sweater/whatever at work, only bring home to wash, take back to work on a plastic bag
      again, more lint rollers

    77. my tummy hurts but I’m being brave about it*

      My solution is to keep a cute pic of my dog as my desktop background and people just expect me to have hair on my clothes

      1. Our Lady of Shining Eels*

        Commission a portrait of Zsa Zsa to be displayed proudly at your desk.

        The peasants will genuflect and ask you for a token of her beautiful, ethereal fur.

    78. Retail Dragon*

      I would have recommended the Chomchom if OP hadn’t said they already use it – that thing is amazing! I also highly recommend an item called Uproot. It comes in various sizes for removing hair from clothes, furniture, and carpeting. I have the one for carpeting and it is an absolute miracle.

    79. Eukomos*

      I keep a lint roller in my desk at work and do my rolling there. If I do it at home more hair always accumulates before I escape.

    80. catscatscats*

      I had to chime in on the cat fur question. My cat has two coats and it literally wafts in the breeze outside my door when I get home. I’ve tackled cat fur from many different angles and it’s gotten a little better –

      1- stop at source. brush cat regularly. I have no less than 3 brushes but the Well & Good Large Massaging Curry Brush for Dogs, Large at Petco has longer silicone “bristles” that removes a lot of the loose undercoat that the other brushes seem to miss. The Furminator is also good at removing fur that standard brushes miss, but it’s pretty aggressive and you have to be careful when using it not to take off too much or snag the cat with the metal teeth.

      2- remove from horizontal surfaces. The Chom Chom works really well to remove fur from upholstery, bedding, and even my more durable clothes. It’s a little rough so I wouldn’t use it on finer fabrics like silk or delicate knitwear but for polyester or cotton canvas I’ve found it so much easier and quicker than other lint rollers and I like that I never have to touch the red, lint catching surface. It has a much larger lint catching surface than a typical clothing lint roller so you can cover more area faster.

      3- consider fabrics that don’t hold on to fur when clothing shopping. Certain types of polyester and cotton canvas seem to be fur magnets. Silk, viscose, and linen, much less so.

      4- store items that do hold on to fur in garment bags. Place items back in the bag immediately when you get home if you’re not going to launder it.

      5- always have a lint roller on hand, everywhere you go.

      6- no hugging cats after you get dressed or before you change when you get home.

    81. 2 Cats*

      Can you try to wear colors that match your cats? I have a black cat and a calico cat with lots of black fur and, coincidentally, my uniforms are all black, so the only hair that’s ever visible on me are a few whites hairs from my calico.

    82. Jack Straw from Wichita*

      We started using the Bounce Pet Hair & Lint Guard dryer sheets and there was a noticeable difference in how much fur our clothes retained. We still brush the cats regularly and have lint rollers stashed several places throughout the house, but the dryer sheets have really helped.

    83. The Nanny*

      I would say ideally just change in the bathroom at work (maybe wear athletic clothes for the commute if you don’t want to invite questions – many people commute in on a bike etc) if at all possible, otherwise do what others have suggested and keep work clothes separate/change immediately before leaving and immediately after coming home.

    84. Summer, RN*

      keep your work clothes in the car or some such place so they are never actually in the house. Nurses do a version of this with our work scrubs. Old scrubs off straight into dryer. Clean scrubs store in a work bag etc. then, worst case, throw something wrinkly under an iron or into a damp dryer for a couple minutes.

  1. LinZella*

    Oh goodness OP #1 — This applicant has much more life and work experience needed, maturing to grow into and be comfortable with, and just plain learning office norms to learn.

    YOU do NOT have a be the person to do this. Someone somewhere else will hire him and he’ll begin learning these tools and information.

    Maybe, if you are feeling generous (and have the time and energy), you could take him out to coffee and talk about one or two of these issues.

    1. Malarkey01*

      Oof my advice would be similar-do not hire this person. A less experienced employee using leadership narcissism language would be a pretty big red flag for me. Combined with a “wacky personal statement” and what sounds like a lot of job hopping would scare me away from anyone unless truly desperate. The reference, not from the recent jobs, would be the least of my concern but still a concern.

      If they wanted feedback mentioning the reference would be a kindness and I’d give them notes on their charges language too.

      1. ferrina*

        Yeah, the “leadership narcissism” is a red flag to me. I hadn’t heard that phrase before.

        I’d be worried that they’d see normal “prioritize the ED” expectations as narcissism rather than basic organizational hierarchy. Especially if they can’t keep it together enough to even have a reference. I’ve worked for some really crappy bosses/organizations, and still managed to keep a refence in tact. Yes, this could be a good person with bad luck, but the odds are pointing to something more.

        1. sparkle emoji*

          To me “leadership narcissism” sounds like they might be misusing the term narcissism in a way I see a lot on social media and is a personal pet peeve of mine. I agree that it could be the applicant misreading typical norms and expectations, especially when coupled with the rest of the letter.

        2. Raida*

          and it could be indicative of simply “I have great ideas and they didn’t listen!” or “I didn’t follow the code of conduct and they told me HR needed a meeting with me…” or “I should be able to set up meetings with the CEO to discuss how they are not contributing to my career progression”

          Which is not the same as leadership actually having problems.
          Especially if it’s at more than one job

      2. Lulu*

        What stuck out to me was how far this person has gotten in the hiring process with so many red flags (or beige or whatever) along the way. Having been in AmeriCorps myself and seen that type of environment, I’m concerned that LW might feel obligated to hire many (most) (all) of the applicants. Whether that’s because they’re working from a small candidate pool, or because they’ve become quite dedicated to the professional growth part of this population, I encourage them to not move forward with candidates who aren’t doing well in the process. If they’re just a little odd that’s one thing. But this person sounds like they’ll be an entitled mess to work with; all therapy speak, no accountability.

    2. Mom2ASD*

      Considering this is a program that is supposed to provide young people with work experience and teach them some professional norms, I wouldn’t eliminate the person off the bat. What I would do – if they interviewed well – would be to have a chat with them before hiring them to let them know that you would be open to hiring them on the condition that they are open to being taught professional norms. I would point out that some of their statements during the interview were concerning, but that as long as they work hard, take direction, and respond to constructive criticism, that you are willing to give them a chance. Put them on a short term contract, and extend as necessary until you are satisfied that they are going to be successful in the role / company culture.

      Unfortunately, kids who work for family businesses really have a challenge – they can’t get references from objective people, they may not have been managed well (or the same as other employees – it could have been tougher on them, too), and yet they may not have had other options.

      I speak from experience on this – my son has worked for my spouse for several years, under my spouse’s management. My son has really struggled to find other roles, but he doesn’t interview well (being on the Autism spectrum), and most people just see an awkward young man who doesn’t make eye contact easily, who sounds a bit wooden when he speaks, and who is very uncomfortable interacting with strangers (although he is getting better at scripting his way through interactions, thanks to his co-op program). I’ve raised the issue that he’s going to need independent references with my spouse, who points out that it will be difficult for anyone else in the company to be a reference, as they don’t work with our son. Also, he points out that our son can’t ask coworkers for a reference, because the coworkers work for his father. So, it’s a tough situation.

      I would hope that employers would understand and recognize that kids who work in family-owned companies, or in situations where they report to a parent/family member have limited references options, and would give them a chance.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        For me the problem wasn’t actually parent as reference–it was reference from a parent *in a role not mentioned* in the application. Add that they had no references fròm the jobs they did mention, AND that they blamed the bosses for their leaving all other roles? It’s at best a one-month trial.

        (My husband grew up working in his family’s restaurant, and both parents made a point of treating him the same as their other employees. It can be done, but it’s not always done well. I’d suggest coming up with a few new questions for applicants & parents-as-references, to tease out if their work relationship “worked”.)

        1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          > reference from a parent *in a role not mentioned* in the application

          I wonder if they did actually work for the family business, or did they “omit” this from the original application (because it didn’t happen) and then realised afterwards that they needed references and couldn’t use recent jobs for whatever reason, so the parent suggested using them as a reference and they would say the applicant had worked for the family business?!

          1. Festively Dressed Earl*

            It would be really bad if the “leadership narcissism” referred to the candidate’s mom.

        2. Snow Globe*

          And – it sounds like they didn’t even mention that the reference was their mother. If that’s the only job and it was with a parent, at least be upfront about that.

        3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          If the person had no work experience and their parent was the only reference they had, I would overlook that. I mean everyone has to start somewhere to build up references.

          But this pereson has work experiences. And seems to have encountered problems that were always someone else’s fault at every single job. That to me is a BIG SIGN.

          OP, you only have so much energy. You would use it all up on this one person, who would still probably complain, and have nothing left for anyone else you are managing. You can’t save everyone.

          1. Observer*

            But this pereson has work experiences. And seems to have encountered problems that were always someone else’s fault at every single job. That to me is a BIG SIGN.

            Yes, I agree with you. Especially along with everything…

          2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            It is reductive, but it is like someone who says that ALL their exes are X. If every ex of yours is a “manipulator”, either you keep being attracted only to people who must throw up a ton of red flags and you just ignore them all, OR you have decided that any person who cries in response to your actions (regardless of how unkind they may be) is trying to manipulate you or something. Neither of these things indicate your assessment of your relationships can be relied upon.

        4. Meep*

          I have a few friends who worked in their parents’ law/medical offices during the summers when they were teens for cheap labor. It was always the partners giving the other references. I was also part of N(J)HS so we were required to do volunteer work through middle and high school. I am a little surprised not a single one of them could be a reference. I know I used them starting out when I was getting jobs (mind you retail during high school and college). Heck, teachers and professors can also be references!

          I feel like the parent as a reference is the biggest side-eye here. Even more than “leadership naricissim.” It says this kid cannot get anyone but his mom to vouch for him.

      2. bamcheeks*

        I think the other thing is that *everyone* starts working life without a work reference — nobody’s born with one! Usually there is some job or other that takes you on the basis of a good interview, a good report from a school or college tutor, or a personal connection.

        LW, what would you do if this person had no previous work experience? Do they have a reference from college and is that giving you any more to go on?

        I like the idea to have a frank conversation with them about norm and being open to correction, though. I think that will either set you up for success, OR they’ll decide you’re an out-of-control narcissist and deselect themselves from your process.

        1. MassMatt*

          But this applicant HAS some work history; the reasons they gave for leaving their previous jobs is… worrying. Using language like “leadership narcissism” and no work references—Maybe he will grow up and get better, but I wouldn’t risk it.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Hm, I was reading it as maybe had one or two part-time, casual jobs, like fast food / hospitality, which they’d left because of conflict with managers or what they perceived as unreasonable expectations. Obviously lots of people come out of those kind of jobs with some great working experience and great references, but given the nature of the work and the typical working conditions, I wouldn’t hold it against someone if they didn’t have positive experiences or decent references from that kind of job.

            1. Lydia*

              My head canon:

              Applicant is at job. Manager says, “We don’t do it that way.” Applicant comes back with, “My mom does it this way and that’s the only way it should be done.” Conflict ensues. Applicant rage-quits firmly believing he was giving constructive criticism, but leadership narcissism prevented the manager from seeing he (and his mom) were right on how it should be done.

              1. bamcheeks*

                I mean, that’s a LOT. “Leadership wouldn’t give me the day off to go to my own graduation despite all the times I’ve come in early or worked late, and told me I was unprofessional when I quit” is also a completely plausible head canon based on the information available.

                1. Lydia*

                  It’s not what I actually think happened; it’s what I’d like to think happened as a way to enjoy the play in my head. :)

                2. Chilipepper Attitude*

                  Good point but I think the choice of “leadership narcissism” suggests a different take!

                  But should the OP help with this? Maybe interview and see if there is space to give some feedback?

                3. Gumby*

                  Sure. But the fact that there have been 3 jobs and ALL of them have had bosses bad enough that the applicant left the job? It’s far from impossible, I get that. But at a certain point you have to consider whether the problem is the applicant. They could either be very sensitive and quit easily or they could be whatever is the opposite of conflict avoidant and cause drama. OP1 is not obligated to ferret out the absolute truth of every applicant’s situation and it’s not wrong to be like “I think I’ll pass on this one because there are some warning signs that other applicants don’t have and I don’t want to chance it.”

        2. SpaceySteph*

          Yeah, this is my question also. Requiring 2 references for people who are new grads with little work experience is kind of disheartening for a lot of applicants.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            They don’t *have* to be work references, and certainly not necessarily ‘professional’ ones. I think most new grads have at least had a part time retail or food service job. But a letter from a professor, mentor, even a coach would do.

          2. ADidgeridooForYou*

            A lot of companies will give some leeway if the applicant includes someone like a volunteer coordinator, or even a professor who can vouch for their diligence and ways with which they apply themselves to their studies. A lot of times there are non-traditional references who aren’t also parents – you just have to dig a little deeper. I could be wrong, but maybe a company like Americorps – which primarily sources new grads as its workforce – would be more amenable to giving that leeway?

        3. Winter*

          But even in those cases I would still say a parent is the LAST person you use as a reference. Put a professor, a volunteer supervisor, a sports coach — any of those people would be better choices than a mom in terms of objectivity.

          1. Lydia*

            A lot of kids don’t have sports coaches or professors or whomever to act as references. Most of the kids I worked with had an aunt they worked for, or literally their first and only job was their dad’s landscaping business because during the summer that’s where they worked to help their family. It’s far more common for someone in their teens to not have a long list of people who can act as a reference for them that aren’t their family or close friends.

            1. Winter*

              Perhaps, but this applicant clearly does not seem to be in that camp based on the other information in the letter.

              1. Lydia*

                My point is the mom-as-reference is a data point, not an entire reason not to extend an offer to him. A lot of the discussion is about outright dismissing him because of that one thing when actually, that’s the least worrisome part of the whole package.

        4. Meep*

          +1 Bad work experiences aside (since it can happen), even a family friend who can vouch for their character because they watched their kid once is better than this.

        5. Rose*

          But why treat them like someone with no prior work experience when that’s not what they are, or how they framed their own experience in an interview? If they list and talk about several jobs and then don’t have a reference from any of those jobs, that’s a huge red flag.

      3. theothermadeline*

        Since this is an Americorps volunteer I don’t think OP can offer custom/shorter-but-extendable contract lengths and if they offer this slot to this person then both their organization and another volunteer who still needs but is likelier to be open to mentorship and will benefit more from it will miss out.

      4. Snow Globe*

        Although the program is designed to help people get work experience, it sounds like there are more applicants than job openings. If there are other good applicants without the problematic issues, there is no reason to feel bad about declining to hire this person. The organization is still meeting its mission.

      5. cabbagepants*

        Given that there are other candidates and this one actually already does have plenty of job experience, I don’t think it’s on LW1 to spend their valuable time and energy AND displace a better candidate in order to give this person yet another chance.

        It would be a kindness to send them a brief note about why they are being rejected, but that should be the extent of it.

      6. Observer*

        Unfortunately, kids who work for family businesses really have a challenge – they can’t get references from objective people, they may not have been managed well (or the same as other employees – it could have been tougher on them, too), and yet they may not have had other options.

        If this were the only thing, I would agree with you. But there are a number of other red flags that are not really about “workplace norms”. Like, you don’t have to work in an office to know that if you are going to provide a reference, you need to provide contact information. Or the highly charged and emotional language that the candidate is using.

        The OP clearly understands that part of their role here is mentoring. But it makes sense to try to hire people who can actually benefit from the mentoring, and who wont be a total energy sink.

        1. Lydia*

          This right here. It’s not only who the reference is, but instead it’s more about the whole package. Young people who only have worked for their families for whatever reason or didn’t participate in extracurricular activities for a whole host of reasons, can’t necessarily get those totally unbiased references everyone needs. Out of context it’s just a thing to consider. Within context, (seems to have other work experience, but can’t get a reference, language in application, wacky personal statement) having only their mother as a reference is a raised flag.

      7. Artemesia*

        Surely your husband could remedy this obvious problem by arranging a role where your son does have experience with someone independent of him — or even by arranging something with another business that a friend runs.

        And the applicant mentioned in the letter didn’t say ‘I worked in a family business for my mother and so she is the only one who can provide a reference on my work.’ Yes this would still be inappropriate, but it would show the applicant is not clueless about the problem.

        I would not hire this person, not because of the mother reference — that could just be a teachable moment for someone new to the workplace — but the other judgment fails suggest your efforts in developing new talent could better be spent on other applicants. This applicant just shouts ‘I am going to bring drama and disruption and WILL not be bossed around.’

        1. Lydia*

          I don’t want to make this a sandwich moment, but I have literally been employed to help young adults get valuable work experience. At one point I was trying to get an internship for a young guy whose whole experience was working for his dad on a four-man landscaping crew during the summer. It was him, his dad, one of his brothers, and a cousin. This was not an unusual thing for me to have to work with. For people just starting out in the workforce who are going to training programs or similar (and there are a LOT of them, so this isn’t really a sandwich situation), it’s not “inappropriate”, it is literally all they have for references. Whatever the OP’s applicant’s situation is, it would be better practice to not just outright dismiss people who use family members as references when they’re first starting out. There are other things that make the situation a hard pass for the OP and the mom-as-reference is something in context, but not the entire picture.

      8. sparkle emoji*

        I think if all the other concerns were absent, using Mom as a reference would probably be acceptable but that’s not the case here. Others have pointed out most of the issues, but one that’s glaring to me is the phrase “leadership narcissism”. Before considering hiring this candidate, I would want to hear what the candidate meant by that with specifics. Maybe it was an accurate(if overly charged) term to describe his experiences but looking at the whole of the letter I have doubts.

    3. TriviaJunkie*

      If he was otherwise very impressive, I’d be tempted to call the previous employers listed to find out their take- but that would only be partially professional interest, probably 40% just me being nosy.
      Then again from what OP described, I’m not sure I’d have interviewed them in the first place.

      1. Lisa Vanderpump*

        The former employer probably won’t give you much more than verifying the dates that the employee has been with them.

        1. Rose*

          I’m not sure why people keep saying this like it’s a universal truth. This has never been my experience in hiring.

          1. AngryOctopus*

            Large orgs often verify employment dates only when you call HR. They won’t give a work reference because they were not the person’s manager or otherwise involved in that person’s job. You have to call the actual references that worked with the person. Seems like some people call the company fishing for an “unbiased” reference, but that’s not how it works. HR can and should only confirm dates of employment (like for a background check).

            1. Lydia*

              They mostly won’t give references because they (incorrectly) believe if they give a good reference, and the employee turns out to be completely rotten, they can be sued, or if they give a bad reference, the former employee can sue. It has nothing to do with HR not knowing their work, it’s because the company almost always has a policy that forbids managers from giving anything more than work dates and/or requires them to direct all reference calls to HR.

    4. OrigCassandra*

      I smell a whole lotta gumption and knows-better-than-everybody coming off this applicant. If you move any further forward with his candidacy, maybe probe for that.

      As a graduate-level educator, I have to deal with these types occasionally. I’ve learned not to expend too much energy on the ones who won’t listen to a thing I say anyway.

        1. cabbagepants*

          The “narcissist” language is the biggest red flag. It tells me that the candidate learned social norms from the Reddit comment section. I would not want to take on the burden to righting that.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          That one still takes the biscuit. “My ideal job is one that only involves bringing innovative ideas to the table, ideas which I can in no way help to implement as I have no experience and no practical understanding of how things are accomplished. How do I find this on Monster?”

      1. Artemesia*

        This applicant simply shouts ‘I won’t be bossed around by the likes of you and you can’t teach me anything.’ spend your energy on people amenable to development.

    5. Smithy*

      With Americares – it may be worth double checking what the HR guidelines are around giving feedback. Just in case there are any guidelines in place that would prevent giving feedback post interview.

      However, if that’s not the case – that’s the course of action I’d go with. With young people new to the workplace, the combination of being both awkward and full of ego, I don’t think is uncommon. Certainly wasn’t for myself. And while it doesn’t mean the OP should take on 12 months of this, for a program designed to support on professionalism and job readiness, I do think it’s very much so within the spirit of the program to give feedback about the job application process.

      1. Lulu*

        I’m pretty sure AmeriCorps functions mostly as funder rather than employer. The individual job site has applied for funding and there are some stipulations about work conditions, but they should have discretion around interview processes and feedback.

    6. CityMouse*

      I guess this is stuff I’d expect from a 17 year old. Not a college grad. I will note I worked a few jobs in both high school and college, but it sounds like this applicant even has post college work experience.

      I mean I also once read a statement by someone who talked extensively about her mom, in a writing sample for an attorney job. People are weird.

    7. HigherEd Expat*

      Having worked with a number of AmeriCorps*VISTAs, as colleagues at my former place of employment and as community partners, the applicant’s approach does not surprise me – it is the kind of role that is probably slightly more likely to attract this type of individual. And, if OP has the capacity to mentor this student *and* any negative impacts to the work could be contained, I think they should allow the individual to continue on in the process (with appropriate references provided). Part of the AmeriCorps program is intentional personal and professional development with the other members of your cohort! The applicant may well exit their service year much improved and in line with workplace norms.

      That being said – my caveats remain! My office once interviewed an applicant who was very similar and we did *not* hire them; the person who would be supervising them simply did not have the capacity to help them grow in the ways they would have needed to! Another employee in my office would have been able to, but internal politics meant we couldn’t move them.

    8. Smithy*

      I do think that given the Americorps emphasis on mentoring, and if the guidelines allow it – I do think that it would be very much part of the spirit of the program to give feedback to the candidate after all spaces had been filled. Particularly if parts of their application were strong.

      As many people have noted, lots of young people have worked for family businesses – but to not list that on an application but then have your mom as a reference is a mistake.

      In no way do I think that the OP needs to take on a candidate that would require more mentoring time and energy than they have or who would take time away from other placed candidates. But I think having a post-interview conversation would be a good way to keep some of that mentoring spirit.

    9. Dona Florinda*

      This applicant reminds me an awful lot of an ex-boyfriend who’s only consistent job was in his parents’ company. He had left every other job he had for reasons that were always someone else’s fault, and he would return to the family business again and again.

      In my ex’s case, the problem was a combination of a complicated family dynamic (he was the golden child who shouldn’t be bothered working ‘lesser than’ jobs, so his parents disencouraged him working elsewhere) and the fact that he had a lot more leeway at the family business, so obviously he rather work there than somewhere else.

      I wouldn’t hire my ex and, by the time he was 29, nowhere else would either.

    10. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Particularly because of the nature of the program. These jobs are to help people. If this person is so caught up in her own bean counting, she will not be a good fit for the position. There are other inexperienced young people who really want to help.
      There are also inexperienced young people who don’t have a family business behind them to gain experience.
      If this were a regular business, I’d say need is not a factor. You want the best person. But 1) this person is far from the best, 2) this program IS to help people gain experience.
      Don’t give it to someone who doesn’t understand what it is, at best and doesn’t want to be there at worst.

  2. stratospherica*

    LW4: I wouldn’t worry about it – it’s funny, she acknowledged it, and she’s probably just embarrassed to have been heard.

    I actually have a similar experience – most of my work isn’t in English, and since I’m the only native English speaker in my immediate team, we’re mostly speaking the local language. I was told by my manager that we’re getting a new (male) member, so our team would no longer be all women, and I kind of instinctively said “I guess our team won’t be a girls club anymore!” (thinking of the term “boys club”), and then immediately realised that a “girls club” over here is like a hostess bar where customers (typically men) pay a bunch of money to talk to attractive women. I couldn’t say “oh no wait not that!!” fast enough, lol.

    Thankfully my manager had a chuckle and said “you mean a ladies’ club!” and nobody else was around to hear it, but it was still a little embarrassing in the moment to have said something accidentally less than appropriate.

    1. Morning Coffee*

      You are so right. I once dropped a small box and it almost landed on coworker’s nuts. I am still embarrassed about it but it IS funny story and his “don’t worry, didn’t hit anything important” was hilarious reaction. I am happy that it was never mentioned again.

      1. Cmdrshprd*

        By his nuts do you mean he had a bowl/bag of pistachios on his desk? Or was it mixed nuts?

        1. UKDancer*

          I’m assuming this is a joke but it’s hard to tell humour on the internet. So if it’s a language issue “nuts” here means balls. It’s fairly common in my part of the UK Hence why this is so funny (at least it is to me).

          1. Lydia*

            I think Cmdrshprd knows what nuts means and is feigning ignorance.

            I hope that’s the case, anyway.

      2. NotRealAnonForThis*

        In my work we have a running list of “and here is why I’m about twelve, maturity-wise, today….” and this would definitely make the list :)

    2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      We’re in the office one day a week–usually Tuesdays–and one of my group said “See you next Tuesday,” and we both immediately lost it.

        1. Donkey Hotey*

          “see you next tuesday” had become a sort of internet rebus for an anatomical expletive that is slightly more acceptable in the UK and Australia than it is in the USA.

    3. hbc*

      Someone I know was once speaking to a potential source of money and was trying to refer to “getting butts in seats” and “putting your money where your mouth is.” His brain helpfully combined the two sayings into “putting my butt where your mouth is.”

      Whether or not the person laughed was immaterial to the embarrassment, I promise you.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I hope nobody ever makes this type of mistake around me, because someone saying something like this by mistake would probably make me laugh non-stop for several hours!

      2. Myrin*

        I would die laughing if someone said that to me and wouldn’t hold it against them at all but I can totally understand the embarrassment on his side.

      3. Joielle*

        I once joined a call with a couple of VIPs (both women – this becomes relevant) and started to say “How are you guys?” but halfway through decided that “guys” wasn’t appropriate so tried to say “How are you both?” My brain helpfully combined the two and what I actually said was “How are you boys?” Nailed it.

        1. radiant*

          i almost snorted my earl grey tea up my nose reading this and trying not to laugh, thank you.

    4. Ophelia*

      oh, god, I had forgotten until just this moment that once we were developing a work plan and this (senior, generally serious, not at ALL inappropriate) guy accidentally said–instead of “let’s just knock this out”–“let’s just rub this one out” and the EFFORT IT TOOK me to keep a poker face was epic. I am still unsure to this day that he even realized what came out of his mouth in that moment.

      1. Rose*

        This reminds me of my coworker who’s first language was not English. He was always getting idioms wrong.

        One day we were having a meeting about launching product B, which he was worried was too similar to our product A. He spent the entire meeting insisting that B was going to eat out A and and we didn’t want anyone getting eaten out. My friend and I turned purple trying not to laugh so our CMO wouldn’t know we were basically 12.

        He also got into his head that crying really hard is “crying my balls out” (like eyeballs) not “crying my eyes out.”

        1. Cheese Victim*

          I used to work for an indie paper with a personals section and one of my colleagues and I were always delighted and entertained by the number of people submitting WSW ads that included “eating out” as among their interests.

        2. La Triviata*

          When I was in college (ages ago) one of the girls in my dorm had an Italian boyfriend, whose English was fine but his grasp of idioms was not. So one day he asked a friend what he should say if he got his girlfriend knocked out.

    5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      English is my first language and I laughed at “new (male) member” so yeah, it’s going to happen.

      1. stratospherica*

        Omg, I don’t know how I didn’t catch that when writing it lmao

        Honestly, I feel like speaking another language has a rite of passage where you say something unintentionally dirty (flashbacks to the time in Spanish class I said “montado un caballo”….), but unfortunately English is my native language so I have no excuse, lol

    6. UKDancer*

      I did manage to inadvertently proposition someone in a dance class.

      I was dancing tango with someone I didn’t know. He was supposed to be leading a step where he displaced my free leg with his own and it made me circle my leg behind me and rotate me backwards. I wasn’t getting the signal from him to move my leg because he was being a bit timid with his foot. So I said to him “you need to come between my legs if you want to move me.” He went bright red and looked really awkward. I couldn’t stop laughing but he obviously didn’t think it was funny and avoided me the rest of the evening.

    7. Environmental Compliance*

      I had a coworker once while completing orientation for the interns/co-ops make an epic flub.

      They were trying to go over the active shooter portion. Somewhat recently someone had accused another employee of “being strapped”, i.e. had a weapon. (This was investigated and determined to be false, fwiw.)

      What they tried to say was “we had an employee report in that someone was telling other employees they were strapped”. What came out of their mouth was “someone told us they had a strap-on.”

      My intern, who was a returning student, was laughing so hard describing this to me that they were in tears. Apparently not a single one of them burst out laughing *or* corrected the trainer.

      When I was telling this to the trainer, unbeknownst to me their boss walked in behind me as we were cackling about it, and Boss’s response was “well, I suppose that would be pretty threatening to just pull out of your pocket and wave at someone.”

  3. Tiger Snake*

    LW1 – Did you ask about the leadership narcissism in their interview at all?
    I think its totally okay and normal to dig into anything that came from the personal statement or resume.

    1. Labrat*

      I would think it would help get a picture of if the applicant just needed to learn to use less charged language or if something else is going on.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        It’s such an odd term that I would ask about it! I can’t help but wonder if they were injecting their resume full of steroids (because that is advice that is often given) and weren’t sure how to say “our managers worked on their own stuff all the time and never gave us help”.

      2. Ann. On a mouse.*

        I mean, they could have worked for Twitter up until Elon took over, in which case it would seem to be a perfectly reasonable explanation.

        1. Tiger Snake*

          Nah, with that you say you were ready for new opportunities. If you needed to poke at Elon, you’d say you didn’t agree with the direction the organisation was taking its brand as you felt it ignored what the current userbase and clients were asking for.

  4. leadership narcissism*

    This makes me think back to one of my first ever long-term jobs. I was trying to leave a temp job with an absolutely horrible boss that was not just a micromanager but actively encouraged workers to spy on each other and would call you into the office if you hid your screen from someone else (I was temping in accounting with people’s private financial info on screen!). I also found out she had a key logger and tracked every computer stroke in the company. It was a nightmare position that I left as soon as I could afford to – hence the new interview. But during that new interview, I divulged the above and I’m so glad the new boss was a gossip! It turned out to be a great job that I worked part-time at for years before going back to school full-time. I didn’t use my mom as a reference though.

    1. Cat Tree*

      You can explain those problems without using emotionally charged language like “leadership narcissism” though. If I had a candidate tell me about the financial privacy issue and explain that they were uncomfortable with that, it would make them a very strong candidate for me in an industry where data security is very important. But if it turned into a gossipy complain-fest, I’d be concerned that they don’t understand that there’s a time and place for that, but not at an interview.

      1. leadership narcissism*

        Oh, I used emotionally charged language but didn’t go as far as leadership narcissism. I’m not downplaying that new boss being a gossip but it also being a fantastic job. It was really just the two of us managing a bunch of people off site so our talks were mainly around the news and pop culture.

        1. ADidgeridooForYou*

          I think the difference is you used emotionally charged language to accurately describe the conditions you experienced and illustrate how it impacted you, whereas this person used a sort of Reddit-y buzzword that really doesn’t communicate anything (how are we defining narcissistic? Were they actually narcissistic, or just labeled that way by the applicant? Without any explanation, it’s really impossible to tell). Similar to the word gaslighting, narcissistic gets thrown around so much in the online sphere that I think a lot of people use it incorrectly.

    2. cabbagepants*

      Ok but this isn’t narcissism, and even if it were, it wouldn’t be appropriate for a job application.

      Narcissism (actual narcissism) is a mental health condition. Most likely an employee wouldn’t know a boss’s diagnosis, and even if they did, it’s neither relevant nor cool to use a diagnosis as shorthand for a pattern of behavior outside of a medical treatment context.

      1. Observer*

        , it’s neither relevant nor cool to use a diagnosis as shorthand for a pattern of behavior outside of a medical treatment context.

        Except that narcissism is also a word in the language, whose use long predates the medical diagnosis. The idea that anyone who uses that word in its *standard and commonly understood* fashion is somehow incorrect and misusing, even misbehaving, is simply incorrect.

        1. cabbagepants*

          The word has been around for a long time, but it was mostly used to mean someone vain. No one would say that they quit over a vain boss. Let’s be real — the candidate is most likely using it as shorthand for the mental health condition, because that’s how it’s most commonly used these days.

          1. Lydia*

            That…is not at all accurate, especially for a 17 year old who would 100% be using it as a way to say their former boss was self-centered.

            1. sparkle emoji*

              Using the term narcissism to vaguely gesture at NPD in an ill-informed stigmatizing way is common on social media and among many young people I know. Maybe they mean selfish, maybe they mean NPD. Either way, it’d be good for the OP to clear that up if they move forward.

        2. Cicily*

          ” The idea that anyone who uses that word in its *standard and commonly understood* fashion is somehow incorrect and misusing, even misbehaving, is simply incorrect.”

          Nope. Not necessarily. We don’t know the totality of anyone who is the subject of a letter here.

        3. sparkle emoji*

          If we assume they were using narcissism in the colloquial sense that still feels strange to me. That would mean they quit due to leadership being vain, self-centered, or selfish. Saying you left because leadership didn’t think about you enough seems naive? Precious maybe?
          They don’t have a reference from the last three jobs, they are the common denominator there. This candidate seems to be bad at understanding what’s appropriate. I can certainly imagine someone like that citing “leadership narcissism” because they actually felt their boss had NPD.

        4. lyonite*

          “My boss saw his reflection in a pool and was so transfixed by his own beauty that he stayed in that spot until he died and was transformed into a flower. This is the third consecutive job that I’ve had this happen.”

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I think there’s a substantive difference between narcissism (a behavioral trait) and narcissistic personality disorder (a mental health condition). A certain level of narcissism is healthy and beneficial, so I we shouldn’t assume that it always describes a mental health condition.

        It’s sort of like the difference between “I’m so depressed today” and clinical depression. Since the first meaning was around first, it would be a real battle to redefine it to only mean the mental health condition.

        1. cabbagepants*

          Right and the context is a job application. I wouldn’t think much better of someone saying that they quit their job because their boss was depressed.

          1. Lydia*

            Well, no, but there is still a difference between “my boss was a real Debbie Downer” and “my boss suffered from clinical depression, and it was untenable”. One denotes someone who might just be serious and kind of boring while the other is actually a clinical diagnosis. And in neither case is it something that should be included in a job application, but it’s a bit of a leap to think this young human would use “leadership narcissism” to describe their former boss being actually diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder rather than just someone he thought was self-centered and a know it all.

            1. cabbagepants*

              Maybe I’m not communicating very well.

              I see two issues with the candidate using the word “narcissist” to describe their reason for quitting. I think we agree on the first and disagree on the second.

              First, I don’t think the former boss’s mental state or personality qualities belong on a job application (it’s dirty laundry). Second, I don’t think that using a diagnostic label as shorthand for a pattern of shitty behavior is a cool thing to do in general.

  5. Labrat*

    I can’t help but wonder if Mom wasn’t suppose to admit to being Mom. That strikes me as something you don’t need work experience to know is problematic.

    Then again, common sense isn’t that common…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Also, just to combine reference disasters with the cat question: When we were going through the background checks to become foster parents (for humans), we had to give professional and personal references. When they called one of my references and wanted his thoughts about me as a potential foster parent, my reference mistakenly thought this was about cat fostering, and gave all his answers through that lens … and also got increasingly annoyed that they were asking about things like communication skills. Here is his email to me after he realized his mistake:

        1. leadership narcissism*

          I bet the interviewer was really confused about why the reference kept bringing up hairball care.

        2. Cheshire Cat*

          Ha, this reminds me of the scene from Fiddler on the Roof when Tevye goes to talk to Lazar Wolfe and they have totally different ideas of what they are discussing. :)

              1. GythaOgden*

                If it’s staircases, of course, one for going up and one for coming down.

                Now I’ll be singing If I Were A Rich Man all day. I think it’s honestly quite appropriate for this forum though!

        3. The Cosmic Avenger*

          “She knows how to keep them in line kindly but firmly. She will squirt them with a water gun when they do something wrong, and if they are behaving she will let them lick the empty tuna can from her lunch!”

        4. MsM*

          I admire your reference’s ability to remain positive and informative even when deeply confused.

        5. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          This also combines with the — I laughed at my coworker’s language slip. It’s an all purpose response.

        6. Artemesia*

          That is hilarious Did you become a foster parent? We did this years ago and it was incredibly challenging but also very rewarding.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes! Fostered teenagers all last year. We’ve been paused since my mom got sick since I want to be available to her but then plan to resume. (Well, I *think* we plan to resume; I am grappling with how I feel about being part of a system that I’ve come to believe does more harm than good to kids in many cases. Not sure where I’ll end up landing on that; I’m having a hard time sorting through it.)

            1. Sunshine Gremlin*

              I don’t want to derail this thread, but I definitely want to second Myrin’s request!

        7. Jiminy Cricket*

          “Communication skills? You mean like, ‘pspspspsp’ or more like ‘Who’s a little baby? Who? Who?'”

      2. Observer*

        Um. What do you even say to that? And the comments are even more out there.

        I’d love to believe that you just have extremely imaginative commenters. But I’m afraid, that those stories are actually true.

        But, thanks for the call out. It certainly was a diversion. Which I did need.

    1. Kaiko*

      I am curious how people who work in family businesses are supposed to handle this. One of my first jobs was in my uncle’s restaurant, but we have different last names so reference-checkers never clocked it. (I was also fifteen, so it was quickly supplanted by non-family reference options.) My cousin, on the other hand, has worked in the business for over a decade and his dad is definitely his boss, now semi-partner. How would that get handled at the reference-check stage?

      1. Recommended By Mommy*

        It would solely depend on the prospective employer. I spent several years working in my parents’ business, followed by a year in a minimum wage job. When I applied to my current employer, I put my mother as a reference but also explained to the interviewer why I had no other option. Somehow, I still got the job and am still with the same employer, several promotions later. Either they were smart enough to recognize my reality or maybe they were just desperate. Regardless, it was a win for at least one of us.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          I think you just have to be upfront about it. “I’ve worked for the family business for 10 years, so my main references from managers would be from X family member(s).” You could offer to provide a peer reference if that will help, just to get someone unrelated. But I do think places will understand that some people get jobs with family and therefore end up with family as their manager.

      2. Boof*

        At the very least somewhere the reference should mention that they are also family so the interviewer isn’t surprised/blindsided/wondering if it was trying to slide by on the DL. And ideally some statement as to why they still wanted to list them as a reference (“this has been my main job”), ideally at least one other reference of some sort (an unrelated coworker, a boss at a place worked briefly, maybe even a teacher if there’s still nothing IDK) etc etc

      3. Malarkey01*

        Be upfront and explain the situation. Provide their role as well so they understand why you are giving THIS particular contact(my aunt was the head of HR so she’s best or grandmother was the CEO). Offer to provide other non related references that you traditionally wouldn’t (Brad was a coworker or Tanya is a customer or vendor that could provide additional context). For me the farther out you can get in the relationship the better (uncle would be better than dad for example).

        I always take References with the context they’re presented too (I’ve had people that worked one job for 20 years and things didn’t end well not their fault and so we found alternatives for their references since the professional ones weren’t going to be fair).

      4. fhqwhgads*

        The best case scenario is there is someone employed there who isn’t a family member, and even if that person is not your actual boss, has some sort of supervisory role, or at least worked with you enough to be a valid reference. Then you explain that your actual boss isn’t a reference as it’s a family business and your relative. If there isn’t any non-family in the business at all, you list it anyway but with an explanation that it’s a family business and thus any references from there are relatives. You don’t let the caller find out during the call, because they may choose not to bother calling that reference in that context.

  6. Pyjamas*

    Can the kitty get a lion cut? Mine has one — mainly bc he has long very thick fur that mats. He still sheds but it’s seems more manageable. Also no mats and he looks adorable

    1. Arthenonyma*

      … I have to say I would not be happy if my partner suggest I should shave my cat to keep hair off their clothes!

      1. Jaunty Banana Hat I*

        Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend putting a cat through that unless they have a problem with matting. We have had 2 long haired cats–one hated being brushed, but we could shave/trim him ourselves, so he got a somewhat pixelated-looking lion cut every May because otherwise he’d matt. The other matts even more easily, but she LOVES being brushed, and she would absolutely be traumatized if we tried to give her a lion cut. So she just gets brushed every single day, and if she still manages to matt, we clip/trim it out.

        It’s definitely worth doing if your cat refuses to be brushed and/or matts easily, but otherwise…

    2. Miki*

      Ha, my cat just got her Lion cut on Friday! I did booties but kept her tail as it (didn’t want to do the poof at the end of the tail)
      She looks funny, but I love not having her hair float all around my place (silky, thin, grey long strands of it). Had to do it mainly because she hates being brushed.
      Still vacuuming (robot) 2 a day and deep clean with regular vacuum weekly.

  7. learnedthehardway*

    OP#3 – I’m so sorry you experienced this and that your ex continues to try to upset you / assert dominance at conferences.

    Considering he’s your ex, and presumably people in your industry are aware of this, I think you would be fine to be civil but distant, and to politely but promptly excuse yourself from conversations when he shows up. It’s totally professional for you to do this, and eventually, the rest of the industry is going to get the message that you want nothing to do with him, without you saying a word.

    1. Wombats and Tequila*

      OP had said that “my ex will approach me when I’m speaking to mutual acquaintances to say hi and ask how I am…” It sounds like Ex might be deliberately interrupting conversations as part of disrupting OP’s networking. Obviously, exiting the conversation is a reasonable choice, particularly since it seems that Ex’s presence is very triggering, but that strikes me as a shame, especially since Ex is intruding. I’m wondering how feasible it would be for OP to say the kind of things that are recommended for people who are getting interrupted and talked over, such as talking louder and not letting Ex get a word in, or, less confrontationally, saying something like, “Excuse me” or “Excuse me, I want to hear what Wilberforce was saying,” or “Excuse me, I’m saying something.”

      I’m also wondering if OP might want to look into therapy for CPTSD so that running in Ex is less scary and triggering.

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        This. Ex is still trying to abuse OP by trying to isolate them. Why should OP always be the one to have to leave? Is there no way to indicate that Ex is not welcome?

        1. SJJ*

          EXACTLY! He gets to “win” again if they leave. They also end up losing out on a full networking experience. Must be so aggravating.

          OP#3: Have you thought about a restraining order due to the abuse?

          1. Paulina*

            Restraining orders often cut both ways — the people involved are both expected to avoid each other. Requiring anyone significant in a field to avoid conferences would be a big disruption, and if they’re at the same event but just have to keep apart then the ex can hog colleagues to keep OP away.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Yes, this is an excellent point that I hadn’t considered before. OP, if you want to go this route you might practice saying these things in a completely emotionless tone of voice so that when you need to say them you can without getting upset. A therapist, as Wombats recommended, could possibly help you with that.

      3. Paulina*

        I noticed that too — yes OP asked for how to gracefully exit, but it’s a shame if they have to. Ex is bullying them out of networking. Maybe they could try putting it off — “I’m doing well, let’s catch up later!” and focus back on who they were originally talking to.

      4. jasmine*

        “Excuse me” works for getting interrupted, but if ex is showing up while OP and another person are speaking but waits his turn to speak, saying “excuse me” is going to come off as cold for those who don’t know OP’s history. You can’t exclude people from conversations at conferences and look professional.

        I wonder if there’s another script that can be used in this situation so OP isn’t the one who has to go? But I’m not sure.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      OP, sorry to hear you have to deal with this situation and interact professionally with your abusive ex.

      Learnedthehardway is spot on about people eventually getting the message. No small talk required, you just excuse yourself immediately.

      1. LW3*

        Thanks for commenting that “No small talk required, you just excuse yourself immediately.”

      2. She of Many Hats*

        Basically, to reinforce the message he’s unwelcome, as soon as he inserts himself into your conversations, don’t even acknowledge him – no hellos, nothing, just excuse yourself to the person you were conversing with before he slithered over to bother you. A subtle, small back toward him while doing so, even better. Picture “Pride & Prejudice” manners.

    3. LW3*

      Thanks for commenting. Few people in the industry are aware of the relationship. My ex is in an executive position, and I was middle management at the same place of employment, so they insisted on secrecy.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Your ex insisted on secrecy as executive over you? I’m glad they’re ex. And in my opinion they lost the right to that secrecy by being abusive.

        If you’re ever asked why/whether you’re avoiding that person, I’d suggest a bland “we dated a few times, and it wasn’t an easy split.” (You just wouldn’t say WHEN you went on those dates.)

        Although on second thought, you’re avoiding pronouns and if I read between the lines, that might out one or both of you. In which case I retract the suggestion and offer additional sympathy.

          1. Boof*

            Yes this! It’s one thing to be private/not gush about a relationship at work, it’s another thing entirely to actively hide it; huge red flag if someone wants to keep a relationship secret, plus disrespectful to their partner.

          2. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Totally! That’s one of the many calling cards of abusive partners, ugh. OP, I’d wager a guess that your ex might have been less than friendly (understatement) to other people in your industry and, while you definitely don’t have to come right out and tell everyone that they’re your ex, if you mention that you have had bad experiences with them in the past you might find you have some colleagues who have also had bad experiences with them. And even if you don’t want to tell anyone else any of this (totally valid!) maybe even just telling yourself that there are others who know how awful your ex is will be a comfort to you.

            But as to how to deal with the ex directly, the advice from Alison and other commenters is spot on. Just walk away. Ex deserves no more from you than that.

        1. Nebula*

          Seconding this. You’re not working together anymore, so it seems like there’s no reason to keep it a secret, barring something like outing as above. People will understand. But I suspect no one has noticed/will notice anyway, and you’re fine to just gently extract yourself as per Alison’s suggestions. This is – understandably – a very upsetting situation for you, and sometimes when we’re in those situations it can feel like everyone knows or everyone is noticing, but mostly people are wrapped up in themselves and don’t give it a second thought.

        2. Delta Delta*

          I read “they” in that comment as the company? Wait – this is a little confusing.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            OP3 has neither divulged their own gender or the gender of the ex, so “they” seems to be intended as a person’s pronoun.

            A Company that becomes aware of a relationship across a power differential and whose response is to insist on secrecy, not a careful separation of duties and accountability, would be toxic in so many ways, but would not be relevant to a story about the ex inserting themselves into the OP’s conference experience – where the ex’s insistence on secrecy is part of the hold they are keeping over OP now.

            OP3, this is an awful situation, and I am sure your ex has convinced you that if you divulge to anyone for any reason, it will come across badly for you. But if it came out to me that an executive – of any gender – was in a relationship with a middle manager – of any gender – AND was still horning in on their conversations in public settings when they clearly do not want to talk, it is not the former middle manager who comes across badly.

            1. LW3*

              Thank you for commenting. There are two reasons why I have not publicly discussed our relationship. One reason is that my ex has enough influence in our niche industry that they could harm my career. My ex has strong bonds across the industry with well placed people. The other reason why I haven’t said anything is that the one time I approached my former place of employment with my experiences, my ex portrayed me as the jealous and troublesome ex who wouldn’t move on.

              1. Boof*

                :( And the former place of employment didn’t take bother to evaluate further whether the higher up was abusing their power? That sucks. You probably know your folks best but I hope the world is changing and, idk, looking sus FIRST at the person with the most org power in the situation.

        3. Dona Florinda*

          Right, if there’s no risk of outing either of you and anyone asks, you could just say that you used to be envolved but not anymore, and leave at that. Most people will understand why someone wouldn’t want to be too close to their ex, even if they don’t know the context OP provided.

          And, as someone else said, if your ex keeps pushing in front of other people, it will be pretty clear to outsiders who is the unreasonable one, and it’s not you.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Even if you want to maintain that secret for them (I don’t think you’re obliged to at all), it’s still extremely reasonable that you politely excuse yourself from or persistently avoid someone from an old company. I don’t care how nice or compassionate he presents himself, it would be extremely odd if he tried to keep you around if you made clear you wanted to go. People are allowed free movement at conferences and there’s no reason at all why you should be best friends with an executive from your old company. Exes don’t get visitation rights of you when you break up and the expectation of an old colleague is even less.

        1. LW3*

          Thank you for commenting that “Exes don’t get visitation rights of you when you break up”

          1. Ellis Bell*

            It’s from a wise friend! It helped me a lot with an ex who definitely would have pulled the same shit as yours if we had worked in the same field and had to be the same events. He was very entitled, very sure of his right to my time and attention, and I was so used to looking at things through his lens that it did feel weird to deny him that time and attention.

      3. Tg33*

        Would “We used to be close, but any more.” work as an explanation if you absolutely have to give one? I wouldn’t automaticly explain anything though.

        1. LW3*

          Thank you for commenting. This is a helpful response I will use.

          I may say “leadership narcissism” if pressed for more details.

          1. Gathering Moss*

            Oh dear, that shouldn’t have made me snort as hard as it did. LW3, I’m so sorry you’re going through this; you deserve better, and you deserve to be able to move on in peace,

      4. Lily Rowan*

        Ugh, I hate all of this for you. But you can definitely still just nope right out of the conversation. That happens enough at conferences for all kinds of reasons that if you don’t want people to know it’s personal to your ex, they might not realize.

      5. Boof*

        Is there any reason to still keep it a secret? Like, for yourself, forget about ex. If ex is routinely pushing you out of convos they weren’t involved with, it’s tempting to find a way to push back on that. I’m not quite sure of the right script but I hate to see you always having to leave whenever they show up, as you say it seems like a perpetuation of the abuse.
        — what happens if you stay, do they say a few words and move on, or linger/dominate?
        — do you have a good friend/coworker/colleague who you can share what’s going on and back you up / join the convo whenever ex starts in and maybe redirect them or at least give you moral support?

        1. LW3*

          Thank you for commenting. If I stay, my ex will linger/dominate. I do have a trusted friend who knows about the situation, but my friend is more passive and not the type to redirect in the moment. My friend is more likely to provide emotional support afterwards.

          1. Boof*

            Oof, well that is so crappy and I’m sorry you’re going through it. I don’t know what chains of command look like now, one thought would be to loop in your manager and again, have someone more assertive be a conference buddy and push your ex back out.
            The other way would be maybe to actually make it clear they are your ex, like say “sorry [Fergus], it’s a little distracting to have your ex hovering while I talk with the lovely [so and so], can you give me some space?” literally where the person you’re chatting with can hear it – IDK maybe others can chime in if that’s a terrible idea or have other scripts

    4. Anon today*

      Op3- I’m sorry. Having organized industry events in the past, see if you feel comfortable talking to event organizers (when needed) about making sure you aren’t seated at the same banquet table or have exhibit booths next to each other, situations that are harder to move away from. You don’t have to give details but a simple “due to a personal past I would prefer not to be seated near X” might help. If they are professional event organizers, it won’t be the first time they have heard it.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Seconded. I want all the attendees at the events I organise to feel comfortable and safe. So if there’s a chance you’ll both be at an invite-only dinner or similar, please tell the organisers about it. No need to use the words “personal past” or to explain, just say “If X person will be there and there is assigned seating, please seat me away from them.” If they have previously done events with assigned seating, they have definitely had this type of request before, so don’t worry about asking!

      2. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Completely agree with this as a possible option.

        I work in an industry where there have been just a couple of family fallouts (not even romantic ones, but brothers who can no longer be in the same room without all heck breaking loose due to squabbling and leaving family businesses) and organizers don’t appear to have blinked about that.

      3. LW3*

        Thank you for commenting. I haven’t talked to event organizers about the situation, because my ex has strong connections to the organizations behind the events. I’d trust the events team to help, but I don’t want to risk my ex hearing about what I did.

    5. Falling Diphthong*

      I agree with civil plus distant, and excusing yourself immediately. As a bystander I’m not going to think anything of that unless he pushes or pursues, in which case I’m very clear who’s making this awkward. (It does sound like he has enough self awareness to aim to keep things smooth in public.)

    6. Abogado Avocado*

      OP#3, I, too, am sorry you’re dealing with this. I also endorse the scripts that Alison has recommended here, with one addition: when you use one of those lines, exit by cutting in front of your ex and (inadvertantly, of course) stomping on his toe with the heel of your shoe. Of course, you will apologize for this as you rush off, but the stomp will cause him to associate you with pain. And as long as that’s not his kink, that pain just might keep him from seeking you out at these conferences.

      1. Dragon_Dreamer*

        Assuming he wasn’t the physically abusive type who might try to sabotage OP and/or track them down to retaliate later.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        This is the sort of advice that sounds good in a comment thread and terrible in practice.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        He’s not a begonia, or a poorly behaved guinea pig. The stomp will read as “Aha, I’ve gotten her to engage with me!!!!”

    7. Artemesia*

      ‘cordial stranger’ is the way to go. ‘Oh how nice to see you; pivot to ‘there is someone I need to catch up with. Great talking to you all, catch you later.’ And glide off. the main image to project is indifferent politeness — not that he is running you off, but that you vaguely remember him but don’t have much to say.

      If he doesn’t get the joy of watching you squirm maybe he will cool it and in any case you will be cool and collected.

      1. LW3*

        Thank you for commenting and sharing the image of indifferent politeness and giving an example. It’s very helpful and I will practice this before the next conference.

    8. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      OP, do you have a person you trust at these conferences with you? A couple of variations; someone who will see them start to walk towards you and cut them off to talk about something giving you time to wrap up your conversation with the person you are with; having them come over when they see them approach you and either ask you for assistance so that you need to exit the conversation or have that person start engaging ex so you can talk to the person you were talking to, or have that person bet your ‘fall guy’ where you look at your watch and say something along the lines of ‘sorry, I told Rachael I’d meet her at 9:30 to check in on how things are going’ and then step away. Good thing about the last one, or really any of the excusing yourself and leaving one, is that if ex has some star power, the person you were talking to probably is interested in talking to ex, so it probably will not stick in the other person’s mind at all.
      Also an option, ‘doing great, thanks. Sorry, no time to catch up right now as I’m talking to Bob. Bob, you were saying?’ and try to angle yourself so that you block ex out of the conversation and you’re looking more at Bob. And if Bob says something like ‘oh, no you can talk to ex’ you can say something like ‘thanks, but we can catch up later, I am more interested in your take on project x (or whatever you were talking about).’

  8. Pennyworth*

    My mother had the cat fur problem, fortunately long after she left paid employment. We got used to seeing her dark blue clothes covered in white fur, but occasionally she worried about it until we suggested dying the cat to match her wardrobe.

    1. Artemesia*

      The only thing that works is to keep your clothes sequestered, not let the cat in the area where they are and you change (we are mildly allergic but inherited the cats from our dead son — so we keep them out of our bedroom; this now requires toddler locks on the door as the smarter cat can open doors and drawers and cupboard). then immediately change clothes when you get home and are around the cats. Have a casual wardrobe that is compatible with the color of your cat fur.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Our experience – which we will totally swear to on a stack of books! – is that cats always shed white, except sometimes they shed black. Or the reverse, for some cats. Regardless of the color the cat appears to have, too!

        (We have noticed that some fabrics hold onto cat hair more than others. Those garments don’t stick around.)

  9. Uncomfy Truth*

    In response to LW#1:

    While interviewing for the next cohort, we had an applicant whose personal statement was a little wacky; they used a lot of personal, emotionally charged language to describe their desire to do the kind of work we do.

    As someone who spent years and years in non-profits and government, this approach may be classified as being against corporate norms, but these sectors are not the same as the corporate space. We need people who are passionate about their work, or it won’t get done properly, and staff won’t stay long: they’ll leave to hunt bigger paychecks. n my experience, this is often the type of person who’s a really great fit!

    The application includes a place for recent work experience and the reason for leaving each position, and theirs included a lot of disagreeing with managers over labor conditions or “leadership narcissism.” As someone who has had rough times in the nonprofit sector, I totally relate, but found the forthcoming nature of their application a little nerve-wracking.

    With the greatest of respect, I’d advise you to remove the “reason for leaving” field from your applications, especially if it’s currently marked as required. It is a question like “please explain this gap in your resume”: it is irrelevant and none of a potential employer’s business, and runs the risk of triggering anyone who has left a job and/or a gap in their resume due to trauma. It’s a good way to lose strong candidates, and you will also basically never get a really honest answer to this question: we all know that there are toxic managers and employers, and that a majority of workers quit due to bad managers, but despite this, the idea that any fault always lies with workers, and that employers and managers should always be given the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the right thing at all times, remains persistent, perhaps thanks to the power imbalance between employers and workers.

    I’m a Gen Y who graduated straight into the GFC, and we were told to be thankful for any job we could get, no matter how bad it was or how badly we were treated, so I’m thrilled that Gen Z are refusing to put up with bad behaviour from employers and managers. If they keep this up, they will truly change the workplace for the better for all of us, which will be big wins for society and the economy.

    It’s hard for me to talk about, but as someone who has been diagnosed with PTSD thanks to what I was subjected to in two different toxic workplaces, and now have poor health because of it, I applaud this applicant for calling out employers and managers on bad behaviour. We need to stop thinking, “wow, what did that worker do wrong to get fired?” and start thinking, “wow, what did that employer/manager do that set that worker up for failure from the start?”

    1. GythaOgden*

      You know, people can become managers as they rise up their career paths. I didn’t see my sister grow horns and a tail after she became head of her department as a school teacher. And additionally there have been times recently when management has stepped in to stop their direct reports trying to get us receptionists to do things that we’re not equipped to do and not paid directly by the tenant orgs who lease space in our building to do. So from my perspective, management stopped us from being exploited by clueless workers being jerks to us.

      It’s almost like we’re all human beings trying to do different kinds of jobs with the same general goals as each other. Fancy that.

      1. Joron Twiner*

        We have the same general goals, but more often we have conflicting goals. The employer wants to get the most out of their workers and make lots of money for the company. The employee wants to do a good job and get the most money for themselves. Higher salaries and more worker rights mean less money and less flexibility for employers.

        Yes managers are inherently humans but they often have different interests and goals to workers.

    2. Ferret*

      The prioritisation of passion over professionalism and the assumption that “the mission” can overcome bad pay and working practices is one of the reasons that this area is so rife with abuse and bad experiences.

      I also disagree that the reasons for leaving a previous job are irrelevant, and that you will never get an honest answer. Your experiences sound terrible I think you are overcorrecting. Alison lays out several ways that the candidate could have noted issues with management or pay in more appropriate language and it isn’t wrong to be concerned by the applicant’s phrasing and want to probe further.

      I might be biased myself because in the last few years I’ve seen narcissism become another one of those words that the internet takes and overuses until it becomes meaningless (see also: introvert, gaslight, Karen), as well as plenty of people who should really look in a mirror before using it, so I have no faith that its use actually tells you anything useful without further investigation

    3. Kelly*

      I completely agree. I don’t have great references for bosses from my last two jobs because they were toxic waste dumps of only the owner and a few employees. I was called a traitor by the staff for quitting the last one. When asked why I left my previous job/industry I do have a pat answer to give that I’ve developed over time. Sounds like this young person needs to refine that and/or stop asking. I literally have nightmares 5 years after leaving (tried to find a therapist, but the only one taking patients in my area and my insurance told me to “get over it.”) but I can’t exactly say that to a prospective employer.

      1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

        I think it is good to have a “bland answer”, but I don’t think it is wrong to have a slightly more critical one–especially if it helps explain the appeal of the new role. Like pointing out that the small size of the team lead to some toxic behavior becoming normalized, which really hurt morale…which is why you are really excited about Company X and it’s large staff with lots of room of growth as well as their commitment to a healthy work place dynamic.

        Like, you are allowed to have negative things to say, but it is really best to find a way to imply “It is unfortunate, but sometimes you get a bad apple” rather than “Most managers are abusive monsters.”

    4. Heather*

      “Reason for leaving” is important though; sometimes it’s “I got fired because I stole from the cash register.” Perhaps it doesn’t need to be on the printed application, but it does need to be discussed at some point.

      On the rest— your assertion that wacky, emotionally charged statements are appropriate, and that “leadership narcissism” is a reasonable thing to cite… we will have to agree to disagree.

      1. Lisa Vanderpump*

        No one who was fired for stealing is going to say they were fired for stealing.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I’m pretty sure some people have come right out and said that.

          Also, they have used the person who fired them for stealing as a reference, to the great surprise of that person. (Past letter for that one.)

          1. bamcheeks*

            But all that means is that it eliminates candidates who are both dishonest AND clueless, not the ones who are dishonest but not-clueless.

            1. Ellis Bell*

              You’ve got to start the elimination process somewhere. It’s one less phonecall to check out the past of the clueless candidate.

            2. GythaOgden*

              I think it’s also trying to address the idea that anyone who has left an organisation or been fired was running away from a bad boss, or was a victim of management tyranny. Stealing from an employer was an example of where the employee is obviously in the wrong and meant to refute Uncomfy’s pretty strange view of how work worlds function.

        2. Heather*

          And also— “I’ve gotten a string of jobs and left all of them, or were fired from all of them, because they were all toxic” is also a red flag. In some cases, the applicant IS the problem. It isn’t always management/leadership that are bad.

          1. GythaOgden*

            Yup. As a counterpoint to Uncomfy, both times I was sacked it was because I was terrible at the job. The first bad fit was in Poland when all I could get as an expat was ESL teaching (I wasn’t out there on any kind of employment programme with a British company — it was a study trip that I wanted to extend indefinitely, basically like a relative spent a long time in Italy), and I’m not a good teacher — but legally speaking I was restricted in what jobs I could do and this was prior to EU accession.

            The second time, about a year later in the UK, I was sacked because my neurodivergence was starting to show itself and my boss couldn’t get any work out of me at all because I was continually in blind panic about something exceedingly trivial. Her words, and I quote, were ‘I’m so sorry for you, but I need someone here who can do the job’. We were a two-woman fundraising outfit of a larger charity based on the other side of the Irish Sea, and I got the help I needed but not on the charity’s books.

            I did have a little bit of wariness when I went back to work in 2014 but have thrived in a supportive but fairly hierarchical environment. I’m thinking of quitting right now or at least taking a LoA that the company would give me, but that’s because of my own health not being great rather than mismanagement.

            In my case, the managers as people are almost too nice — there’s a lack of direction and focus that has left us coasting for too long. It’s almost like at school — the nice teachers were also ineffective at actually teaching, and most of us agreed that although we loved the jolly German teacher to bits, he was far too easy to distract by asking him to tell us German jokes or sets of vocabulary (pets, food, directions etc) rather than putting down the basics of grammar so we could actually, you know, learn how to speak in German. We agreed that we actually learned more substantial language skills in French from a stricter teacher. To be quite frank, given my studies centre on Eastern Europe, it would have been more useful to go on with German at GCSE rather than French (and my classmate had Czech relatives who at that time — 1992-94 — hadn’t yet had much exposure to English media but had learned German), but by the time I was choosing GCSEs my German was not good enough to go forward with.

            And how many times here have we said that managers who give too much benefit of the doubt to poor workers are also driving off good people?

            So good management is a balance between firmness and fairness. You want approachable, responsible managers but you don’t want people who are pushovers. The work still has to get done or the money — and hence everything else — dries up. Sometimes the worker just is the one at fault.

        3. Ana Gram*

          Oh, they do. I’m always a little surprised but I’ve been in hiring for nearly a decade and people have admitted to some interesting stuff. But I appreciate the honesty!

        4. Observer*

          No one who was fired for stealing is going to say they were fired for stealing.

          Some do. Whether directly or indirectly – sometimes they will tell you about something that they think is ok, but when you look it it, it’s clear that the applicant is / was the problem.

          But also, the way people talk about past jobs is telling. Especially when there is a pattern across multiple jobs.

        5. Ampersand*

          I’ve encountered two interviewees who admitted to stealing from their former employers. It does happen! And it’s very hard to keep a straight face when someone admits to something as obviously wrong as theft during an interview.

      2. Good Enough For Government Work*

        All my ‘reasons for leaving’ are simply ‘Left for new role’ (with said new role being the next job listed). Doesn’t seem to have hurt me so far…

        1. Just another person*

          I’ve been doing this too for almost 20 years, and it hasn’t hurt me either.

          For the current role I put “currently employed in this role” because, well, I haven’t left yet.

          No one has ever called me out on it.

          1. Moo*

            Also it can actually be helpful in explaining short roles – like it was a secondment, a temp contract, a maternity cover etc that ended for perfectly normal and expected reasons

      3. Tupac Coachella*

        I started to think “does it matter if it’s printed or asked?” but you’re right, it kind of does. On application forms, my “reason for leaving” is almost always some bland version of “accepted another position.” In person, I’m much more willing to be at least somewhat real about why I was looking in the first place. It’s totally relevant if someone left because they didn’t thrive in a certain culture or clash with certain management styles, but it puts the candidate at a huge disadvantage if they try to say that in a line or two with no context, inflection, or opportunity to clarify. A LOT of reviewers are going to default to the least charitable interpretation. Asking in the interview is much more likely to get at information that’s actually useful.

    5. Malarkey01*

      I respectfully disagree as someone with years on various non profit boards charged with overseeing staffing and hiring. The largest issue I’ve had with non profits are those that don’t observe professional norms in the service of their passion for the mission. That’s where you get toxic workplaces, workplace chaos, and honestly some of the behavior that non profits are notorious for and lead to dysfunctional environments of were family or but I serve the people so anything goes.

      Yes you need balance with those invested to be there, but unprofessional is unprofessional no matter what industry and it’s always bad for the org, for the others working there, and for. The mission.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yes absolutely. One of the criteria we evaluate candidates on is “commitment” to the nonprofit sector, but not passion. We want to know that they understand we work in a mission-driven sector and that there are many tradeoffs there-in. People rarely survive the business just being there to cash a paycheck. But we don’t need blind passion, vigor, or self-sacrificing enthusiasm. There’s a difference. This application would be a red flag for me.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Put more succinctly: the work is difficult, we need to make sure the workplace isn’t.

        2. bamcheeks*

          Yes, there’s a real tension for me between Uncomfy Truth’s belief in “passion” and their cheering on Gen Z for “refusing to put up with bad behaviour from employers and managers”. I’m quite OK with there being a bit of a pay sacrifice for working in mission-driven environments, but there shouldn’t be a quality-of-working-conditions sacrifice, and it’s usually “passion” that allows dysfunction to set in and be perpetuated.

          That said, with new graduates, it’s very difficult to tell what’s “passionate language but good boundaries” and “passionate language and poor boundaries”: when you’re talking about junior employers it’s really on the employer to set the expectation of what they can and should expect.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        As another non-profit professional, I totally agree!

        It’s still a job and workplace. Many of the professional norms are in place to make the workplace a pleasant place for everyone and helps avoid burnout.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! And given the work many nonprofits do and how high stakes around around their missions, I’d argue it’s *more* important that they be run with rigorous hiring and management practices.

      4. Falling Diphthong*

        I’m pretty sure all of the furious emailers in the 11:00 letter would characterize themselves as having passion for the mission.

    6. MsM*

      As a fellow nonprofit professional, I think someone who’s spent enough time in the sector to be in a position to hire candidates can distinguish between passionate for the mission in a way that will make someone an effective advocate with stakeholders, and something that sends up cautionary flags as to whether they’re capable of pivoting to a different approach when needed, or setting aside personal feelings if that comes into conflict with the need to make a practical compromise.

      In terms of “you’ll never get an honest answer to ‘reason for leaving'”…well, seems like OP did. And I do think how people choose to finesse their explanation can be helpful. Even if they just say “it wasn’t a good fit,” at least I know they know that’s an appropriate way to handle the question, and we can move on to something more informative.

    7. Smithy*

      I’ve never applied for Americorps – but I’m fairly sure it’s a US Federal government program? So while the individual placements are done with specific nonprofits, it may be that the overall application is not something the OP has control over?

      If memory serves right, it’s essentially Peace Corps for the US and is a bit of a public service option for recent graduates as much as it is growing the nonprofit sector staffing pipeline. All to say, the OP is being both kind and just in taking on these placements that the OP has the bandwidth to mentor fully while giving them fulfilling placements. Taking on a candidate who would require more time than the OP has to give, or time that would take away from other Americorps participants is unfair to all.

      1. Former VISTA*

        VISTA (one of the programs under AmeriCorps) is essentially the equivalent of Peace Corps domestically – and you’re right, it’s a question that can’t be removed.

    8. Former VISTA*

      It’s been a while since I’ve seen it but if I remember right, the standard AmeriCorps application that volunteers HAVE to fill out includes that question so it can’t be removed.

    9. Observer*

      I’d advise you to remove the “reason for leaving” field from your applications, especially if it’s currently marked as required. ~~snip~~ it is irrelevant and none of a potential employer’s business

      Totally disagree. The reality is that this information is extremely useful. In fact, in this case, it’s giving the OP some really useful information. If a person has had multiple jobs and in *every* job, there was such a problem with the job that the applicant had to leave, it’s almost certain that the person has an issue. The overwrought and fact free description of what happened is also useful information.

      we all know that there are toxic managers and employers, and that a majority of workers quit due to bad managers, but despite this, the idea that any fault always lies with workers, and that employers and managers should always be given the benefit of the doubt that they are doing the right thing at all times, remains persistent,

      Which is not really relevant here. The OP is clear that they understand that there are bad managers. But even there, there are ways to describe it that make sense and others that are problematic.

      Problematic: “Boss was a jerk and a creep.”
      Still problematic but a bit better: “Boss was a gossip.”
      Good way: “Boss often discussed client financial data in public places.”

    10. Happy meal with extra happy*

      The place to call out and/or address crappy employers isn’t on the application for a new employer. The most realistic result is that you’re going to find it harder to get a job with a good employer. This isn’t a case where Gen Z is sticking it to the man.

      1. sparkle emoji*

        Exactly, the interviewer presumably doesn’t know your old boss so they can’t tell whether “leadership narcissism” or “boss is a jerk” are true or if you’re just bad-mouthing someone who’s not there.

    11. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I’m not in non-profit exactly, but I am in a caring profession (see user name) and I’m afraid I have to disagree on passion. If I interviewed for a teaching job now, I wouldn’t have anywhere near the unbridled passion for education that newbie Schoolmarm did… but I’m also a much better teacher. I spent years having people (who haven’t set foot in an actual classroom for 15+ years) tell me “well, it’s for the kids” and either implying or outright saying that if any of my students failed, I was a failure as a teacher. That narrative wears away at you really fast. After too many trips home from school crying because the approach that the pd givers said was a surefire 100% guaranteed way to student brilliance just crashed and burned, l finally realized that if I was going to survive at all I had to take a big step back. If I had continued down my passion path, I would have been just another teacher who burned out over the pandemic. I can do more good as a balanced teacher with boundaries, even if that doesn’t look like “passion”,

      I’ll also point out that when I was in the throws of my passion years, I was a lot more likely to set things up as heroes and villains. I was much more likely to see my principal the school district and sometimes parents as monsters who stand in the way of educational utopia. Stepping back has made me a lot more zen about different view points… most of the time!

  10. Paul Pearson*


    I mean I have had some colossally bad and downright vindictive and cruel managers in my time so I sympathise with the sentiment but ye gods I would run a mile from an application that mentions “leadership narcissism”. That’s a colossal lack of judgement: she might as well print her cv on red paper

    1. AngryOctopus*

      Especially someone so young! If someone with 25 years of work experience cited “leadership narcissism”, I might raise my eyebrows at the phrasing, but I’d also still want to interview them and find out the exact issue. Someone who has been working for that long is often able to spot bad leadership and bail before it becomes an issue for them. Someone just starting out citing it? Leads me to think “oh, did leadership assign them duties they didn’t want/like? They sound like A Lot already”.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        If I’m honest with myself I’d want to interview them too, but more out of curiosity than anything else. If they said “leadership challenges” or anything less…accusatory? I’d be less concerned. Narcissism is just such a loaded word to apply in this context. Especially on a professional document. Especially in a small field. This is biased to my experience but I’ve never applied to a non-profit job where SOMEONE on the hiring committee didn’t know SOMEONE at my old job(s).

        The lack of judgment and forethought is a screaming red flag for me. I think that would be true if they were more senior as well – simply because they should know better. Saying something less than stellar about old leadership in an interview or once you start? Sure, that happens and may be relevant. Plus tone can be in play. In writing, on first contact? Ehhhh.

    2. Prospect Gone Bad*

      And you’d probably be able to write about these past managers in a few different ways, beyond falling back on tired internet buzz words! That’s what annoys me the most. I watched one “narcissistic parent” video on youtube, and as you know, you then get flooded – and I went further down the rabbit hole, and found that the term “narcissist” can mean anything the person wants or nothing at all. I know it has a dictionary definition, but the internet has worn the meaning away from the word. So if it appears in a job application, I would be thinking “this person may not even know why they are angry” or “they fall for every trend and buzz”

      1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        Yeah, the over generalization/dilution of terms is a (not new) problem. Narcissism has a clinical definition, beyond it’s dictionary definition. Us (general us, as in the species) throwing the term around is…not helpful.

  11. Alexander Graham Yell*

    LW4, on a call with a coworker yesterday, he made a joke about me finally showing up to work (I was on vacation last week). I said, “Yeah, I figured I should finally come.” He laughed and barked, “PHRASING!”, and I could barely stop giggling before we let the client into the call.

    I really hope your coworker went home and laughed about it, because we’ve all said stuff like this and not thought things through all the way, and naming herself that without thinking about the implications (and then it hitting her moments later) is genuinely hilarious. Not worth bringing up again, and I think your reaction of a quick laugh and then dropping it is right, but I really hope she can see the humour in it ASAP.

    1. Mega-anonymous*

      My classic during a college art project: “Does anyone know where we can get felt around here?”

      1. pally*

        When my lab tech called out, my boss emailed the other lab techs to say, “Pally is short today. Please see her for assignments. Thank you!”

        My response: “Actually boss, at 5′ 2″ I’m short every day. And thank you for sending this!”

        As my boss walked through the lab, he asked me out loud, “Are you free?” All heads bobbed up when they heard that. To which I responded, “Well, no. But always reasonable!” Everyone laughed.

        1. Fives*

          This reminds me of an exchange from the Man from UNCLE:
          Napoleon: Illya, are you free?
          Illya: No man is free who works for a living. But I’m available.

        2. Lenora Rose*

          My best was a visual one.

          Someone was going to be out of the office for the morning due to being in late the evening before. During the late time, they found out our main printer had crashed, so they finished their printing on another machine… and decided to leave me a note.

          Which lives on my desk at home to this day:

          “Lenora not working. Use other one!”

      2. Nonny Mouse*

        If we’re sharing office bloopers:
        “Does anyone know how to get it on?” loudly asked by the owner’s PA when she couldn’t find the power switch on the printer.

    2. EAM*

      I used to work in a field where I was always in a set uniform or in a wetsuit. One day walking through the building (usually left through a quicker back exit) to leave for Happy Hour in normal clothes and I cross paths with the executive director and a guest of his and he says, “EAM! I’m not used to seeing you in clothes!” It was an amusing moment for all.

      1. Gumby*

        This is me with any number of people that I know primarily through gymnastics. I imagine other sports are similar.

        But also, back in the day before things were fully digitized there was a person who sat next to the judge and either flipped number cards or used little lever tabs to show a score and would then hold it up and slowly spin it so the crowd could see what each routine scored. This is becoming increasingly uncommon but you can still see it in some lower level meets. That was called flashing. Another job would be physically taking a slip of paper with the score on it to either another judge or the head table after each routine. That was known as running.

        Usually the people doing this at, say, college gymnastics meets were younger gymnasts from the area. So I may have once answered an inquiry into my weekend plans in junior high with “I am volunteering at a meet at UCLA. Hopefully I am flashing.”

        As an aside, I looked it up to see what the score-shower things were called and apparently it is something like “4 Digit Hand Held Score Flasher” and the one I saw was *way* overpriced for what it was.

    3. Nebula*

      I’d love a whole post devoted to these type of moments, there are some really great ones here in the comments.

      1. Alexander Graham Yell*

        I also used to work a customer service job where I had to give reference numbers that were a letter + number combo. I didn’t have the NATO phonetic alphabet memorized back then, and one day I kept using names. Names of people I knew, famous names, whatever. Anything to break up the tedium.

        I had an uncle named Richard. Did he go by Richard? Of course not. Rich? Nope. Ricky? Also no.

        Guess what name I used for “D”?

        Yeah. That got a laugh out of my team AND my team lead when that call was picked for review. Whoops?

      2. AnonORama*

        My colleague stood up after a meeting and said “gotta go, places to go and people to do!” Either people to see or things to do would’ve been fine! Thankfully only I caught it, as far as I know.

        I’ve shared this one before, but I once told a coworker who worked in our donation bay and always wore shorts, “Hey, I’ve never seen you with pants on!”

    4. Juicebox Hero*

      Department store example: sometimes merchandise came to the floor still in boxes and we had to unpack and hang it ourselves, and sometimes it was brought up already on hangers on a rolling rack. One time a coworker put away some stuff from a rolling rack, and a guy from the next department had to unpack some.

      So he yelled across the store, “Hey Courtney! Can I grab your rack when you’re done with it?”

    5. PhyllisB*

      I was temping at a radio station once, when someone came in to the office manager’s office and said, “I need some sugar!!” I, not thinking this through, puckered my lips and made kissy noises. Everyone cracked up, but I realized later that really could have landed wrong.
      FYI: To those not familiar with the term, I need/want some sugar is a way some southerners ask a small child for a kiss.

    6. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I have on several occasions helped out with tie-dying – summer camp, art class, etc. “Let me know when you’re ready to dye” or similar phrases inevitably come up and then we all giggle through the rest of the process.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I worked at a shoe repair, and when I was going to dye shoes, the existing color needs to be stripped off first. So I would announce to my co-workers that I was going to strip and dye.

        But I also still remember my high school graduation, where a speaker was referring to our dismal football team, but pointed out that at least “we had good athletic supporters.”

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          That last one was on purpose, of course.

          When I was in high school (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and went disco dancing in silver rollerskates) there were posters up saying “Even if you aren’t an athlete, you can still be an athletic supporter”. (It was extra funny to teen-aged me because it sounded SO old-fashioned. Surely even old people knew those things were called jock straps? I had not yet learned that even some words can be considered inappropriate in some settings, even without being swears.)

    7. Office Chinchilla*

      A few coworkers and I all played Pokemon Go and “friended” each other in the game. During lunch break (I often ate at my desk, which was in the main office area) one of my coworkers came over to ask if we wanted to trade in the game, since lucky trades had just been introduced. (Every few trades you’d get a “lucky” Pokemon that had better stats and a little graphic saying it was lucky.) We completed the trade and I then had to stop him from excitedly yelling to another coworker that “we both just got lucky!”

  12. Caitlin Henderson*

    I don’t have cats but my friend swears by those disposable plastic gloves that were everywhere during lockdown. She demonstrated to me on one of her sofa cushions (that looked clean to me) and the amount of hair scooped up was amazing!

  13. Zelda*

    LW3, I’m sorry you are in this boat. For conferences where you are just an attendee, I think in practice the best you can do is just excuse yourself as suggested. But for conferences where you are a speaker, I think the organizers owe you safety that you are in a better position to advocate for.
    Ideally, before the conference you would email your contact saying something like “I just wanted to discuss safety and security for my talk. You may not know, but John Smith is actually my ex. There are on-going issues and while I want to be discreet, I would prefer if you could keep him from attending my talk. What security measures and policies do you have in place?”
    This doesn’t give away details, but it still suggests the situation is serious. A good organizer would read between the lines and work with you. However, you know your industry and the people best and if you think this might not go over well (that it will be viewed as you causing problems or that the organizer would use it as gossip fodder), then there is nothing wrong with choosing to protect your professional image and sticking with excusing yourself on an as-needed basis. And please do view “keeping abusive ex from having access to me” as a security issues even if it is “only” emotional/ psychological abuse he is able to perpetrate by coming up to you at conferences. You deserve to be free from all forms of abuse in your professional enviornment.

    1. Nicosloanica*

      Or, if they say they can’t prevent him from attending the talk, ask about ways to make sure he can’t approach you afterwards, which should be much easier for them to handle. I don’t know how likely he is to join the Q&A or how you could handle that – you might ask to be the person selecting who is called upon, rather than having a host do that part? This is really tough OP. You probably can’t keep this a secret from everyone and also successfully engage other is helping you deal with him safely, unfortunately. But he did this, not you.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        Many large events (including mine) now have attendee codes of conduct, which all attendees, staff and vendors are told about in advance. Our code specifically prohibits harassment, unwelcome physical contact and sustained aggressive questioning, among other things. (We only allow 1 person per question, no follow-ups and definitely no monologues posing as a question.) All event staff know that any attendee violating the code of conduct needs to be immediately bought to the attention of me or my boss so that we can take appropriate action.

        So if you’re invited to speak at an event, ask if they have a code of conduct, ask to see a copy of it if they do and then disclose that someone who may violate the code for the purposes of harassing you may try to attend your talk. The organisers may either (preferably) decide to have extra security on hand and to tell your ex in advance that he can’t attend your talk, or they may wimp out and say that they technically can’t stop him attending your talk but will remove him if he does anything inappropriate.

        I would advise you not to speak at any event that doesn’t both have AND enforce a code of conduct, and which doesn’t take your safety seriously (taking the route of wimping out). If I had this situation at one of my events, I would hire additional security and I would assign a staff person to make sure that your ex didn’t come near you before or after the talk.

  14. PurplePhoenix*

    OP3 – As someone who has been in a similar situation, I cannot imagine what you are going through. I make these as possibilities or general options–but they also suck.

    1) Depending on your structure–tell your boss or HR or someone in that capacity. I don’t mean necessarily getting into the details–even if its something where “So-and-so is my ex and it ended badly. I prefer to keep no contact with them but they come up to me during these events sometimes and it makes me uncomfortable. I am just sharing this with you ahead of time so you know I am not trying to be cold or dismissive to possible networking connection (or however it may fit)” — It may also be helpful for your confidence here to have a recent connection you spoke with and liked and can talk about. (Just based off what was submitted, this can be switched to presentations, article reviews, or whatever else). This can be in general before a new conference or after a recent one so you know your workplace understands that there is more to the story.

    2) If you would be comfortable, share something similar with someone who knows you, knew you two together, or a coworker who goes to these things–again, doesn’t have to be all the details but something where they know you’d prefer to keep your distance (heck, in this case I’d say even a white lie is ok) but I have found its helpful to know that someone is there on your side.

    This parts for us–it won’t be just you. They’re almost always charming (Alison’s previous recommendation “The Gift of Fear”) and while individuals may not have the background and details that you do–some will notice or believe something may be off with him and just don’t know exactly what it is. Also unfortunately, while not with him, there will be others in the room that have been where you are and understand.

    And whatever the outcomes–keep moving forward xo

  15. The answer is (probably) 42*

    LW3: Alison’s advice for getting out of public situations with your ex is spot on, but I’d be concerned that it would lead to him attempting to corner you alone at some later point. Do you have a couple of trusted colleagues that you could discreetly fill in (in broad strokes if not in detail) so they can keep an eye out for you? And make sure that you are never alone somewhere that might be secluded enough to get cornered in? I may be being overly cautious, but it sounds like he’s already trying to publicly intimidate you and weaponize the professional environment against you, you’d know best whether he’d escalate beyond that or not.

    I wish you all the safety and peace in the world!

  16. Beth Jacobs*

    With Americorps, you get what you pay for. The maximum stipend is 18k a year, which means $ 9 an hour.

    1. What even*

      And that’s if you are in a ridiculously high cost of living area. AmeriCorps members qualify for food stamps wherever they live. I did two years of service back in the day, and to say I was poor is not even remotely close to how I was living.

    2. fueled by coffee*

      Yeah, I lol-ed at the “decent stipend for the area” bit. When I did americorps, they talked about signing up for food stamps during our orientation as though it was a benefit of the job.

      Same thing with the education award – mine technically brought my income up from 17K to 23K, but like… any other entry-level, post-college job could probably have matched that (especially when you convert the stipend to an hourly rate, which fell below minimum wage. So fun!).

      I don’t regret doing americorps, but because of the pay you’re going to be stuck with either new grads from upper-middle-class families taking a gap year before law school or people who don’t have many options.

      1. A Simple Narwhal*

        I laughed too! A good friend of mine did americorps after graduating college and the only way she could was because she was able to live at home and be supported by her parents.

      2. Silver Robin*

        I laughed about that decent pay comment too. I did AmeriCorps VISTA ~8 years ago. I remember watching one of the onboarding videos and near the end they talk about the pay being low on purpose so we could “better understand the communities you serve” or some nonsense like that. I get that the folks AmeriCorps folks work with are poor, but being paid a poverty wage for a year is not actually going to teach someone who does not already know anything about being poor (me, I was that someone; though I did learn how infuriating it is to be disqualified for food stamps over the $2k in my savings account). It was so obviously tone deaf and such an obvious attempt to just underpay folks, I barely took any of the rest of it AmeriCorps admin seriously.

        1. Silver Robin*

          for context, I calculated my pay to be ~$5.50/hr then. Not even close it federal minimum wage (yes yes we were volunteers on a stipend. still)

      3. Firecat*

        Plus the education award is taxed at a 1099 level and you can’t use any of the fund to actually pay the taxes.

        Yeah it was nice getting $10k for 2 years of service to make a dent in student loans. The award covered about 1/6th of my spouses student loans, but we had to come up with $2K+ out of thin air to pay those taxes when we were both making only $30k per year combined in a high COL area. So even the “award” comes with a downside and there is a time limit on spending. For us it was 5 years so even if we had waited it still would have meant owing a huge tax bill outside the reality of our income.

    3. Boss Scaggs*

      That’s not fair to the young people who are doing these sorts of programs. Just because they’re not paid well doesn’t mean they’re not valuable!

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        Apologies, I didn’t mean it as a slight to the participants but rather the OP who seems to have champagne taste on a beer budget. If OP wants a proffessional, they need to pay for one.

        1. A Simple Narwhal*

          FWIW I didn’t take your words as a diss against the people in the programs, it came across as exactly that – OP having champagne tastes on a beer budget.

          People in americorps are incredibly valuable but also incredibly underpaid. And when you have a job that is hard but doesn’t pay a lot, you’re probably going to have a limited talent pool to pull from.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s hardly champagne tastes to be concerned about the issues she described. And if she has other candidates that she’d be happy to hire, clearly her tastes aren’t out of sync with her budget!

    4. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      I disagre.

      Americorps is a volunteer program and workplace can have reasonable standards for everyone involved, from employees to volunteers to clients. Equating pay to professionalism is problematic, as in all cases, it’s fellow human people who are negatively impacted by poor behavior.

  17. takeachip*

    Lw3, does the conference have a code of conduct? It’s typical these days. This is the type of situation a code of conduct is meant to address; you shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable or intimidated while participating. Check the conference website to see if there is a code of conduct and how you can request assistance or report harassment/unwanted contact. If there isn’t one published, you could still contact the conference organizers about the situation. You wouldn’t need to mention names at first to get a sense of how they might respond.

    1. JustaTech*

      I’m starting to get a bit distressed that none of the conferences (major scientific conferences by reputable organizations) I’ve been to in the past few years/ am going to this year have had any kind of code of conduct.

      Like, if my local comic conventions put on by volunteers can do it, why not the big professional events?

      1. takeachip*

        Yeah, that’s concerning. In my field it is a solid norm so I guess I assumed it was everywhere. At this point it seems like the organizers would ahve to be consciously choosing not to have one, since it’s not at all a new thing. Which naturally leads a person to wonder why they’d make such a choice . . .

        1. JustaTech*

          Given that the field isn’t notorious for poor behavior (it’s not entertainment, for example), it does seem a little weird.
          And it’s not all conferences put on by one company – it’s two different companies and a professional society.
          I can kind of sort of see why the one I’m going to next might not choose to have a code of conduct because it’s a conference for more senior folks, so the organizers might be concerned that the attendees would be offended that people of their standing need to be told how to behave (although we’ve had plenty of stories here about how it is more likely to be the senior people who engage in abusive/harassing conduct).
          But now I want to check some of the major society conferences and see if any of them have codes of conduct, because it would be very weird for a whole major sector of the economy to just not do them if everyone else *does*.

  18. Falling Diphthong*

    LW1: Ouch.

    I can totally see the narcissistic leadership as something that in your head sounds like “I am a bold truthteller who tells it like it is.” And when read by a prospective employer, lands as “I have encountered a problem pretty common in this field and not figured out how to deal with it, nor how to describe it in a way that doesn’t make people think ‘Well the common factor here is you.'”

  19. The Cosmic Avenger*

    I can’t be the only one who, on first glance, saw “applicant used mom as a reference, should I apologize for laughing” as one letter! LOL

  20. Nicosloanica*

    Number two – whoo, major flashbacks. My boss was notorious for requesting meetings, then bailing on them last minute (often a few minutes after they were supposed to start, natch!) and leaving you, the junior person on the call, to handle the fallout. She would also say she’d catch up by the notes. There’s not a whole ton you can do about this, but in my experience the other people in the meeting do understand it’s not your fault. If you know it’s pretty likely to happen, you can also go into every meeting understanding that you may be leading it.

    1. No Yelling on the Bus*

      My boss is also like this and due to an overpacked schedule and a company culture of last minute fires, it’s not about her being rude or lacking conscientiousness. What works for me is I’ll say to her (first, ideally) “We should move on this soon – let’s meet with a small group of [2-3 people’s names] first and get the ball rolling. We can simultaneously work on scheduling a larger meeting with everybody for further out.” I try to normalize a cadence of “small meeting, big meeting, small meeting, big meeting” that way nobody get’s left out if their input is genuinely important but we don’t wait FOREVER to get things done. The other thing I do is email recaps of action items and key discussion points after the meeting.

  21. HonorBox*

    OP4 – I hope this helps, but I laughed really hard when I read your message. People say things that are funny and it is OK to laugh when funny things are said. I still remember something my dad said in school (he was a teacher) that was unintentionally funny and a bit on the NSFW side and get a chuckle all these years later.

    1. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I have had to “go check something in the hallway” so many times because my grade 7s have said accidentally said something wildly off colour and hilarious.

  22. Keymaster of Gozer*

    3. I’m so sorry. I have an abusive ex and him showing up in my general area would send me into panic, let alone at work (it’s been 25 years, you’d think I’d be over it).

    I think the polite brushoff you’d use if anyone was being a total bore or being creepy would work – the old ‘I got to go talk to X/be somewhe4re else’ routine.

    I’d just like to say, I hope one day you’re totally free from ever seeing his face again.

  23. NoMoreAbuse*

    As a seasoned nonprofit professional who has experienced “leadership narcissism” in my last 3 jobs to a startling degree – to the point where I’ve left the nonprofit sector entirely, I find abusive behavior by those trusted to lead an organization and manage staff to be much more shocking and startling than a young person being perhaps too honest in one of their first job applications. Sure, this person needs some mentoring as it pertains to being tactful in a professional environment, but let’s direct the outrage where it belongs.

    1. Heather*

      But the abusive individuals aren’t applying for this job. Hopefully, if they were, they wouldn’t be hired. The person who IS applying needs to learn when and how to discuss difficult truths. Why did I break up with my high school boyfriend? The truth is that he was very stupid. But the mature, public answer is “We had different interests.”

      1. NoMoreAbuse*

        That example doesn’t really work. Abuse is different from just someone being a bonehead.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It does work, because the point isn’t about the root cause of why you need to use tactful language. The point is knowing when and how to use tactful language.

        2. Ellis Bell*

          Abuse is important for employees to know about when it’s happening within their business. When it happens somewhere else? No, why would they care about that? What are they supposed to do about it? It also puts the applicant at a disadvantage, because no matter how sympathetically you view them, this isn’t someone who’s necessarily excited about the job, it’s someone looking for a port in a storm. There’s also always something more relevant to say like “leadership style” if the abuse was about that, or “work-life balance” if the abuse was about that. This would actually open up a proper dialogue about what the applicant is looking for. If they put “abuse” or “narcissism”, what is the hiring manager supposed to say that? “Good news, there’s no narcissistic abusers here”? One of the many problems with emotive language in this context is that it’s not specific or helpful.

    2. MsM*

      I think we can be mad about narcissistic leaders while also declining to brush off warning signs of the behavior at a more junior level as not that big a deal, especially when that’s in no small part how you eventually end up with those people in leadership. Yes, ideally, someone will point out this guy’s mistakes so he can learn from them before too much damage is done, but he could just as easily learn that lesson from not getting the job and OP could spare their colleagues from having to work around it.

      1. Gyne*

        Yeah. Every narcissistic leader was once am entry level employee who then got promoted by poor management and/or poor hiring.

    3. NoMoreAbuse*

      A young person is calling it like he or she sees it; she needs mentoring about tact, but just because she’s emotional about what is truthful doesn’t make her a bad candidate. I also see nothing wrong with people stating that they left a job because of abusive leadership. It’s time people started being truthful about what is going on.

      1. Heather*

        but we don’t know what was going on. YOU know what was going on at YOUR jobs. We have zero idea of the reality of this applicant’s work.

          1. Happy meal with extra happy*

            No, it doesn’t at all. It could be 100% accurate or it could be a scenario where that phrase applies more to the applicant than the employer. And I would be very wary of hiring someone who didn’t understand that.

            1. NoMoreAbuse*

              This is a kid just entering the workforce. Again, they need MENTORING. If they don’t acclimate after said mentoring, it’s on them. But they certainly deserve a chance because abusive leadership is so prevalent (and also often swept under the rug and therefore it proliferates). That’s all I meant. I don’t know why so people are arguing with me. This is why I rarely comment here or read the comments – it’s like a battlefield out here. Jeez.

              1. Dust Bunny*

                Or this is someone pitching a fit because they can’t get away with the same stuff that their parents let them get away with in the family business. Let their parents mentor them.

              2. Observer*

                Not a kid. This is a college graduate that has left multiple jobs and *all* of them are due to bad employers. That’s a red flag.

              3. Dona Florinda*

                Kid? This is someone who is about to start their third job out of college, not a high school applicant. Sure they need mentoring, but OP described enough red flags that they should be wary of taking that responsability for themselves.

              4. umami*

                My bigger concern is that they would view any sort of mentoring as a type of narcissistic leadership. The applicant does not sound experienced enough to be able to objectively discuss workplace issues if all they can communicate is they left because of ‘narcissistic leadership’.

          2. Jennifer Strange*

            But it could just be that the applicant was asked to do their job and decided that it meant the leadership was narcissistic. We don’t know.

            And before you jump on the “non-profit” you keep touting, I’ve worked exclusively for non-profits. Yes, I’ve had negative experiences, but I’ve also had positive ones. I’m by no means saying the applicant is lying or exaggerating, but it’s possible they simply have a skewed idea of how employment works.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              I’ve worked for a nonprofit for over 15 years and the management here is lovely. We have lots of people (out of maybe 40 employees total; we’re not even that big) who stay for literally decades, largely because it’s a nice, humane, well-run place to work. We’ve had some bloopers, sure, but they were handled appropriately, including firing and replacing a neglectful executive director.

          3. Dust Bunny*

            I have absolutely worked with people (at for-profits, just for the record) who thought that being asked to do tasks that were not at all unreasonable; in a not at all unreasonable manner, timeframe, and quantity; that were entirely in line with the nature of the job; and about which they had been informed at the time of hire, was wildly unreasonable and that their bosses were “obviously” abusive.

          4. sparkle emoji*

            Narcissism is currently a bit of a buzzword with no clear meaning. I’ve seen it get used to mean everything from “abuser” to “someone who sets reasonable boundaries after I treated them poorly”. It’d be more useful to name a specific issue or use a platitude than bringing in the Rorshach test that “narcissism” currently is.

          5. Parakeet*

            Yeah, it paints a picture of the applicant as a walking red flag parade who likes to use buzzwords that they learned on the Internet to make people feel like they have to take their side in a spat. There’s more than enough of those people in all sorts of spaces already.

            I am not particularly young, I’ve worked in nonprofits, I know that a lot of managers are just bad. Sometimes in ways that veer into the traumatic. Sometimes in ways that can really set back or wreck people’s careers. But the use of “narcissism” in this case, across multiple jobs, with nothing concrete to say to support it, is like a gigantic warning siren indicating that someone has read too many bad social media infographics about what abuse is by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

      2. Naomi*

        The problem is that the hiring manager can’t know how accurate the applicant’s perspective is. Is “leadership narcissism” an apt description, or did an inexperienced employee make a fuss over something benign? And the applicant seems to have left several jobs for similar reasons. It’s possible that they had several bad jobs in a row… but it’s enough of a pattern that it’s reasonable for a hiring manager to surmise that the applicant was the problem.

        1. NoMoreAbuse*

          This sort of behavior in nonprofits (talk to ANYONE who works in nonprofits – this is not unique to my experiences) is rampant. While it’s possible the LW is exaggerating, I’d bet my money on that not being the case. I left 3 jobs in a row for the same reason and am someplace wonderful now, and was at wonderful places before that – so no, that’s the problem. On the surface it speaks to a problem with the applicant/employee, but the reality is that this is a problem that is widespread and doesn’t get enough attention.

          1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            *raises hand*

            I’ve worked with several non-profits over 15 years and I don’t agree with your statement about this being rampant.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            It’s also rampant in for-profits, too, though. We read about it on here all the time, and I have 100% worked at for-profits with bizarro owners who ran the place like they were petty kings/queens.

            1. Boss Scaggs*

              Exactly, so what’s the problem with someone actually calling out this behavior ? Because it’s too delicate to be included in a job application? Because convention dictates we suck it up? Because it sounds unprofessional?

              I suppose whether you should continue with this candidate comes down to your overall candidate pool – if you’ve got plenty of good candidates you can be much more choosy.

              1. Jennifer Strange*

                Because it’s essentially venting to someone who doesn’t know you and doesn’t have the ability to discern if you’re a reliable narrator. You run the risk of simply looking like either a drama llama or someone who doesn’t understand work norms.

              2. penny dreadful analyzer*

                This sort of behavior in nonprofits

                this being rampant

                It’s also rampant in for-profits

                calling out this behavior ?

                Sorry if this sounds brusque but… WHAT is the “this” that any of you are talking about in this thread? just “behavior that each of you considers bad”? That doesn’t tell me anything about what people are or are not supposedly doing in these nonprofits. It’s not “calling out bad behavior” if you don’t actually call out what the bad behavior was.

                1. Boss Scaggs*

                  Narcissistic leadership can manifest in many ways, so I’d say that’s just a general category. If they want specifics they can always dive in during the interview or in references

              3. constant_craving*

                Because it’s the wrong place for it. Job applications are meant to highlight your qualifications. This sort of language directs the focus off of you and it’s not a venue where anyone has any power to change the behavior you’re refering to, so why do it in this context?

              4. Myrin*

                I think the problem – and the very base disconnect in this conversation – is that you and others (in this thread but certainly IRL too) view this as “calling out” bad behaviour when it’s really just writing it down on a form to a third party who probably doesn’t even know the person you’re talking about. This candidate isn’t taking a stand or sticking it to the man or holding anyone accountable or saving potential colleagues from terrible bosses by doing this, they’re expressing that they have a (possibly legitimate, but you can’t know that) bone to pick with someone completely unrelated to OP.

            2. Observer*

              That’s true. But we also read about people who has the strangest expectations about the workplace. Like the recent one where the employee told her manager that, among other things, expecting her to actually *read* her emails is a “trap.”

              And sometimes it’s a combination. Like the letter from yesterday, where it seems like the place is badly understaffed – which is a genuine problem. But the poster is all bent out of shape because their manager “did not have the right” to ask someone why they (The LW) was quitting, and it was a privacy violation for the manager to tell people that they had put in their notice. Which, if a candidate told me that, I would be quite worried about hiring them. (And from it sounds like, that seems to be a for profit as well.)

          3. fhqwhgads*

            Just because it’s common doesn’t mean the applicant saying that was right about their particular situation.

          4. umami*

            Even better reason for this person to not be seeking employment at a nonprofit, then, no? Doesn’t sound like it would be the type of environment where they could thrive if they have continually come across this issue.

      3. Observer*

        she needs mentoring about tact, but just because she’s emotional about what is truthful doesn’t make her a bad candidate.

        The context matters here. And also, the ability to communicate appropriately is not a minor thing. Look at the letters we get from people whose managers use this kind of emotional and overwrought language to them. These are never good managers, and more often then not they are *miserable* managers.

      4. umami*

        This young applicant has left multiple positions for what they consider narcissistic leadership and couldn’t list a single person other than a parent as a reference. At some point, the common denominator (applicant) should reflect on whether it truly is *everyone else* who is the problem. Regardless, a savvy screener can see that this person appears to have issues with leadership in general if their only way to describe their past employment is in unduly critical and emotionally charged language.

      5. penny dreadful analyzer*

        We don’t know that they’re truthful! We don’t have any idea what the “it” they’re calling was. We know only a) that they’re emotional and b) that they think a job application form is the correct venue for venting those emotions. This absolutely does tell you something about a candidate, and it’s not good.

        I’m fully willing to believe that people can have multiple bad managers in a row. I’m *more* likely to believe them if they can a) tell me anything bad that said managers did and b) express even a modicum of self-reflection about how they ended up in those situations and what they could do about it. People who think that because they’ve been wronged, that anyone, anytime, anywhere is theirs to use as an emotional toilet, and that they’re Sticking It To The Man by refusing to exercise any emotional regulation skills? Those people I am less likely to believe were not part of the problem in the first place.

    4. Smithy*

      As a seasoned nonprofit professional who has also experienced significant leadership narcissism – I’d counter the reason to learn how to talk about that effectively in interviews has been truly key for me in during the interview process identifying nonprofits to work in that have significantly less of it.

      My first long term nonprofit job had a very classic shouty executive director. And while it’s made for hilarious soundbite stories of how unprofessional she was, she also ran an incredibly well-run nonprofit. And I didn’t really learn that until after I left and worked for a place with both horrible senior leadership that ran a chaos nightmare. But because that first job was run by an unprofessional person, I wasn’t positioned to learn the mechanics of where her leadership was actually excellent.

      When talking about Dumpster Fire Nonprofit, however, I learned that I had no snappy stories to articulate why it was a bad place to work. And at my next place that had issues but nothing as bad, being able to clearly say “this very specific thing here is a problem for me” helped me out so much in interviews. It got me bounced from some interview processes that I later learned was for the best, and ultimately got me hired by a place that I do believe doesn’t have the worst of what I’ve experienced.

      It’s the rare hiring manager that’s going to admit they’re a narcissistic leader. And if anything, I think candidates risk being hired by the worst offenders who think that of course no one would ever call them a narcissistic leader. And anyone who ever has is of course wrong.

      1. NoMoreAbuse*

        “As a seasoned nonprofit professional who has also experienced significant leadership narcissism – I’d counter the reason to learn how to talk about that effectively in interviews has been truly key for me in during the interview process identifying nonprofits to work in that have significantly less of it.” – YES. The person would learn this through good mentoring.

    5. Irish Teacher*

      I think the issue is that the person they are applying to has no way of knowing if it is true or not. “Leadership narcissism” could mean the leadership was abusive or it could mean “leadership were more concerned with my getting the job done than with my feelings” or anything in between. We’ve seen letters here from people who truly felt they were being ill-treated when nothing bad happened to them at all (the cheap-ass rolls comes to mind).

      Abusive behaviour is definitely more shocking than poor phraseology but the fact that an employee called their employers narcissistic doesn’t necessarily mean that the employers were abusive. Especially since narcissism and abuse aren’t even the same thing though I know they are getting used interchangeably a lot lately. It’s not even certain that the employee meant to imply their previous employers were abusive.

      I think part of the issue with the comment is how vague it is. The person they are applying to has no way of knowing whether it means the previous employers were abusive or that they were self-absorbed and didn’t listen to any ideas other than their own or just that the employee is very needy and expected the leadership to act like her teachers and hold her hand and saw them as narcissistic and self-involved for not doing so. And I think it’s understandable that an employer might not want to take a chance.

      I don’t think people are wary of comments like that because they think people shouldn’t call out poor management. I think it’s because there are people who see not giving them their own way constantly as poor management and when somebody applies and you don’t know them, you have no way of knowing if their judgement is accurate or not and it’s easier to avoid both parties.

      I’d even be less wary of “leadership were abusive” than “leadership were narcissistic” because the latter is so. At least, I know the former means “I feel leadership treated me badly” whereas the latter seems to mean that, but it’s not even the only interpretation.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        All of this.

        Maybe the management was terrible, but maybe this person is really difficult and has unrealistic expectations.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Yeah, I probably wouldn’t spend any time on “poor management” or “poor working conditions” as a reason for leaving. “Leadership narcissism” is too close to diagnosing strangers on the internet, and whilst it’s a not-unreasonable category error for someone early in their career to make, it’s definitely not something which needs defending as a positive blow for workers’ rights.

        That said, I write “career progression” in every single one of those “reason for leaving” boxes, and am firmly in the “it’s a pointless field” camp.

        1. Observer*

          That said, I write “career progression” in every single one of those “reason for leaving” boxes, and am firmly in the “it’s a pointless field” camp.

          Think about this – your bland and apparently uninformative answer actually does tell a prospective employer something. Either you are reasonably ambitious (thus moving on for career progression) or you have some basic level of discretion, enough to understand that this is not the place to spill your story of woe about bad management. There absolutely is a time and place for that, but the application is not it.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Eh, I don’t agree. That puts it on about the same level of usefulness as “spelled employer’s name right in the cover letter”.

            Every extra task in an application system is a burden on the applicant, and an application should be designed to give me the most positive reasons to hire someone. It’s very inefficient design to include things that might trip up a small number of poor candidates but which won’t remotely differentiate between average, good and excellent candidates.

            1. Observer*

              Sure, these things are table stakes. But it’s actively useful for an employer to be able to screen out the outliers early in the process.

        2. Smithy*

          I agree with this.

          For every example of Theranos or Elon Musk that do have significant media coverage, and are more likely to have any kind of consensus around diagnosing leadership – most of us work for organizations that don’t have that kind of visibility. Even within our niche fields. And even when there’s some agreement on these leaders generally, it’s also not unanimous.

          That being said, underneath narcissistic, abusive or just chaotic leadership – there can be all sorts of pragmatic realities that are more unpleasant or more pleasant for any individual. Things like going through a re-org every year, not having a team strategy, having a remit that’s too broad/being stretched too thin, needing to work both very early and late hours while salaried without adequate comp time, etc etc.

          Sometimes those qualities pair with highly negative leadership qualities, sometimes they don’t. Some of those issues will bother some people more than others. But talking about those features (or others) that you don’t want in your next job, is just going to more holistically prepare job seekers to position themselves with the leadership they want and avoid the leaders they don’t.

      3. NoMoreAbuse*

        It’s not surprising that a young person would be throwing around words like narcissism – just look at what is thrust upon us by the media. Armchair diagnoses have been all the rage for years. Again, this person needs professional mentoring.

        1. Melissa*

          This, I do agree with. And if the boss has the inclination to mentor this person, it would be a good deed. The comments section of Reddit can lead someone to believe that we all walk around accusing everyone of being narcissists and toxic all the time– when in fact, those are very loaded words that must be used carefully and accurately, not thrown like a hand grenade.

      4. Ferret*

        Yeah “narcissism” is one of those terms that has become so overused it is pretty useless without further details. It comes up a lot on reddit both in stories of full-on abuse and in meaningless spats between commenters and without any context I wouldn’t feel confident making a judgement call as to which level of severity it is here. Although in actuality we do have some other context (the Mom reference) and it indicates that the candidate is at the very least not a great example of professionalism

    6. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Yes, young people should be less honest on job applications, but how are they to learn this norm?

      1. GythaOgden*

        By failing and being told why. I’ve done that thing where I complained about one recruitment agency to another and been cautioned that what I’d described was unfortunately normal and it wasn’t really a good idea to take the approach I was taking. Failure often teaches us a bit more than success does.

      2. umami*

        I’m not sure less ‘honest’ is the right take, just that they should make sure their language is as factual and objective as possible. It’s too easy for someone to read their reasons for leaving as a red flag than as an honest and reasonable assessment of the workplace, and that is the part that does the applicant no favors.

        1. penny dreadful analyzer*

          I’m honestly wondering how this conversation would have played out if the non-informative name-calling that the applicant used was less buzzwordy. If they’d written “I left my last job because they were a bunch of bastards,” would the folks currently defending them realize that the question at hand isn’t “Were they in fact a bunch of bastards?”, it’s “Do I want to hire the sort of person who writes ‘what a bunch of bastards’ on a job application?”

          (At this point in my experience with people flinging around misused therapy and social justice terminology to argue that nobody’s ever allowed to think they’re full of shit no matter how obviously full of shit they are, I’d actually be far more likely to want to hire someone who wrote “what a bunch of bastards” on their job application than someone who wrote “leadership narcissism,” but I am, as you may be able to tell, biased.)

        2. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          This. It isn’t an honesty issue, it is that on an application you have a few words to explain why you left. You don’t get a follow-up to clarify (as you might in an interview), so it is best to avoid writing something which could be reasonably read in such a way to reflect poorly on the applicant.

          In contrast, in an interview if you said “Leadership was narcissistic” you can add the sentence “My prior manager made an error and, rather than admitting it, blamed a subordinate and fired them. He literally refused to ever admit he could ever make a mistake.” or “Former boss would never read her emails, but then berate us for not telling her something– even claiming that we were deliberately trying to make her look bad.” Both of which are hella toxic and could absolutely fall under the heading of “Narcissistic Leadership”

  24. Gyne*

    Ooooof, LW1. I don’t think someone on their third job out of undergrad is “new to the workforce” anymore. And if they left multiple jobs due to problems with leadership and are up front about that, at some point the common denominator in all those situations is… them.

    1. AngryOctopus*

      Yeah, it smacks less of “leadership issues” and more “I didn’t want to do the X I was hired for because I realized Y was more interesting, but my boss said I could only do X, so I left.”

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, this smacks of someone who doesn’t take well to being told what to do, which may or may not be an issue in Americorps depending on what they’ll actually be doing.

    3. Unlucky*

      And if they left multiple jobs due to problems with leadership and are up front about that, at some point the common denominator in all those situations is… them.

      Yeah, no. The common denominator is a capitalist system where employers have all the power, any many misuse or abuse it, because most workers have no real choice but to put up with it. Those that don’t are penalised and blamed for their mistreatment.

      Do some workers do the wrong thing? Yes. But a majority don’t.

      1. Gyne*

        Eh, we’ll have to agree to disagree about the assumption that “many” employers misuse and abuse their power, and employees, who are equally as human as “employers” aren’t just as individually toxic in the same proportion. Nothing magical happens to people as they get more work experience that warps them from perfectly decent, earnest, hard workers into abusive assholes.

        1. Unlucky*

          I’m glad you haven’t had the experiences I’ve had.

          But it’s really important to remember that employers who do the wrong thing are far more harmful and impactful, the vast majority of the time than individual workers who do the wrong thing, because the former has all the power over the latter.

          And plenty of people are warped and corrupted by power, although I do agree that many of them wouldn’t have been entirely decent people in the first place. But I have seen it happen, unfortunately.

      2. connie*

        Yes, capitalism is terrible but some people are habitual jerks at work and would be jerks if they were horticulturalists or fisher people. Period.

        1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

          Yep. Power tripping managers would be power tripping in some way in the most egalitarian of systems– and you would also still have some employees who view being respectfully asked to do their well paid job in a supportive workplace as their boss being on a power trip.

  25. Jennifer Strange*

    Number four reminds me of my husband’s story when he was a kid. One of his grandmothers lived in a house next to theirs and would use the back door when visiting, while the other would come in through the front door when visiting. He and his sisters dubbed them “Front Door Grandma” and “Back Door Grandma”. His parents managed to put a stop to that pretty quickly.

    1. sparkle emoji*

      When I was a toddler, I made the observation that one grandma took up half of a couch cushion when she sat, and the other took up a whole one. This happened with the latter and I apparently told her she was a “whole cushion grandma”. It has been decades and it still gets brought up frequently lol.

  26. Dust Bunny*

    LW1: I confess my inclination would be to not hire this person. This sounds like bringing a lot of drama on board.

    Even in my early 20s, at my worst jobs, I managed to say something like, “I need more predictable hours” or “I would like to make better use of my degree” or some other neutral thing, even when my bosses were a-holes and company culture in general stunk. I was not an unusually tactful or perceptive young person, either.

    1. nope*

      I also thinking LW1 needs to think about the org’s reputation as a good place to work. If she does take a chance on this applicant, is she prepared to be very clear with expectations and hold the applicant accountable for meeting those expectations? If the applicant causes drama or creates an unpleasant work environment, is LW1 prepared to fire her before she alienates and drives away good employees? Would restarting the hiring process for this position soon after filling it cause hardship for the budget or mean losing out on very good candidates who would excel in the role in the meantime?

      If the answers to that are yes, yes, and no, then mayyyyybe it’s worth taking the chance. But if not, I think it’d be best for everyone to pass.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        Americorps pays up to 9 dollars an hour (depending on local COL). What very good candidates is OP missing out on that budget?

        1. AngryOctopus*

          Lots of people who can’t afford that kind of low salary, actually. But that is a whole other issue.

          1. Beth Jacobs*

            Excellent point, I should have been more clear that I’m not actually dissing on the young people hoping to do good in the world. I’m just baffled at how picky OP is considering the fact that their org isn’t willing to pay anything near a living wage for fulltime work.

            1. GythaOgden*

              I’d imagine OP has no direct control over the stipend, and also if someone like the interviewee understands Americorps and what it pays, she’s looking for someone who can manage that kind of work for that kind of pay.

              It’s like I’m a receptionist, my pay is crap but my job is necessary. I’m in a position to do it for other reasons and am happy with it (although am now looking for other opportunities). When (! gotta keep optimistic here) my supervisor hires my replacement, she’s going to be looking for someone who is ok with the pay and conditions. She’s not going to take the first person who comes along even if the red flags are spelling out DON’T EMPLOY ME in semaphore because she needs someone who is prepared for the experience of ~£1100/month. FWIW, hiring my replacement at my part time hours and salary may well mean, say, someone who has officially retired and just wants a PT job to get out of the house or someone like that rather than taking on someone who is the sole earner. But they’re not paying £10 an hour for shizzles — they’re paying that because there’s a budget they have to stick to or they’ll end up not being able to afford someone else here at all.

              I totally agree it doesn’t sound worth it for many people but I would imagine people interested in Americorps in general aren’t going into it for the money. Let’s take LW1 at her word that there isn’t much wiggle room with what budget she has here and not make it about her. The rules apply even when there’s a legitimate discussion about the equity of the situation — and all this kind of discussion is ever going to do is stop people asking for advice when their needs are orthogonal to the beliefs of the commenters (or may be aligned and agreed upon but not within their control to change). That’s not a good position for OPs to be in, and it’s therefore centred in the commenting rules.

            2. Antilles*

              Depends on how many people are applying. OP can be picky, as long as they still have other options.

            3. Sunflower*

              I have no idea what Americorps is but since retail jobs in my area are hiring up to $16+ an hour, I’m guessing people don’t apply for the money but for the fulfillment of the job, or some other reason. If fulfillment or getting your feet in the door is the goal, I’m guessing there’s enough applicants to pass on this one.

              1. Analytical Tree Hugger*

                Americorps is a volunteer program, so positions are not intended to be jobs that provide a living wage. Commenters above drew an analogy along the lines of: It’s like the Peace Corps, but within the U.S.

            4. Observer*

              I’m just baffled at how picky OP is considering the fact that their org isn’t willing to pay anything near a living wage for fulltime work.

              I don’t think that the OP is being picky. It’s possible that the OP’s org needs to find a better plan than using Americorps VISTA participants. But even in a truly volunteer gig, it’s not “picky” to expect someone with a basic level of emotional regulation, discretion and ability to get along and do the job.

            5. sparkle emoji*

              OP said in the letter that they sometimes hire Americorps volunteers for this role, but not always. Given that, I don’t think the OP is necessarily being cheap, just looking at the candidates that applied.

  27. Antilles*

    Personally, I would vote for Alison’s second option of just doing it meeting by meeting and having the date/time already scheduled. In my experience, that tends to work better, whereas if you try to go with a big picture discussion, you get back a vague “no no, it’s important I attend some of these meetings” and are back in the same spot.

    Also as a side note, I laughed at the part where the Boss said she wants the meetings recorded to watch later. She’s so busy she has to schedule stuff weeks in advance, then still can’t attend despite supposedly pre-clearing her schedule…and somehow also has a bunch of free time to watch a recorded VOD of a meeting? Not a chance.

    1. Shoes*

      The person who supervises me also has a busy schedule, but wants meetings recording as well,

      I too wonder, “When you do you have the time?”

    2. BusyBoss*

      OP2 here! I also like option two. And I know for a fact she never watches those recordings because I’ll bring up the content of the meeting she missed a couple of weeks later and she’ll have no clue what I’m talking about. But, gotta pick your battles with a bad boss! It doesn’t take me much extra time to hit record and email it to her after, so I just roll my eyes and do it. At least I have a written record that she was given access to the meeting recording, something I have had to use in the past when she has tried to accuse me of not keeping her in the loop on something.

  28. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #2: Am I alone in thinking that the boss has about 500 unwatched meeting videos piled up in her inbox?

    I think OP should also use any leverage she has from comments by the outside partners too — it’s one thing to say that your internal staff has calendar conflicts, it’s another thing to say that outside organizations have complained about delays and no-shows.

  29. E*

    LW3: I organize events. We have an anti-harassment policy, which is increasingly common. If you informed your ex that you don’t want to talk to them and they kept trying to talk to you, they would be violating that policy, and we wouldn’t have to know your history in order to enforce that by keeping an eye on the situation, talking to them if it happened, and kicking them out if it persisted. If you didn’t want to say this explicitly to your ex (presumably because you’ve made it clear before), I think that’s something that an organizer could also do. This does require having a conversation, and I totally understand not wanting to open yourself up to that because it might not stay anonymous, although you could certainly request that. But you’re not asking for them to be pre-emptively uninvited or kicked out, you just want them to leave you alone. It’s a totally reasonable request. And, especially if your ex has a pattern of this, they have a lot to lose by ignoring the organizers and escalating this.

  30. Dustin the Wind*

    #5 There are some dryer sheets that are advertised as helping to repel cat hair from clothes. Not sure if they work.

    1. Dragon_Dreamer*

      Cat fur has tiny barbs on it, that helps it cling to things. I’m not sure I see how those dryer sheets would do more than make the fabric a bit slicker.

  31. Irish Teacher*

    I would find “narcissistic management” at least a yellow flag for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s vague and could mean anything from downright abuse to “they expected me to care about work at work and felt I should take the job seriously.” There is no way for the person they are applying to to know.

    Also, I think it puts too much emphasis on the motivation rather than on the impact. If say, the company expected salaried employees to work 60-80 hours a week on a regular basis, it doesn’t really matter whether they did that because they were so narcissistic that they thought all their employees should be honoured to work for them and delighted to focus solely on their company or whether they hated having to make employees do that but the company was on the verge of bankrupcy and they felt the only way to save their employees’ jobs was to cut costs by having people work more hours than they were paid for. Either way, it’s time to get out.

    I’m actually finding it kind of hard to articulate why the latter would concern me. I guess maybe because it indicates that they may be likely to attribute motivations to people and judge them based on that. We have seen letters here where people go from coworker didn’t say hi to me this morning to “clearly they hate me” or memorably, “boss forgot to mention I was new; therefore he doesn’t want me working with him.” While this isn’t the same as those, I would still be more wary of “management had x personality trait” than of “management did x.”

    1. bamcheeks*

      We actually had training about this a few weeks ago! One of our managers acted out a whole skit about someone being late and then asked us to describe what we’d seen, and made a distinction between the descriptions of the *behaviour* we saw (coming in late, loudly saying hi to people, interrupting the speaker) and people who were attributing specific motivations to it (entitled, disorganised, inconsiderate etc) and how much more useful it is to focus on the former.

    2. AnotherSarah*

      I agree completely! It’s something you can tell a friend (boss is mean, coworker is vain, subordinates are entitled) but it’s not helpful in terms of really diagnosing what’s going on and acting on it. (For an inexperienced worker I wouldn’t necessarily expect them to grasp this, but it’s definitely important.) It’s the difference between saying you’re leaving for better salary opportunities versus because the employer is cheap.

  32. CommanderBanana*

    Dying to know if the applicant referencing “leadership narcissism” was referring to their mom. :D

  33. AmeriCorps worker and former volunteer*

    LW #1 – I can say that this candidate for AmeriCorps service would need two completed references, and one from a relative would not be accepted by your regional office if you chose to nominate them for service. Source: I work for AmeriCorps.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Thank you for confirming this – I was under the impression the references were more structured for AmeriCorps but couldn’t recall any specifics.

  34. Bookworm*

    I don’t have any advice for you LW3, just sending you sympathy and good thoughts. I’m sorry you’re experiencing that.

  35. Risha*

    LW3, I don’t have any advice for you, I just want to say that I fully understand your frustration at knowing a well liked person is really an abuser and most people would not believe you. I too am in a similar situation with my ex husband. Abusers are always so charming, nurturing, helpful, nice, etc to everyone else but are a monster to their family. Many times, when you finally get the courage to come forward and say this person is abusing you, no one believes you because there’s no way that person can be abusive. Surely you must have misunderstood or done something really bad to make them act that way.

    My message to everyone is if you ever hear a well liked person is an abuser, don’t discount it just because you’ve never seen them act that way. We all have different sides of us for work life, personal life and sometimes the way someone acts in their personal life is horrific. Just because this person you work with is a sweet person, doesn’t mean they’re not beating their family as soon as they walk through the door.

    1. PhyllisB*

      Very true. My daughter’s first husband was like this, and I really didn’t believe her when she told me. She had always been a drama queen and she was so young (19) I just thought she was exaggerating. Then I was witness to one of his ramages. I apologized to her for doubting her.
      Lesson learned: if someone tells you someone is abusive, believe them.

    2. ferrina*


      The abusers I’ve known were all very likable. In fact, they went out of their way to be the good guy. Yet to their family/target, they were horrible. Not in public- in public they were always exceedingly gracious and thoughtful. And that’s the point. If they are a hero, no one will believe the victim. They put on a great show, and when the curtain closes (sometimes the moment you get in the car after seeing friends), they change.

      OP, so sorry you are in this situation. It sounds like you are handling it really well! Alison’s scripts are great.
      Risha, wishing the best for you!

    3. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      100%. Abusers are strategic like that. They abuse in situations where they know they can get away with it. Being nice to others is a strategic move to make people skeptical if anyone talks about their private behaviour.

      I’m sorry you had to deal with an abuser and I’m glad you got free.

  36. Former Retail Lifer*

    #5: I have two dogs, one of which I am amazed that still has any hair attached to her body based on how much she sheds. My work clothes are kept in the closet, inside-out. They don’t go on me until the minute I am ready to walk out the door.

  37. Delta Delta*

    #1 – I actually got kicked out of AmeriCorps, along with a friend, and for the same reason. I applied and was transparent about what project I was doing and what organization I would be working for. They accepted me. I believe there was a phone screen after doing my application, so it wasn’t as if information wasn’t shared. Then they realized the organization I was working for didn’t qualify. It seems like a simple miscommunication. However, they sent me a letter that said, “assumably you did not mean to violate federal law” in saying I didn’t qualify. That phrase has become the stuff of legend in my social circle. Leadership narcissism, indeed. (It’s been about 25 years since this happened so I think it’s okay to mention it obliquely here)

    1. blue rose*

      Idk, maybe you’ll have to elaborate a bit, but sending a letter containing “assumably you did not mean to violate federal law” sounds clunkily backhanded to me, not narcissistic (not even by the colloquial meaning of “narcissism”). A negative experience unquestionably, but maybe you left out some context that would connect it more solidly to “leadership narcissism”?

  38. Quite anon*

    As someone whose reasons for leaving are likely going to boil down to “leadership narcisism” when I inevitably leave, I feel for the person who put that on their reasons for leaving, although that’s NOT what you put on an official form! My context is that I’m working in a department whose official duties include auditing and overseeing the activities of several other departments… and the directors of said other departments refuse to accept us as auditors of their work, go to our VP to whine whenever our insistence that changes NEED to be approved and documented causes any delays because we weren’t notified of changes in time to request the documentation, and our VP listens to them, says well it’s three against one, and ignores best practices. And also the requirements which are stipulated by our insurance, in some cases.

    Also they just hired three brand new VPs while whining that we need to save money so can’t spend on needed upgrades and repairs.

    I’ll likely be describing this as “I wanted to move on and try something different” when I quit, but I feel for the desire to tell the truth. I can’t even leave an honest glassdoor review because there aren’t enough people in my department for anonymity.

    1. Observer*

      So here is the thing, though. You’re not going to put all of that in your application. And if you do decide to talk about it, you’re not going to lead with “leadership narcissism”, right? You’re going to say that “leadership refused to back us when we tried to enforce legally mandated requirements or something like that, no?

  39. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    LW3, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this whole situation. It sucks and nobody should be subjected to it. Alison’s scripts are great. There are a million reasons to leave a conversation. You’ve just spotted someone you need to talk to. Oh dear, you’re getting a phone call and probably need to take it (your phone is on vibrate)! You just remembered that you need to check on something with a colleague.

    As well, if there is someone you’re close to in the industry and trust, you could let them in on the situation and ask them to come and interject if they ever see you in a conversation with the abusive ex and give you an excuse to leave. Like “hey, LW! We’re having a debate and need your opinion / I want to introduce you to someone / I have some work-related questions that are urgent.”

    My guess is that the abusive ex is doing this on purpose to upset or destabilize the LW and/or to drive them out of conversations they’re enjoying / could lead to professional benefits. Another approach would be to fake your way through brief conversations with him to deny him the satisfaction. If it stops being fun for him, he might stop the behaviour. Obviously, your safety and well-being are the most important thing, so if this is not a safe thing to do, or you just don’t want to, definitely ignore this suggestion. Any decision you make is the right decision.

  40. Analytical Tree Hugger*

    OP1, as the candidate came through Americorps, *if and only if* you wanted to offer feedback to their application, going through your org’s Americorps contact may be more fruitful.

    My understanding is that Americorps also tries to provide training and mentoring to their volunteers, so they would be better positioned to coach this candidate than you.

  41. Bored Lawyer*

    I eagerly await the follow-up to letter number 2, because that boss strikes me as someone who will not respond well to even the most mild critique.

  42. lostclone*

    LW1 –
    Embarrassingly, this reminds me of my very first job. Obviously I didn’t have any work references, and the large unnamed supermarket I applied to required two. As instructed by my school, I put down my tutor (like the teacher who leads homeroom for Americans – it might have different names for the UK). I didn’t know who to add for my second reference, so my dad (of other hit advice such as ‘just walk into places and give them your CV’) suggested I put down my godfather, who ‘wasn’t technically family’. I was honest about who he was, and the hiring lady super berated me – and then hired me anyway?

    However, I am super suspect of the ‘leadership narcissism’ comment – I don’t think I’d hire them either.

    1. ferrina*

      It’s different that this was your first job vs the candidate having work experience. We’ve all been through the awkward of that first job of putting volunteer coordinators or teachers or adults that know us or whatever. The hiring lady was absolutely wrong to berate you.

      In LW 1’s situation, the candidate has had multiple jobs. They have had multiple opportunities to get references from former bosses or coworkers. The job with their mom is old enough/irrelevant enough to not even make it to their resume (yet somehow she’s the only one who is willing to give a reference)

  43. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #1 Mum as reference …
    Maybe OT, but I was wondering how many people get away with using their mum (or dad) because she has a different surname to them – the HR person checking would then not realise the relationship of the person giving the glowing reference.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      the same of course for slightly more distant relatives such as aunts or uncles who are more likely to have different surnames

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Probably less than people who have their friends masquerade as a previous manager. It can be hard to screen for.

      As time goes on the weight I put on references in general is wobbling.

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        I was thinking of family firms, so the checker could see they were a genuine employer, but not realise the family relationship to the candidate

  44. Sunflower*

    #1 I might let go of having mom as a reference since he’s young but “leadership narcissism?” No thanks. Combine that with “included a lot of disagreeing with managers over labor conditions” is the finial nail in the coffin. Sounds like you will have a lot of problems if you ask him do do extra work, so small things that’s not in his job description (like making copies), or work overtime, etc.

    “Leadership narcissism” sounds like a new buzz word like “quiet quitting” for an excuse to just the minimum or not listening to the boss. I’m not saying people should be abused by their boss or take on too much work, or work 16 hour days, but you don’t want an employee who use those phrases and seem to have problems with *all* their previous managers.

    1. Unlucky*

      If you’ve never encountered a manager or employer worthy of such a comment, you’re ver lucky, and I’m happy for you. I’ve had several, the worst of which damaged my health, my career, and also saw me lose my home. It’s perfectly possible for good employees to encounter multiple managers and employers worthy of this feedback, and recent findings show high achievers are actually a common target. So I guess to have a smooth and successful career, you need to not only be lucky, but also be good bit not good enough that a poor manager will get spooked?

      1. Melissa*

        I’ve had a horrendous boss– you’ll just have to trust me, but she was awful and abusive. I quit that job as soon as I could. When asked why I quit in interviews, I say things like, “I wanted a new opportunity” and “I wanted to get into a different field of nursing (and the reason I quit before having another job lined up was because of other commitments)” After I HAVE the job and have formed relationships with my coworkers, do I then explain that Mrs. XYZ who ran the health center was an absolute raving lunatic? Yes indeed I do. But I don’t come out of the gate with that.

        1. Unlucky*

          I’m sorry you went through that! It is an awful experience.

          Before I became a manager, the only person in any workplace that I shared any of this with was someone who I knew had been through the same thing. As a manager, I talk about it, because I do everything I can to stop anyone else from ever having to go through it. The way other managers react to the story is always telling: many are decent people who are horrified and wouldn’t do it themselves, but a majority of them are certainly guilty of it to some degree.

  45. Immortal for a limited time*

    #5: I had a beloved cat as a child. She lived until I was ready to go to college, and I still miss her, 35 years later. My husband and I don’t have pets or kids, so traveling on a moment’s notice is easy. But I still love cats and had looked forward to adopting one in retirement, which will be soon. However — my elderly father passed away in February. I own the home he lived in, 100+ miles away from where I live. He had an adorable tuxedo cat, now adopted by his neighbor. It took me five weekends to clean all the floors and bathrooms and kitchen. We even had the carpets and upholstery professionally cleaned, after vacuuming them many times manually. But THE CAT HAIR!! My god. Five months later, after deep cleaning and sucking up many, many vacuum cleaner bags and Swiffer cloths and dusters full of hair, it still wafts through the air inside the house. I’ve even found stray hairs inside my dad’s refrigerator, stuck to bottles and jars. Aaaaagh! This has changed my mind about getting a cat, unfortunately. So my very unhelpful answer to your question would be, You can’t keep it off your work clothes, or any surface, apparently! (Actually I see some helpful tips from others here.) Good luck to you. I feel your pain :)

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      #5: I also planned to get a cat and/or dog in retirement, but early in my retirement I took care of 2 indoor cats for a month while their owner dealt with a family emergency abroad and then I started walking a dog for a very busy neighbour ….

      both these firmly reminded me of all the fur, smells, bathing, brushing and poop removal involved in keeping pets. Also the need to find petcare when away or ill.
      Strangely, I cba with all that work in retirement, even though I have vastly more free time now.

      So I just stick to helping my neighbour with a dog walk most days, no firm commitment, which I enjoy and I will never again own a pet.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      So yeah, it’s not just fur on clothes to deal with: even clean cats & dogs can have a smell, which their fur can transfer. I can smell my hands after I’ve stroked the animals.

      I’ve noticed with some pet owners who swear their animals are clean: it’s not just that I can smell their pets in their homes – I can also sometimes smell them a bit on their clothes if we’re up close.

  46. Boss (but also Mom)*

    LW1- Our daughter works for us as her first job out of college. We hold her to the same standards as other employees, she does actual work, interacts with our clients, and all around is treated as an employee. She has work product from this job she will be able to use as examples for future interviews (things that aren’t client confidential) and, depending on how long she stays, may have client references she can use. However, we are legally and factually her employers and supervisors (small company, 5 employees + owner). How do you recommend that she deal with this for future reference needs (both employment and graduate school)?

    1. BellyButton*

      Is there another manager who could be her reference? Or a more senior person that has worked with her? I would appreciate a potential employee telling me their direct manager is a family member, but has other references with in the company who could provide insight into their performance.

      1. Boss (but also Mom)*

        No…we are so small that both owners are her two parents and there are no other managers or senior people (right now). We’re going to try to get her client interactions so she can use them as an additional reference, along with the samples of work product.

    2. New Jack Karyn*

      Definitely mention it in the cover letter or resume. Something like, “Receptionist, Smith & Jones (family business)”. And as others have said, have someone besides a family member oversee her work to be the official reference.

    3. Melissa*

      Being honest out of the gate helps too! “This person listed here is actually my mother– I’m sorry, I know that’s not ideal. But you see, it’s a family business and she is really the only person who has ever supervised me. I am happy to supply some other personal references if that would be helpful, but I’ve had no other supervisors.”

  47. Unlucky*

    OP1’s letter makes me sad that the response to someone admitting they left a role because they had the misfortune of having dealt with one of more of the many bad managers and employers out there is to either disbelieve them, or to blame them for any problems. I’ve been left homeless and sick thanks to bad workplaces, and it’s an experience that never leaves you, because you’re always fearful they’ll try and ruin you, or that you’ll be asked about why you left, or why you were unemployed for three years.

    I’ve had okay, good and great managers and employers before and since, but I never really feel safe, and I don’t trust them. Attitudes like this, where I should stay silent or be blamed for the harm they inflicted on me where they had all the power, just make me want to weep.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Unfortunately, the solution to bad management is usually to just leave that employer off your résumé and roll the die that the omission will harm you less than the truth will. It’s a no-win situation.

      1. Unlucky*

        So true. But so much of it is luck and timing, and while I’m always happy for those who have good luck, I don’t know why I haven’t had that much of it with managers.

        It doesn’t matter what mitigation strategies I put in place at recruitment, because all it takes is one bad restructure or a bad hire or promotion if I’m your good boss leaves to ruin it. It hasn’t even mattered how essential I’ve been to the company, and that it’s known that projects so critical that essential funding has been dependent on those project being completed will collapse and never get back up, they’ve still circled the wagons around a manager they know is a liability who has already gotten them sued successfully three times before. Even being a manager myself hasn’t prevented it from happening.

        It’s not just me, of course. Most people I’ve worked with who are really good at their jobs have these issues. I just don’t understand why employers protect poor managers who don’t actually produce anything of value over employees who do all the actual work, who are really good at their jobs and are liked and respected by everyone other than a manager who has, in most cases, already proven themselves to be problematic, whether in law suits or just really high turnover. It’s such a waste if everyone’s time.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      I’m really sorry you’ve had bad experiences, but I do think that’s coloring your read on the first letter a bit. No one is saying an employee in a toxic work place should “stay silent or be blamed for the harm they inflicted”, but rather that a job application/interview isn’t the place to sling mud simply because the person reading the application doesn’t know you and has no way of knowing if your assessment is correct or if you’re just creating drama. As Alison said, there’s a difference between naming a specific issue at the position and simply name-calling.

      1. Unlucky*

        I understand and appreciate your point, but I suppose I’m just really sick of those with all the power inflicting so much harm and then avoiding accountability by victim blaming and gaslighting those brave enough to not just accept the awful status quo. If someone says, “I left because of a bullying boss and needed to leave before I had a nervous breakdown”, we should take it at face value, the same way so many employers and managers take whatever they’re told during a reference check at face value.

        It’s part of the reason I’m so glad to see the reference check process starting to lose its value, because it gives past employers and managers too much power with no accountability, and massively disadvantages so many workers. It’s also pointless. Five of my good ex managers are no longer with us, sadly, but all the bad ones still are, as are the good and okay ones who’ll give me a great reference, but by their own admission, don’t actually understand my job, but they really like me as a person. A majority of managers don’t really understand the jobs done by a majority of their team, so they’re not really going to have anything of real value to provide, other than being a manager.

        1. mondaysamiright*

          For the record, I’ve done reference checks, and have absolutely heard things from former managers that sound suspicious and that I don’t take at face value! When someone calls a past employee a liar or lazy, rather than being able to lay out some clear facts about what they’ve done wrong, I take their input with a biiiiig grain of salt.

          I would say that anyone using this kind of emotionally charged language / name calling in a professional environment, whether they’re a manager or an employee, is not going to go over well because it’s not the time or place. I’m sorry for what you went through, by the way. I unfortunately relate. Just wanted to add that it’s not always as one-sided as it may seem.

          1. Bunny Lake Is Found*

            I think you really nailed the situation. If the candidate in LW1 had given a neutral answer like “Wanted to pursue a better work environment” or even “Negative work environment” and then in person said what leadership had done that resulted in the negative work environment, I don’t think anyone would have seen it as a yellow/red flag at all– and the default would be to believe the candidate.

            But once someone starts with hot-button, emotional language, you realize their response might not be based in fact but rather in feelings. So yeah, if a manager points out “Bob consistently misrepresented his hours on his time sheet” you are likely to take them at their word, but if they say “Bob is a thief who will rob you blind!” and don’t provide any facts you are likely to write that manager off as vindictive or a bully.

        2. Observer*

          A majority of managers don’t really understand the jobs done by a majority of their team, so they’re not really going to have anything of real value to provide, other than being a manager.

          My boss doesn’t really understand a lot of what I do, but they CAN tell you a lot of important things about me. Like how well I get along with people, do I do what I say I will, does my work stand up to the usage it’s supposed to get, etc.

    3. Lenora Rose*

      So Alison specifically mentioned ways you can handle reporting leaving due to poor management (Here: ” something calm and factual like “concerns over wages and hours” or “problematic labor conditions” “), and I can think of several others (“Management violated confidentiality law” or “business committed WHS violation” jump immediately to mind). The issue isn’t the person leaving a role due to abusive management. The issue is the phrasing is unprofessional and leaves unclear what the concern was. We cannot tell if the leadership is called narcissistic because they demanded the employee actually *read her email* or whether they screamed at the employee for 4 hours straight.

      I am so sorry you had to live through that.

      1. Unlucky*

        I understand what you’re saying, but I think the egos of managers and employers who’ve caused severe damage to the workers they’ve been allowed to mistreat and abuse are not worth as much as the well-being and financial futures of those workers. All these scripts and norms do are protect the powerful who abuse their power.

        We need to get better as a society, and take a human-centred and trauma-informed approach to supporting the people who’ve been left carrying the burden of the damage inflicted upon them by employers or managers who abused the power that they have so much of because they literally control whether you have the money you need to eat. Not forcing people with no power to play nice and risk being re-traumatised every time they have to go through the arduous process of job hunting.

        Plenty of employers and managers do the right thing, but a lot don’t, and I think we collectively need to wake up to that fact, because holding the bad ones accountable will be a good things for all of us.

        1. Myrin*

          I very much appreciate your point on a human level but I’m honestly not really seeing the connection to job interviews; even if a job candidate is 100% truthful about their experience with an abusive former employer, what exactly is the interviewer going to do about that past harm?
          I also think that a “human-centrered, trauma-informed approach to supporthing people damaged by former employers” is an appropriate approach for a psychologist but not for a hiring manager. Expecting something like that – which takes nuance, sensibility, and actual experience and expertise in psychology – from an interview process is, in my opinion, deeply flawed.

          1. Jennifer Strange*

            Exactly this. If an applicant were to tell me they were leaving due to narcissistic leadership, what am I supposed to do with that? Call up the employer and shame them? Further more, if their reason for leaving EVERY job they’ve had is due to not liking management, I’m going to start seeing them as the common denominator.

          2. Humble Schoolmarm*

            Not to speak for Unlucky, but I would assume one way to bring this into hiring would be to ask a candidate who said things like in letter 1 to elaborate on why they referred to their former boss that way instead of jumping to the conclusion that they are less professional. Of course, by doing that, you might also force someone to go into detail they’d really rather avoid in an interview which could also be traumatizing.
            I’m really torn on this because on one hand I completely agree that people in power who do awful things should be called out, but really, aside from some really specific hiring situations, there’s not much an interviewer can do to impose consequences for a former boss’ bad behaviour.

      2. I Have RBF*

        I have literally had a manager that yelled at us in meetings, and yelled at people not in our group in meetings. He had over 100% turnover in a year, and the group was not small. I got out, his manager promoted him!

    4. I Have RBF*

      I was in a job for 3 years, had great reviews, was doing well. Then my manager left, and they hired a new guy in, that I had worked with as a coworker elszewhere, and even referred. This was in the late 80s.

      He was a Horrible Manager!! He proceeded to gaslight me, criticize everything I did. Eventually I got so burned out and sick that I couldn’t get out of bed. He and the over boss, fired me, telling me that I, a low level employee, was the reason for “bad morale” in the group. It was total and complete BS.

      He was trying to rewrite me into a “docile, quiet doormat girl who never spoke up and was subservient in all things”. I have never been that person, and when people try to rearrange my head or personality, I get very, very stubborn. Even now when people say they want to “adjust/’fix’ my attitude/outlook/personality” I will immediately start looking for another job. (You can ask for different behavior, but you don’t get to try to change who I am!!)

      I literally couldn’t work for over 6 months after that. I had to liquidate my 401 k, and that has hurt my prospects for retirement. I still get nightmares sometimes from that whole disaster.

      But because I was there for years, I couldn’t leave it off my resume. So when it came time to discuss why I left, it was “There was a management change and they decided that they only wanted people with degrees.” Which was essentially true, just not all of it.

  48. The Wizard Rincewind*

    I misread the headline and thought that the question would be that the applicant used *OP’s* mom as a reference and was a bit disappointed that it turned out to be more mundane than that.

    This all makes me very glad that I’m not involved in hiring. The nuance involved would leave me paralyzed.

  49. Nono*

    As a former AmeriCorps VISTA member, it is definitely a bad look but I think you also have to think about what sort of people a program that pays such pennies to do “good work” is going to attract. Myself and most of my cohort served because we were passionate about doing something good while being inexperience and wanting to grow. However, this was 8 years ago when the minimum wage was much lower and so the stipend didn’t seem as bad of a deal to do a “professional job”. I imagine now the amount of people willing to work for that little money are going to be trying to something new, inexperienced, or very idealistic.

    (Yes, I have very complicated feelings about the program)

  50. not a hippo*

    From what I’ve heard from people who have served in the Americorps, the pay is crap and you’re usually performing grueling (but necessary!) tasks in poor conditions. Do you really want to add a possible drama llama into that mix?

    (This isn’t a dig against the Americorps or anything, the work is good and all but really, the pay is crap.)

    1. umami*

      True, in my experience, these positions are really meant for college students/recent grads, not someone who already has work experience who should be advancing their career beyond this. I find it somewhat more troubling that this applicant is still looking for Americorps opportunities, because it reinforces my thinking that they just really don’t understand basic workplace norms and keep thinking a service-oriented place will somehow allow them more workplace freedom because of their passion for the cause.

  51. Banana Tuxedo Junction*

    LW #3, do you have a trusted ally at these conferences? A work friend who’s also a real friend, a supervisor you feel like you can trust, etc? If so, you could ask that person to keep an eye out and grab you – with a “work emergency”, with a “they’re almost out of those profiteroles you like at the breakfast buffet”, with a “sorry to interrupt, but you absolutely *have* to come meet Bob!” – if they see you talking to your ex. Obviously not a long-term solution, but it might help supplement you ducking out of the conversation yourself (and they could “buddy up” with you walking to the bathroom/meals if need be). Abusers invested in maintaining their reputation will often hesitate to act their worst in front of a witness.

    To be clear: this is a horrible situation and absolutely not your fault. You shouldn’t have to deal with this, and I hope you find a lasting peace away from this person, and one day these band-aide solutions aren’t necessary.

    1. LW3*

      Thank you for commenting and offering these suggestions. Thank you also for your empathy.

  52. PlainJane*

    On #1–what if your family has a family business and your mother runs it, and it is your primary actual work experience? In that case, your parent is also your manager, and the job is an actual job, and… well, I can see where it would look weird, but I also knew a lot of kids whose job was working on the family farm. How *are* you supposed to do that reference?

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      I would recommend being forthcoming with the hiring manager about the situation and let them decide the best path forward.

  53. CK*

    Hey LW #5 – I feel your pain! The best thing we have done is get three roombas (one on each floor) that run daily. I realize that this isn’t in the budget for everyone, but it makes a massive difference! The Chom Chom pet hair roller is also great for furniture.

    I also try to get dressed right before I leave the house when I wear black, and keep a mini lint roller in the car.

  54. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

    2. Can I tell my boss I’m not considering her availability anymore?

    I don’t have a much better suggestion, but I do sympathize. My last job was endemic for this across the board for anyone in a director level and up. I realize things come up, but it happened so often there was just no excuse for it and the attitude was like so what? Recording the calls became normal, as well as constantly rehashing meetings because people weren’t on them as they were supposed to be.

    That place had a lot of cultural issues, but the meetings were super aggravating because it held up so much work.

  55. Mary w*

    LW1. Walk away from that applicant. One strange/troubling response for entry level job okay.. But not several. I remember a young welfare-to-work applicant whose worst job was because of discrimination. Fair enough, that would be my worst job also. In answer to the best job she said what she liked about the job and then pivoted to leaving because of, you guessed it, discrimination.

  56. Raida*

    3. Avoiding my abusive ex at industry conferences
    “Do you have any tips on how to do that without drawing the attention of our mutual acquaintances?”

    There’s no way to fully control what other people do and do not notice.

    Obviously this is all very much impacted by how you respond emotionally to his presence. If what works best for you is “Excuse me…” and leaving then go with that.
    If you get to a point where you’re comfortable interacting with him in front of people then you can move to more of a “You’re looking well [Name], I think you’re wanted elsewhere?”

  57. Kevin Sours*

    I read the first one as “Applicant used my mom as a reference”. Reaction: that’s really weird but I’m not sure it’s a *problem* exactly.

  58. SB*

    When interviewing for a trainee receptionist, I interviewed a young woman who seemed to job hop every 4 to 6 months. I asked her about this & she stated that all her old colleagues were bullies & the bosses let them get away with it. One or two work places I could maybe buy this, but all of them? If all your colleagues & bosses at all your previous jobs are a problem, you are most likely the problem.

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