I was fired during my probationary period, mentioning kids in a cover letter, and more

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

1. I was fired during my probationary period

If you are fired during your probationary period, should you expect it to be without warning? This just happened to me, where I was let go of at the 60-day mark. I had a 30-day check-in, where the only feedback given was that my boss appreciated that I was at work every day, that she was “frustrated” with something I had done on my second day (when she was gone, as she worked part-time), and that I needed to do more things independently. None of this was put in writing. It’s unclear to me if my firing was budget-related, as the grant funding for my program ran out a few months prior to my hiring, and I was hired at a significantly higher wage than the position had initially been listed at.

My termination letter only says that they could let go of me at any time if I was deemed to be the wrong fit. Obviously, I’m terrified of this happening again and I’m wondering how common it is.

Yeah, it can happen. The purpose of probationary periods is to allow companies to let an employee go without doing a ton of coaching, warnings, etc. (It’s not that firing someone without doing those things first would be illegal, but many companies have their own internal policies that commit them to specific cycles of coaching and warnings after probationary periods are over.) Whether or not that’s reasonable in any given case depends on what the issues are; if something can be corrected with clear feedback or a little coaching, generally that makes more sense to do. In other cases, it’s clear there’s a fundamental mismatch with the role, or the amount of coaching required to get the person where they’d need to be isn’t practical. In others, you get a manager who just doesn’t know how to manage effectively or overreacts to minor things and ends up making the wrong call. Regardless of which category it falls in, though, ideally managers wouldn’t blindside employees with it — ideally they’d be giving feedback along the way, not just letting you know one day that it didn’t work out. But some don’t operate that way.

None of which really answers your question about how common it is. I’d say you don’t need to go into every job terrified that you’ll be fired out of the blue during your probationary period, assuming you know yourself to be reasonably capable … but it’s useful to be aware it can be a thing that happens.

2. I’m in charge of DEI because I’m a woman

My manager has suddenly decided that, because I’m one of the only women on our team of 20 or so men, it’s my responsibility to become an expert in accessibility and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). I don’t necessarily mind leading this initiative (well, a little — I’m irritated as it’s increased my workload and this feels like exactly the thing DEI efforts are supposed to mitigate), but the problem now is I’m being given very vague tasks with zero direction to “make everything we do accessible and DEI-friendly” — by people who can’t be bothered to learn about accessibility/DEI themselves. And I’m getting in trouble now because I’m not implementing it exactly to their vision. What exactly is their vision, I’m not sure, but some of the ideas they have either don’t match the reality of how it works, or require resources I don’t have, or simply don’t make sense to me.

Now my whole team is looking to me for guidance on this very vague, nebulous thing that I’ve been trying to grasp with no help. I’ve tried to explain my situation, and offered up some basic frameworks and processes to follow, as well as links to documentation, but apparently that’s not enough — they want every last thing spelled out for them. They appear blind to the irony of the whole situation. I’ve been considering leaving this job for some time, and this may be the final straw. What can I do?

DEI is an incredibly challenging job under the best of circumstances — and that’s when you have a receptive team, committed leadership, and someone leading the work with expertise in the field. Expecting you to do it without any of those things is a recipe for failure and frustration. Honestly, I’d wash your hands of it entirely — tell them it’s work that needs to be led by an expert, that expecting the women on the team to do it is itself a DEI problem, and that you’re not equipped with the expertise, resources, or team buy-in to do what they need. Hold firm on the “I’m not doing this simply because I’m one of the few women” point in particular, and consider pointing out it’s illegal to assign work based on gender.

And yes, let it be the final straw and get out.

3. How to explain a family crisis to very demanding clients

I work directly with clients in a niche of a touchy-feely-warm-fuzzies industry. I’ve been lucky to have really warm, friendly relationships with most of these clients for years — we trade book recommendations, I get to hear about babies in their families, they sent well-wishes ahead of my first triathlon last year, etc. The downside is that they tend to take things very personally. If I don’t respond to an email as quickly as usual (we’re talking within a few hours) I’m liable to get a message asking if I’m too busy for their projects, or even occasionally asking if I’m annoyed or ignoring them. I try to shut this down when it happens, but I mostly just avoid it by being very responsive and always giving them a timeline of when they can expect progress, so they never have to worry in the first place.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in and out of the office lately dealing with a family member’s unexpected and severe health issue. They’re stable and responding well to treatment so far, but I’m understandably behind on work, and I’ll likely be slower to respond and finish projects as this situation shakes out and settles down. Based on the follow-up emails currently in my inbox, my feelings-first clients are already upset. I know that if I say I’ve been out with a family emergency, they’ll want to know what happened. I wouldn’t mind telling them and, honestly, it would be a relief for me if they knew, as they’ll be less likely to send me “r u mad at me pls respond” notes if they have a better explanation on hand. But I don’t want to overshare, or start a cycle of having to talk about all this on a regular basis at work. Any wisdom for approaching these conversations with the right balance of transparency and boundaries?

How about this: “I’ve had a family health emergency — nothing you should worry about, and honestly it’s easier for me to not think about it when I’m at work, but if my responses are slightly delayed for a little while as this settles down, that’s why.” If you’re pushed for details: “It really is easier for me not to think about it too much at work, thanks for understanding!”

For what it’s worth, it’s possible to have warm relationships where you trade book recommendations and hear about new babies without people taking a few-hour delay so personally that they start asking if you’re too busy for their projects! This is weird and over-the-top! Do you know if others who do similar work all get this same treatment from clients? If they don’t, it could be interesting to compare notes and see if you can figure out what’s bringing it out in yours. (Also, what industry is this?! I’m dying to know.)

4. Mentioning (relevant) children in a cover letter

I am job hunting and looking at applying to jobs that are parent-oriented (the “Parenting” or “Family” brand/section of a media company, etc.) Is it okay to mention that I’m a mom in my cover letter? It’s definitely part of why I’m interested in the job, but it’s been pretty drilled into me not to mention my personal life in an application! If I do mention it, is it best just to keep it brief/vague (“as a mom…”) or more specific (“as a mom to a toddler and an infant…”)? Is it something I should just keep for a potential interview? Or never mention it at all?

I wouldn’t, partly because of unconscious bias (especially if you mention they’re young kids) but more because having kids is common enough that it doesn’t do a lot to make you stand out from other applicants. But what you could do is cite something more specific that could differentiate you in a relevant way — like mentioning that you’ve have a long-running interest in childhood development or experience volunteering with kids or so forth. Those are more application-appropriate and they’ll connect to the job in a more targeted way.

5. Turning down an offer

I’m in a field full of blunt crusty Massholes. I’m also a blunt crusty Masshole, so this isn’t generally a problem. But I’m currently job hunting, and I’m at a loss for interview advice because white-collar officespeak advice involves unspoken mind games and social scripts that tradespeople don’t use. (For example, I’ve found they like you better as both a candidate and employee if you’re honest to the point of being self-effacing about your skillset, rather than hyping yourself up like most people say.)

I have three serious offers right now. One is easily my first choice; it has better pay, benefits, schedule, and location, but the real deciding factor against the other two is the poor management I saw during my trial days with each, and I’m concerned about how to turn them both down. Telling the truth would be a personal insult. If I cite pay, I’m pretty sure both will offer me a competitive counteroffer. If I cite location, I think it’d be fair if they pointed out that I knew the locations when I applied. As for being vague about my reason, I was enthusiastic about all three in interviews (as you do), and since people in my field are very straightforward, I think they took that at full face value and would feel snubbed if I didn’t give a reason for rejecting them.

So, what do I say? This isn’t about abstract professionalism; the field is small and tight-knit (all three options know each other and one of my previous bosses personally), and I didn’t leave my last place on great terms, so I’m concerned about my reputation. I definitely shouldn’t be honest; what do I say instead that won’t sound flimsy or vague? I’ll probably work with these people in the future; what rationale can I give that would help me maintain connections?

My family heritage is Masshole, and you’re overthinking it! You have three offers; you’re taking one and thus necessarily have to turn down the other two. So with the two you’re turning down, just cite those multiple offers: “I had several offers and ultimately decided one of the others was the stronger fit for me.” You really don’t have to say any more than that! If they push you anyway, it’s fine to be vague — for example, “It’s a combination of a lot of factors, but I enjoyed getting to talk with you and learning more about your work.” Truly, there’s no obligation to open your heart to them (just as they don’t need to be candid with applicants they turn down either).

{ 395 comments… read them below }

  1. Not A Manager*

    @Alison – “Also, what industry is this?! I’m dying to know.” My strong guess is finance/wealth management.

    1. Lost academic*

      I’ve never heard that be referred to as anything like “touchy-feely-warm-fuzzies” . I’m guessing something much more health related.

      1. Angie S.*

        If the LW’s clients are ultra high net worth, some of them can be quite demanding. But I had one client a few years ago who was not that “rich” but said something rather similar (“my problem is more important than your supposedly cold”), she took her business elsewhere after I would not bend over backwards for her.

        1. Bast*

          We had a client get upset that her attorney had been in a car accident on the way to work and had gone to the hospital instead of coming to work — “We all have our problems! It doesn’t mean we abandon our responsibilities.” The attorney was pretty upset at that when she heard about it and dropped their case.

          1. Selina Luna*

            I have an acquaintance who has been fired as a client by every attorney in their town. This isn’t a huge town, but there are still around 8 private attornies. All of them will not work with this woman because she keeps running her mouth (and typing stuff) about the person she has a years-long legal issue. Basically, your attorney doesn’t have to take you as a client, and they probably don’t need you as a client. Take their advise, pay them on time, and you’ll be fine. Be difficult and you will no longer have representation in court.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              There is a happy stage of an attorney’s career when he no longer has to take the crazy clients to pay the bills.

              1. Bast*

                The area of law I worked in at that time was known for its crazy clients — but there was a limit on how far you could push, and that attorney in particular did not hesitate to drop you if you caused real problems for her or were a complete (worse than usual) tool. Routinely calling in yelling and swearing or outright threatening her or the staff would also get you booted. I’ve worked at other offices where that was put up with, but not her.

                1. New Jack Karyn*

                  Dataqueen, if a client brings in a ton of money, many offices will put up with any kind of behavior from them.

        1. Lyra Belacqua*

          Or literary agent (though I feel like sending book recommendations knocks that out, since it would be a more expected part of the job.)

          1. Allura Vysoren*

            Only if they’re a literary agent for celebrities. Writers as a whole are pretty used to things taking time (and if they aren’t, they should be). Lots of time. Lots and lots of waiting.

            1. Quill*

              The joke I used to see about people querying was “How many months of no response from an agent means they aren’t going to work with me? six months? Twelve?”

      1. Edina*

        That is about as cutthroat a business as possible!
        I’m assuming it’s like a daycare center, a children’s librarian, a quilting supplies store, a Christmas tree farm, a petting zoo, something like that perhaps?

        1. Allonge*

          Those sound fuzzy enough, but do they have projects that need to be taken on as a matter of urgency?

          From what I am reading, OP’s clientele is spoilt to the extreme, if a somewhat delayed answer to an email is read as a personal attack.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            I didn’t get the sense that the urgency is 100% needed for the projects OP is working on, but rather that the clients need a lot of hand holding.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Yeah, my sense is that the clients aren’t intentionally demanding so much as anxious. Like that friend with social anxiety who thinks you’re mad at her because you didn’t respond to her text right away.

              In either case, the client has trained OP to always prioritize answering their contacts immediately, and OP has trained her clients to expect that. Setting a more reasonable boundary (e.g. I will respond within 2 hours) and sticking to it might release a lot of that pressure.

              1. LW3*

                This pretty much nails it. If they don’t hear back from me, they assume it’s because they’ve done something wrong, and follow up to make sure I’m not annoyed, upset, or ignoring them. It’s less because they expect to have the work done immediately and more because they feel bad until they get reassurance.

                I’m usually very responsive via email, but I’m slower at the moment because I’m consistently behind. I’m flexing my time to get my family member to treatments and working less overtime than I usually would when we’re busy like this. My boss is very supportive of all this, as none of the projects prompting these emails are actually time sensitive. But I definitely needed a script to let clients know that my response time would be slower than usual and they shouldn’t worry if they don’t hear from me. I’m so used to the nosiness that apparently I needed an expert to tell me that I can just say that, and let them manage their own feelings about it.

                1. KTurtle*

                  I like Alison’s script, and I would add that you could tell clients that your relative would prefer to keep the details private. Anyone even moderately reasonable wouldn’t push back on that.

              2. Emily Byrd Starr*

                “Yeah, my sense is that the clients aren’t intentionally demanding so much as anxious.”

                Which makes me think that the field is mental health.

                1. Anon and on and on*

                  People with anxiety are allowed to interact with and retain the services of people who are not mental health professionals. People who do not have anxiety can be anxious about things (finances, creative projects, etc). No need to pathologize people based on a narrow sliver of their personal interactions.

        2. Non non non all the way home*

          Although the entertainment business is cutthroat, agents often deal with performing artists who are insecure, need to feel the agent cares about them, and quick to assume that an agent who is slow to reply is no longer interested in promoting them.

          1. allathian*

            Yes, see the French satire Call My Agent! (Dix Pour Cent, literally “ten percent”). It’s hilariously funny. The relationships between agents can be cutthroat and often is, but the most insecure performing artists need constant reassurance.

        3. Laura*

          no, I doubt this is a librarian job. We don’t call the people we serve clients and it generally doesn’t have this sense of urgency (with some exceptions in certain special libraries, like corporations or whatever)

    2. Silver Robin*

      I am kind of thrown by LW characterizing the clients emails as asking “are you mad at me”. “You are slower to respond, do you actually have time for this” made more sense even if it is an absurd over reaction, but what kind of clients take a slow down in response time as a cold shoulder/indication of offense type thing? Unless LW was exaggerating for rhetorical reasons?

      1. Cozy brigade*

        Publishing and entertainment definitely are both full of clients who will first assume “my team hates me” with little to no prompting.

          1. Galentine*

            I have a friend who is a freelance book editor for self-published authors and this sounds like some of her clients!

            1. jojo*

              I have worked for literary agencies almost my whole career, and I’ve also worked as a freelance editor. Emotionally needy clients are very common, and it’s also common for agents and editors to become friends with their clients. I once had a client who could be very manipulative and boundary-stomping when I wasn’t responsive enough for him. It got so bad I had to fire him!

      2. BatManDan*

        I could never work with (alongside, as a client, as a vendor) ANYONE who sent a text that said “r u mad at me pls respond” – both because of the content, as well as the structure.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          This is bringing back memories of the time circa 2010 when texting started to grow slightly before smartphones came out. I constantly had to Google all the text-messaging abbreviations my younger coworkers were using!

      3. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        You would be amazed at the people who take offense at any thing they see as a slight.

        I’m in the touchy feely part of law. I do family law. So not only are people stressed about being involved in legal proceedings, the issues get right to the heart of things — kids and family. So I get a LOT of upset people over little things. The number of emails I get labeled urgent when its literaly something they just started to consider might happen at some unspecificed time in the future is a number greater than zero. Also he was 15 minutes late for drop off, can I call the police? (no btw, this is not a police matter you know he is always 15 minutes late).

        I set the expectations right at the beginning — You will usually get a response the next business day, no more than two business days. If its more than two, drop me a note to remind me. If I am more than two business days late responding I always start with a quick apology – sorry, was in court all day for two days, sorry wasn’t feeling well but better now. That way they know I wasn’t blowing them off. I say two business days because I get emails on a Friday night about some alleged problem that can wait until Monday to hear from me.

      4. LW3*

        The text speak was rhetorical, they use full sentences! But I’ve definitely been asked if I’m annoyed or upset.

        Asking if I’m annoyed has happened a few times, and it’s mostly if they’ve been in communication a lot over the last few days. When they suggest a major change or update to a project, and I don’t respond as quickly as usual, I’ll sometimes get a “Just following up, hope you’re not too mad at me for this!” type message, sometimes as soon as a few hours later.

        It’s so weird that clients assume I’m getting emotional about their projects, that I figured it HAD to be coming from me, and checked with my boss about it. But I’ve been told that I sound fine and this is normal for these clients. It only happens with a handful of clients whose work is really emotionally significant for them, so I guess it tracks that they’re also very feelings-forward about how the work gets done, too.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Sending you my strength! I couldn’t deal with that, far too demanding for me. The only person that I can tolerate being that needy is my cat haha.

        2. Silver Robin*

          Those examples feel like they are trying to be tongue-in-cheek and failing. I definitely have been on projects where I say something like, “Don’t hate me but I think we need to change it back to fuchsia”, because I know it is a pain to redo it all. But never ever as part of a follow up, goodness. How awkward.

          Much strength to you, that is frustrating to deal with!

      5. Wendy Darling*

        I gotta say every time my dog groomer doesn’t respond to my contact attempts I assume she hates me/my dog and is ghosting us.

        This is due to a mix of 1. good ol’ social anxiety, for which I am in treatment and 2. the consequences of my groomer firing me as a client being fairly dire, because there’s a TERRIBLE shortage of groomers in my area and I have a dog that requires regular haircuts. It took me six months to find this one!

        I’ve never actually asked if she was mad at me though.

        1. Silver Robin*

          I am sorry you have social anxiety brain weasels; they suck and I hope the treatment is helping. And, for all that you have the impulse, at least you never actually asked! That still blows my mind.

    3. Anon for this*

      I used to work at a company that prided itself on strong relationships with clients, and many of my colleagues achieved this by being “touchy-feely-warm-fuzzies” with their contacts.

      It wasn’t everyone (it definitely wasn’t me), but it was encouraged, and those that did were continuously celebrated as examples of How It’s Done. I’ve witnessed plenty of oversharing conversations and crossed lines in my time there (from clients texting account managers outside work hours, to dubious gifting practices, to a colleague starting a messy romantic relationship with one of my clients). This was a subset of the HR tech industry.

      1. LW3*

        This is absolutely the same school of thought that’s happening at my company. (Though there haven’t been any messy relationships yet, to my knowledge!)

        1. Tinkerbell*

          My $0.02: you don’t have to say exactly what is going on, but if you’re able to say “my mom has been sick” or “my sister has had a medical issue she’s needed my support with” you can still follow it up with “…and I don’t want to talk about it at work but thank you for your patience” and leave it there, it can feel a lot less cold. I’ve been on the receiving end of this and even though I *know* we were just professional contacts, the zero-information “family medical emergency” still feels like a brush-off and carries an emotional hit even though I know they didn’t owe me more.

      1. Seashell*

        That’s what I thought. People who have enough money to do repeated projects might be expecting a quick response.

      1. Miette*

        This is where my mind went. I love all the theories above and wonder if everyone is from those industries or not. Wish there was an AAM Con where we could all meet lmao.

      2. Me, I think*

        This is the first thing I thought of, too. IME Major Gifts officers often have very long term and close relationships with the major donors.

        1. MsM*

          I’ve never encountered a major donor who would react to what they consider a less-than-prompt response with “are you mad at me,” though. Maybe an “are you okay?” from the nice ones, but more likely indignation.

      3. Smithy*

        I actually went to the personal financial/wealth management side of it based on the relationship my mom has with her accountant (sorry mom!).

        In fundraising the power balance is typically such that I cannot imagine that many donors actually wanting that much of a relationship with their relationship manager. Perhaps a Board Liaison or a Volunteer Coordinator – but for this job, I imagine something where the external person wants something the LW has to give. As opposed to major gifts, where the personal relationship is cultivated to make it easier to ask the external person for something (money, time, hosting, introductions etc).

        The day one of my donors texts me “r u made at me” – I’m sharing that with every other fundraiser I’ve ever met.

    4. Susan Calvin*

      The combination of “warm and fuzzy” with “potentially high stress and anxiety inducing for the client” made my think about something birth/pregnancy related (with the “hearing about babies” thrown in as a cunning decoy! or maybe I’m wrong haha)

            1. Wendy Darling*

              My dog would NEVER text “r u mad @ me”

              Because he would be too busy texting “IM BORED” “WHERES MY FOOD” “MOM IM BORED” “LOL I FOUND UR SHOES”

              My dad’s dog, meanwhile? The only reason he was not texting “r u mad @ me” every day was because he did not have thumbs.

    5. Poster Child*

      Putting in my guess for travel agent. They often have close personal relationships with their clients and I can believe some expectation of a fast response.

    6. LW3*

      It’s wild to see so much speculation on this! A few close guesses in the thread below, but I’m responding to the first comment for visibility.

      The company I work for is tiny (big surprise) and provides creative work at a really reasonable cost for our area. The owner will also bend over backwards for people, so combine that with the affordability and you get eccentric clients. The clients I had in mind while writing this include a few high earners moonlighting on passion projects, and a few small but dedicated nonprofits for whom the work IS their life.

      None of the work we do is life-or-death, or involves care of anyone’s pets or children, and the vast majority of clients aren’t behaving this way. There are just a handful who are, well, a handful.

    7. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I read this sentence in Alis n’s reply, “ Do you know if others who do similar work all get this same treatment from clients?”
      “all get insane treatment from clients?” and thought damn, AAM is blunt today.

    8. Tiny clay insects*

      I imagined luxury travel agent. Repeat trips for the same client, changes that feel urgent to the client but aren’t, I can see it. But this is likely coming from my personal experience…

    9. Laura*

      There are very few industries where this makes sense. I’m thinking like, emergency management, a hospital ER, etc.

  2. Leslie Santiago*

    For #3, what about setting an automatic reply to any incoming emails that says for the next few days? weeks? you will be in and out of the office due to your schedule and won’t always see emails promptly; you apologise for the inconvenience and appreciate patience. People should at least then realise it’s you, not them.

    1. ZSD*

      That was going to be my suggestion as well. LW #3, if caring for your family member will be intermittent, just keep the script for the auto-reply saved, and you can always pop it on for a day or two when needed.
      “I’m currently addressing a family emergency and will be responding to emails intermittently. Thank you for your understanding.”

    2. Nancy*

      Agree, an automatic reply that says LW is addressing a private family emergency is best. And keep it short, don’t add anything about how ‘it’s nothing to worry about’ or whatever.

      1. And thanks for the coffee*

        I agree with having something handy to add to your email. I’d probably find it odd, as a client, to see emergency used often. Perhaps something like, “I’m dealing with a personal/family issue so there may be delays in getting back to you.”

        Other phrases might work-but these are ongoing issues. It’s the use of the word emergency that seems an issue to me.

    3. Nat20*

      This is a good idea! I think sometimes people (myself included) forget that auto-replies don’t just have to be out-of-office messages. They also work well to give heads-up about temporary delayed responses and can hopefully prevent those kinds of impatient follow-ups. From OP’s description I could see these clients still being nosy about it once they get the auto-reply, but at least that’s easier to deal with than impatient AND nosy.

      1. JustaTech*

        I have a few coworkers who deal a lot with outside folks and occasionally short timelines and they often put their upcoming out of office days in their email signature so you know that say, the EA will be out next Thursday, so don’t expect her to be on-site to receive the lunch delivery, or that writer will be gone for a week, so don’t expect an immediate response to your edit requests.

        I can never remember how to change my signature, but I could see that being super helpful.

      2. NotRealAnonForThis*

        So I had an incident a few years back where I had an emergency family situation followed up by a longer (far longer) period of time where I was dealing with ongoing issues related to the emergency.

        During the emergency situation, upon realizing what was up (my child was in the PICU), my boss and grandboss had IT access my Outlook account. The auto reply for external recipients was that “this is NotReal’s management on their behalf; they are dealing with a family emergency and we, the management, are asking that all correspondence on any of NotReal’s projects be directed to us while they’re handling this emergency, thank you, here are our contact numbers….”

        Once the immediate crisis was past, I had access to my laptop (grandboss brought it to me at MY request because you can still be a parent to a medically boring kid and still stuck in a children’s hospital for a long stretch, along with breakfast, coffee, and giftcards for local to the hospital restaurants), my external notification read “As you’re likely aware, we had a family emergency recently; things are mostly back to normal but there are ongoing and intermittent reasons as to why I’m not entirely synchronous. If you’re receiving this I’m asynchronous today and you can expect a reply before standard business hours tomorrow morning; if you need assistance more quickly than that, my boss has requested that he be contacted in my stead and to copy me on the email. His email is….”

        Small enough industry where there weren’t many questions, and it worked well for us, meaning myself and my family, and myself and my team at work.

  3. Braintree*

    Fascinating to see the cultural elements of “Masshole”, blue/white collar, blunt vs. cautious, industry norms, etc. all swirl together in business negotiations. I think all cultures have ways to politely refuse without explaining why. I’m sure if you keep your ears perked OP you’ll start to notice ways your groups do it already!

    1. LW5*

      I’ve lived here my whole life and most of the time it’s refreshingly simple, but it does get very tricky to navigate whenever honesty isn’t the best policy. I see you’re local – if you’ve got any tips for wrangling the culture I’d love to hear them!

      1. Gozer (she/her)*

        In the UK and had to look up ‘Masshole’ but it does remind me of our company meetings where you’ve got everyone from suited HQ bods to drivers in the place. Often gets tricky when the drivers (who just put stuff out there straight with a lot of ‘effing wot mate?’) clash with the suited bods (who sit next to Legal and boy can they string words out) during difficult moments.

        Sometimes the response the drivers want – clear and honest – isn’t one that Legal is ever gonna approve.

        Sitting in those meetings (these were largely about introducing new technology – I’m in IT) made me sympathise with everyone! One thing I did notice was that the ‘that’s not feasible at the moment but we’ll take your concerns onboard’ stance can work but it really depends on the audence that day how you word it. Try to match the cadence of the recipiant and mirror their body language (in subtle ways, don’t scratch your knackers) and it can really help. Not always, just sometimes.

        After a while it becomes just another workplace outfit to switch between.

      2. Philly Yo*

        I love that you’ve used Masshole as a cultural identity. Well done. It really cuts out the need for a lot of explanation.

      3. Kelly*

        I’m also a Masshole, but from the end of the state that Boston doesn’t recognize. I’ve been told I’m incredibly direct even when I’m trying to soften something, but I am also known to be VERY diplomatic when I don’t want to give a firm answer. I think the best thing to do is just beat around the bush a little bit more. Not to the point you make yourself insane (I’ve had coworkers who had 45 minute conversations saying the same thing 6 different ways and I wanted to put my head through a wall), but just add a little softening language.

      4. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Also a life-longer and I tend to take a “don’t bullshit a bullshitter” approach to these things – which is pretty similar to Alison’s advice, but in your own voice. You can be generally honest. “These guys gave me an offer I can’t turn down”, “It was a hard choice, I was pulled in a lot of different directions, but my family and I landed on this other offer” – whatever seems more genuine to you. Genuine doesn’t have to be exhaustingly detailed.

        Though (YMMV) in my small, Masshole-filled industry sometimes naming the problems you see can be a reputation boost in itself. Some people appreciate candor. But you know your industry best.

      5. Nancy*

        I’ve lived here for decades and never had a problem with simply saying ‘Thank you for your offer, but I have decided to take another one.’ No one has questioned it.

      6. Observer*

        but it does get very tricky to navigate whenever honesty isn’t the best policy.

        The issue here is not honesty, though, but tact.

        Not everything in your head needs to come out of your mouth.

        The *truth* is that the other guys made a better offer. And it’s the *combination* of things that makes it better. The rest of the details don’t matter.

        Also, you’re overthinking this a bit. Not that you should get into it with them, but something like the commute is a legitimate issue, even though you knew about it when you interviewed. Sure, if “BestJob” had not made you an offer then you would have been happy with SecondJob with a longer commute. But why would you want a job with even the same pay and longer commute if you can have the pay for a shorter commute?

        1. Miss Muffett*

          Yes! Honesty doesn’t mean you have to say literally everything. You can be honest and succinct – give only the information needed. Which in this case is, I have decided to accept another offer. Sometimes I think our honesty/authenticity pendulum has swung a bit too far. I love how you said “not everything in your head has to come out of your mouth”!

        2. GammaGirl1908*

          Re the commute, that only came into play once LW had multiple offers. LW would have taken any of the three jobs if it had been the only offer, so the commute wasn’t a factor. But when comparing multiple offers, the commute may have been one factor used for comparison. Like, if Job A was 25 mins away and Job B was 10 mins away AND higher paying, you aren’t turning down Job A just or even mostly because of the commute.

          Also — and I note this a lot when watching shows like House Hunters — jobs and people move. People make HUGE decisions based on a work commute, but you may not work there forever, the job may not remain in that location forever, and you can change a lot of things about a house except where it’s located.

    2. Mojo021*

      I am a Masshole as well, and have relocated to the land of crazy Florida Man…. The company where I now work is so polite and nice and sweet and everything a Masshole is not! I have to put my work filter on every day and remember to not be as blunt and direct as I can be, I had to explain the use of wicked, and really explain that wicked pissah is not necessarily a swear word, and also explain what a fluffah nuttah is…. lol. Loved seeing the background behind the terminology of Masshole and it really makes me miss home. And the food, oh man, the food is terrible here (not in a major city).

      1. RVA Cat*

        Beware the Southern illusion of politeness. My people are passive-aggressive AF and play all kinds of mind games. It’s tricky enough for those of us born and bred here, especially if we’re any kind of neurodivergent.

      2. Juicebox Hero*

        How can anyone not know what a fluffer nutter is?? Were these people never children? Didn’t they ever hear the jingle, “It takes fluff, fluff, fluff, to make a fluffer nutter. It takes fluff, fluff, fluff, and lots of peanut butter!”

        As a kid I’d just cut to the chase and eat the whole jar of marshmallow fluff with a spoon.

        1. Filosofickle*

          While I learned about fluffer nutter as an adult from friends, I’ve never seen it the wild (or heard a jingle). Wikipedia lists fluffer nutter as a New England / Massachusetts food specifically.

          1. Ari Flynn*

            Oh, it’s not just a Massachusetts food — it’s a *Somerville*, Massachusetts food. Town lines are very important here. I lived in/near Somerville for many years and still work in the area. The line between Somerville and neighboring Cambridge runs right through a place called Porter Square. They’re not great at consistent street signs out there, but they DO have one very clearly marking the border.

            If you ever happen to be in Somerville around early September, they have an annual festival called Fluff! that celebrates marshmallow fluff, an essential component of a fluffer nutter. They take this very seriously. There is a parade and everything.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          We had that product in the Midwest, but I used to put it in my cocoa. I finally tried a fluffer nutter a couple of weeks ago. That ain’t a sandwich; it’s dessert (but it was REALLY good).

        3. JustaTech*

          I had never heard of it until I moved to MA in high school, at which point marshmallow fluff was just too sweet for lunch – though I was never fond of the Maryland alternative, the peanut butter and honey sandwich.

          And even as close as northern Maryland marshmallow fluff is hard to come by in the grocery store.

          1. Schrodinger's biologist*

            I moved to northern Norway many years ago, and there are many common things that are or were very difficult to find up here (e.g. smooth peanut butter, chocolate chips). I was incredibly surprised to find marshmallow fluff in several of the regular grocery stores, albeit in the baking aisle. I almost bought some today, and now I’m craving a fluffernutter.

          2. saf*

            Huh. I ate fluffernutters in Western NY as a child (1970s), also PB and honey in Los Angeles (a few years in the mid 70s).

            And I have no trouble getting Fluff in Giant in DC.

        4. Wendy Darling*

          I’ve never HAD a fluffer nutter (not sure if due to regional differences or my mom being extra about sugar) but it is nonetheless my dog’s nickname.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        Not from Massachusetts, but I am a New England transplant to the Midwest. After an adjustment period (apparently my sarcasm was too dry and people thought I was being serious), I consider the ability to violate Midwest Nice a useful tool.

        From starting buffet lines to eating the last quarter donut left in the break room, I can resolve thorny food-related issues. More importantly, I’m willing to give direct answers when they’re needed, even if I have to add some softeners to fit with the work culture.

        1. zuzu*

          The key to understanding Midwest Nice is realizing that it isn’t actually nice.

          I grew up in New Jersey and Connecticut and went to law school in the Midwest. I found my classmates perplexing until that dawned on me. There’s a lot of repression out there. So much so I wanted to just tell people to spit it out sometimes. They’d be mad at me for being blunt and I’d be mad at them for not telling me what they really meant because I hadn’t grown up with their code.

          I wound up going back East, living in NYC for many years, then living in Northern California, which was somehow the Midwest on steroids but with nicer weather.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I felt more comfortable in CA than anywhere else I’ve lived (with Mass, it remains to be seen, but so far I like it). Everyone at work is nice — just not as raucous as I’m used to.

          2. JustaTech*

            I consider my one “lived in Boston” superpower to be that I understand how roundabouts (traffic circles) work and am will to just heckin’ go, unlike all the nice and timid folks in the PNW.

            (OK, my one socially acceptable East Coast superpower. I can also impersonate the nasty, snobby, frustratingly effective “my family was on the Mayflower” attitude to cut through other people attempting to be snobby, but I really don’t like doing it and will only pull it out in extreme situations.)

        2. Birdie*

          Grew up in the Northeast, child of a long and proud tradition of Massholes. Moved to Minnesota, somewhat learned to navigate “Minnesota Nice” (albeit, Duluth has it’s own slightly abrasive edges). Moved back to the northeast and was quite happy.

          And then I moved to the south.

          I do not have time for their brand of horsepoop. I don’t care if you like me, I care about not getting into trouble with the IRS. If me saying “this is non-negotiable, the IRS clearly says we have to do X, Y, and Z,” makes you think I’m “too northern” or “not a team player” or whatever, that’s not my problem. I can be perfectly charming and delightful, but I refuse to play these stupid games. (There’s a fair bit of misogyny intertwined in all of this. Fun times.)

    3. Sharkie*

      Yes. Not to give to much away about me but I work in Boston where a lot of my clients are massholes. I also have clients that are not Massholes. I am still learning how to navigate it, but I think most people up here realize that business is business and you can’t be blunt 100% of the time. I am just authentic with them and they seem to respect that.

      1. Betsy*

        I grew up in a family that highly values restraint and politeness, but I spent most of my formative adult years in NYC (and with New Yorkers when not in NYC). I went from being absolutely mortified that my partner was actually TALKING TO STRANGERS on the subway (and everywhere else) to being the person who talks to strangers anywhere, all the time. I’ve been living in the Boston area for >10 years, and I FIT RIGHT IN here. I feel perfectly fine being straightforward here (not rude by any stretch of the imagination, just not subtle). There are a lot of people from other places here (which is one of the things I really like), and I think sometimes I surprise people with what I say, but I assume they get used to it.

    4. Non-profit drone*

      Proud Masshole here, myself. We New Englanders are a different breed. I always feel incredibly uncomfortable in California because everyone is so…friendly…there. ;)

    5. Festively Dressed Earl*

      That definition of “Masshole” is news to me, because I’ve only heard it used to describe a person from Massachusetts who is condescending and rude to people who are not from Massachusetts, often when the putdowns don’t have any basis in fact. Do self-described Massholes think treating other people as ‘less than’ is ‘just being honest’ for real?

      1. Moonstone*

        Proud Masshole here – if I’m putting someone down, there is absolutely a reason for it. I’m not mean just for the hell of it. And I certainly don’t treat others as “less than” for any reason and really take umbrage with that characterization.

  4. ThatOtherClare*

    #2: Nope! Nope nope nope nope nope!

    It is the opposite of helping minorities by making them do DEI work, because it gives them less time to work on their actual jobs. Over time this means fewer completed projects, fewer opportunities to display excellence in their area, and less time to practice and get better at their core work. This leads to fewer promotions, fewer opportunities to do impressive projects, and fewer raises. It’s also much harder to try and request respect when it’s absent, than for a member of the in-group to pull their buddies into line. Don’t stand for this.

    (The obvious exception being if that’s their actual career and their job. I’m talking about making the only female engineer or the only Black developer the DEI person.)

    1. Jopestus*

      Yeah. The company in #2 is doing pretty much the definition of doing only lip service. “Yeah, we gave zero thought to this and assigned a person to this. We are doing our part and entitled to the advertising benefits of this current thing. No, of course we do not even know what the thing is.”

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Yeah, OP’s employer seems to think, ‘Who would be better to educate us about DEI issues than someone diverse? DEI program box is checked off the list, problem solved!’

        The employer conveniently ignores the reality of building and owning a DEI program – defining terms, creating training and awareness campaigns, the heavy administrative piece of collecting and reporting data, building relationships with internal and external business partners, and so on. This is a heavy lift for anyone, but especially for someone who is being volunteered for such a large initiative.

        But yeah, check that box on the Things To Do list, right? /s

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          “Yeah, OP’s employer seems to think, ‘Who would be better to educate us about DEI issues than someone diverse?”

          Or, the company just cares about perception. As in, we can’t assign this to a white dude, what would people think.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I’ve worked for too many companies that considered DEI window dressing at best. Assigning someone because of their ‘diverse status’ isn’t a good practice.

            About perception: If the employer was truly interested in delivering and owning a DEI program and environment, assigning a white dude would actually be a good idea. One can argue that white dudes helped create the problem in the first place and should champion the change of thought and behavior…starting with themselves.

            1. Emily Byrd Starr*

              Especially if said White Dude had a background in the area. You don’t need to be diverse to be a DEI specialist.

              1. DJ Abbott*

                And being diverse does not automatically make a person good at DEI.
                Does anyone else feel like they’re teaching kindergarten to these companies?

              2. Starbuck*

                Plus plenty of white dudes have a personal angle to approach DEI from if that’s the aspect someone wants to care about! There are angles beyond race and gender – disability, neurodivergence, sexual orientation, childhood conditions, religion, the list goes on… not to be ‘what about the white men’ but it’s just too simplistic.

      2. ferrina*

        Yep. “We assigned someone that has not expertise or knowledge about this field because of the genitals they have. That’s DEIJ, right?”

        Remember, if a company really cares about it, they’ll put money toward it. They could easily find a consultant who specializes in this and do a few sessions with them.

    2. Artemesia*

      And it devalues DEI by ghettoizing it and of course even success with it doesn’t lead to professional advancement. DEI should be a committee and it should be mostly white men if the organization is mostly white men and they should be held accountable when it comes time for promotions or raises for their efforts.

      1. helio*

        While I agree with the sentiment behind your comment, I want to gently point out that maybe using “ghettoizing” when talking about DEI initiatives being run by minorities is maybe pushing a tone or narrative you’re not intending. Agree 100% that minorities being voluntold that they are now in charge of DEI is in itself a DEI issue and that the white men who want to use DEI as lipservice instead of doing any fundamental change/work themselves need be to doing the work… but yeah. The language choice rubbed me so wrong I had scrolled down further and had to scroll back up.

      2. Boof*

        I think it’s really problematic to have a DEI effort run only by people who it doesn’t impact; but I agree you can’t just foist it on the few minorities at a place that has little diversity (and thus probably badly needs DEI). Probably the best thing to do there if they are serious is to outsource it, rather than to add yet another burden to minority employees that may or may not be interested, that will probably not be properly supported or effective, probably won’t actually lead to any extra pay or career advancement, and may well detract from things that will actually make them money and/or advance them. Ie, DEI being EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE of what DEI is supposed to be XP
        tl;dr nondiverse companies should consider hiring an external consultant for DEI concerns

    3. AcademiaNut*

      A larger answer is the DEI stuff shouldn’t be dumped on random employees.

      If you dump it on women and minorities because they have experience being on the losing end of biases and discrimination, you’re giving them less time to do the core work, and are also making them put in the emotional labour to explain all the stuff to people who resent the basic concept, in a way that makes them listen but not get hurt feelings.

      On the other hand, if you put random white men in charge of DEI (in a white-majority area), you end up with people running DEI initiatives who are still kind of puzzled about why it’s necessary, or think it’s unfair.

      Ultimately, you want people who are 1) interested in doing this sort of work and 2) trained in it, and not just in a three-hours a year badly done mandatory workplace seminar sense. Plus, 3) genuine support from management.

      1. Allonge*


        It’s like any other professional specialisation: you need trained people to do it. Yes, interest in it helps and short trainings help for the person to decide if this is something they want to deal with more.

        But just as you would not go ‘you speak eloquently, you can be our press officer / you have celiac, you can be our food safety person’ etc., DEI needs more than some vague connection (established by management, even).

      2. ThatOtherClare*

        Oh absolutely, 100%. First choice is definitely to call in a professional. And second and third choice, honestly.

        But if a company wants to claim they can’t do that, for whatever reason, dumping it on whoever fits in least should be the last choice. If a company won’t call in a professional, the least they can do is make it a formal part of the role for some members of the in-group and hold them to account for their work performance like any other work task. If they think it’s unfair or sulk or half-ass it, that should become a performance issue – just like refusing to do any other part of their job. Managers shouldn’t get away with dumping DEI on the nearest woman just because their company is cheap and they want to get out of doing the hard work of actually managing.

        If that sounds like too much real work, then they can always do what they should have done in the first place and hire a professional.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      2 years ago, a co-worker in HR suggested having an event for Black History Month. Her idea: Having the only Black person on our leadership team give a talk about his experiences in leadership. I was stunned at the idea of giving this Black man an extra task (that would be highly visible) in which he would receive no extra compensation. (Plus, this guy was not the motivational speaker type.) It didn’t come together and that was probably for the best.

    5. I Have RBF*

      Yeah, plus the “have the only woman do the DEI chore” is so… sexist… it’s unbelievable. You know… “make the coffee, take the meeting notes, clean the kitchen, do the DEI stuff” type of gendered “Have the woman do the drudge work” thing.

      At best, it’s lip service.

  5. poostdoc*

    LW2, this is such a typical and frustrating challenge- I completely sympathize!!

    If you can’t get out ASAP, I completely agree that following the advice on ‘holding firm to this as an unreasonable ask’ approach is the only way to go. Though how has the response been when you’ve brought up the obvious problem with asking you?

    If the response is sheepish in ~any~ way, I think you can use the strategy of ‘of course you didn’t intend to make the only woman in charge of DEI. Why don’t you ask Andrew or Mark instead?’

    If the response isn’t self aware at all, you might have to avoid by citing other work obligations or other options?

    If you’re stuck doing it already… can you just let the program die as you search for new jobs? This company does not need your extra labor to bring them up do the bare minimum of DEI

    1. Panda*

      I’m probably dreaming here, but in a world where the LW actually had some authority over work assignments, she could also take “be in charge of DEI” as “delegate and assign DEI tasks to others in the group and hold them accountable for outcomes” ….but I’m definitely dreaming on that. Sounds way too reasonable for this workplace.

    2. ferrina*

      I think this is a rare instance where it’s okay to let the DEIJ program die. It’s not okay for them to assign OP to a complex issue that impacts the whole company without any resources, training or additional voice to leadership.

      However, if you are willing to burn some bridges, I might do just enough research to show that DEIJ needs to be a collaborative effort (get some citation from experts). Then start delegating work to people. Tell your boss that the only way that you can move the needle on this is through delegation, and the initative will only take 2-3 hours of time for Person X, Person Y, and Person Z. Assign them the research. Watch them come back with nothing. Tell your boss that you can’t move forward unless these people are able to pull their weight.
      It’s called “Allyship”. And yeah, I would absolutely frame it as of course everyone is expected to contribute because otherwise we aren’t allies, are we?!. Basically put a bright and shiny spotlight on The Easiest Path That’s Still Technically Doing Something, then turn the spotlight on the people that don’t take that path.
      This strategy is 100% guaranteed to piss some people off (you know, the “but I’m a good person, so surely I don’t need to contribute to DEIJ? I have to do real work!” crowd). Definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution, and something I would use while already planning my exit from this company.

    3. Festively Dressed Earl*

      If it’s at all possible, LW 2 should organize a panel of DEI experts explaining why it’s horrible to dump DEI responsibilities on marginalized employees as soon as she’s got a solid job offer in her back pocket.

  6. LisaD*

    I bet the warm fuzzy industry is some kind of personal coaching. That’s the only space where I can see it being appropriate to know so much about clients’ private lives and vice versa. Or maybe tutoring or admissions consulting?

      1. BigLawEx*

        Said that above. One hundred percent. I’d bet all my money on this. I have only a single friend left doing this.

      2. ?*

        Oh, definitely. My dad is in publishing and I grew up hearing all the details of his clients’ emotional breakdowns. I can think of multiple septuagenarian authors who would send an anxious email if their hand wasn’t getting held enough.

        1. LW3*

          This whole thread is pretty darn close. I project manage in a creative industry, and this kind of pushiness happens with people doing work that’s really personally significant to them. I’d compare it to an editor who has a few authors working on memoirs – it’s so personal for them that all the business around it feels personal, too.

    1. Mockingjay*

      To be helpful to LW3, their industry is irrelevant. This is a company/client relationship that exceeds business norms deliberately. Which of course companies are free to do; they’ve obviously succeeded in capturing a niche client base in this manner, so it works for them. The downside to employees is what LW3 wrote in about.

      While LW3 asked for help in the short term, I recommend trying to pull back long term. Not a lot, but enough that expectations of instant responses are tempered. When calling back: “Hi, I was just wrapping up other thing, so now I’m free to concentrate on your needs. What can I do for you?” Maybe share less of your personal interests while still asking about theirs. Draw a gentle boundary between your life and theirs.

      Of course, LW3 please ignore this advice if you are overall happy to work in this manner, other than this short-term crisis, or if doing so is contrary to company expectations.

  7. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – unless you are in a volunteer or paid position that is focused on children, it will be a flag of a not helpful kind for you to say that one of your qualifications is that you are a parent. As Allison points out, that’s not a unique qualification, by any stretch.

    From a recruiting perspective, I would look at a cover letter like that and think that this person doesn’t really understand the difference between parenting and education / children’s services / whatever the focus of the program is.

    1. Non non non all the way home*

      Yes, it reminds me of the thousands of applicants for writing and editing jobs who mention in their cover letter or email “I have loved reading since I was a child!”

      After the first 100 times reading a comment along those lines, it was challenging to stifle an eyeroll.

      1. Gozer (she/her)*

        Or the famous application I got for a senior tech role where she said that her experience helping her kids do online learning was a qualification. I mean, I *get* that can lead to a passion for computers – I worked my way up the ranks by fixing PCs at home – but one has to show some actual objectives to that learning.

        Did they start reading up on the technical specifications of whatever the company make and what that means in terms of safety/performance/etc? Did they get well into tinkering around inside the case? Had they ever fixed a problem that Google couldn’t answer?

        1. I Have RBF*

          Had they ever fixed a problem that Google couldn’t answer?

          Even senior systems administrators use Google to help troubleshoot.

          Why? Because you can’t know everything, especially gnarly little details about some obscure, but essential, utility. The difference between a raw beginner and a senior admin is twofold: 1) The senior won’t have to Google as much, and 2) The search terms used, therefore usefulness of the results, are better for the senior.

        2. Artemesia*

          It is the kind of thing that you can SAY in an interview moving to how your challenges with remote learning with your kids led you to (fill it technical stuff you explored and learned as a result). BUT that will not work in the cover letter.

      2. Jennifer Strange*

        I work for a theatre doing fundraising. I’ve seen more than one cover letter in which they think liking/doing theatre is the sole qualification needed (which, yes, it’s definitely important, but there’s more to it than that!)

        1. Smithy*

          Also in fundraising – and I think one of the easiest way to go through cover letters is where they talk about their passion or interest in the organization. And nothing about fundraising. Which sure, I can’t imagine fundraising for an organization that I didn’t support at all, but that’s not really a job qualification.

          On the flip side, I really love theater in my private life and recently a fundraising job for a theater was posted with a really high salary. I had so many people ask me if I was going to apply because of how much I love theater and am a fundraiser. It was just so weird to explain that the type of fundraising that job needed was not exactly the kind I do – but also that I wasn’t looking to mix my personal hobby with my job.

        2. Emily Byrd Starr*

          “I did theater in high school. When did I graduate? 1996. Have I done theater since? Well, probably not in the sense that you’re thinking, but I’ve had jobs where I’ve had to stand up in front of people and give a presentation. Oh, and I saw Hamilton on Broadway, before the pandemic.”

      3. Middle Aged Lady*

        Happened a lot in libraries, too. Young people who thought they wanted to be in the information industry because they loved to read.

    2. Aardvark*

      I concur. My job involves working extensively with children. My biggest bugbear is when a parent starts with “but do you have children” as I know they are preparing to dismiss my training, years experience and knowledge of thousands of kids because I don’t have one at home.

      OP, your self awareness to ask this question already tells me you are unlikely to be that parent, but you don’t want to write your application an away that you may be suspected of being that.

      [ I just think of all the parents that would bag teachers as not knowing anything special then struggled to help their one child school from home during covid while the teacher normal has 30. Again, not you, but it is where ‘as a mother’ comments take me]

      1. Kelly*

        I got the same thing as an equine vet who couldn’t afford to have horses. Just because I don’t own one doesn’t mean I haven’t learned MORE than 99% of owners through school, continuing education and personal study. Just like having a vagina doesn’t make me a gynecologist, having kids doesn’t make you an expert on parenting magazines or services.

    3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      “unless you are in a volunteer or paid position that is focused on children”

      For many parents this is a PTA position, which can be genuinely relevant to a job application if it involves eg applying for grants, organising events, managing finances. See also youth sport coach, Scout/Guide leader, etc, where the vast majority of volunteers are parents of participants but you don’t have to be.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        These volunteer roles are much less likely with infants and toddlers.

        I’ve known moms running local youth sports teams/leagues for whom that experience would map over to a number of jobs where you have to be good at tracking a lot of moving parts and hitting deadlines, and any local hirers should have leapt on them. But it’s also a role that you fill with whoever volunteers to take it on.

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Well this person has an infant and toddler now, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t volunteer in the past. I was an assistant scout troop leader when I was in my very early 20s. Never had children at all, but I enjoyed working with them.

    4. NothingIsLittle*

      One thing I would consider, though maybe this is because my employer isn’t well known, is being able to point to meaningful familiarity with the brand (depending on the role). Not just, as Non non non all the way home points out, “I’ve read this forever,” but being able to point to a specific editorial style etc and give thoughtful commentary. One of the reasons I got hired for my job was that I pointed out accessibility issues within the work I’d be doing/managing and how easy the fix could be.

    5. Jessica Clubber Lang*

      I don’t think LW believes that being a parent is a unique qualification, rather it’s more about giving context to why the role might be relevant or a good fit.

      If the company is parent/family related, and you want to show that you’re familiar with their work, I think it’s ok to include that detail.

      1. Sandi*

        I was thinking of it as more of a minimum qualification. I have applied to positions that require citizenship or language skills, so at the bottom I have written “I am a U.S. citizen and fluent in french”. As the last line on a cover letter or somewhere on the CV it would be reasonable to say “I am a mother of two young children who has used your brand regularly / daily since 20XX”.

      2. Observer*

        If the company is parent/family related, and you want to show that you’re familiar with their work, I think it’s ok to include that detail.

        Not really. Because you can be a parent and not be familiar with every company that is parent / family related, at least in a way that is relevant to the position.

        1. Jessica Clubber Lang*

          Of course, but let’s say the company in this case sells baby formula, or car seats. If I was a happy user of those products as a parent, I would definitely include that info in a cover letter.

          Maybe that’s dumb of me, but just my two cents

          1. Observer*

            There is a difference between “as a user who chose Product X after trying a variety of similar products, I think I can offer a good perspective” and “As a parent”, who may or may not have anything really to add to the conversation.

            1. Jessica Clubber Lang*

              In that case my question would be what’s the difference between being a buyer of baby formula and a parent?

              It just seems a very roundabout way of avoiding something that’s obvious anyway

              It’s ok to be cautious and not mention it, I just think in some instances it’s fine.

              1. Observer*

                The idea is not to hide being a parent per se, but to only bring it up in a context where it actually (possibly) adds something to the conversation.

                “As a parent” almost never helps. “As a person / parent who did Particular relevant thing” is sometimes useful (although it’s not so common, I would say.)

              2. DisgruntledPelican*

                Because the thing that needs to be emphasized is that you are a user of the product. Not that you are a parent. Children are cared for by people other than parents all the time, so products for babies/children are used by people other than parents. And parents don’t use every single product available for children. Just saying “I’m a parent” in no way indicates that you have ever used baby formula.

  8. ThatOtherClare*

    LW#4, how’s this for a draft script?

    “I received an offer from PorridgeCo, and between the pay, benefits, schedule and location I couldn’t turn them down. Maybe once I work my way up a bit higher into the top roles in porridge-making I’ll be able to come back and apply for some of your highest-paying positions.”

    They’re unlikely to be able to counteroffer ALL the benefits you’re describing. I had a stab at combining self-effacing (I’m poor and not good enough for you) and restoring their ego (I’d work for you if I could, and I still hope I will), but you’d need to make sure it came across as acceptable levels of flattery and not sarcasm.

    1. Artemesia*

      You don’t tell the organization you are rejecting which one you are accepting. And the ‘your highest paying positions’ line gets you on the DNH list.

      1. Susan Calvin*

        Concur that the second bit is unnecessary and rings odd, but I can tell you that not saying which offer you’re accepting is almost certainly not a rule in OPs situation. They say very explicitly that the field is small enough that everyone involved will know within a month anyways, and it’s the most straightforward, uncontroversial way to convey “no thanks, but not because your offer sucks”

        1. ThatOtherClare*

          Not going to lie, I struggled with the second part, but the ideas/concepts seemed important to LW4 so I thought I’d have a crack at it. Hopefully someone might springboard off what I wrote and come up with something better. OR just straight up fresh come up with something better, I’m here to learn from other people’s good ideas as much as anything :)

          1. I should really pick a name*

            I think your script is fine if you drop the second part. The second part is getting into overexplaining.

          2. Ellis Bell*

            I really liked the first half. I would probably say something similar to the second half but more vague and glossed over: “I enjoyed hearing about the company though, and maybe we’ll cross paths in the future”.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        That’s really not the case in small industries. People always tell me the offer they took instead, and if they don’t I’m likely to hear regardless. Secrecy would come off as weirder in this case.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      IME it’s best to say as little as possible in situations like this. LW should say what they think is necessary, and then shut up.
      I would never say I want to work with some other company. Suppose that got back to current employer? Keep it short, sweet, and say only what’s necessary.

      1. pally*

        Exactly. Providing details opens up an opportunity to counter-offer. Sure, you’re still not interested. But then you have to give a second ‘no thanks’ with them wondering -or even asking, “we offered you exactly what you said the other company offered you. what gives?”

        One time, my dad interviewed for a position that would require moving the entire family. He told us he wouldn’t move us. To insure this, he gave the employer a whole list of “wants” including a huge salary, and other benefits he was sure they would not agree to.

        Well, they agreed to everything he asked. Everything! And then some!

        So we had to move.

        1. Quack like a Duck*

          Why on earth didn’t he just say “I can’t move my family” instead of making up a bunch of other stuff? or at least cite it as one of his reasons?

      2. Bitte Meddler*

        I went through a job search in Q3 last year. I ended up with two offers. They were both fabulous opportunities with fabulous teams and in solid companies. If I could have cloned myself and worked at both places, I would have.

        I had no problem telling Company B that, if not for this one factor (100% remote vs Company B’s 3/2 hybrid), I would have chosen them. I sang the praises of each team member I met to their respective managers, and then praised the whole team to the C-level person with whom I had the “I love y’all but I’m taking Company A’s offer” conversation.

        And then I told Company A that, yes, I was accepting their offer, but it was tough choice because Company B was also amazing.

        Company A was pleased that I chose them because I wanted to, and not because I had to. (As in, I had two great offers; not a bad one and a good one, where the choice would be obvious).

        If I’m with my Company A folks and run into the Company B folks at an industry event, it will be a friendly and positive interaction with me talking Company B up to Company A, and vice-versa.

    3. Happily Retired*

      I honestly think that Alison’s phrase “they were the best fit” is the way to go. No details. It doesn’t clash with “your offer was great,” and it doesn’t open the door to counter-offers, arguments about location, etc.

    4. LCH*

      i wouldn’t voluntarily cite the place that i did accept (although i have been asked this question before when turning another place down; it feels weird; i also wasn’t sure how to evade the direct question).

      1. ThatOtherClare*

        I see. Where I’m from it’s standard to tell people where you’re going. Your old employer and any offers you turn down. It would be seen as weirdly suspicious-minded and secretive to hide the information when it will be public knowledge through LinkedIn etc very soon.

        If I ever take a job in the US I will definitely take everyone’s advice above and keep my big mouth shut when I move on.

  9. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    So OT but I would love an update on the un-fired problem employee in the “you may also like” links!

    1. English Teacher*

      right?? I am so curious whether it was an ADA type issue, although I suppose OP might never know that. The original letter talked about having to wake up in the morning, go in at 5 PM AND work a night shift, so my first thought was some sleep or health related issue that would make that a real burden.

  10. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    I’ve had good results basically turning around the “we didn’t hire you” script employers always use. “It was a tough choice for me but ultimately this other opportunity was a better fit. Best of luck in your search, it was a real pleasure meeting you and perhaps someday our paths will cross again to our mutual benefit” covers all your bases.

    (“If this doesn’t work out, I will probably darken your doorstep again soon” is best reserved for employers with whom you already have a warm existing relationship. )

    1. Green great dragon*

      I like this. I’d definitely tell them it was a tough decision if you can do that with a straight face, so they don’t feel you were wasting their time.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, I was going to say this. The simple truth is that you can’t take all the jobs, and you can sound regretful about that.

      But the trick is not to frame it as not a CHOICE that you can be talked out of, but as an objective reality that you can’t change: “I was really excited about working with you but I had another job offer around the same time and this one works better [you can add “for me and my family” if you want to layer it on] right now in terms of benefits, location and shift pattern, so I’ve had to accept that one. I enjoyed speaking to you and appreciate your time!”

      You’re *almost* implying that if it were entirely up to you, OF COURSE you’d pick their job, but you’ve got external factors to consider than mean you’ve got to pick the other one, and it’s just not stuff you have any control over. And if they try to negotiate that, do exactly what a company would do with an applicant who tried to change their minds: one or two polite iterations of, “unfortunately i can’t change my decision, but thank you for your time” and then feel free to end the conversation.

      1. Seven If You Count Bad John*

        Ehhh, I can see where you’re coming from, but honestly, having received rejections using the exact “choice” framing, I just can’t get excited about saving their feelings that much. I am in fact making a choice, and there’s a limit to how much h/s/f “if only, if only” I’ll do. They’re making a choice in offering me the job, and I’ve had rejection letters that said “it was a hard choice”. I mean, LW’s whole question was “how do I say this nicely but in Masshole” and it’s the opposite of so many letters we’ve had where it’s “I’m in the Midwest and I need to be Vlad Tepes or we’ll never get anything done, howmst pls”

        I just had two conversations exactly like this—one where I told a prospective employer point blank the top of their range is my midpoint, and one where I said “I was ready to accept your offer, but this other one is better. No hard feelings” and there were no hard feelings! The employer offered me a reasonable wage, and the other employer said “yep, see you again maybe, let us know if you know anyone for us!”

        Keep it simple!

        1. bamcheeks*

          I don’t think it’s about saving the company’s feelings– it’s about LW having a script that THEY feel comfortable with and that feels like they’ve softened the “no” appropriately, but also not left room for negotiation. I think they’re absolutely fine to simply say, “no, I’ve chosen the other job” and holding to it if they can do that, but lots of people find themselves getting into, “Oh, OK, sure, send over the offer, yes I’ll consider it…” and back at square one. Setting and holding the boundary of “I would love to, but I can’t” can feel a lot easier!

      2. Ellis Bell*

        +1 to presenting it as a done deal/fait accompli. At one end of the scale, you could go in with “Well, their pay offer is better…” leaving a pause for them to counter offer and at the other you just say “I’ve ACCEPTED an offer I just couldn’t refuse and it really seems to be the best fit for me overall”. Occasionally you get an ego-maniac who cannot believe you would turn them down, but most of the time, companies don’t really want to hire someone who isn’t going with their first choice, so don’t put too much thought into having to break their hearts.

  11. Brain the Brian*

    The casual hyperlink to to the Fodor’s page on Massholes has me cackling. I know it’s likely for the benefit of non-U.S. readers, but I’m still deeply amused by it. (And yes, LW5, you are indeed overthinking it. No one will bat an eye at Alison’s suggested script.)

    1. Morning Reading*

      And all of us in the US not near Boston. I’ve never heard the term; it does seem an odd thing to be proud of. Here in southern michigan we have the similar term FIB (the I is for Illinois or Indiana) applied to similarly rude or entitled behavior, but I’ve never heard anyone use it to describe themselves. Perhaps there is more emphasis on the rude aspect, less on the plainspoken and honest.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Well, it’s the only demonym we’ve got — no one wants to say “Massachusettian.” So it gets used in a non-derogatory way fairly often.

        1. Genevieve en Francais*

          There’s Bay Stater? But Masshole is much better.

          As a lifelong Michigander who took a five-year detour (pronounced dee-two-er, tyvm) to Boston in her twenties, I can say with some authority that although Massholes are blunter, I honestly prefer it. And I’m the chattiest, ope-iest, long-goodbyeing-est Midwesterner I know. But I worked in the same field in both places and the better work environment was in Boston. People were honestly kinder and our working relationships were better because you actually could trust that people were being mostly honest with you.

          Of course this is a sample size of two, so take it with a grain of salt. Also I’m an atheist and I swear like a sailor, so in some ways I did fit in better in Boston…

          1. ecnaseener*

            Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever heard “Bay Stater” from anyone other than a politician. Feels very hokey.

          2. Roy G. Biv*

            Also a Michigander here. I had a boss from Boston tell me he thought people in the Midwest were all passive aggressive. (He was not wrong) We smile and act nice, but won’t say what we really want or think. He said by contrast people from the East are direct to the point of blunt/rude, but they won’t waste your time. Just take care of business and move on. His words were blunt/rude to my tender, passive ears, but all these years later I have learned to harness the power of directness (aka soft bluntness) in my day to day life, and it is liberating. Shocking to many of the locals, but liberating.

            1. L*

              You have apparently never worked with true Southerners, who will kill you with kindness as they actually stab you in the back.

              1. Genevieve en Francais*

                Nah Michiganders do have a tipping point, so we’re champions of pretending things aren’t an issue until we explode. Also we can be terrible at calling out rudeness because we’re so afraid of being rude ourselves. (One of the things I prefer about New England culture!)

          3. MI to MA*

            Chiming in as another born-and-raised Michigander who has lived in Boston for over six years now. Aside from having to deal with a lot more road rage inside the I-95 loop, I’ve generally had a very positive experience with Massholes, both professionally and personally. I’ve had some visiting family complain that people here (strangers on the street, service workers) aren’t as chatty and warm, but it can it be its own kindness when people are matter-of-fact and direct. I don’t think one state is inherently more polite or rude than the other–it’s just a matter of knowing how to read each communication style.

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        My spouse pulls it out whenever we’re traveling and he feels he needs to briefly engage in more aggressive driving.

        (With the distinction that NY drivers are aggressive, while MA drivers are both aggressive and inclined to signal left before crossing three lanes of traffic right. You gotta feint to keep your opponents off-balance.)

        1. Birdie*

          Turns signals are an announcement of imminent hostile actions, can’t let the enemy know what’s coming!

          Maryland Driver

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        It’s not really to describe rude or entitled behavior. It’s more extremely blunt and gruff.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          Eh, depends on who says it. My MIL (born and raised in NY and loved in CT and MD) definitely uses it for the former when talking about aggressive drivers with MA plates.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Oh driving yes totally different ballgame. Massholes are all vaguely homicidal while driving.

      4. Rock Prof*

        FIB was used in Wisconsin too, but I only ever heard it in reference to bad drivers not actual people in real life and definitely not as a self-reference.

      5. the-honey-eater*

        FIB here, and I’ve only ever heard it used online derogatorily towards my people by someone from Wisconsin. I would never call myself that and would heavily sideeye someone who called me that to my face.

      6. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Huh. I grew up in Michigan and now live in Indiana, for a total of 75% of my life between the two, and I have no idea what FIB is supposed to mean.

        1. Pescadero*

          It’s a very “west coast beach towns of Michigan” phrase. Warren Dunes, South Haven, Saugatuck, Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Pentwater, Ludington, Manistee, Frankfort, Leelenau Peninsula…

    2. And thanks for the coffee*

      US citizen and resident here.
      I’d never heard the term Massholes before and was happy to be enlightened at the link. I would have probably interpreted the term as meaning a massive $&)hole, thus a superlative rather than location.

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP2 (DEI initiative) – Leaving aside the fact that it’s DEI for the moment (which, I acknowledge there are a whole bunch of additional factors with that) – fundamentally the situation you have here is: I have job role x (e.g. software developer), I’ve been asked to additionally take on job role y (e.g. facilities management) which is totally unrelated to job role x. And there isn’t currently a ‘y’ function in the company, so I need to build it, and be a change agent in convincing everyone why y is necessary, and what their part is in it, and what they need to change about their own work in order to comply with our ‘facilities management’ initiative.

    Being given a “change agent” role with no backing from upper management is almost certainly going to fail. And with an area like DEI I know there must be extra considerations of doing that properly.

    I wonder why it has been handed to you by your team manager, sounds like the team is part of a larger company. Does every team have a DEI ‘champion’ or are you being asked to lead (and execute) this program for the whole company? Does the manager have backing of upper management of have they just unilaterally decided on this? Do you have HR at your company, I think that might be a good place to take it.

    The conversation with your manager needs to be “look, you’ve given me basically another job that’s completely orthogonal to the one I was hired for, I’m not the best choice for this, I don’t have time to do it although I acknowledge DEI is important, we need to get a dedicated resource for this”.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I think this is good framing to highlight how unreasonable it is. I think you might also be explaining to a bunch of rubes that what they think is an attitude/state of mind is actually an entire job… if not the job of a few people. I have a hunch they never intended OP to change anything, or do much at all really except put a warm fuzzy face on things. Too many people think DEI is no more challenging than simply saying publicly: “We care about including you”. They think that if they, for example, say they support women employees, then women will line up around the block to be underpaid, talked over, and to be voluntold to plan the catering every International Women’s Day

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Agreeing – the DEI role should be a PAID position in HR (likely). A) it’s a complete job in and of itself. B) if the company places any real value on diversity, they will be willing to invest in the function, and to hire someone who has real training and experience.

  13. I&I*

    OP3: Could you try something like, ‘It’s a family emergency – the details aren’t my story to share’ or ‘They’ve asked everyone to respect their privacy outside their own circle?’ I mean, that IS a big reason why most people understand that ‘family emergency’ means ‘not your business’, but maybe it’d help to spell out that it’s not up to you to decide who gets to hear the juicy deets? You can try to sell it as a general trait that benefits them: you wouldn’t tell people about their problems without their consent either.

    1. Anon for today*

      Yes, this! You can’t just go around blabbing about family members’ health details to your clients, no matter how nosy the clients are. Passing on someone else’s personal health information to people who have no right to that information is pretty brazen, imo.

      (This happened to me last year, and yes, I’m still salty about it.)

    2. ThatOtherClare*

      I like this approach to it. True, fair, and if they want to feel annoyed about missing out on the gossip then they can be annoyed at their exaggerated mental image of some random privacy-obsessed family member they’ve never met, rather than at the letter writer.

  14. Thegreatprevaricator*

    Lw3 – I used to work in theatre where lines around professional/ personal relationships could get pretty blurry. I learnt early on that I needed to set expectations with clients about what they could expect from me. So yes absolutely I am happy to chat and our working relationship could be very close at times. However, I made it clear that I was not responding to emails immediately and that I didn’t take phone calls outside of normal work hours unless it was an emergency. The nature of our work meant that we could talk about how we expected to work and working relationship meant I could say ‘hey, this isn’t working for me’. In fact some clients said the same – that they needed an acknowledgment of receipt for example and I could do that. As I got more experienced I made sure that we laid out expectations of how we would work together early on, both when meeting to explore when working together and at the same time as agreeing the contract. I didn’t have capacity or inclination to work with clients that needed immediate answers to not urgent questions, I learned, so it was better to set that early on. It wasn’t impossible to set some boundaries as we worked together but better to use that learning for how I worked with new clients

    1. Ama*

      I have worked in admin roles adjacent to academics for most of my career — academics work all hours and will send you emails at 4 am on Saturday because that’s when they are up working on whatever project and realize they have a question for you (or are responding to emails and you asked them something on Friday afternoon).

      90% of the people I worked with understood that I would respond when I was actually working. 9% of the remainder would sometimes send multiple messages over a weekend but after a polite but firm reminder of what my working hours were they’d apologize and stop. The other 1% never really got it, but they also never got me to respond outside of office hours so in my opinion they could anxiety dump all over my email/work voicemail as much as they wanted until I had time to get back to them.

      1. Thegreatprevaricator*

        Yes I now add to my signature basically ‘ I may be sending email outside of office hours, but don’t expect you to read or reply’. The worst culprits were definitely those who would just anxiety splurge all over my inbox. No matter how many emails you send, the uncertainty remains friend.

  15. Gozer (She/Her)*

    2: Oh so much sympathy mate, been there, done that. “Hey as the token disabled woman in the department you should organise an awareness thing!”

    In younger years I fell for it. I’m over 40 now and done with that BS.

    If you don’t have any authority you can’t do anything if the people WITH the authority won’t listen. That’s the be all and end all of it. We’re a checkbox so the higher ups can put ‘diverse employees’ on their website and feel good. And we receive nothing for it.

    A simple “yeah no, got too much on my plate and you need to hire professionals for that” tends to stop it, sometimes though it takes a “look, I’ve thought about it and I really can’t do this – I’m not the right person”.

    (And people in business? Stop asking your discriminated groups to be the voices for change. We’ve been doing it for decades and nobody. Listens. We’re tired)

    1. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I’m the token female in a male dominant industry at my company. Last year I was asked to make a statement about what gender equality means for our company newsletter. They also asked a white male (who tends to treat women as ‘less than’, but ironically, only women at work notice he does this) to give a statement and then put his statement above mine in the newsletter. Several people didn’t even realize I had also given a statement as they stopped reading when they saw they picked a white male to talk about gender equality. *sigh*

      1. GythaOgden*

        I totally get that. Allyship can be a double-edged sword, particularly if you’re left worrying if it’s insincere.

        I once stewarded a Reddit writing forum where one aggressive poster would loudly denounce concerns about diversity in others’ writing. He then flamed out before we could ban him for other reasons — namely, he got a book deal and tried to spam us and then flounced.

        A while later his books came out and I actually read them (because after all, he did ‘graduate’ from our forum and praised critique sites on his blog for having given him the confidence and self-awareness to improve his writing, and I was just curious to see what he’d been writing) and found them to be enjoyable and full of interesting and diverse characters. I looked up his blog and found him… aggressively defending diversity in writing.

        And I know I was a bit sceptical about it. He might have come to some kind of understanding between flouncing from the forum and writing the blog post that it actually was important to respect the audience and build varied worlds. Either that happened because he was essentially being paid to write to market, or he did have some kind of genuine epiphany later on. He was also far less full of BS than he had been previously (and yeah, I recognised his writing style on the blog and matched it to that of his posts in the forum archives).

        In that case I was inclined to believe in his sincerity and there being ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents’ because I was glad he had found his voice despite being a wally when I knew him.

        But I guess I can tell the difference between when someone is being sincere and helpful and when they’re just trying to hitch rides on my back. As neurodivergent it’s really frustrating when people use my situation as a weapon to protest against other things online rather than actually invest time, effort and money into establishing the support and resources I need to be able to hold down a job, run a household and live independently. I’m not interested in being a battering ram against X abstract foe; I want you to help with concrete things I need in the support system around me.

  16. JSPA*

    #3: “Partial Out Of Office autoresponse: Our family had a sudden health emergency. The details are not mine to share, but the prognosis is now guardedly very hopeful, and I expect to be back in office essentially full-time by [date], and into power‐focus mode.”

  17. bamcheeks*

    I’d slightly disagree with Alison on 4. I wouldn’t necessarily do a specific “as a mom” thing or suggest that being a mom gives me specific skills or anything, but I might allude to it as part of why I’m invested in the brand / mission. “I have personally seen the impact that trusted, expert advice on parenting issues can make to readers, and that’s why I…” or “Brand’s recommendations on summer vacation activities are regularly shared in my own social circles, and I know how much stock parents put in your well-researched and reliable…” type thing.

    I think you can leave it vague as to whether you’re speaking as a parent, auncle or what, but if you are deliberately targeting those areas because of your own status as a parent, and they are brands which put a lot of stock in “by parents for parents” type thing, I definitely think it would support your application to recognise and reflect that. Being authentic about that kind of thing is what makes a cover letter feel like it comes from a real person rather than a stock template.

  18. Still*

    LW#1, I think that your boss absolutely should have been clearer and given you a heads-up that they’re going to let you go at the end of your probationary period… but if what you’re worried about is being blindsided again, maybe it might help to realise that it didn’t (seem to have) come completely out of the blue.

    You said that your boss was frustrated with something you did early on – enough to mention it a month later, at a halfway mark. “You need to work more independently” sounds like an issue to be taken seriously: it’s likely easier for the company to find someone new than to keep on a person who they think needs too much guidance. And “appreciated that I was at work every day” – that’s a pretty low bar. If that’s the only positive feedback you can point to, it doesn’t sound very optimistic.

    I don’t know you or your situation and I don’t mean to tell you how you did at your job, I have no way of knowing that! But I’ve seen many letters from people who were blindsided even though they’d received clear negative feedback. And a lot of letters from bosses who think they’ve been clear but it turns out they’d really softened the message to the point of muddying it. Is it possible that your boss assumed that after the 30-day review you got the message that it wasn’t going great and were expecting not to stay on?

    Again, they absolutely owed you a clearer message. I just wonder if it might make you feel a bit less terrified and a bit more in control to acknowledge that maybe there have been signs that you should have taken more seriously, because that’s something that’s within your power.

    1. ThatOtherClare*

      It’s fascinating how different individuals and cultures interpret the English language. Still sees “appreciated that I was at work every day” as a low bar. I see it as an extremely passive aggressive insult, and I would have been quite concerned for my job from then on. Clearly you didn’t see it as a massive problem at the time, and no doubt the speaker meant it in a fourth way different from any of the above!

      As Still says, improving your ability to recognise and interpret different communication styles can help to protect you from being surprised in future, and even if you never need it in that context it’s always just a handy skill to be good at (and one that everybody always has room to improve in).

      1. JSPA*

        I’m guessing a “complement sandwich” or “always say something nice” managerial messaging fail? But yeah, it should probably have raised some sort of small flag, to receive (at best) very minimal praise for a non- minimal paycheck. And with a boss who often has to be absent, “you’re not self directed and self starting enough” is far more substantive negative feedback / evidence of a mismatch to needs.

        1. Smithy*

          Yeah…I work in a part of my field where you cannot expect to see true written guidance or documentation around every if any part of our job. And very often onboarding is truly just taking meetings, assignments, shadowing and asking questions to figure things out. The best employers understand it’s an uneven process that can take some time, and the worst expect you to figure everything out quickly – but both can have that same lack of documentation.

          The reason for this lack is because we’re a team that works cross departments, and the reality is that by the time we’d write down all of our ways of working – other departments would have their own reorgs, changing systems used, etc. And in turn it’d just make more and more of our documentation out of date. I once gave a new hire onboarding materials that had been created 6 months ago, but due to one reorg and another team changing their software – it made the materials 50% useful at best.

          This is all to say that within such a system, there are a lot of noticing soft cues and learning an employer’s culture in those first two months. And a supervisor who feels like there’s a huge mismatch, I can see feeling at a loss on how to manage well. This doesn’t excuse poor management – but it can explain why the direction provided felt unclear or not as serious as it should have been.

      2. Myrin*

        How’s that for yet another different way to read the “at work every day” comment: I thought it might mean the person who had the role before OP was out frequently.

        1. Bast*

          This is how I would have interpreted it. We had an employee who was late, called out and no showed way more than should be allowed at any job, and her replacement was always prompt. My boss made a comment to the new individual about how she appreciated that she was “at work on time and ready to work every day” and it was solely because her predecessor was not.

          1. Annony*

            We had someone who showed up for 9 days total and was shocked to be let go after the first 90 days. The only reason she even made it that long is that HR sucked and refused to do anything until the probation review.

            1. Bast*

              Wait… Only 9 working days in a 90 day probationary period? That’s pretty horrific. HR could have canned her and had someone else in there in that period of time. It’s a shame everyone else had to put up with it; hope it didn’t impact everyone too badly.

        2. Observer*

          I thought it might mean the person who had the role before OP was out frequently.

          It’s still a low enough bar, that if that was the best the boss could come up with, the OP should have been concerned.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        It would definitely depend on tone. Could be sarcasm, could be the only positive thing they could think of, could even be genuine if it’s a coverage-based role and there were problems in the past.

        1. Irish Teacher.*

          Yeah, how I would interpret it would very much depend on both tone and context. I could see it as the equivalent of my brother’s P.E. teacher telling my mother at the parent-teacher meeting that “he always togs out,” which meant that he was useless at sport but at least he attended the class and did what he was told. Like “I have to say something positive…um, you show up for work.”

          But I think thatshould be clear from context, though of course, I don’t know people can miss context.

          It could also be a matter of “thank God, we’ve finally got somebody who doesn’t call in sick every second day” and not really be a reference to the LW at all or it could be in a very specific context like the LW came in on a day when it was very snowy or something and they meant that “we appreciate that you make an extra effort to come in even when many people would take the day off.” In the context of today’s world, it could also be a case of the job being hybrid and the LW preferring to work from the office and the boss having a prejudice in favour of people doing that and thinking it praise-worthy.

      4. learnedthehardway*

        Reminds me of the time my father was asked to be a reference for someone, and he gave a positive reference about how the person had been punctual. (It was an engineering position.)

      5. LW1*

        Fascinating to read others’ analysis of this one! More specifically it was “I don’t need to worry about you not showing up.” Honestly… who knows. Granted how things seemed to be going at that point, I could tell that there were things I was doing well (taking on a project my boss point-blank refused to do because it was too boring), and took that as my one piece of positive feedback. Perhaps I should have asked “If the only thing I’m succeeding at is showing up, does that mean I’m doing a really bad job?” worded differently, of course.
        To some extent, it wasn’t blindsiding; my boss had seemed grumpy for a while and I chalked it up to her own life situation rather than taking it super personally. Interestingly the “frustrating” thing I did on my second day, when she left mid-morning and I was working alone for the rest of the day, was directly contradictory to “being more independent.” Both involved my own safety and working directly/unsupervised with the VERY high-risk population we worked with. Think along the lines of homeless outreach – there was unpredictability and definite possible danger, a situation where doing anything on your own with clients you didn’t know well was a big and unnecessary risk.
        I hope this doesn’t sound totally defensive! Just some context missing from the first letter.

        1. JSPA*

          Ugh, this screams more, “organization relying on the importance of their work” (clear!) for their continued existence, over the little things like, “being a minimally functional organization in any way, shape or form.”

          “We strive to do essential work” can’t substitute for, “we are minimally functional.”

          Finding someone doing somewhat useful work, solidly, is often better for you and for society than going with the edgy, shoestring groups who try to do too much with too little

        2. ThatOtherClare*

          Ok, that’s even more interesting because I personally would have interpreted that phrasing similarly to a lot of the interpretations above: “I had to worry about the last person in the role no-showing so I’m relieved you don’t do that”. So, more of a side comment than actual feedback.

          Considering she was giving you contradictory directions and had a general air of grumpy and overwhelmed, your retention may have come down to something like the strength of her coffee on the day she had to do the yes/no paperwork. My guess is you’ve run into a Black Swan event. Frustrating, but unlikely to happen twice.

        3. Tiger Snake*

          Uh, maybe I’ve got the benefit of being the 1,000th user to chime in with hindsight, but that doesn’t sound much like positive feedback to me. That sounds like “I can’t actually compliment any of the work you’re doing as good enough for the job, but at least you’re here.”

          Did your manager not have anything else about the actual work you did that they talked about at all?

    2. GythaOgden*

      I think it’s also on the person being given feedback to ask for clarification, because they need to work with people who might not be clear and they can’t suddenly make someone else be more clear in their messaging. But I totally agree; OP is being pretty dismissive of important things and owes it to themselves to do an honest post-mortem of what went wrong and how they can put it right next time round.

      1. LW1*

        I am deep in the post-mortem introspection, including talking to former coworkers (their consensus: don’t internalize it) and am curious what you see being dismissed? This is an honest question, I’m generally pretty hard on myself when others are not (everyone in my life is telling me not to be hard on myself) so my curiosity is piqued to see someone say otherwise.

        1. GythaOgden*

          I think a big sign to me was that you were writing in to ask, not about what actually went down with the feedback, but ‘can they do this to me?!’ Plus the bit about feedback in writing — from my perspective that would be very strange, and augur much worse than just a pat on the back and a few minor quibbles. People don’t usually go to those lengths unless they are documenting an ongoing problem with you and need to cross their ts and dot their is for a PIP or a formal disciplinary process to show someone else they’re not pleased with the way things are going but can’t just sack someone on the spot. (And even in US at-will employment practice, I recall there’s a law in effect that means after any probationary period an employer has to ensure they’ve gone through any established disciplinary process first in order to fire someone, probably for equity reasons to ensure they’re not just randomly firing you for being a POC or trans or whatever.)

          Also from my perspective it would be weird to be contacted by a coworker who was let go after two months. I witnessed someone being discreetly shown the door and learning that, although my interactions with him on reception had been great and he was sweet and kind and also FWIW cute as all get out, he was pretty bad at his job. If he’d have rung up and asked me why he thought he’d been let go, I’m not sure I would have said, ‘well, B, you were totally incompetent and actually got put on a do not hire list by the department you approached about a longer term job because your boss said some awful things about your actual work product. You were a bit naive and while you’re a lovely person, you didn’t appear to be all there when on site’.

          I’d have said something like ‘I think you might have been a bad fit for this particular job; the NHS can be stressful to work for as they sometimes need 24/7 support from IT. I enjoyed working with you, though, because you were a really sweet guy, and I wish you all the best.’ Kinda like, it’s really not my job to offer you feedback but I care about your feelings as a fellow human being.

          So…getting people who knew you for all of two months to smooth over your ruffled feathers seems a bit odd, as well as thinking you should get written feedback at the 30 day mark. I’m assuming here you’re like my colleague or like I was fresh out of uni — a nice person (or someone who tries to be nice), probably a bad fit for that job and thus blundered around a bit and also maybe not given the time you needed to get going and then floundering, and that sucks and as I said, I’ve //totally been there// so I’m commiserating as well as sharing my own experience of the aftermath of such a situation.

          But if you’re doing this over again, remember to be careful with any feedback and ask for a discussion over what you should be doing if you feel management is mincing their words. It just comes across like you want us to say the boss shouldn’t have sacked you in this way and…while you have some good replies in the comments and show some understanding of the situation, I still don’t really know whether this has really sunk in yet.

          So what I’m saying here is from experience with the same situation I’ve been in on both sides of the desk. It could be both bad management and your own flaws at the same time (been there!) but you can only ever control your own actions, not theirs, and at least one expectation here (formal written feedback) is faulty.

    3. Picked Beets*

      Asking for clarity can help. To me that feedback came off as mildly contradictory; don’t do this thing LW1 likely had no way of knowing not to do on day two,* but also do more better on your own. The trick is to put an inquiry like that into those terms so you don’t inadvertently look like you can’t take initiative – “of course, I want to make sure I’m taking initiative on the right things so I don’t do x again” – as if you’re scoping than seeking clarity.

      To me this sounded like someone who made up her mind about LW1 very early on; the 30-60 day mark is really early to expect heavy initiative in a lot of positions. This could have been legit – some jobs you know – or an excuse.

      LW1, they truly can be painful, but a postmortem analysis may help you get past fear of being let go and move forward. Was this a job that required initiative, or was this a bad fit because they hired for skills you didn’t have without additional training? I’d take a hard look at whatever happened on day two as well – should you have asked more questions, for instance, or checked documentation (and if there was no documentation, consider bringing a notepad and pen to take notes in the future)?

      1. Miss Chanandler Bong*

        That was the thing that got me about the manager. It was day 2 and the manager wasn’t even there. Why wasn’t she correcting and moving on from the situation? To me, between that and the feedback sounds like a bad manager.

        OP, this happened to me last year, and I agree about the self reflection. It was hard, but I realized later that I really should have just quit that job after about a week. I’m only in my 20s, and there were some interview red flags I failed to see that after that, I knew to look for. After about a week, I was in a company-wide meeting when someone senior said “we’re like family here.” I knew I’d made a mistake, but decided to stick it out. I had a manager who was weirdly judgy about my disability accomodations. She never stood in the way of them, but the vibe I got from her was definitely “You’re too young to need this.” She was also weird about me taking my lunch break at 1 pm instead of 12 to attend a weekly medical appointment (which was therapy, but she didn’t need to know that). We’re not in an industry where we’re customer-facing or where this would have a business impact. They also advertised the role as being hybrid. For other teams, it was truly hybrid, but for my manager, she basically wanted everyone there unless they had a reason to work from home, which is not hybrid.

        In the end, I realized several things. They need to advertise correctly for who they actually want and pay accordingly. They want to pay for someone who has my experience level, but they need someone with more experience. This is also a role with a known shortage of people who can do it, so they need to make sure they’re meeting industry standards with things like pay and PTO. If the expectation is to be mostly in office, then they need to be straightforward about that, not advertise as hybrid and pull a switcheroo.

        As for me, I found another role that is 100% remote, paying only $1K less, way better benefits, and more opportunity for growth. And the role is where it’s supposed to be for my experience level. I’m still in my probationary period here, but I have no qualms that this will work out.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          I think it really depends on if what happened on day 2 was something any reasonable employee would know about it even on day 2 or not. The LW was vague about it so the commenters don’t know enough to judge.

        2. Smithy*

          At the time it happens, I know that kind of termination hurts – but I really hope you know how much being let go earlier can help you going forward.

          I have a coworker who was clearly a similar hire – they had the money to pay for someone with one level of experience but were really hoping for/needed someone a lot more experience. To the point where I was talking to colleague about how the job she has, even if the salary was for my level of seniority, I’d be disinclined to take because the remit of the job is actually quite difficult. But unless you’re more familiar with the field, it’d be easy to not know that.

          In her case however, she’s not been let go and also isn’t getting the kind of supervision/coaching that would help close those experience gaps. Over time she’s created a reputation of being really green, really junior, and someone to avoid if no one’s going to support closing that experience gap. And the sympathy that people do feel for her in terms of being set up to fail, has gone away over time based on what it is like to practically work with her.

          In no way does this take away the sting or irritation of being on the side of being set up to fail. But sticking in a job where you’re not getting needed coaching and also not really growing your professional network….that just seems like a longer way to stagnate professionally.

          1. LW1*

            This is really helpful, thank you! Yeah, post-firing I spoke to a masters-level coworker who said that she wouldn’t be willing to do what we (bachelors degree, junior level workers) were doing becuase it was so intense and possibly dangerous.

            1. Smithy*


              Yeah, in my situation, the previous person in the job had the same salary to work part-time but also had a ton of experience and lived in a lower COL area. The new person hired is full time and lives in a higher COL area. Which I think contributes to the reality of what that salary could attract on the hiring market.

              Longer term, this will just be a gap on your CV that you never need to talk about. For my coworker….if I was ever asked about her, the best thing I could say is that she has good intentions but seems to still be really junior.

      2. LW1*

        “It was day 2 and the manager wasn’t even there. Why wasn’t she correcting and moving on from the situation? To me, between that and the feedback sounds like a bad manager.”
        “To me that feedback came off as mildly contradictory; don’t do this thing LW1 likely had no way of knowing not to do on day two,* but also do more better on your own.”

        Haha… yes. It was a weird situation; boss is doing a full time-job but only there part-time (and I don’t think even taking a pay cut?). I’m going to keep the mistake vague, out of respect to the job and client, but the long and short is that I still feel bad about it AND being more independent would have meant doing absolutely exactly what I was doing during said mistake. We worked in social services and, I believe, taking initiative when I didn’t yet know our clients/their situations well would have been detrimental to both them and our mission.

    4. Gozer (she/her)*

      Agreed. I was unceremoniously fired from a job here in the UK many many many years ago during the probationary period. It’s left me, some nearly 28 years later, with an abiding hatred of that firm and no way will I ever apply there again, but also with a really big idea of what a manager should *not* do.

      Which actually has kind of come in handy in my managerial job. I know directly the harm a really bad manager can cause (and I’ve had some shockers) and am determined to not let it happen under my watch.

      (Basically I got canned for taking too much time off due to injury. An injury caused on their property. And no, I got nothing from them. UK laws being what they were at the time and me being a br0ke 20 something…I just went out and got a temp job)

      1. Gozer (she/her)*

        BTW, as a bit more clarification:

        For years I was terrified of it happening again. Actually a decade went by before I could be asked into a room by a manager and not hyperventilate. What helped was a) doing a few different things (I tried development, ended up in tech support because I am useless unless under pressure) b) some therapy for the fear c) a really long and very difficult look at my flaws (see above – and I’m incredibly manipulative if I want to be) and just…carrying on.

        To quote a song: I get knocked down, but I get up again.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I think it really boils down to whether OP was 1) Given any actionable feedback at the 30 day mark (like was it literally just “this frustrated me” when speaking about a one off, and did “work more independently” came with actual examples? 2) Whether OP feels like they acted on that feedback appropriately and 3) Was it ever appropriate to check back in and say “I’ve been working on feedback A and B as suggested, and this is the result – can you let me know how I’m doing?” If these three things were not available to OP, or even if they were and were acted on diligently, it could just be about the money! Business decisions aren’t always about performance.

    6. Bast*

      “You need to work more independently” is an odd comment to make the first week, unless this is a particularly high level role. It takes some time to learn the ropes of a new place, even if it’s just trying to figure out where the extra staples are kept and how to use the postage machine. Most people are not truly “comfortable” in their first month, let alone first week. I wouldn’t expect someone to come in and “know everything” the first week — even if they have experience, from office to office things run very differently.

      1. Bast*

        I realized after that I had mixed up the “thing that annoyed the boss” at the 2 day period with the working more independently comment. I still think it stands that a month is too early for someone to really feel very confident in the job and know exactly what’s acceptable and what isn’t — it’s a learning period, and the feedback was vague.

        1. GythaOgden*

          Good communication is two way. If you ever don’t understand someone’s unclear feedback, it’s your job to try and get clarification from them as to what they mean. LW1 was given a chance at the thirty day mark (and on every day in between check-ins) to ask for that clarification and for assistance, so this is not necessarily on the management here at all.

      2. Person from the Resume*

        The boss could be having unrealistic expectations, but this could be a legitimate warning that the LW was asking for too much reassurance and assistance.

        I feel like the boss being frustrated by something done on day 2 is a warning. It really depends on what it was. You could think that at only the second day, an employee needs more guidance, but the LW could also have done something or not done something that the boss feels like any reasonable employee should have known alerting the boss that the LW may not be up to the expected level of responsibility for this job.

      3. Annony*

        It depends on what is meant by “independently.” Considering the boss only works part time, it makes sense that someone would need to be somewhat independent very early on. You can’t just sit around doing noting when the part time boss isn’t there. That doesn’t necessarily mean being able to do something start to finish alone, but finding ways to stay productive.

    7. Person from the Resume*

      The (US) law does not require a probationary period, but the point of a probationary period is that the company is making it easier for them to fire you if you don’t work out. You weren’t working out and they fired you during your probationary period. You certainly don’t need written warning to be fired even outside of a probationary period.

      This was after having an incident on day two that very much frustrated your boss. It was day 2, but since she was frustrated with you a month later it was very likely something she thought you should have known better about without instruction. And you got extremely faint praise “You come to work every day” (that’s a terribly low bar for people in my industry.)

      It sounds like the LW wants more solid rules and comfort that this doesn’t happen often. And I don’t think terminations do happen that often, but it also sounds like this firing was entirely reasonable.

      LW, it wasn’t working out. You weren’t a good fit (believe them) and you were let go.

      1. Observer*

        It sounds like the LW wants more solid rules and comfort that this doesn’t happen often. And I don’t think terminations do happen that often, but it also sounds like this firing was entirely reasonable.

        Given the OP’s clarifications, “reasonable” depends on how you look at it. But I think that most people would recognize that while there were some warning signs, so the OP should probably not have been blind sided, this is not a very good manager.

        LW, it wasn’t working out. You weren’t a good fit (believe them) and you were let go.

        That is true. But that doesn’t mean that the problem was the OP. And in this case, it sounds to me that it was not more than just a mis-match, but a manager that doesn’t really know how to manage. I suspect that this is an organization that is either going to have a lot of turnover in that department or they will wind up hiring someone who manages to stay out of trouble by dumb luck.

    8. kiki*

      While it’s possible LW wasn’t seeing some writing on the wall, I also think this illustrates the importance of giving clear and direct feedback where the consequences are laid out. At a new job, it’s kind of expected that you’ll make mistakes, need some additional feedback, need some guidance before you work independently, etc. Going from, “here’s some feedback at the 30-day mark” without concrete action items to “hey, you’re out” without much communication in between, is jarring. It would be hard not to go into any job and worry that any sort of negative feedback may mean you’ll find yourself let go without warning.

    9. Baunilha*

      Interesting how we are all interpreting the boss’ word different ways! I took the “you show up everyday” as a genuine compliment, like a coverage-based job or a position that has a lot of absences.

      Now, the mistake OP made on day 2, my own experience could be coloring my view of the situation. I had a similar situation many years ago where I screwed up (minorly) during my first month on the job and my boss chastised me about not asking her first, yet she wasn’t there when it happened. I wasn’t fired and stuck around for a year, but wish I hadn’t — she was a terrible boss and that was a terrible job, and I only saw the red flags once I left.
      OP’s boss seems like a bad manager (again, that’s my reading) who should’ve been clearer, if nothing else. (I have a feeling that once they decided to let OP go, they just checked out of any feedbacks entirely) That’s not to say that OP shouldn’t take a hard look at their time there! They definitely should, but I would take the manager’s words with a grain of salt.

  19. JSPA*

    #5 differs in writing vs speaking.

    Speaking is easy. “Yeah it was a hard choice, but sometimes a little voice just tells you” or “hard choice, loved three of my interviews, had to pick just one.”

    (Don’t go the “like dating three sisters, can’t marry all of them” route. But its a similar vibe.)

    Writing, something like what Alison provided.

    But there’s almost always some detail about how it hit you that’s clearly not a “meet and beat,” to drop in.

    “walking in felt like first day of school, in a good way.” or

    “I loved imagining myself working for you, but with Xcorp, I got the sense walking in that it already was my workplace.”

  20. Jessica Clubber Lang*

    For #4, I do think it’s ok to mention if you are a user of their services. Whether that means you’re a parent or not I don’t know, but if you’re familiar with their products, etc don’t hide that!

    1. BubbleTea*

      I was thinking this too. I feel like if I were hiring someone to work on a product that is commonly used by a specific population, I’d find it odd if they didn’t mention that they used it. It certainly isn’t a qualification for the job, but I can’t see it as irrelevant.

      1. Usually Lurking*

        It’s also something where you need to think about the company’s branding. If their primary tagline is something like “made by moms for moms” or the first line of their about is page is “we’re a team of moms”, then I would definitely mention I was a mom in the cover letter!

    2. LW4*

      Yes, this is more of what I was intending with my question! I definitely do not think being a mom is a qualification in and of itself but I would not be as interested in the job if I weren’t familiar with their product. I think this framing of being a user is probably the way to go, so thank you!

      1. bamcheeks*

        I have a comment about this in moderation, but I definitely think you can demonstrate awareness and appreciation for their brand and leave it a kind of open question as to whether you’re speaking as a parent specifically or as an aunt/uncle/older sibling/friend of parents or something. I think if you want to identify yourself as a parent specifically you can, but even in a family-focussed environment there’s still a little bit of risk there, so leaving it a little more vague might be helpful: “I have personally seen the impact that trusted, expert advice on parenting issues can make to readers, and that’s why I…” or “Brand’s recommendations on summer vacation activities are regularly shared in my own social circles, and I know how much stock parents put in your well-researched and reliable…” type thing.

  21. I should really pick a name*

    I’m at a loss for interview advice because white-collar officespeak advice involves unspoken mind games and social scripts that tradespeople don’t use

    I think it might be worth looking for other sources of advice.

    There are definitely differences in how things are handled in blue collar/white collar positions, but unspoken mind games are usually not a good approach.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      “Unspoken mind games” are what social norms look like to people outside the context of those norms.

      Like whether you can take the last doughnut, or must cut it in half, then the last half in half, and so on.

      Or whether you should leave some food on your plate (to signal that the food provided is plentiful and generous) or clean your plate (to signal that the food provided is delicious).

      1. ThatOtherClare*

        Another example borrowed from the great Deborah Tannen:

        If my boss tells me a document is great and then mentions some things to fix, are the fixes just optional because the document is great, or was the compliment just preparation for the important part – the negative feedback?

    2. Helewise*

      This is such an interesting line to me, because in a healthy white-collar environment there’s just a different communication style but there are plenty of unhealthy white-collar environments where unspoken mind games are core to “communication.”

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Frankly, that’s true of blue-collar environments too. I’ve encountered it in union environments in particular (I’m not anti-union, to be clear. But anytime politics and negotiations are involved it invites mind games.)

        Trying to stay ahead of it will drive you crazy.

  22. Johanna Cabal*

    LW1, count me in as someone fired during their probationary period. It shook me to my core because I’d excelled at my previous job and in college. In hindsight, I think they kept me on two months too long after some mistakes on my part. I also realize now I shouldn’t have taken the job as it was outside of my specialty (I also wonder why they hired me because the role clearly needed someone with a legal background). To be honest, I took the job out of desperation after being laid off.

    15 years later that job is but a blip in my career. I even was promoted at the two jobs I had after that.

    1. GythaOgden*

      Same here. In fact, I was fired (or let go because of a bad fit) three times before I was 26, and it was mostly due to undiagnosed autism making things harder for me to grasp of than it might have been for an AU neurotypical me. (I’d like to meet her; she might be Prime Minister by now.) It’s like that Red Dwarf episode where one AU Rimmer was held back a year and one was allowed to go up a year at school — the one held back had a thicker skin and was more used to adversity than the one in the established timeline who scraped into the upper year by the skin of his teeth.

      The one thing that makes a difference, though, is self-awareness and taking some time (after venting about the firing) to analyse what really went wrong. If you just rebound without that, you’re going to repeat the same mistakes again. After going back into the workplace after being on disability from 26 to 34, I was determined to do better. I’m now 44 and have recently been promoted because I felt like I’d had a do-over to get started and wanted to live up to the faith that was put in me by others.

      I’m not exactly Ace Rimmer by any stretch of the imagination but I’m known to be someone who the team of managers I do admin support for can rely upon and that’s the best feeling ever.

      Best of luck, LW1. It takes a while to process this, but if you do that with good grace and understanding, it could be a learning moment for you.

    2. Annony*

      I wasn’t let go during probation but I have been in a role that was an incredibly bad fit. They needed skills I didn’t have (and never claimed to have) and it was a year of misery before I managed to transfer. I have always excelled and constantly failing and being given no support was extremely demoralizing. I wish they realized during probation that it was a bad fit. Some things cannot be taught in a reasonable time frame and it is better to recognize that and part ways.

  23. HonorBox*

    I was put into a unique headspace as I read letter 5. I was simultaneously thinking “well this is easy” while also thinking “oh wow this is a great question and a really tough spot because you don’t want to make waves.”

    LW, it would be an interesting exercise to read your letter as though you were reading a letter from a stranger or even a close friend. What advice would you give them, because I’m guessing it would lean toward the “this is easy” much more than the other side. You’d likely tell your friend to be honest with the other companies. You had multiple offers, and while you enjoyed the opportunity to meet everyone and appreciate that they have interest in you, you’ve selected an offer that fits what you need better. And you’d tell your friend that if they try to cross-examine and up the offer, you can politely decline to give more specifics and not worry about burning a bridge.

    It is a heck of a lot easier to view a situation like this with the perspective of an outsider and I’d tell you to tell yourself what you’d tell someone else in the same spot.

  24. Morning Reading*

    LW4, if you find it appropriate to mention in your cover letter, I’d avoid the term “mom” to describe yourself. Unless you are going for a very informal, chatty tone. Use parent or mother when you cite your familiarity with their product. Example, “as a parent, I’ve followed your “llama grooming tips for new parents” newsletter regularly,”
    Maybe it’s just me, but describing oneself as “a mom” seems better for a social occasion and reads a little like someone’s been out of the workforce awhile. Which might be a good thing depending on the context. It would depend on the job being applied for and the tone of the rest of the letter.

    1. MsM*

      I don’t even know the “as a parent” part is necessary, at least in that example. I don’t imagine there are a lot of people outside the target demographic who’d be regular readers of that newsletter.

        1. Jessica Clubber Lang*

          Why not name it in that case though? If it were a car related thing for example, would there be reticence to mention that you’re an auto enthusiast?

          In the OP’s example, if being familiar with this company might help their chances I don’t get why you’d dance around that. It’s not saying that having kids is some unique quality, it’s just giving context which is one of the benefits of a good cover letter

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            Car enthusiasts don’t have the same legacy of being victims job discrimination. The bias is often unconscious, even if it seems like a place that should want to hire parents. It’s really not worth applying a label to yourself.

            1. Jessica Clubber Lang*

              I get that of course, I think in this case though it’s balanced by the upside of connecting with the hiring team. I could see either being a valid approach

  25. Lilo*

    I apologize if Alison has done this before but it would be great to maybe have a column on how to actually run a DEI program. Ours are run by HR and don’t address the very real harassment we receive from the public. A lot of DEI programs I’ve encountered seem to be in denial about serious problems.

  26. Jam Today*

    LW5 — “unspoken mind-games” = politics. Pretend Mariano is trying to whip votes for something that your constituents will raise holy hell about, but you’ll need something from him in the future so you can’t burn that bridge.

  27. Sparklecat*

    Just here as a northeastern-born transplant to the Midwest to say that I appreciate the Masshole question SO MUCH. I actually almost wrote in an official question to ask for advice on how to grapple with Midwest-speak—it is literally a different language with all sorts of unspoken things between the lines! The worst part of transitioning to my new job out here has been learning how to communicate. I am a very straightforward person, though I would not consider myself blunt (by eastern standards I was pretty soft-spoken!!), but sometimes when I say something that I think is very plain and direct, I have offended people who have assumed I meant something other than what I said!

    Anyway, I know it’s not your exact situation but I’m just here to say that I know how it feels to worry about your cultural norms offending people even when you’re being careful not to!

    (And boy would I appreciate some language tips from folks who have dealt with this transition before…though maybe that’s a convo for the Friday thread…)

    1. Ope, Just Gonna Squeeze Past Here*

      As a former midwesterner I can tell you that I HATED that type of communication growing up. I didn’t understand. I don’t understand. I will not understand. Just say what you mean to my face! I find it so much ruder to say one thing to someone, and then say the REAL tea to everyone else but you. It’s sickening, paranoia-inducing, and it’s not cute.

    2. MidWasabiPeas*

      BTDT, feel all your pain. Northeast transplant to both the Deep South and the Midwest. It took ages to learn to navigate. Our kids were raised in those places by Yankee parents-they navigate both very well.

    3. "pushy and rude"*

      I also appreciated the question. I have lived my whole life as masshole-adjacent. The only manager I have ever had a significant issue with was a recent midwest transplant. She wrote me a warning for insubordination for (to me, very mild!) verbal push back on something inconsequential. It really rattled me, as I would say I’m someone who struggles with standing up for myself. The situation resolved with both of us in a mass layoff, but I wonder what I could have done to give feedback in a way that she felt was more appropriate.

    4. Transplant*

      As a New Englander living in the Midwest: PLEASE! I have never experienced worse culture shock than my first few months in a Midwest office.

      1. Sharkie*

        East Coaster that lived in Minnesota for 4 years. It is ROUGH. The passive almost aggressive niceness drove me up a wall. I feel like bigger companies that recruit from other parts of the US should have a Midwest talk guide in the new hire materials!

        1. thatoneoverthere*

          I have always lived in the Midwest for my whole life. My husbands family is not from New England but is def considered the Northeast. I def can struggle with their bluntness from time to time. My in-laws and their extended family are great, but they will def tell you quick how they feel about something. Poor little midwest me just sits there blinking. Not sure I could living in New England. lol

          1. Sharkie*

            Lol yep. It is an adjustment, but I prefer to know where I stand with people. I moved to Boston 2 years ago and it is so different from even DC. Some people are just assholes but other people are like “OMG that came out mush harsher than I intended!!!!”

            1. Eldritch Office Worker*

              In Boston proper you’ll also get a LOT of people who aren’t from the northeast originally, so your experiences will be all over the place.

            2. Not That Jane*

              OK, now I’m curious about how California would compare with all of these other places. I feel like I’m a pretty good communicator, but I’ve only ever worked here (well, and in Bolivia). I guess we usually tend to be more gentle than crusty; while also being more forthright than it sounds like Midwesterners are? But I don’t have a way to calibrate.

              1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                This is majorly ask vs guess culture. Midwestern and southern communication (generalizing, of course) tends to be guess, west coast and northeast tends to be ask. California is a little….gentler/kinder/less expectant than the northeast, but tends to ask for what they need directly.

              2. Minimal Pear*

                As a Californian who moved to the East Coast, I think there’s more… not exactly FAKE friendliness in CA but maybe… lower stakes friendliness? I confuse people where I live now because they think we’re much closer than we really are, because I automatically act friendly with everyone. Generally it’s not because I’m hiding the fact that I hate them, but it doesn’t mean I think we’re besties either.

                1. Starbuck*

                  Right it just, feels nice to be friendly to people? I’m one of the types where it doesn’t feel like it takes extra energy to be just baseline pleasant and friendly, and to have that echoed back to you (because that’s generally how most people react around here) is just nice. It’s not fake!

    5. Cyndi*

      I grew up near Philly but have lived in Chicago half my life now. I know Northeasterners have a reputation for being more direct, in theory, but I grew up in a very churchy tradition-obsessed area with a veneer of diversity pasted over it, and that was not an environment that fostered directness or honesty at all. I’ve honestly never noticed a massive jump in passive-aggressiveness between where I grew up and where I live now!

      Anyway I’m jealous of all the other Northeast-to-Midwest transplants here–being direct about things is a muscle I’ve really struggled to build in my adult life.

    6. Non-profit drone*

      I’ve realized, when starting to search for retirement places, I am limited to New England, New York, and New Jersey. I don’t know much about Pennsylvania. I would be out of my mind at all the “nice” that exists in the South, Midwest, and California.

    7. Midwest SD to IA*

      I was born and raised in the Midwest-but the state and area I grew up in was very direct. I moved just over the border to a new state and it’s very much…about being polite. It’s hilarious.

      I’ve heard a lot of people here that mention “clear is kind” as they give or receive feedback as a way to remember to be more direct or accept directness.

      But honestly…I’m just direct. Sometimes preempted by a “can you remind me” or “by the way” or “I’m wondering” as a softening approach.

      I think the key to remember is being kind or polite in how people here respond is NOT passive aggressive. Well, I suppose someone could be passive aggressive. That’s your background thinking their style is passive aggressive. Just as being direct is NOT actually rude-it’s just unusual for the area. If we stop assuming bad intent of the way people communicate differently, we’d have less communication issues.

    8. And thanks for the coffee*

      Wow, as a lifelong midwesterner (Chicago area and Detroit area) with in-laws from Georgia, I’m stumped by this discussion. Midwesterners don’t say what we mean?
      I have learned a lot by reading AAM. I need to think about this.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        I am not at all familiar with the Midwest, but generally when people talk about people from other areas not saying what they mean, they are referring to stuff that is clear to people in the culture, but not to people outside.

        Like I was once at an interview where the principal, who would be considered pretty blunt by Irish standards told me, “we start at nine, but I’m sure you’d want to be in earlier, wouldn’t you?” That was a pretty clear indication that it was expected that teachers would be in early, whereas a friend of mine in England said that there, the headteachers would just say, “we expect you in at 8:30 (or 8:45 or whatever it is),” so to somebody from a culture where the latter is the norm, the former could seem like she isn’t saying what she means whereas in context, it was obvious.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Yeah, I think one US Midwest example is the “Midwest goodbye” (or “Minnesota goodbye”–might not be common in all parts of the Midwest) where saying “it’s time for me to get going” does not mean “I am leaving now.” Instead, it usually means “let’s continue talking for another 20-30 min, then I’ll say good-bye to everyone individually, then I will thank the hosts, then I will put on my coat, then I will walk out to my car and the hosts will follow me and we will talk for another 10 or so minutes in the cold, and then I will leave.”

          If everyone in a room knows that “it’s time to get going” means “this is the start of a 30+ minute good-bye process,” then there are no communication issues. But if you throw in a New Englander or what have you who thinks “it’s time to get going” will immediately be followed by that person leaving, the New Englander will be confused that everyone continues to sit around and talk for 20-30 min.

      2. Pescadero*

        I’d argue that Chicago and Detroit (as well as Cleveland) fall into a slightly different region defined by the “Inland Northern American English” speaking areas as opposed to being in the midwest.

  28. Czhorat*

    One thing that might help ease LW1’s mind is to remember that these things don’t have to be as adversarial as we sometimes frame them in our heads; if you’re looking for a job the hiring firm is looking to hire someone. When you start a job you want to succeed and stay employed there *and the firm that hired you wants the same thing*.

    Sometimes things don’t work out; from the letter it sounds like the LW might not have been as much a self-starter or independent worker as the company had hoped, it could have been something else.

    The point is that it wasn’t JUST a disappointment for LW, it’s a disappointment for *everyone* involved. The company who hired you spent time and effort and money on the hiring process and then they have to do the same thing again. Everyone is on the same side.

  29. Alex*

    Masshole here. Just take the offer you want and fuck the rest of them! Lol. No, really, it will be fine. You are overthinking it.

  30. doreen*

    LW#1 , I’ve known a number of people in my life who didn’t consider anything feedback unless it came in a formal meeting. They may have been told every other day that they need to improve their attendance , work more independently, do a better job of meeting deadlines ,whatever – but they are shocked when they are let go or their probation is extended because there was never a formal meeting about the issue. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether this applies to you but it’s something you should think about.

    1. ABC*

      I think the fact that the LW mentions that they didn’t receive any of their feedback in writing may be a clue that is pointing in that direction.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Strongly agree. We’re having this problem at my company, where people say they want more “informal” feedback, but don’t acknowledge any feedback happened unless HR was in the room, or the phrase “this is feedback” is specifically spoken – which is understandably frustrating for managers.

        1. Kuleta*

          I think that people who truly want informal feedback, mean being asked 1:1 to make small changes, instead of hearing about them for the first time on their annual performance review.

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            That’s what they’re getting. We have a huge culture of iterative feedback and nothing is ever put on a performance review that would be new information, full stop. They still say they never get feedback.

    2. LW1*

      I meant that my 30-day “check in” had nothing in writing, which I found a little disorganized. I got the very vague feedback of “my boss seems grumpy, but that could be a million things and maybe I shouldn’t take it personally” but little to nothing verbally told to me.

      1. ABC*

        I meant that my 30-day “check in” had nothing in writing, which I found a little disorganized.

        This is not at all unusual. I’m not sure if this is your first job, or if you’ve only worked in places with extremely formal feedback systems, but a written evaluation after 30 days is not something that you’ll be encountering most places.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Were you given any verbal specifics about what the boss wanted done differently? I mean, I’m with you about the whole “I am grumpy and vaguely want you to be more independent while still training; infer and deduce your own feedback from this” … but you do need to implement any and all verbal feedback given to you without waiting for a written out list. (If it’s clear!) Not always, but a lot of the time, if you get the list in writing it’s gone a bit further than it needed to. It’s also not necessarily about you at all; as well as looking at your own actions, I think the funding element for your post is quite significant. FWIW, I once got fired while on a probationary period because the manager (who had been off and who I’d never met), made a mistake posting shifts before going on sick leave. I got fired for working the ‘wrong’ shifts, and when I pointed out my proof that they’d been assigned, I just got a shrug and a “We hired a lot of people for the busy period, and they already fired you and processed it, I’m just the messenger.” This is in Britain where you need a verbal, and written warning to be fired legally for small reasons; not for probation though. I do think managers are morally obligated to give clear feedback, even (especially?) in the probation period, but I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be written down.

  31. BecauseHigherEd*

    LW 4 – this may the be one instance where I disagree with Alison. If it’s a parenting/family oriented brand, they may expect that you have some sort of relevant personal experience. My husband works for a company that does marketing/PR for consumer brands and they are CONSTANTLY having to prove relevant personal connections to the brand clients (to the point where he often messages me throughout the day to ask, “Do we use X product?” or “What site did you use to research our trip to Thailand?” or “How long have we been using Y service??”) In this instance, they may actually be wondering why you’re interested in working for a parenting/family brand if you, you know, aren’t a parent, so that may be worth stating up front (even to say, “As a parent, I have taken a lot of tips from your blog…”)

  32. Anonymous Educator*

    For #2, go with what Alison recommends, of course, but also be prepared for them pretending your being a woman had nothing to do with assigning you to DEI.

  33. weckar*

    Like interviews, probationary periods should always be a two-way street. They don’t owe you notice, but neither would you owe notice to quit to them.

    1. CSRoadWarrior*

      This. I quit a job after 5 weeks because it was a really poor fit. And multiple anxiety attacks. And yes, I quit without notice. I will save this story for another day but it was the best decision I made.

      Like you said, it is a two-way street. They can let you go, but you owe no notice either. If it is not a good fit for you, by all means quit. Just as you are on probation with them, they are also on probation with you. It works both ways.

  34. Cold Snap*

    LW1: This is about the employer, not you. Consider this a “the trash took itself out” moment! You don’t WANT to be somewhere that behaves like your ex-boss did, and it’s good you’re out of there early, because I’m positive the job would have messed up your head more than the letting go has.

    Source: My boss does this constantly, if you aren’t an expert at your job literally within the first week, you’re on notice. It’s absurd, and we loose a lot of really promising people because of it.

    1. Czhorat*

      I’m not sure this is helpful advice; the feedback OP got at day 30 – not independent enough, and frustration with something that happened on a day that the boss was out – could indicate an employee who is not as much a self-starter or otherwise needs more direction than they’d hoped to have to give.

      I don’t think the LW should go forth with paranoia about each new probationary period (see my comment above) but anytime a job doesn’t work out one does have to look in the mirror to see what you could have done differently

      1. Bast*

        I am curious at what “not independent enough” looks like to this employer, and if LW was given any specific examples. Most people do not walk into a new job feeling completely confident and like they know everything, and they ask a lot of questions. As someone who may know a lot in my field, I don’t know everything about a new office, and what the norms are there. There are certain firms I have worked at where associates are given a lot more leeway and expected to perform more independently, and others where every single thing needed to be approved by a partner. If you come from an environment of the former, it can be difficult to see the line in the sand if you move to the latter type, as to what is a “needs approved” task vs. a “just do it” task. Guessing incorrectly can cost you your job, so I understand proceeding with caution. A simple, “you don’t need me to approve every motion you file” is different than “work more independently.” Granted, we don’t know whether LW ASKED what that meant to employer, but I’d say the onus is on the company to spell out what they want rather than leave it to be interpreted in the many different ways it can be interpreted. “Write more reports every week.” Okay. “More” to Sally means 10, to Tim means 15, and to John it means 20. Just say, “We want you to increase the report number to around 12 reports per week.” I’m not really a fan of vague guidelines.

        1. Avery*

          Just wanting to add that moving from a job where everything has to be approved to one with more independence has some of the same difficulties. That’s the situation I’m in here–my last job literally had my boss approve every email, this job I’m often sending out complicated documents without explicit boss approval along the way. I’m definitely still erring on the side of asking for approval even over a year after leaving the more micromanaged job, and I ended up texting my boss a quick message explaining the situation so he didn’t think I was just lacking in self-confidence or not a self-starter because I was still running basics by him a few months in.

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Agreed. It sounds like OP did get feedback and warning signs here. 30 days is often enough to have a good read on someone’s basic attitude and skillset, and it seems like this just wasn’t a good match.

      3. Vi*

        For LW1, it seems odd that “my boss appreciated that I was at work every day” was part of the formal feedback. (Unless this was supposed to be an “include some positive feedback” comment… in which case does that mean it was truly the only positive thing Boss could think of?)

        1. LW1*

          My thoughts exactly. It was very odd. At that point, I spent much of my time working on a project that she refused to do because it was too boring (she did homework for an unrelated class instead), so I figured that she had just… neglected to mention that as a positive thing I was doing?

          Is it even a bad thing that I was fired from a job where this was the case?

          1. Eldritch Office Worker*

            If she didn’t want to do it and also didn’t feel you were working independently enough, she could’ve felt like too much of it was still on her plate.

            I dunno the details you’re giving are scattered, but this just sounds like a bad fit.

            1. LW1*

              I meant the last line tongue-in-cheek, but it was frustrating (hah) that she did something that wasn’t work at all on the clock while I was working. Or maybe that’s normal? This was my first office job.

                1. Eldritch Office Worker*

                  I mean it depends a little what it is, but generally speaking a personal errand/call/task during the day at an office job is nothing remarkable

                2. Ellis Bell*

                  Uh, I really can’t do lengthy personal projects like non-work studying while at work. I don’t think that’s usually a thing unless you’ve got mad capital in the office or else it’s known you do a craptonne of overtime hours to make up.

                3. LW1*

                  Oh, that’s totally par for the course/not a slight at all! This was spending hours each day on homework (the job was billed to me in an informal informational phone call as being a great place to get school work done) while I was doing work work that was part of the job.

    2. midwest to masshole and back again*

      LW5, I agree with Alison that it’s easier to say stronger fit without providing details. In terms of your thought about location, I don’t think that they would think that it couldn’t be the location if you knew that when you applied. Maybe you applied to a job that has an acceptable location, but, compared to the other job offers, the one you’re going with is clearly preferable in location. That said it’s easier to be honest but not detailed about the stronger fit than it is to make up a reason that isn’t actually the issue. Hell, you could even say, “I got multiple strong offers and ultmately went with the one I thought was best,” similar to how lots of jobs aren’t gonna tell you why they didn’t pick you – they just won’t pick you.

      I think it’s great that you’ve got multiple offers that like you enough to increase the pay if you said that was the problem! I hope you’re enjoying the land of massholes – flip a bad driver the bird for me, would ya?

  35. Calabasas*

    Letter #4: I hate to say it, and it’s not right, but, yes, you probably do need to mention you’re a parent to get a job in parenting media. I’ve been hired and seen the hiring process for those jobs. Nonparents would not get the job. It’s not legal and it’s not right. But it happens.

  36. NotSarah*

    I think, with LW1, we’re missing a few details. Hiring can be exhausting and expensive. You really want your candidates to work out.
    But I’ve seen a handful of people dismissed during the probationary period. In a few examples, it appeared to come down to personality quirks (aggressive communication style in a public facing role, showing signs of being a bully) that may or may not have been worth working through. I think it comes down to whether or not the manager has the bandwidth to train/coach an employee that may be problematic or average in their performance.

    1. LW1*

      Yeah, it was a curious one because my boss complained loudly about how long it took to get someone into my role, and even said (I agree) that it wasn’t safe to keep my role empty (the job entailed work with high-risk clients that really required two people present). I think you hit the nail on the head with bandwidth. As mentioned in my letter, my boss worked a full-time job while only being around for part time hours.

  37. Dust Bunny*

    white-collar officespeak advice involves unspoken mind games and social scripts that tradespeople don’t use.

    Honestly, I think you’re scaring yourself by being too invested in this idea.

    There is an awful lot of ground between “blunt crusty Masshole” and “mind games”, and most white-collar workplaces will be somewhere on the spectrum in between. I don’t know how much you’re basing this on personal experience versus stereotype/media depiction/scary rumors, but functional white-collar workplaces don’t have a lot of it. But either way, you don’t owe anyone that much honesty–you just tell them you chose another opportunity.

    When I left my previous job (which was, for the record, a blue-collar job mired in weird personal politics and messy emotional management. See: Small family-style businesses, which are definitely not immune to unspoken mind games) I just told them I was moving on to something more in line with my educational background. I didn’t tell them I was sick of their garbage pay, no benefits, blatant favoritism, lack of training, etc. It wouldn’t have changed anything, and I wasn’t going to be there any more, anyway.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I think this is right. When you’re convinced everyone around you is speaking a secret language it can make you paranoid.

  38. HannahS*

    OP 4, I think Alison is right. If I understand you, I think you’re asking about mentioning your kids as the reason that you became interested in the field you’re now applying to. There are some fields where the lived experience of motherhood is considered relevant–for example, if you were applying to be a lactation consultant, it would make sense to talk about how your own experience helped you realize how wonderful it is to have non-judgmental support (etc.) before going on to talk about your relevant professional/volunteer experience. But I don’t think that your field is like that.

    I recently applied to a job involving children, and even though most people on the hiring committee know that I’m a mother and I was one of the few applicants to have a child, I didn’t mention it. There were opportunities in the interview to slip in that I am a parent, but I didn’t feel that it strengthened my case. There isn’t really a meaningful difference between, “I have a lot of compassion for the parent in that situation–they’re in a tough position and are probably feeling judged,” and “As a parent myself, I have a lot of compassion for the parent in that situation–they’re in a tough position and are probably feeling judged.” The interviewer wanted to know that I could understand how a parent might feel in a certain situation, and I demonstrated that I did.

  39. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP #5: it’s actually not hard to thread that “hype yourself up vs self-effacing” thing.

    1) Be honest and open in your experience and your skills.
    2) But be self-aware and humble – because nobody has ever seen it all. There are always new wrinkles that crop up, and if your confidence turns into cockiness, then you’ll fall short because you’ll bull through the wrinkles instead of thinking about them.

  40. CSRoadWarrior*

    #1 – I had the same exact experience when I was working at a well-known department store I am sure you all had heard of while I was in college. I was given a similar feedback early on, and let go after 30 days. Yes, it also hit my confidence, but if it gives you any solace, I was not let go during any probationary period since at any job I had afterwards.

    It does happen, but so long as you put in your effort at your new job, it won’t be that likely. But the reality is that it does happen. Most likely it was either that the job was a poor fit for you, or the employer had unrealistic expectations. If it is the former, just take that as a lesson to be learned and improve on it. If it is the latter, then it was NOT on you and you don’t have to do anything.

  41. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #1 – I would argue that your being let go was not without warning. That it wasn’t in writing is irrelevant. That you were informed that you are in a probationary period is a warning in itself and then your manager gave you the verbal feedback that she was frustrated with you for something early on and that you weren’t working independently in your 30 day check in. But I think your solace here is that your manager was not a good manager and you were not set up for success. Even if you have all of the skills you need to do the job on day 1, many jobs require more than a day of training to provide context for how business procedures are handled and to understand key contributors, goals etc. With her being part time, she could have easily remedied her absences by appointed someone to assist you.

    1. LW1*

      It was the standard initial-hire probationary period, not a performance-related one, to clarify. I think you hit the nail on the head with needing someone else to assist her in training me. I didn’t say this in my letter, but I do think I had a bad manager.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, that comment reads like it’s confusing the standard probationary period with something like a PIP?

  42. Petty_Boop*

    LW2: Uggghhhhhh this sucks. My husband is a different ethnicity than I and literally everyone he works with. When they decided to have a DEI meeting/committee, they sent out an invitation and he along with others were on the REQUIRED attendee line. When he got there, literally ALL of the required attendees were non-white. It was him, an Indian woman, a couple of women of color, and a couple of Asian men. Not a single white person, let alone a white male, in the room. Somehow the powers that be had determined that DEI initiatives needed to be created/managed/whatever they were thinking, by all of them, rather than the 99% straight/white/male leadership who actually NEED training on how to manage within a diverse workplace. All of the “committee” attendees looked around in disgust and everyone left. The next month the “DEI Committe Invitation” once again went out “requiring” his attendance, but my husband (and the others) all declined the invite. Such absolute tone deafness in the workplace!

  43. Roguestella*

    As a Massachusetts resident, I snorted at Allison’s “my family heritage is Masshole.” Massholes Unite!

  44. All het up about it*

    LW5 – I agree with Alison that you are overthinking it and that you can totally go with her script.

    BUT if your brain continues to tell you that the other companies really need a more specific reason, I think the location one is completely valid! Yes, you knew the location prior to applying. It is an acceptable location. But you got three offers, at presumably three different locations and unless these locations are all on the same block, there is certainly one that is better than the others. It’s not that you wouldn’t work at their location – you just prefer to work at another since it is an option.

  45. BellyButton*

    There are so many letters about unqualified people being asked to lead a company’s DEI initiative. This is so problematic! 1. Companies that are just now doing this are about 10-15 yrs behind, 2. you need an expert in DEI/HR/Law to facilitate a culture change and if it is done incorrectly it can turn into a giant mess that could have legal implications.

    I am in development, at my last company they had started DEI, but had no idea what they were doing. When I started I walked into a volatile mess. People were upset, confused, scared, offended- it was a nightmare. I had to claw my way into — and do a lot of damage control and fight to build trust. Because of the way things were communicated and how badly it was all handled they thought anything DEI was BS and I had to basically give out my resume and qualifications to everyone just so they knew I was qualified.

  46. ChiliHeeler*

    If the focus of the media is parenting, then I would not consider volunteering with kids to be as relevant as Alyson says. It is so incredibly different and I say this as someone who did a lot of volunteering with kids and was even a live in nanny before I became a parent.

    If that particular media has been helpful in your own parenting, I think that can be included as a reason you are interested, but not as a qualification.

  47. Dawn*

    LW#2 – you’re being asked to do something that people now go to university to become expert on, I don’t know if anything is going to help at this point but maybe pointing that out might get you at least a little slack?

    Harvard offers a DEI certificate, it’s a $13,000 course, maybe ask if they’d be willing to fund your continuing education if they want you to do the work.

  48. Elizabeth West*

    Dying at the last letter. :’D How long do I have to be here before I get to be a crusty Masshole too?

    I like Alison’s wording — it kinda puts it back on you and doesn’t really leave room for them to get feelings over it.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s more a state of mind than anything else. You are one when you decide you’re one :)

    2. LW5*

      First time you flip someone off on the road with one hand whilst actively drinking from a Dunkin cup in the other they’ll send Ben Affleck to your house to give you a certificate

  49. Anonpls*

    LW5 – not a Masshole here, but child of blue collar workers from Philly in a first gen white collar job. This reminds me of the professional norm I always struggle with: not every question requires a direct answer, and sometimes it’s smartest to not answer directly. Like Allison said, this is one of those times!

  50. Hedgehug*

    For LW1

    I’ve read through your replies to other comments, so it sounds like you’re dealing in a homeless shelter or something similar, but that your role needed 2 people for safety reasons. I get that, sometimes I deal with at risk people as well.
    But was the second person not training you in addition to your manager? Or they were two different roles?

    From the “feedback” given, it sounds like perhaps they expected you to be fully independent with something based maybe on your resume and/or interviews and that’s why your manager was frustrated on day 2.
    For example, perhaps you had indicated prior to the hiring that you were fully proficient at Quickbooks, but then on Day 2 you asked a question about Quickbooks that you should have known how to do based on what you told them before hiring you.
    Working more independently I think typically means a person is asking too many questions which is disrupting the work of others.
    And glad you’re at work everyday? Ouch. If that’s the only nice thing to say…

    Overall, yes it sounds like you dodged a bullet with this place but I definitely understand why you are deep diving into it. I’m a very introspective person so it would bother me too.

    1. LW1*

      No, there was my manager and then I was the “second person,” with no one else on the team. Specifically it was “doing things more independently,” particularly when working with people, which was exactly the mistake on my second day.

      Your last two sentences perfectly encapsulate how I feel about it all. It was my first desk-y office job and I’m trying to figure out if I missed writing on the wall. The more I reflect on it, the more I realize my boss had some definite double standards (no idea how to screen for that in an interview/application) and that working on a two-person team isn’t the way to go.

      1. Dawn*

        “Don’t work on (or be hired by) a two-person team” covers an awful lot of it.

        When you have more people to speak to before actually being hired, you can get a much better picture of the environment; assume if you’re only going to be working with one person that they’re not generally going to expand on their own failings, regardless of how you try to screen for it.

  51. betty*

    3. How to explain a family crisis to very demanding clients

    You don’t need to explain WHY you aren’t responding right away (if you get back to them in a reasonable time frame). If you must explain, just say, “I’m dealing with a family emergency” and leave it at that. If they push for more info, say something like, “Just something with my family, let’s move on to your issue.”

    The bigger issue is that you’ve trained your clients to think they are entitled to an instant response. I highly suggest working on retraining them. Set rules around your replies, such as “within 1 business day.” I’d explicitly tell the worst offenders and add the rules to your email signature (“Emails and calls will be answered within 1 business day”). Also add the rules to your contract for new clients.)

    Then NEVER respond to a client sooner than that. You can write emails immediately but set them to send later, at a time that fits your rules. There will be some pushback at first but if you are consistent, it will become the new normal. And then you will be able to take a few hours off without dealing with repeated emails from clients who think you should sit around waiting for them.

    1. LW3*

      This is a great idea, and I can definitely see it working. I do tend to respond to emails immediately just so they don’t get lost, but scheduling them to send a little later so clients don’t rely on an instant response is brilliant. Thank you!

  52. chocolatte*

    LW2- That’s such a ridiculous position to be put in. My partner is a DEIA coordinator for their job, and even with tons of support, kind management, and experience in advocacy, she is STILL frequently exhausted, frustrated, and burned out during a particularly awful time for our industry.

    That is to say- you are being set up to fail and burn out. Ruuuuuun!

  53. Emelius*

    #1… I know the feeling of being worried that you’re going to be suddenly let go from a job again after it’s happened to you once. This happened to me at my very first job when I was in high school. I was hired to work at a fast food restaurant and about 6 weeks into the job a manager just told me out of the blue that they had decided not to keep me. They said I was a very nice person but I was not what they were looking for in an employee. The entire 6 weeks I had almost no coaching at all so I had no idea that I was not doing the job to their satisfaction. For many years after that, I was always afraid that I was going to be fired at any moment whenever I changed to a new job.

    I’m now in my late ’40s and have had over a dozen different jobs and I can happily say that the situation has never happened to me again. Other than my very first job, every other job that I’ve left has been because I chose to leave. That makes me think it’s actually very uncommon to just be fired during probation with no warnings about what needs to improve.

    1. Cardi*

      I’m now in my late ’40s and have had over a dozen different jobs and I can happily say that the situation has never happened to me again. Other than my very first job, every other job that I’ve left has been because I chose to leave. That makes me think it’s actually very uncommon to just be fired during probation with no warnings about what needs to improve.

      With respect, this is an unkind comment to make, particularly as it’s not actually true or accurate. I’m glad you’ve only experienced it once, and it wasn’t during your post-school/college career.

  54. Why am I always tired????*

    OP4 – I have been in a similar situation – one was with a disability support provider and I have a child with a disability, the other was with a sporting association my children are heavily involved in.

    With the Sporting association, I referenced my children being involved, but also how I sat at a local committee level as Secretary, and referenced how that supported my interest, and also experience. I was selected for interview, but ultimately did not get the position.

    With the Children’s Disability Support provider (admin position), as well as my extensive administrative background, I spoke to having a child with a disability, and the understanding this has given to me of the complexities, and also to the emotions that parents experience, I was interviewed, and got the job – and in this case, I was told that having the lived experience of being on the parent side was what tipped me over the edge from the next outstanding candidate.

    I knew in both instances that I was running the risk of it being counted against me, however, I felt the pro’s outweighed the con’s in both situations, as in both instances I could relate back to my work experience.

    Its a know your audience type of thing though.

  55. Junior Dev (no longer Junior)*

    Between #2 and the menopause conversation letter, it seems like maybe culturally we have reached a tipping point where a focus on DEI is as likely to be a red flag that a company will single you out or discriminate against you as it is a sign it’s a safe place to work. Maybe I’m wrong about this but I feel like I’m hearing a lot about it lately. Maybe people have become disillusioned—I look back on my previous, corporate job and some of the DEI stuff I was enthusiastic about at the time was actually really inappropriate. (They had presentations where people talked in front of dozens of coworkers about things like how it felt to realize they were asexual or the experience of having a manic episode; I think it often crossed a line between “destigmatizing” and pressure to overshare, especially when C-level executives got involved.) Another job had a group for “women, nonbinary, and trans” employees that got pretty toxic.

    I don’t know, I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I work now at a company that’s privately owned and the owners have said some pretty problematic stuff, but it’s also really easy to ignore in a way that some of the presentations and groups and stuff at the old company weren’t. I don’t expect to learn what the perfect strategy is for a company but it would be nice to learn of some green flags when looking for my next job that aren’t actually red flags in disguise.

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