former coworkers crashed my networking party, using a fake voice in an interview, and more

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

1. My former coworkers crashed my networking party

I can’t believe I am asking this, but is it okay to crash a networking event if you’re friendly with the host? After the first day of a large conference (1,000+ people) put on by a former employer, I held a small networking reception with a hosted bar for my largest client and was in charge of all details, including the guest list. We had physical invitations and people were greeted at the door where the invites were exchanged for drink tickets.

Three of my former colleagues arrived uninvited, and I let them in anyway, because I didn’t want to be rude and the vibe of the event was casual enough that it wouldn’t matter too much. When I went to make the rounds later though, I saw they had brought in four more uninvited guests from my former company who I had never met, had taken over a central part of the venue, and were loudly talking and drinking among themselves and ignoring the rest of the guests. I admit, I reacted with shock at the time and asked what they thought they were doing and said to the people I knew that they were taking advantage of our friendship. They just laughed and said they were fine so I walked away. The next day at the conference, one of them told my employee that they were upset and that I owed them an apology!

For some added context, they knew they weren’t invited and had borderline bullied one of my employees all day about getting an invite. I just set up my own consulting company, and this event was the first one I held for this client. The people who crashed are in very low-level, but visible positions in my industry and I will have to engage with them repeatedly over the years. So, do I owe them an apology? Or do I give one anyway to keep the peace? What I want to do is call their director (my old boss) so he can let them know it isn’t cool for half his department to crash my event simply because I used to work there. But maybe I’m in the wrong and should apologize?

Is it possible they didn’t realize the event was truly invitation-only? It’s common for receptions like that to be open to whoever shows up. The fact that they were angling for an invitation earlier that days makes that unlikely, but they still may have assumed it wouldn’t be a big deal since you knew them, it was for networking, etc. Plus, once they showed up and you let them in, that probably reinforced their thinking that it wasn’t a big deal.

They were rude, but I think you’ve just got to figure that if you really wanted the event to be rigidly invitation-only, you needed to turn them away — or at least to explicitly tell them that you couldn’t permit any additional uninvited guests. Once they and their four additional guests were already in there, you probably would have been better off letting it go — or, if you really found it unacceptable, to ask them to leave. It sounds like your outrage may have made it into a bigger deal than it needed to be.

I would not call your old director about this; that’s going to add to the drama and prolong it. If you have a professional need to have good relationships with the crashers, then yeah, I think you probably do need to at least attempt to smooth it over with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean apologizing, but it might help to at least say, “I realize I sent you mixed messages about the event — I had intended it to be invitation-only and primarily for my client, and I should have been clearer about that rather than getting frustrated when you brought in additional people.”

2. Should I use a fake voice during an interview?

I work in corporate training and instructional design. Over the past few months, job descriptions in my field have increasingly mentioned that the job includes recording videos and voice-overs for training materials.

I don’t mind doing this, but frankly my reedy baby voice is unpleasant. I have done some community theater over the years, so I have experience smoothing and lowering my voice, but it takes concentration, and I couldn’t sustain it permanently. Doing it long enough to record a video would be no problem.

Would it be wrong to interview for this sort of job in my “theater voice”? I could be setting myself up for a comedy of errors if I get the job and show up speaking differently, but I don’t want to be passed over for jobs because they are imagining my mousy squeaking on their videos. I also can’t visualize a way to demonstrate multiple voices in an interview without coming off as unhinged.

(The “theater voice” isn’t comically different, but the difference is noticeable. It’s lower pitched, and more gravelly/less breathy. Friends have joked that my performing voice sounds like me after 20 years of whiskey and cigarettes.)

I don’t think it would be wrong to interview using your theater voice. Lots of people have a more formal voice or a “professional persona” voice. It’s still your voice, just a different version of it. And I doubt anyone is going to be that weirded out by it when you don’t use that voice during normal to day to work. They may not even remember it was different in the interview, and if they do … well, they’ll assume you put a different energy into your voice when you’re trying to make the sort of impression one tries to make in an interview. (That said, my own voice has like three different versions depending on my level of formality and whatever my energy happens to be, so I tend to just not think it’s that weird.)

3. Halloween Christmas card

The photo for our annual Christmas card is being taken on Halloween, prior to our office Halloween potluck, while people will be in costumes! (We are an oncology software company, and our recipients include hospitals, clinicians, and universities.) Ugh. I feel that this is unprofessional, tacky, and weird — I don’t understand why we would use a clearly dated photo for our Christmas card. How, if at all, do I raise this concern to our higher-ups?

If you want to raise it, you can be direct about it: “I think it will look really out of place for the season if we send a Christmas card where people are obviously in Halloween costumes. What about taking the photo next week instead?”

But I wouldn’t worry terribly much about it. It’ll be a weird Christmas card! That’s okay.

4. Callers keep getting my name wrong

My name is Christina and I work a receptionist job and I get a lot of calls daily. Sometimes when speaking to callers, they decide to call me “Chris” instead of Christina. I have an extreme dislike for being called Chris, I don’t even allow close friends or family to call me by that name. It doesn’t seem to be helped by the fact that there are many others at work who do go by Chris.

I’ve tried overly pronouncing my name but it doesn’t always work. Is there a way I could politely tell callers that my name is Christina and not Chris? Or is this just something I need to learn to accept?

If it’s a caller you’re going to speak to regularly: “Oh, it’s Christina, not Chris.” Don’t make a big thing of it — just a matter-of-fact correction and continue on with whatever’s being discussed. And if they repeatedly get it wrong after that and it’s bugging you: “Just so you’re getting my name right — it’s Christina.” After that, you have to decide how much you care — but you want to err on the side of not being this person.

If it’s a caller you’re not likely to speak to again, I would let it go. They’re only going to be in your life for a couple of minutes, and you’ll probably be happier if you decide not to care rather than try to correct it every time.

I know there are people who come down very strongly on the side of “your name is your name and you should never accept being called anything else” … and I agree with that when it’s family, friends, or people you interact with daily, but at work sometimes the path of least resistance is the happier one.

5. How can I prove I was employed at a company that’s been sold or closed?

For many years following college, I worked as a newspaper reporter for a company in Pennsylvania (1994-1999). I left the company in 1999 when I moved south. It was five years of employment experience where I won a few awards and gained good professional experience. The company was sold, sold again, and is now owned by another company. The office I worked at is closed. At least I think it is. When I googled it, it looks like it’s used for storage or printing or something like that. My supervisor died a few years ago.

How can this experience (which I consider valuable) be confirmed on my resume? I have many many clippings of news stories I wrote during this time. But other than that, I don’t know how to confirm I worked for a company that doesn’t exist anymore at an office that doesn’t exist anymore for a person who died, Eddy. There were many others who worked in the office. But I reported directly to Eddy.

Also following that job, I was the marketing director for a company for eight years (from 2001-2009) which has been sold, sold again, and is now a completely different company. How can future employers verify my employment? I’m not even sure how to go about doing it other than show samples of my work from that time period.

Most employers actually aren’t going to be that interested in verifying employment from 1999. If they want to, you have published clippings you can use, but it’s very unlikely it’ll even come up as something they want to check into.

They may not care about verifying the 2001-2009 job either, but if they do, you can explain the situation and offer to put them in touch with former colleagues who worked there. (If you haven’t kept in touch with anyone from that job, try tracking them down on LinkedIn.)

This is a thing that happens! It’s unlikely to be an issue, assuming you have more recent work history and more recent references.

weekend free-for-all – October 20-21, 2018

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: All You Can Ever Know, Nicole Chung’s memoir of growing up Korean in a white family and later finding her biological family. It’s about race and identity and belonging and it is moving and beautifully written.

here is your happy ending for the week

Something nice to end the week with. A reader writes:

This is not to ask a question but simply to thank you for giving me guidance and context to get out of a job that was terrible for me.

There was a letter I came across about a new boss who was trying to get her employee to stop apologizing for things, like a board member calling at the last minute and getting upset that she wasn’t at her desk. This, along with other things, started to set off warning bells for me. I WAS an employee like that and my first instinct when reading was, “Well, it was her fault for not anticipating that he might call in….” (I’ve been in that exact situation.)

My old job was the one I’d been in for the majority of my time post-college, and now that I’m in a new one I realize that everything you say about bad jobs warping your sense of normalcy is TRUE. My new boss comes into my office to chat kindly with me and ask how I am (not burst through the front doors in the morning demanding to know my progress on things and yelling at me when he feels I’ve mishandled things). We talk about a project we’re working on and then he tells me I’m doing good work and he appreciates me. I realize in typing this that it sounds….normal? But I’m young, and after spending four years in a stressful environment, this basic courtesy is new and amazing to me.

But without your blog and reading the comments, I suspect my sense of what’s normal would have been totally miscalibrated for a lot longer than it was. I’m so happy to have come to the realization that I needed to leave and have been easily able to find a new job. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your wisdom and the supportive community you’ve created.

open thread – October 19-20, 2018

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue.

CFO shoots rubber bands at people, putting “MBA” after your name, and more

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

1. Our CFO is obsessed with shooting rubber bands at people

I am a CPA at a public accounting firm. There is a bunch of cubicles outside of the CFO’s office where about eight of us sit. The CFO is obsessed with shooting rubber bands at everybody. And when I say rubber band, I mean the giant ones that go over large stacks of paper. He shoots them at people’s heads and faces, he tries to shoot inanimate objects, or even papers that people are holding in their hands. It is so very annoying to be constantly dodging rubber bands whizzing through the air at high speeds. Once I even heard him say, “Hey, Hannah, put your glasses on so I can shoot a rubber band at you.”

However, he is the CFO, so everybody just plays along and pretends like they are super into it to be on his good side. Behind his back, there are massive (Anderson Cooper level) eye rolls. One time he hit someone IN THE EYE! Their eye started gushing fluid and their nose bled, BLED!! Their eye was red and half closed for the next week.

How do you tell your super annoying boss to stop doing something that he should be old enough to know not to do? We currently don’t have an HR director and even when we did, they don’t do much HR:/.

Your CFO is a child.

A rude child.

It’s outrageous that he didn’t stop after injuring someone’s eye. It’s outrageous that no one in your company thought to tell him that he needs to stop.

On the other hand, it’s also ridiculous that people are playing along with it out of fear of offending him. The people acting like this is good fun are enabling this and making it easier for him to avoid seeing how not okay it is.

Try this: “Can you stop with the rubber bands? I am not willing to risk a serious eye injury like Jane got, or worse. This is going to lead to workers comp claims or worse. Someone has already been injured. It’s distracting and it’s dangerous and I don’t want to be around it.”

If you know he’s too immature for that to work, then go over his head. If you’re small enough not to have HR, you’re probably small enough that you can talk to his boss (presumably the CEO or a second-in-command) directly. Say something similar to them.

But you’ll have more sway if you convince your coworkers to speak up with you. People might be more willing to stop playing along if you couch it in terms of being sick of living in fear of being injured and that you’re asking for their help in getting this under control.

2. Putting “MBA” after your name

I am the EA for the president and CEO, and we are in the process of searching for a national sales manager. It is my job to collect the resumes and my boss will sometimes ask my opinion on a particular applicant.

My question is, is having MBA after one’s name necessary? I understand the abbreviations such as MD, DO, even DVM and I’m sure that Ph.D. is warranted in certain circumstances, but MBA? I’ve had people sign their emails with that particular suffix, and it just seems odd. Is this something I should take seriously, especially for a sales position, or is this just advertising, or is it a combination of both? This comes across as pretentious to me as it is already on one’s resume, but in a sales position it doesn’t seem to ever be a deciding factor between two applicants.

If there is something I am not understanding, please let me know. I would hate to be missing something I should take into consideration with these applicants.

Nope, you’re not missing anything. It’s just their attempt to advertise a credential.

Mainly it signals that they’re putting way too much weight on the degree and it’s pretty eye-rolly, but some people do it. You see it with a whole bunch of different degrees and certifications when it really doesn’t need to be there, and I am mystified about why people do it (with the exception of fields where it’s truly the convention). You sometimes even see people do it with bachelors degrees, which is particularly odd.

3. Should I explain why I’ve been exhausted at work in the last month?

I recently discovered that the reason I have been absolutely exhausted at work is because I’ve been suffering from iron deficiency. It took me about a month to figure this out, because the symptoms were very similar to my depression.

The thing is, my work for that month obviously suffered. I was consistently about five to ten minutes late, and my productivity was halved. I know that this has been noted by my manager, because she’s taken to “checking in” with me throughout the day to see where I’m up to with work, and once when I was on time said it was “good to see [me] here.”

I haven’t been formally told off or even had anything explicitly said to me that I need to work faster or be more punctual, but now that I am treating my deficiency I have bounced back to my usual work ethic and feel terrible about my month of dawdling.

Should I apologize and explain, or should I just put my head down and regain my reputation through action?

Say something to your manager! It’s not about apologizing, just giving her context — because it’s useful for her to understand that what she noticed was caused by a health issue that you now have under control, rather than potentially speculating and getting it wrong (for example, thinking that you’re checked out and disengaged, or that you’ve become careless, or so forth).

You could say something like, “I wanted to let you know that I haven’t felt like myself the last month or so and have been totally exhausted. It turns out it was a medical issue that’s easily treatable, and I’ve now got it under control. I wanted to mention it in case you noticed that I seemed off, so that you have context for it.”

(I went with the vague “medical issue” because you’re not obligated to share details … but actually this is a case where there might be benefit to being specific. Explaining it was an iron deficiency may convey that it’s not anything serious that she should worry about.)

4. No one is opening my application emails

I finished my graduate program in May and just relocated to a new city. I have been here a month and sent out 10+ applications to firms that are hiring entry-level positions that I am probably qualified for (on paper anyway!). These are the all the jobs currently available in my field. However, no one seems to be even opening my emails. I have a read receipt program through my university that tracks when a sent email has been opened, and none of these have been. All of the job listings say to apply via email. Would it be too pushy to also submit a resume through their LinkedIn job listing, just so someone might see my application? Is there anything else I can be doing? Not having a job is driving me crazy and I’m not sure what else to do!

If they explicitly say they’re accepting applications through LinkedIn, you can apply through that … but it’s generally more effectively to apply directly with the company (through email or their website) if that’s an option, which it is here.

I wouldn’t trust your program that tells you none of your emails have been opened. I’ve had candidates email me with great concern to ask if their applications weren’t received since they hadn’t received a read receipt — and they’ve always been wrong. Not everyone chooses to allow their mail to send read receipts (and some people are highly annoyed by them), and some email programs don’t even give the option. You’re putting too much weight on them; they’re not fully reliable. Plus, tracking that kind of thing is a good way to lose your mind.

There are other things you should be doing to help in your job search though. If there are really only 10 openings in your field that you’re qualified for, you should be leaning very heavily on networking and building connections (and possibly thinking about whether to expand the scope of jobs you’ll apply for).

5. Sending a LinkedIn message to an HR rep about my excitement about a job opening

I recently applied for a job with a company and industry I’d be thrilled to work for/in. I applied immediately and talked about my excitement regarding the position in my cover letter.

The HR rep’s LinkedIn was connected to the job posting, but I resisted the temptation to reach out, thinking it would seem cocky or overeager. This morning, I received a connection request from the HR rep and, of course, accepted quickly. I’m wondering now whether it would be appropriate to send him a short message reiterating my interest/excitement in the position, as he was the one to initiate the connection.

You can, but there’s not a ton of point and it won’t give you any real boost. They already know that you’re interested because you applied for the job. The ball is in their court now.

can we make hot-desking work in our office?

Before we get into this letter, a definition. Hot desking = an office design that eliminates assigned desks, instead having people find a new work space each day. It’s sometimes used in offices where people are frequently out (on the road, working from home, or at another site), rather than having lots of desks sitting vacant.

A reader writes:

I have a query for you regarding hot desking, and if there is a way to make it actually work that is suitable for everyone.

I work in a large department of a large civil service. We have a department of 130 employees and occupy one of the most densely occupied buildings in our branch. It is open plan and we are crammed in like battery hens. We have no funding for more office space and nowhere else to expand into, and any office move would be at least two years in the future (if at all).

We currently have the issue that we only have 110 desks but 130 staff, which will likely rise to 150 in the next few months. We had a survey of desk usage done, and on any given day we have about 35% of our available desks empty (due to annual leave, sickness, training, etc.). Currently a handful of people hot desk already, but there has been a suggestion that if the majority of teams began to hot desk it would solve our space issues. A few teams would still need to have assigned seats due to their roles (which is likely to cause tension and resentment from those who have to hot desk). If the plan did go ahead, we’d be standardizing the equipment with docking units/dual monitors.

I can see a couple of big road blocks, first with equipment. We have several employees who need special chairs and keyboards. We could potential replace all the “standard” chairs with the “special chairs,” but one user of a specific chair said it’s taken them 30 minutes a day to adjust their chair correctly. It becomes trickier with users of special keyboards or “handshake” mice – is it reasonable to ask these users to carry them in their bag and swap them out for the standard one?

Secondly, I can see this being a big hit to morale and I know some people feel very strongly about hot desking being terrible. It’ll limit users on how much they can personalize desks, and they might not be able to sit next to who they would like. We have staggered start times, so those starting later would get a limited pick of desks. I also think we’re likely to have issues with people coming in early to snag up the “best” desks, who won’t do work till their start time (our culture is you work you paid for hours and nothing more). I say
“best,” as none of them are great.

At the end of the day, we have too many people and not enough desks, and we have lots of empty desks on a daily basis. I’m very pragmatic and while hot desking wouldn’t be my first choice, I’d understand. However, I know a lot of my coworkers would feel differently. Any advice on how to carry out this change with minimal disruption and as much sensitivity as possible would be massively appreciated!

I am no fan of hot desking in most cases, and particularly when it’s done just to save money, because it means you can’t store things at your desk or personalize your workspace in any meaningful way, and it can feel like you don’t have a real “home” at your office.

But in some cases it does make sense, and certainly your situation — with a third of your staff out on any given day, limited space, and no hope in the near future for changing that — sounds like one of them.

I think there are a few things you can do to ease the burden on people:

* Hot desking offices usually have lockers or rolling storage cabinets so that people have somewhere to store their materials overnight. People who have special keyboards or mice could store their equipment in there.

* Consider letting people whose jobs rarely take them out of the office have permanent space. Hot desking is usually an easier sell for staff who know they’re out of the office much of the time anyway. (That may not be doable with the math you’re working with, but it’s worth looking at your numbers. And it might become more doable if you decide the trade-off for someone having permanent space is that they’ve got to be okay with someone else sitting there when they’re out.)

* Consider whether it makes sense to limit people from coming in early to snag the best desks, unless they’re going to start working then. (I am somewhat skeptical that this will turn out to be a huge problem, unless we are talking about truly magnificent desks … or the other desks being truly terrible … but who knows.)

* You’ve stumped me on your chair issue, but I bet that if you ask your group for input, you’ll get ideas specific to your particular space. For example, maybe there are only three special chair users and it would be easiest to just give them permanent desks (although you’d have to watch out for the number of special chair users suddenly increasing once people realize that gets you a permanent desk).

* Most importantly, make sure you communicate really well about the reason for the change. You’re likely to have less discontent if people understand the facts of the situation, and the other options you’ve considered and why you rejected them — and if they have the opportunity to give input about exactly how the change will be implemented. And ultimately you do have a pretty logical case here for doing it, which I suspect people will recognize, even if only begrudgingly.

my boss insists on knowing how I’ll spend my time off

A reader writes:

My boss has requested that I write to ask permission and give a reason why when I want to take annual leave. I don’t have a problem with this, so I wrote with the reason being “personal matters.” He wrote back saying, “I would appreciate a slightly more detailed reason for your request regarding ‘personal matters.'”

Surely I am entitled to some privacy and would had thought personal matters means exactly that, personal! The thing is, I want the time off, which I have accrued over the year, to look for a job abroad. I don’t really want my boss knowing yet though, as he has a vindictive nature. Do I make something up instead? I thought of saying my personal matter is medical-related, as this is not entirely false. If I stay working there much longer, I am likely suffer severe depression! The job hunt would be preventative measures.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

is it bad to take mentorship from someone who can be awful to others?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’m in a new role at a company (three weeks) and have struck up a great professional relationship with a VP who was recently hired to clean up that department. Her area expertise and experience is fascinating and she has welcomed the chance to mentor and teach me. We have been getting along well so far.

However, I’m simultaneously finding out through the grapevine that she can get extremely angry at her team and sometime slams things around in her office. I’ve also heard that she has shouted at her administrative assistant (who has been with the company for over a decade) and accused her in one instance of being unethical. This admin has been well spoken of throughout the department and, while I only know one side of this story, it make me feel kind of sad and perhaps a little gross to be on such good terms with her and to frankly like her so much while she may be so unfair to an admin who can’t really stand up for herself (HR is involved but I’m not sure to what extent).

I’d welcome any thoughts on this. I’m just struggling with knowing that she’s not as nice to others as she is to me.

can I discipline a job candidate who no-showed, I’m getting reference fatigue, and more

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

1. Can I discipline a candidate who didn’t show up to a job interview?

I went to send a Discipline Email Form to a candidate who hasn’t attended his interview even though we called him to choose interview time and then we sent a confirmation email including time and location. I was wondering if I can send him an email in which I can discipline him for not attending, which cost me time and money for reserving the location, and inform him that he has been blacklisted from our organization.

No, you absolutely cannot. You have no authority to discipline someone who doesn’t work for you. This would make you look incredibly odd, and would make him think that he dodged a bullet when he decided not to show up for the interview.

I’m also not sure what kind of discipline you’re proposing, since he doesn’t work for you! I think you mean some sort of write-up, but you have no disciplinary authority over him. You can certainly make a note not to consider any future applications from him, but that’s the extent of your power here.

This guy was rude. But what you’re proposing would make you look like the patron saint of out-of-touch, deranged employers. It would be the sort of story he tells people for years as an absurd experience, and rightly so.

Part of the deal with hiring is that occasionally someone will no show. That’s just how it goes, and while it’s annoying, you can’t be this rattled by it.

2. Is there a limit to how many references it’s reasonable to give for one person?

Is there a limit to the number of references it is reasonable to give for a person? One of my former direct reports is having trouble finding a job, and I’ve given at least a dozen references, either by phone or in writing, in the last four months since they left their (two-year, part-time) position here. I always try to tailor my comments to the position, so altogether the time investment is 45 minutes to an hour apiece. Can I gently suggest they try using other references? The cumulative time I’ve spent on this is starting to add up.

This is hard — because you don’t want to be an obstacle in their job search, but it does sound like you’ve invested a pretty significant amount of time already.

How much work history did this person have before you? If they’ve got a decent amount, I’d have less guilt about putting limits on it, particularly because they’re likely to have other managers who they should be able to lean on for help. But otherwise, if the person did good work, I’d try to keep helping as much as you can.

That said, having already invested this much time, you can definitely put limits on it if you need to! One possibility is to say, “I’m going to be especially busy for the next few months and may be harder to get ahold of, so I won’t be able to be as reliable of a reference as I have been — do you have other references you can use?” They might have other possible references who they’re not using, because they think you’d be marginally better or just because you’re the most recent or so forth, and a nudge like this might get them to put other people in the mix.

Also, writing references is far more time-consuming than phone calls are. You could say that you’re available for calls but other work is preventing you from investing the time that written references take. Or with written ones, you could do less tailoring — it’s great that you’ve been doing that, but you don’t have to continue it. For people who really want a written reference, you could have one pre-written reference (ideally something you’ve already written) and offer to do a phone call if they want additional information. Not everywhere will accept that; some places have rigid forms they want you to fill out. But you can push back and say “My schedule means I’d need to do that over the phone.”

I’m also curious about what’s going on that this person has gotten to the reference-checking stage (which is usually the finalist stage, although a couple of fields are weird about this and check them earlier) with 12 jobs in four months, but not gotten hired. That’s not yours to solve, but it’s a surprising thing.

3. Buzz cuts and professional dress

This is something I haven’t been able to get a good answer on. I’m in my early 20s and identify as non-binary, though I present as fairly feminine. I will be starting law school next fall. I currently work in a job that requires me to look “very professional,” but with the understanding that I am still a student, so there is some more flexibility in my dress (e.g., wearing fun colored pumps with my pencil skirt and a patterned button-down, with more conservative outfits on days that require it.) I think I’ve done a really good job of creating a wardrobe of professional clothing while also looking like someone in their early 20s, not someone dressing like they’re 55. I also have clothing that is much more conservative and traditional (black slacks, black blazer, pinstripe white button-down type clothing.)

I currently have my hair in a buzz cut. I’ve had it this way for almost two years now, and I rarely even think about it, though it is definitely unusual. No one has given me any flak for it yet, though I’ve seen some judgmental eyes from older people. Will this hairstyle, while much more common for feminine people than ever before, but still strange, hurt my ability to look and be perceived as professional in the legal field? If I dress very “traditionally” and conservatively (eg only black or navy suits and neutral tops) will that help counter the “strange” hair, or should I start growing it out? I’m in the Southwest, so not super progressive but not super conservative.

This is somewhat region-dependent. In many big coastal cities, it won’t be an issue at all. In the southeast … maybe more so. I can’t speak to the southwest personally (but I bet the comment section can), but my hunch is that you’ll be fine, especially if you’re dressing fairly conservatively. Buzz cuts just aren’t as unusual today as they used to be. That doesn’t mean that you won’t encounter the occasional person who has Opinions about your hair, but you shouldn’t let outliers be the determining factor.

4. Is there a point in your career where you should stop requesting expense reimbursement?

I work at a nonprofit with about 30 employees. I’m one of two chiefs who report to our CEO. Is there a point in a person’s career when they reach certain heights in the org chart, when they should stop requesting reimbursement for things like mileage?

The CEO reviews my requests and has always approved them without comment. I have no reason to believe she disapproves. But I do wonder about appearances and whether if at a certain point it’s expected that top executive staff don’t get reimbursed because such things are implicitly built into their salary (or otherwise). What do you think?

Not generally, no. Those are business expenses — expenses that you would not have incurred if it weren’t for your job — and it’s reasonable at all levels to expect the company to pay for them. (In fact, if anything, sometimes you’re able to expense more things as you become increasingly senior, because your employer may be more willing to pay for things to make your life easier.)

Occasionally you might find a company where it’s a cultural norm for senior executives not to submit for reimbursement for all expenses, but it’s not a general expectation across the board.

5. How can I get out of dressing up for Halloween at work?

I currently work at a good job with some pretty awesome people. Up until recently, I had also been looking forward to wearing a costume to work along with everyone else, but some recent stressful developments in my personal life have sapped me of any enthusiasm for dressing up.

I’m relatively decent friends with the person overseeing our Halloween, and I was wondering: what’s the best way to tell her that my heart really isn’t in it anymore? I have only agreed to dress up, not to provide anything or do anything beyond that. I don’t want to look like — or I want to at least minimize the appearance that — I’m isolating myself from the team, but I also don’t have the energy to dress up. Should I back out, or should I just power through and dress up anyway?

You don’t have to dress up. Frankly, the easiest/lowest-drama way to handle this might be not to make a big deal about it in advance and just … show up without a costume on Halloween. You can explain that you ended up having a bunch of things in your personal life that you needed to deal with, or that you weren’t feeling well enough to put something together, or so forth. But if your sense of your coworkers is that that’ll make it a bigger deal, then it’s fine to say something in advance like, “Hey, I’m probably going to skip a costume this year — too much other stuff going on and I’m just spent. Don’t take it personally!”

what’s up with interviewers working on their laptops during interviews?

A reader writes:

This has happened to me at two different job interviews (for two different companies). At both, there were two interviewers, both on their laptops. For the first one, I was recommended for the job by a friend who worked there, and the two interviewers took turns having one person ask me questions while the other would seemingly be doing work (it didn’t seem like they were typing what I was saying, just reading something). At the end of that one interview, I got a job offer despite feeling kind of disconnected and unsure about the job. I took the whole thing as a red flag (along with a few other things), and turned down the offer.

The other, more recent interview was for a job I really wanted. One woman (who would be my boss) was nodding and frantically typing everything I said, while the other sometimes listened, sometimes drifted back into work. I haven’t heard back since, and feel awful because I really did try and feel I was good enough for another interview, but the laptops also made it hard to focus or feel like I was fully being listened to.

Is this the new normal? Am I overthinking it? Part of it comes off as “they’re literally too busy at this job to not be simultaneous working during a job interview.” It also comes off as “we already know how we feel about this applicant, so might as well squeeze some work in.” If it IS the new normal, how can I better prep for these things? I feel like I get so bogged down on the lack of eye contact/feeling like they’re bored or distracted that I start to lose my confidence a little. Would love to hear your thoughts!

There are a few things that could have been going on:

* The person on her computer might have been reading something relevant — like the key skills they were seeking in the job, or the interview rubric she’d need to rate you afterwards, or the set of interview questions they wanted to use.

* The person reading on her computer might indeed have been reading something unrelated — which could be because she was there to evaluate a very specific thing and was tuning out when it wasn’t being discussed (a little rude, but not outrageous), or because she was bored (definitely rude), or because she was indeed busy (not necessarily a terrible sign about the culture there; sometimes someone is just having a really busy day but it’s not reflective of anything more than that).

* The person who was frantically typing everything you said was, I’m guessing, a new or inexperienced interviewer (or just not a very good one, or one who doesn’t trust her own abilities) who for some reason thought she needed to document everything you said, rather than just key highlights or key impressions.

I don’t know that I’d say it’s a “new normal,” but it’s definitely not unusual for interviewers to have laptops during interviews, and I think you’re probably reading more into it than you should … and that in turn is throwing you off and making you uncomfortable. You’re better off deciding in your head — whether it’s true or not — that the interviewers are listening and engaged, and psyching yourself into speaking in the exact same way you would if they didn’t have computers and were making active eye contact. That’s easier said than done, of course, but it is doable, although you might have to do some mental contortions to get yourself there.

To be clear, if an interviewer were asking me about this, I’d tell them to be aware of how off-putting this can be to a candidate and to avoid doing it — or if it were unavoidable, to explain the situation so the person wasn’t left to guess like you were. But you can only control your side of this.