friend doesn’t believe in different dress codes for different situations, applying for a job where my landlord works, and more

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

1. My friend doesn’t believe there are different dress codes for different situations

I have a younger friend who works for a well-known leisure apparel company at their headquarters. Many of the employees still work from home the majority of the time and when they are in the office, it’s not unusual for them to be wearing their brand apparel. So, pretty darn casual for this old timer who grew up on suits, stocking, and heels! All that is well and good but there are occasions where they may need to do presentations to other divisions, be in meetings with high level executives, etc. Do you think the dress code changes in this situation?

Her grandboss made a comment about her wearing athleisure attire to a meeting (something along the lines of “That’s what you’re wearing to the meeting?”). She doesn’t seem to think it’s a big deal since they didn’t come out and say, “Don’t wear that to this meeting.” I think it is very clear that her grandboss expects more. I’ve tried the “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” approach. I suggest she have one really great pair of black slacks and a jacket on hand for these meetings. She isn’t hearing me. She has said that I “just don’t understand” that wearing their branded clothing is part of the culture. While I don’t disagree with that, I think there is a time and a place for certain items. And I think she could pair quality slacks with their branded shirt and still be part of the culture.

Maybe I’m all wet. If I am, I am happy to back off. But if I’m not, I’d really like some words of wisdom or a relevant article I can point her to.

Well, you’ve got to keep in mind that she’s much better positioned to know what’s acceptable in her office culture than you are — and there are indeed offices that don’t expect you to dress up for higher-level meetings and presentations. So pushing her to change what she’s doing just based on a general belief that people shouldn’t wear athleisure to those meetings would be an overstep; you don’t know the culture at her company firsthand and she does. (And it sounds like you might have a blind spot about the fact that there are companies where this would be fine.)

But her grandboss’s comment sounds like a clear indication that in this office she is expected to change what she’s wearing for some meetings. So you’re probably right in her particular case! But you’ve tried to point it out, she’s not interested in hearing it, and and it’s not your place to keep pushing.

That said, if you hadn’t already been pushing her on this, you could point out that her boss was sending her a clear message that her clothes weren’t acceptable for that context … and it would make sense to say that clearly rather than using “dress for the job you want, not the job you have,” which she clearly doesn’t think applies in her situation. But at this point, when you’ve already been trying and she disagrees, the best thing to do is to drop it and assume she’ll figure it out on her eventually or someone who works with her will tell her more clearly.

2. Is it OK for managers to send mild reprimands in an email?

Are mild reprimands over email an appropriate avenue for small errors? I manage students and staff members who work all hours of the week — hours when I’m off the clock as well. We go over common expectations for job performance in training, and sometimes I’m notified of a small work-related issue about a student who won’t be working hours when I’m normally available. Is it appropriate to send a short email addressing the possible issue and reminding them of my expectations, or should all conversations involving job performances and mild reprimands be in person?

It depends on what you mean by “reprimand.” Frankly, I don’t think managers should need to be doing a lot of reprimanding, so if you find that you are, it’s a flag to look more closely at what’s going on — it could be that people need more training or supervision, or you need to have a more serious performance conversation or even have the wrong person in the job, or your managerial style needs to be recalibrated.

But it’s fine to give guidance in email, or relatively straightforward corrections or reminders. Something like “it looks like you missed the X row in this spreadsheet — can you fix that and make sure you watch for it in the future?” is fine in email. Something like “you’ve continued to miss the X row even though we’ve talked about it repeatedly” should normally be a real conversation (in part because at that point you need to have a real conversation about what’s going on).

3. Is a company’s bad screening system a reason not to take the job?

I recently applied for a job through the company’s website. It’s a relatively high level position, and I thought I was a perfect fit for the job, but alas I never heard back. These things happen.

I forgot about it until a month later when a former coworker told me they had reached out for him to have him consider the job. He wasn’t as qualified as me (he was missing one of the key qualifications), but they’re relaxing some criteria because they hadn’t filled it. They reached out because he had applied for a job in the past.

Hearing this, I figured my application and resume were held up by a finicky screening algorithm. So I reworked my resume and reapplied. Still no response. Which I thought was weird, and I figured maybe they had found someone after all.

Fast forward three weeks. My friend said they asked him if he knew anyone he could recommend for the position and he sent my resume. Within 30 minutes, the recruiter called me and within a week I had interviews set up with the leadership. They are very excited and the process is proceeding very quickly.

Should the fact that they couldn’t find my resume (one they admit is highly qualified) in their own inbox after two applications be a red flag? At the very least, I figure after a failed search they would go through rejected resumes to see if there was something they may have missed. If their hiring practices are dysfunctional, I worry about them being able to get good talent in the future. And if the only way to get through screening is to have a connection, I think this raises serious diversity and equity issues. People without connections tend to be from groups that have been marginalized in the past. Am I overthinking this, and it’s just wonky software/algorithms? Should I mention something about it? Is this a reason to not take a job?

It’s not a reason not to take the job. It’s a reason for them to reassess how their applicant tracking system is working (they should look at why you were screened out and who else has been screened out recently to figure out if it was a one-time fluke or part of a pattern, and whether their system can be tweaked to work correctly or needs wholesale changes), but it doesn’t indicate on its own that the company is dysfunctional. Lots of places that are fine to work have crappy application systems (or some other crappy software that doesn’t reflect the organization’s competency more generally). You’re right about the diversity and equity implications though, and if you end up working there in a position with some influence, that’s definitely something you should point out.

4. Do I need to ask my landlord if it’s okay to apply for a job at her workplace?

Some of my friends have encouraged me to apply for work at their organization. The only sort-of catch is that my landlord also works there.

Is it rude/wrong/inconsiderate to apply without consulting my landlord first? She works in a high position in the company. I’m not sure where she is on the org chart, but I would more than likely work as an underling, definitely not as an executive if they were to hire me. My landlord doesn’t know I’ve been laid off yet because I have savings and my husband works full-time so there’s no issue with not paying rent. I’m not sure what the etiquette is for this situation. We have a great business relationship through my renting from her, but I feel weird putting her in a position to possibly have to vouch for me or a position of intermingling her various businesses with her day job.

You don’t have to mention it to her, but it could be smart to — if for no other reason than if it’s going to cause problems, it’s better to know that now while you can still factor it into your decision-making, rather than after it’s too late to do that. For example, if it turns out the position is in her chain of command, they might not be able to consider you for the job (because it would be a conflict of interest for her to oversee someone who she also gets rent money from). You could wait until you’re a little further along in the process though (maybe after you’ve been invited to interview).

5. Contacting a hiring manager before a job is posted

I work in a niche field that doesn’t have regular turnover. Recently, someone at another company in my same line of work, though more senior, has left their job. I interacted once at a networking event with the likely hiring manager of this role. Can I reach out to Potential Hiring Manager to share my interest if they plan to fill the role? And if so, what is the best way to do so without sounding too eager?

Yes! I’d say it this way: “Hi Jane! We met a couple of years ago at the Oatmeal Association’s annual conference and chatted about the work you’ve been doing on instant oats. I saw that Jane Burtlebot recently left her position with you, and I’m interested in throwing my hat in the ring at whatever point you’re considering applicants for the role. Your project on breakfast grains is exactly the sort of work I’m hoping to tackle next. I’m attaching my resume and I’d love to talk with you if you think I might be a match for what you need.”

can I bring a blender to work?

A reader writes:

I have recently started an in-person job after searching for months. I really want to keep it, but I’m so used to working remotely that my in-person skills are rusty. It doesn’t help that I might be autistic and have a difficult time reading the room/taking social cues. Any advice you can me would be very much appreciated.

I live in a large city where cost of living is high. This means I live in a VERY crappy apartment with no kitchen. I have a mini-fridge, a microwave, and that’s it. There isn’t even counter space or cabinets.

My workplace has an employee break room with a sink, cabinets, full-sized fridge (with freezer), decent amount of counter space, and electrical outlets.

I’ve been trying to eat healthier and was hoping to make some veggie/fruit shakes. However, I would need to use the employee kitchen if I wished to do this. It already has a microwave, coffee pot, and tea kettle. Would it be weird to ask if I can bring a blender in? Would it be even weirder to use that blender?

I think you can bring a blender into work if:

a. You pick a quieter model; it’s the noise that risks being an issue more than anything else. It’s worth reading some reviews to find which models are the quietest.

b. You wash it immediately after using and don’t leave it in the sink.

You wouldn’t even need to ask in many offices, especially if yours is pretty informal/casual. You always can ask just so you have peace of mind, though. Either way, after you use it the first time, it would be considerate to check with the people whose offices are closest to the kitchen and make sure the noise didn’t bother them. If someone says something like “It was pretty loud,” assume that’s polite-speak for “it’s too loud.” If instead you get a bunch of “what a good idea for lunch!” comments, assume you’re fine.

Be aware, though, that if you leave a blender in the kitchen when you’re not using it, it will be used by other people and may at some point disappear.

office kitchen wars are back

With many companies bringing people back to the office at least part-time, office kitchens wars are back!

Today at Slate, I wrote about workplace kitchen aggravations — the take-out food from months ago left rotting in the fridge, the politics of who gets stuck cleaning up after others (and who doesn’t), the brazen thefts of other people’s food … and some Covid-specific indignities that grossed out workers returning to the premises after their office kitchens had gone unused for months or years. You can read it here.

my younger coworker keeps making ageist comments to me

A reader writes:

I am an older worker doing very well in my executive position in a small think tank. Apart from the director and myself, the other staff are in their 20s and 30s.

One staff member in particular continually makes both oblique and direct references to age. For example, she said one day that she was struggling because she was “hormonal, not like you — you’re probably menopausal” … has said, “Wow, you know all the modern language” when I use contemporary or colloquial acronyms and term … and has referred to the executive director — the other older person — as the “dad” of younger members of the team.

I am not her direct manager, but I am senior to her.

I don’t appreciate causal ageism, and feel it is perhaps one of the last forms of open discrimination that is still acceptable in the workplace. I’ve experienced structural ageism when laid off previously and have been passed over for job after job by younger hiring managers despite being at the top of my game.

It’s a small organization, and I want to preserve good relationships. What’s the best way to handle this?

The strange irony here is that your coworker is undermining herself by focusing so much on age and regularly casting herself as younger and less experienced. Maybe it won’t have that effect in your particular office, but it definitely could in others.

In any case, are you comfortable calling it out directly when it happens? For example, if she makes another comment like the one about you being menopausal, you could say, “Wow, that is really not appropriate to say to someone at work” or “I’m sure you don’t mean to be, but that’s really inappropriate.” To her comments about how you know “all the modern language,” you could dryly reply, “I’m sure you don’t mean that how it sounds” or “what a weird thing to say.” When she refers to the executive director as “dad,” you could say, “It’s really undermining — to Bob and everyone else — to call him that.”

It also might make sense to address the pattern itself: “You seem really focused on age.” And if she seems receptive, you could add, “I don’t think you realize how that comes across, and can even open the company to legal liability since age over 40 is a protected class.” You could also point out that she’s undermining herself professionally by being so focused on age, which makes her look inexperienced. Hell, if it feels right for the relationship, you could say it in a mentor-y way — “I wanted to mention this to you because I didn’t know if you realized those kind of comments can really undermine your own professionalism and seniority, as well as negatively affecting the people you’re talking about.”

That’s all a soft or at least semi-soft approach because you’re concerned about preserving the relationship. But you’d also be on perfectly solid ground in taking a less soft approach — either in your language to her or by escalating the issue the same way you would with other types of bias. In a small organization, I’m guessing you don’t have HR, but there’s someone you’d talk to if you wanted to report harassment or discrimination and you could take this to that person. (I’m guessing it might be your executive director.)

I don’t think you’re likely to need to lean heavily on the law in this situation, but so you know potentially relevant details: The Age Discrimination in Employment Act is the primary federal law that would be in play, and it protects employees who are 40 or older from age-based discrimination or harassment. It covers employers with 20 or more employees, but many states have laws that kick in at lower thresholds. It’s important to know that the law doesn’t prohibit “simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not serious”; harassment is illegal “when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted).” The details in the letter likely don’t rise to the level of violating the law, but a smart employer will want to shut it down anyway.

we’re being unknowingly videotaped at meetings, should you always be job-searching, and more

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

1. We’re being unknowingly videotaped at town hall meetings

I’m a full-time remote employee who works for a large company. We regularly have “town halls” at multiple levels — full company, full department, full “section,” etc. These town halls are through Microsoft Teams and to simplify things, when you log on, you’re muted and don’t have video. You can only see the presenter. There is no gallery mode and there are no video/sound options presented to you.

Except! As it turns out, you are on video! The director of each section (ours has about 40 people in his section, others may have less or more) gets to view you and your reactions to every town hall word being said, unbeknownst to you! (I learned this recently while at some in-person meetings — my boss and everyone at her level didn’t know this, but as we all watched a town hall together on a big screen, he was watching everyone else on his computer.)

This horrifies me. The number of ways this could go wrong seems staggering. Is this normal?

What, no! This is not normal and it’s not okay. You should never be filmed without your knowledge and consent. Not only is this a huge invasion of privacy, but it’s asking for all sorts of problems — think about the sorts of things people do at home when they just forget they’re on video, let alone when they didn’t know they were on video in the first place.

It’s worth taking a look at exactly what notifications/disclaimers you see when you’re logged on (I’d be really surprised if Teams didn’t have something informing you that your video would be on, even if it’s not prominent). Either way, at a minimum it’s something you should let your coworkers know about, and you might consider asking for it to be stopped or more prominently disclosed (or just cover your camera).

2. Should I always be job-searching?

I read the letter from the person whose coworker was putting mistakes in her work in horror — I’m super anxious and also pretty conscientious, so this kind of thing would mess me all the way up — and noted the number of commenters suggesting that OP might want to go ahead and start job searching regardless of which path they take to address their coworker’s shenanigans. And searching for a new job is something you often recommend as a possible option for folks who write in. An acquaintance of mine is always job-searching — “for leverage.” I’m wondering about your thoughts on this. Pros? Cons? Are there folks who are always job searching, regardless of whether they feel good about their current jobs? Why? Does it feel like “leverage”? What kind of guidelines do they set for themselves to keep it manageable?

No, it’s not normal to always be job-searching, if by that you mean actively searching through job listings and applying for jobs. It’s more common to always be open to something new if you happen to hear about the right thing, but the idea of always being in job-application mode sounds exhausting and most people aren’t. Also, if you’re constantly changing jobs it’s going to hurt you after a while; you’ll become less employable and eventually you’ll have a harder time getting the jobs you want.

In the letter you linked, there was a serious problem with the person’s manager — the writer was being reprimanded for things she didn’t do and didn’t trust her boss to listen to reason. That’s a big deal, and it indicates both her job and her reputation could be in jeopardy, so it makes sense for her to think about leaving if she can’t resolve the situation another way. But that’s not a typical situation! Most people’s situations aren’t nearly that dramatic.

When your acquaintance says she’s always searching “for leverage,” she probably means that when she has other options, it’s easier to set boundaries or walk away from a job that isn’t serving her interests anymore. Hopefully she doesn’t mean that she’s explicitly using it as leverage with her boss — like regularly announcing that she’s on the verge of taking another job — because that’s the kind of thing you can do once, not multiple times; doing it regularly would drain it of all its power (and she’d likely just be told to go).

3. I don’t want my manager’s job when she leaves

I work on a team of five people at a company of about 1,000 people. Our role is fairly niche and requires specialized training and education. Our supervisor has started hinting that she’s looking at retiring in the next couple of years. She has started bringing me into meetings with her, teaching me elements of her role that don’t apply to mine, and other actions that make me assume she’s expecting me to step into her role when she goes. I suppose from the outside it makes the most logical sense. Of the remaining team members, three are nearing retirement age and one just graduated from college, while I’ve been in the field for a decade and am in my late 30s.

The thing is, I don’t want her job. I really enjoy my current role. Each day brings enough unique challenges that I don’t get bored but I also feel comfortable. If I step up into my supervisor’s role, I’ll have to add additional meetings in the evening hours that will cut into my time with my young children. I’ll have to drop my favorite task that I currently perform and pass it to a more junior employee. In addition, I’ll be responsible for the department budget (I’m terrible at math!). Honestly, I’m just not a natural leader and the prospect of taking on her role fills me with anxiety.

When I’ve told people this, I’ve been told I’ll be “shooting myself in the foot” career-wise. My husband feels it will give my company a bad impression of me and a coworker I confided in expressed concern that I might lose my current job if I refuse.

How do I professionally let people know that I’m perfectly happy where I am and that I have no desire to climb the ladder any higher without sounding like a slacker or emphasizing my weaknesses?

You’re surrounded by bad advice! It’s not “shooting yourself in the foot” to avoid a job you don’t want. And you’re highly unlikely to lose your current job if you decline (!). Your manager is assuming that you’d be excited for the promotion because people often are, but it’s a completely normal and okay thing to explain that you’re happy where you are and not interested in that specific role right now. Since it sounds like she hasn’t explicitly said what she’s planning for you, you could say, “I noticed you’ve started mentoring me in things like X and Y and I wondered if it’s because you figure I’ll be looking at management roles in the next few years. I wanted to say that I’m really happy with my current role and don’t have management as a goal. I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing now and get better and better at it.”

I don’t want to move up into a leadership role

4. HR says we can’t contact a coworker on leave even to find out when she’ll be back

I’m a teacher and we had a question about what’s allowed with FMLA. A colleague told us she would be out for a surgery. She asked the department to cover for her for three weeks, after which she would be back. The department arranged teachers to cover the extra classes while she is out (I’m one of the teachers covering a class for her). It’s day two of this colleague being gone and our department head just got told by HR that we actually need to hire a long-term sub for the next 12 weeks, which is not what we understood from our colleague. HR says we can’t reach out to our colleague now that she’s gone in any way to understand what the discrepancy is, but from what we know of our colleague and what she told us about the surgery, we are almost positive there is no need for coverage for that long.

The department head ended up getting around this by emailing the department email list letting us know we would need to put together a hiring committee to hire someone to cover several classes for the next 12 weeks, and she mentioned the classes that our colleague teaches. Our colleague almost immediately replied to the department head and cc’d HR to ask what was going on and to reiterate that she will be back in three weeks.

So there are two questions: is HR right that there is no legal way to ask our colleague whether she will be out for three weeks or 12? And did our department head do something wrong in her approach?

Your HR is being weird. It’s true that federal law forbids what’s called “FMLA interference,” meaning asking someone to perform work while they’re on FMLA leave. But courts have been clear that fielding occasional calls about your job is a professional courtesy, as long as it’s “reasonable contact” limited to things like “inquiries about the location of files or passing along institutional or status knowledge.” Confirming the length of time someone will be out is completely fine (as long as it’s not done in a harassing way, like calling them daily to pressure them to return).

Your department head’s approach — emailing the department list, knowing the coworker on leave would see it if she chose to check her email — seems pretty smart, given the circumstances.

5. Telling people I’ve resigned

I recently resigned from a job and my manager asked me to let my full team know (after her bosses and relevant senior people were informed by her). I’ve always had a manager handle team updates when I’ve departed past jobs, whether in a full team meeting/quick regroup or via a team email. I called the people I worked closely with 1:1 (I am remote). I started to call people I don’t work as closely with, and it got awkward so I switched to IMs. The team is big, and some people report to other people who aren’t my manger, are technically in different departments, and/or have a person between us with whom they most often work. I have no idea if I handled this correctly. Would it have been better to push through the awkwardness with everyone or was I okay IMing?

IMing is fine, but really email would have been ideal — you could have put everyone you wanted to inform on the email and done it in one message. That’s a pretty typical way to do it; you definitely do not need to call people individually, unless there are people you actively wanted to tell individually.

weekend open thread – March 18-19, 2023

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand.

Here are the rules for the weekend posts.

Book recommendation of the week: Vintage Contemporaries, by Dan Kois. This is about friendship in your 20s and how it changes as you get older and try to figure out where you fit in the world. I loved, loved, loved it.

* I make a commission if you use that Amazon link.

it’s your Friday good news

It’s your Friday good news!

1.  “After many years freelancing part-time while being a full-time parent I decided to return to the workforce. Job-hunting is stressful and full of disappointment. I’ve been ghosted more times than I can count and I stopped counting how many jobs I applied to a long time ago. To say I am discouraged and suffering from ‘job-related low self-esteem’ is an understatement.

So when I got an email from a recruiter about a seemingly-perfect job I was over the moon. I bought your guide on how to get a job and poured over the interview tips. Alison, I went into that first interview more prepared than I have ever been for anything in my life. I absolutely nailed it. I was immediately invited back for a second interview, and then a third.

But thanks to all my prep work, I wasn’t nervous, and I wasn’t thinking about how to make them like me more. I was able to also focus on whether I liked them. And the more I talked to them, the more I got the sense that all was not right in job-land. When I did a team interview, the tension was palpable. They were evasive when I asked what happened to the previous person in my role. In an interview with my would-be manager I felt empowered to interview her right back and asked all kinds of questions about her management style. When I asked her if she had ever received any feedback about her management style that really resonated with her, her face visibly darkened. All in all, I left each interview with a feeling of dread instead of enthusiasm.

They offered me the job and I asked for the weekend to think it over. In the past I would have shoved all those doubts aside and jumped at the job, and somehow convinced myself it would all be ok. On Monday I called them back and said I did not think the role was going to work for me and thanked them for my time.

Thank goodness I trusted my gut! I found out later through a professional contact that my would-be manager is notorious for burning through staff at an alarming rate. She turns hot and cold on a dime and goes from ‘you are the best employee I have ever had’ to firing you in under a week. Apparently ex-employees of hers found each other on LinkedIn and formed a small support group. Especially after reading so many horror stories of bad employers and toxic workplaces, I decided that my mental health is not worth a paycheck.

So, I am still unemployed with no real leads on the horizon but I feel really empowered now. I took control of my career instead of jumping on the first offer that came along. And I know I can really kill it in an interview. Hopefully someday soon, a mentally stable hiring manager will call me and I can wow that person too.”

Update from yesterday: “I have an update to my good news! I just (an hour ago) accepted a great new position! I am so glad I held out for something better. The job pays 25% more than the one I turned down and the team I am joining is a really great group of people that I am legitimately excited to work with.”

2.  “Loooong-time reader and credit your site for helping me grow as both an employee and manager. Years of reading your salary negotiation posts as well as how to frame things effectively paid off for me about a year ago. I was offered a transfer to our European office. I understood it as a lateral move so I assumed the salary would be whatever the going exchange rate was of my US salary. Instead I was offered the equivalent of a 5% pay cut (7% when factoring in cost of living increases). The HR person acted surprised when I pushed back and said, ‘It’s a good living.’ When I was newer in my career I would have just accepted it (I’m fulfilling a dream and moving to Europe after all!). However, I instead laid out all the figures of how much of a difference it would make and escalated it. I was told HR made a mistake and I was actually getting the equivalent of a 10% raise! Which really hammered home the importance of questioning things and knowing my worth. I have been in Europe for just over a year now and it is everything I dreamed.”

3.  “I have never written in before but read your column all the time. I was previously working at an extremely toxic company which was compounded during Covid. Since this is a good news post I will spare you the details, but the final straw for me was when I was told at a year end review that I had not been promoted the previous year because I was on parental leave, and that I would not be promoted that year because I was pregnant. I was terrified to be job searching during a pandemic while pregnant, but I read your all of your guidance (particularly about interviewing while pregnant!) and landed an amazing, fully remote role at a company that I’m actually excited to work for. The 25% pay increase and amazing benefits helped too. I enjoyed more paid time off when my daughter was born than I’d had at any previous job as well, and with the way things ended up working out I had only worked there for six weeks before she unexpectedly made her appearance a few weeks early.

I’m nearly two years into my new job and while this place has its issues like any other, the change in my mental health is profound. I no longer spend Sunday night laying awake dreading going to work the next day, I have more flexibility to be with my family, and I work with really awesome people who are supportive and care about my professional development. Without the help of your site I would have stayed at toxic job at least until my daughter was born, and I would have completely missed this opportunity. So thanks for all of the help you provide, you’re out here changing lives!”

4.  “I was working in an industry that was drastically affected by the pandemic; it basically relied on people going places. I returned to work from my first maternity leave in January of 2020 and had been trying to secure a new role during my maternity leave and had no such luck. I had been invited for an interview at the beginning of March and had made it past the first round but the position was cancelled. I kept working but my position was basically eliminated as no one could go anywhere. Luckily my company had other ventures so I transferred departments. My original position paid salary plus commission, so with no commission coming in my income dropped 12K. We managed but it was hard.

I was determined to get out, and found out I was pregnant again. I’m in Canada so I was able to take an extended maternity leave for 18 months, which I hoped would enable the world to get somewhat back to normal and I could go back to what I was originally doing, just maybe with a different company. At the end of my leave in 2022, I was randomly scrolling indeed and came across a position that matched my experience perfectly in a totally new and different industry, so I thought I would give it a shot. I reworked my cover letter and resume using your advice and was invited for an interview. I had been sent interview questions, which I made my husband and my best friend ask me. I practiced in the shower and out loud in the car — I think my 3-year-old thought I had a screw loose.

I nailed the interview and when I got the offer letter, I cried because I more than doubled my previous salary, didn’t have to work weekends, and our office is closed for the holidays at Christmas. I have been in my new role for 3 months and honestly it’s a dream. I’m pretty much fully remote but sometimes need to be able to come into the office, my team is amazing and I hit the jackpot with my new boss. She’s everything I wish my 20-year-old self had in a boss. I didn’t realize how underpaid and how much my previous boss had been holding me back with her weird micromanaging.”

5.  “I’m so happy to finally join the good news club!

At the end of the summer I was abruptly let go from my job when they decided they wanted our department full-time in-office only, with no exceptions whatsoever (despite the fact I had been working remotely for many years prior to the pandemic). No, this definitely was not actually necessary for what we did. I could have written in with dozens of questions and anecdotes from my bonkers time there, and I can’t deny that I was ready to leave, but the way it ended still hurt a lot.

While I’ve been a long time AAM reader, I dove deep into the archives during my unemployment to do everything from update my resume, write fresh cover letters, and even find book recommendations to help fill my free time (Hench? Incredible. I still can’t stop telling people to read it.)

Today I signed the offer letter to accept my first management position! I never would have made it through the 5-round interview process without all the advice I’ve held onto over the years, most especially the tip to not read too much into anything! After each round I was able to just take a deep breath, say ‘whatever happens happens’ and not dwell. I kept my expectations in check and just laughed and shared the couple of odd things with friends instead of freaking myself out about them being secret red flags about the company.

I’m so excited for my fresh start. Now I’m off to comb the archives again to figure out how to re-acclimate to working in an office again after being at home for 7 years! (At least the new position is hybrid, so my cats won’t miss me too much!)”

open thread – March 17-18, 2023

It’s the Friday open thread!

The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on any work-related questions that you want to talk about (that includes school). If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to take your questions to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

how can a teenager get a job when her family travels full-time, new coworker gave herself a better title, and more

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

1. How can a teenager get a job when our family travels full-time?

I am a teenager (16) and I want to get my first job but I don’t know how. My family lives in a 5th wheel camper and we travel around the country full-time. We don’t own a house. My parents both have work-from-home jobs but both of the companies they work for require employees to be over 18, with a college degree, and must have experience, so trying to get a job with them is out of the question.

We don’t have a permanent address, just a couple of P.O. boxes. My parents use my grandma’s address for really important things like their driver’s licenses, but besides that all mail goes to the P.O. boxes. However I know my grandma’s health is failing and I’m not sure what my parents are going to do after she passes away.

Due to my family traveling around, I can’t go and apply to McDonalds or Walmart. My mom and I have searched and searched the internet for jobs but it’s impossible to find work-from-home jobs. They basically require you to have been working with them before the pandemic started and/or you have to be over 18 with a college degree and experience. There are also many times we don’t have internet/phone service for 2-3 days (sometimes a week if we can stay in one spot and mom and dad don’t have to work). My sister and I are homeschooled so we don’t have to do online classes.

I tried making jewelry and selling it on Etsy but I never made any sales. I can’t go door to door and ask people if they need their lawn mowed or snow shoveled. We don’t even own a lawn mower and since we stay at campgrounds we are always in rural areas, not around houses.

I don’t know how to get a job in my situation. I’m not legally old enough to live on my own yet, and I don’t even have any money to live on my own because I don’t have a job. I really want a job before I go to college because I’ll be living and working on my own. I need some kind of experience. Before anyone asks, my parents aren’t going to sell their camper and buy/rent a house just so I can have a minimum wage job.

I hate to say it, but realistically, I don’t think you can have a job in this situation. I wish you could, but I can’t think of an option that would work. (I’m happy to throw it out to commenters for ideas if anyone has any, though.)

The closest I can get is if you know where you’re going in advance, you might be able to sign up for one- or two-day volunteer opportunities ahead of time. Of course, that wouldn’t give you any money, just some interesting work-like experiences.

However — I wouldn’t worry a lot about this being something you absolutely must do to do before college. It’s a smart thing to do when your life allows for it, but it’s not a disaster if you can’t. A lot of people arrive at college without having had a job before, and you’ll be able to get jobs once you’re there and will quickly rack up that experience. By the time you graduate, you’ll have had four years of being able to work (including full-time in the summers if you want) and at that point prospective employers won’t be asking about what you did in high school anyway.

This must be frustrating though. I hope it helps to know it shouldn’t limit the options you’ll have once you start college (or when you’re otherwise controlling your own living situation).

2. Can I apply to a job when my current job is helping someone else try to get that same job?

I work as a job developer, supporting folks with disabilities in their own job searches. I help with job search, interviewing, reaching out to the employer on the individual’s behalf, onboarding, training, accommodations, etc. While I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed this morning, I saw one of my connections had shared a job posting, and thought it might be a good fit for someone I’m currently supporting, so I sent it to S.

But I kept reading the job posting and thought that, actually, this might also be a really good opportunity for me. It would be a good next step in my career, higher salary, fewer hours, and fully remote.

Now, S applied and wrote a great cover letter. Yay S! Usually, I’ll follow up within a few days with the employer to introduce myself and the work my organization does, and talk up the person I’m supporting.

If I applied, I feel like I could separate myself enough to give everything I normally do for S at the same level, as well as give a good turn out for myself. I could email the employer from my work email saying all the things I normally say about S, and then apply myself from my personal email with a post script of “haha, awkward, you may recognize my name from … here’s the sitch” and be completely transparent. But it could also be too much of a conflict of interest.

Does my duty to the individual I’m supporting preclude me from applying? And if not, how to I handle it?

Yeah, I don’t think you can apply for that job; the conflict of interest is too strong, since your job is to help S get the position you would simultaneously be trying to get for yourself. Even if you know that it won’t affect how well you advocate for S, it would look really bad — and imagine what it would look like to S if you got the job after she believed you were trying to help her get it. It’s also likely to look pretty off to the employer (and could harm both your chances, which wouldn’t be fair to S).

You’ve got to pass this one by, unfortunately.

3. New coworker gave herself a higher title

A new colleague joined our team a few months ago. For anonymity, let’s say her title is the equivalent of project coordinator. In recent weeks, she has started sending emails with her title listed as the equivalent of project manager. Her team already has someone in the formal role of project manager that includes additional duties over and above those of a coordinator, and I confirmed with her supervisor a couple of weeks ago that her title had not changed from project coordinator. It sounded like a few people had asked about this and there was a plan to get this addressed, but the new colleague’s email signature continues to say “manager.” Is this as strange and bold as it seems?

Yes. Even stranger, I’ve gotten probably more than a dozen letters over the years about people just giving themselves their own promotion by using a higher-level title in their email signature without anyone’s permission. It shouldn’t take a whole plan to get it addressed — her manager just needs to tell her to use the correct title, and it’s odd that that hasn’t happened yet, particularly if multiple people have asked about it.

4. Applying directly vs. applying with a recruiter

I recently applied to a job directly because it appeared the organization was hiring for more than one position (a salaried one and also an hourly one) and I was interested in either position. I also applied through a staffing agency — not knowing that both jobs were actually one and the same. I regard that as a mistake on the employer’s part since my submissions were in earnest.

When the recruiter found out about the HR-routed application, I explained that it appeared their client is hiring multiple positions because one position is exempt and the other is not. It was not done to ramp up my odds, per se. He stated he could not represent me to the hiring manager because it’s awkward. I understand that rationale. However, I thought deleting my application at the time of my discussion with the hiring manager would’ve helped.

Now that I know that I lost any possible compensation leverage with the recruiter, I have since re-applied, since the client can land me without worrying about paying the commission. Is this a good idea, or is the overall opportunity one that I should now be worried about, long term?

The issue for the recruiter isn’t that representing you would be awkward; it’s that recruiters don’t get commission for candidates who have also applied with the employer directly. (That’s because there’s no point in an employer paying a recruiter to bring them candidates who they already had contact with on their own, so recruiting contracts generally prohibit it.) Typically when you apply through a recruiter, they “own” your candidacy and the employer can’t deal with you directly … and vice versa. So when you apply both ways, it creates a mess for both the recruiter and the company, and it can be tricky to sort out; some employers will prefer not to deal with you at all at that point rather than risk a contract squabble with the recruiter.

It’s hard to say how it will play out in this particular situation, but it won’t be the end of the world if you just reapply and see what happens.

how to request time off for a last-minute interview

A reader writes:

I’m currently interviewing for a new position and I passed the first two rounds of interviews (yeah me!). Those two interviews were done online and I could manage my workday around them easily.

However, the next round of interviews is an on-site all-day kind of meeting, and that would require a couple of hours of travel for me (nothing undoable, but I definitely won’t be able to work around this one).

How can I request the time off without making it look like I’m taking the time off for interviewing? I’m not trying to get away from my current job by all means, and I’d like to keep it discreet.

I have the day banked, but I typically never take a day off short notice, or outside of Monday/Friday when I do, and I’m not sure what to answer when my manager asks what I would do during that day.

First, don’t assume that you need to give a reason at all! With plenty of managers, it’s enough to just say you need that day off.

But if your manager is known to be nosy — or if the last-minute nature of it means that you really do need to offer some kind of explanation — it’s fine to just say, “I have a personal thing that came up that I need to take care of.” If it’ll go over better if you acknowledge that you realize it’s last-minute, you can add, “I’m sorry it’s so last-minute — it just came up and I can’t easily change the date.”

If your manager asks for details (which she shouldn’t but, again, nosy managers might), it’s completely okay to say, “Oh, nothing I want to get into at work — just something I need to take of.”

If your manager is so nosy and intrusive that you know that won’t be enough, then your best bet might simply be a sick day. Yes, that’s not ideal, but that’s on your boss — managers forfeit the right to expect people not to do that when they overstep boundaries and demand information they’re not entitled to.