impostor syndrome: do you feel like a fraud?

This was originally published on August 29, 2012. (And thus ends my year-end vacation. We’ll be back to our regular schedule and content on Monday.)

A reader writes:

I’m about to start a full-time, permanent position with a small non-profit in a marketing role that’s a tangent from my background but which I think I’ll enjoy. I’m excited, but I also have a case of new-job nerves and impostor syndrome.

This is my first full-time role after completing a PhD (loads of part time customer service and admin work on the way) and a few related internships, and I’m worried about how to be the “expert” rather than the student/intern. I know, logically, that I wouldn’t have been hired if they didn’t think I could do the job, but do you have any practical tips on how to settle my nerves, address these doubts and get off to a solid start? What would you (or your readers) love a new marketing officer to do/ask in the first few weeks?

Oh, impostor syndrome! I think you’d be surprised by how many people have it. I had an awful case of it when this blog started taking off — it was one thing to write it when no one was reading it, but when it started getting an audience, I was constantly thinking, “Who am I to be presenting myself as an authority?” (Weirdly, no one has ever asked me that but me.)  For a while, it felt like a house of cards that might come tumbling down at any minute.

The same thing happened when I quit my job and started consulting. Having people pay me just to sit there and give my opinion?!  I felt like a complete fraud at first, like it was only a matter of time before I was found out.

Then I started talking to people who I admire and discovered they all knew that feeling too. It’s normal, apparently. And it’s especially true if you’re conscientious and an over-thinker. It’s just incredibly common, even among — maybe especially among — people you’d never imagine: Sheryl Sandberg has said she’s struggled with it! Tina Fey too!  Lots of other awesome people too. (In fact, research says that the higher the standards you tend to set for yourself and the more self-critical you are, the higher the likelihood that you’ll feel impostor syndrome at some point.)

Anyway. Three things help:

1. Fake it. Act like you feel confident. Not cocky or crazily smug, obviously. Just act like you imagine you’d act if you did in fact deserve your position. Eventually it will start becoming real.

2. Don’t be shy about admitting when you don’t know something or that you made a mistake. Here’s the counterintuitive thing about this:  It makes you look more confident and in control. If you can’t do this, you signal that you’re insecure and battling to protect your standing — because you don’t really trust it and feel it’s precarious. People who are truly confident in what they have to offer have no problem admitting they don’t know something or that they made a mistake. And it makes them a lot more credible.

Think about experts who you really respect. I bet they have no problem announcing when they don’t know something, or asking for other’s input. Real experts know they don’t need to have all the answers; people don’t expect them to. Model yourself after them.

3. Just stop thinking about it. Seriously, just push this feeling out of your mind and focus on your work. At some point, you’ll look around and the evidence will have piled up that you are in fact not a fraud, and that’ll make it easier to accept it.

Now, as for your question about what to do in your first few weeks as a new marketing officer: Tons of information gathering. I would be alarmed if a new marketing person came in and immediately had all the answers — they need to put in some serious time getting to know the organization and its challenges first. So an early priority should be to collect information — what’s been tried, what’s working, what isn’t working, what baselines are you working from, etc. And you also need to talk with your boss to get really clear on your goals — both for the near-term and the longer-term. Once you start diving into all that, your path is going to become pretty clear.

Anyway, who else feels like or has felt like an impostor?  I bet it’s a lot of people.

open thread – January 2, 2015

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 :)

my assistant won’t call in when she’s sick, should employers respond to all applications, and more

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

1. My assistant won’t call in when she’s out sick

My assistant (my only direct report) has been sick quite a bit in the last few months, and although that is very frustrating, what makes it worse is that she does not “call in” sick (or email or text) to anyone. I have asked her twice to make sure she notifies me each day she is sick. And now for the third time in the past few months, she missed days without notifying anyone. Her pattern is to let us know the first day (or the day she leaves work early) that she is sick, then not contact anyone until she shows up several days later feeling better. We are a very small office (4 full-timers), and it’s well-known we can just let any of the others know when we’ll be out.

I’m wondering if her age/background has something to do with it, since she’s a few years older than me and owned her own family business for many years. But honestly, I don’t really care, I just need her to notify me! Any suggestions?

We don’t have any handbook or formal policies (no write-ups, no attendance tracking, etc.), but isn’t this sort of a common courtesy? She’s worked in much more professional offices than ours, I can’t imagine she got away with it there. I’ve told her face to face twice that I need to be notified each day she misses – but now what? I’m thinking my only real option is to explain that I will have to replace her if it continues, although the work of interviewing and re-training someone is more daunting that just dealing with it.

You handle it just like you would any other performance problem or clear instruction that was being ignored: “Jane, I’ve told you several times that you need to call in each day that you’re going to be out, not just once at the start of a multi-day absence. You didn’t do that this week. What happened?” … followed by, “I want to be very clear that you are strictly required to do this; it’s not optional. If it continues not to happen, I’ll need to treat it like any other serious performance issue.” And then, if it happens again, you do that — up to and including replacing her if you decide the behavior is disruptive enough. (I’d argue that it is, not only because of the impact when you don’t know if she’ll be in or not, but because it’s bad to have someone working for you who repeatedly ignores clear and easy instructions.)

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Should employers acknowledge all applications as they’re received?

I am currently hiring for an open position in my office. I have received many resumes in response to the employment notice. Is it standard practice to respond to each individual who applied letting them know that their resume was received and we will contact them if we need further information or want to schedule an interview, or is this something that is naturally assumed by individuals sending in their resume?

It’s courteous to do so, but not strictly necessary. (An easy option, though, is to set up an auto-responder that automatically acknowledges the receipt of applications.) You should, however, send rejections to candidates once you’ve decided they’re out of the running.

3. Applications that ask when you can start work

I came across a question regarding giving notice from November 19, 2012. At the end of your response, you say: “By the way, a side note about answering questions about when you could start work: Don’t give a specific date (like December 3, as in your example). The date you can start depends on the date you accept an offer. Instead, say that you can start two weeks (or whatever) from the time you receive and accept an offer. Otherwise you could find yourself receiving an offer only a few days before the date you said you could begin work, and that won’t allow you to give a sufficient notice period.”

This is exactly what I always want to do, but often there is a small space on the application for writing the date. If it’s left blank, the application may get rejected. What can I do?

If they’re requiring a specific date, pick a date a few weeks out and put that down. They’re not going to hold you to that; employers know that most employed candidates have to give at least two weeks notice and they’re going to understand that picking that date is shorthand for “two weeks from hire,” rather than “two weeks from this application date.” And if for some reason they’re not immediately clear on that, you’ll just explain that when it comes up.

Often stuff like this is asked on applications without the employer having fully thought it through, so don’t stress too much about it.

4. Picking up short-term work before a job begins in August

This coming May, I’m graduating from college, and I’m excited to join a management consulting firm in August 2015. The only issue is that the firm doesn’t do their orientation until relatively late in the game, August. I’m going to be moving across the country to San Francisco, and I’d love to try and get an internship / temporary position from May – August, but do you think my future firm would disapprove? Do you have any advice on how to approach other companies if it’s truly only a few months that I’ll be available?

I don’t see any problem with doing that! You’d just need to apply for short-term jobs, either internships or contract roles, so that it’s clear from the beginning that you’re only available until August.

5. Using a manager from a volunteer job as a reference

I haven’t worked for three years due to illness, but I have been volunteering for the past six months. Next week, I have an interview where it is requested that I bring in my list of references. My supervisor at my volunteer job really appreciates the work I do (data entry, updating logs, creating online calendar slides for organizations monthly activities, etc.) and has said he would love to give me a glowing reference. Does a reference from a supervisor at a volunteer job “count” as much as a reference from a supervisor from a previous paid job?

It absolutely counts and it’s fine to include that person on your reference list though, especially since the work is so recent.

That said, it often doesn’t hold exactly the same weight as a reference from a paid job, because the standards of accountability are often different in volunteer roles. And even when they’re not, it’s often tough for an outside hiring manager to really tell that. But it certainly counts enough to include on your list of references.

6 smart resolutions that will land you a job in 2015

If you’ll be searching for a job in 2015, don’t just apply the same old tired job search advice about expanding your network, improving your social media presence, and cleaning up your resume. Those things matter, of course, but they’re hardly revolutionary advice.

Instead, here are six new year’s resolutions to truly kick off your search off from a position of strength.

1. Go for quality over quantity in your job applications. You might be tempted to apply to as many jobs as possible, figuring that that will increase your odds of being called for an interview. But in practice, that usually means that you’ll end up “resume-blasting” – sending out tons of applications without customizing your resume and cover letter to the particular openings you’re applying for. Employers can tell when you’re submitting the same generic application that you’ve submitted to dozens of other places, and you have a far lower chance of catching their eyes. Instead, send out fewer applications but spend time customizing each – writing a cover letter that’s specific to each job you’re applying for and ensuring that your resume highlights speak directly to the qualifications being sought. If your application package is identical every time you send it out, that’s a sign that you need to be more targeted in your approach.

2. Reach out to past managers and coworkers who loved your work. Strangely, when people think about their networks, they often think about family and friends but neglect to think about the people in the best position to vouch for their work: past colleagues. If you haven’t recently reached out to past managers and coworkers who thought highly of you, now is the time. Get back in touch, let them know that you’re searching, and ask for leads, advice, connections, or whatever else might be useful. After all, they’re the people best positioned to champion your work.

3. Write a better cover letter. If you’re like most job-seekers, your cover letter is … well, it’s bland and pretty boring. Chances are high that it doesn’t do much more than summarize the experience that’s already listed on your resume. And using a whole page of your application to merely repeat the contents of the other pagesis doing yourself a serious disservice. Instead, your cover letter should add something new to your candidacy – information like personal traits, work habits, and why you’re genuinely interested in the job. And importantly, it should be heavilycustomized to the particular opening you’re applying for; don’t send the same letter for each job you apply for.

4. Learn from past mistakes. Job searching effectively isn’t just about getting a job offer; it’s about identifying jobs where you’ll excel and be happy and avoiding the ones where you won’t. If you’ve ended up in jobs that weren’t quite right for you in the past, chances are good that there might have been signs that you overlooked during the hiring process. Help yourself avoid making similar mistakes in the future by reflecting on what red flags you ignored in the past (like an unpleasant interviewer or a culture that didn’t feel like a fit) – and vowing to heed warning signs this time around.

5. Stop agonizing about when or whether you’ll hear back from an employer. One of the worst parts of job-hunting is sitting around and wondering when you’ll hear back from an employer after you interview or submit an application – and trying to read into every tiny sign from an employer. Instead, do yourself a favor and vow to move on mentally after applying or interviewing. Tell yourself you didn’t get the job so that you’re not sitting around agonizing about why you haven’t heard anything, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you. This approach won’t hurt your chances, and it will make you a whole lot happier meanwhile.

6. Help another job seeker. If you spot a job opening that looks perfect for a friend, pass it along. Or if you have a talented contact who’s applying at a company where you know the hiring manager, reach out and put in a good word. Finding ways to help other job seekers isn’t just a kind thing to do; it’ll also make you feel good, pay forward any help you’ve received yourself, and – here’s the self-interested part – even put you front and center on the radar screen of people in your network, which can only help in the long-run.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

doing a coworker’s work after she returns from leave, presenting donations with fanfare, and more

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

1. My office presented donations to an injured employee’s parent with much fanfare

A few months back, an employee of my company was hit by a car on their way to work and was very seriously injured. They spent weeks in the hospital and are now going through extensive rehab. My department decided to raise some money for the employee for the holidays. Altogether a few hundred dollars were raised. I thought this was a nice gesture and was happy to chip in.

Our manager decided that we should have the employee’s parent come in to the department to receive our gift. I feel super uncomfortable with this. I feel like it makes the gift about us rather than about the employee and that it makes a big ceremony out of what is, in reality, very little money compared to what her treatment will cost. What would you have done as a manager? Am I wrong to feel uneasy about it all? Unfortunately, all’s been decided with this situation, but I was curious what your take was.

Yeah, that feels very self-congratulatory to me too. I suppose it depends on how it was done — after all, “Would you like to pick this up in person? Many of us here would love to hear how Jane is doing” is very different from “We want to present this to you with fanfare.” But from what it sounds like, I agree that it feels a little gross and tone-deaf.

2. I don’t want to keep doing my coworker’s work now that she’s back from maternity leave

I took over a client for a coworker while she was out on maternity leave. It was my understanding that this would be temporary, and as a secondary benefit it got someone else familiar with the client to provide her with backup for overflow work. The client, as well as the work that they do, is considered pretty low-level stuff from a technical standpoint, i.e., when I told a colleague what I was working on, they asked, “Who did you piss off?” I know not all work is glamorous, but that kind of sums up the perception of the work. The profits were not exactly where they should have been either, and I think they wanted to see if someone else could improve them. I worked hard to bring up the profits on these jobs and maintain good relations with the client (which I did successfully).

Now that my coworker is back, she does not want to take back any of the work, but she still wants to act as the client relationship manager (CRM) since she has the relationship and brought in the work originally. I feel like this is a demotion to have her delegating work to me. I have more years of experience and education and typically work on projects of a much larger scale than the ones this client brings in. She has also asked that I write all the proposals/contracts and schedule and project manage all of the work.

My supervisor is aware that I was not thrilled with this and has agreed that it will be revisited among the supervisors at the end of the year (waiting for this). It feels like my reward for hard work is to get more of the problem clients/work, and that my skills are actually shrinking instead of growing. The client is needy/demanding. This can negatively impact the attention I need to give my own clients and the time I have available to support my supervisor/ fellow team members (as well as negatively impact my work/life balance). This coworker has told me that she does not want to do small projects anymore, but I feel like if that is the sort of business she has brought in, then she should do it… why should it be mine to deal with? How can I successfully approach this with my supervisor? Do I just make a case for wanting to grow technically, or do I bring up (what I feel are) negative impacts that these clients have on my clients’ work?

“I know that you’re planning to discuss this with other managers soon, so I wanted to explain a bit more about my thinking. I was happy to help out with this while Jane was on leave, but I really want to be able to focus on larger projects and my own clients. If Jane no longer wants the client, I think they could be a good fit for someone with less experience, but I’d rather not continue work on it now that Jane has returned.”

Of course, if you’ve already said this, then you don’t need to say it again; in that case, it would make sense to wait for your manager to have the conversation she promised to do at the end of the year, and then see if it’s been resolved.

3. Prohibiting an employee from moving to another state

Can an employer legally tell an employee that they cannot move to another state because the organization is not registered in that state? This is a current employee who works remotely.

An employer can’t prevent someone from moving, but they can certainly say that they won’t continue to employ someone who moves to a different state. And this sometimes makes sense, because different states have different requirements for employers, including state-specific fees for worker comp insurance and other things with price tags attached — so in some cases, an employee’s move would carry a (not insignificant) price tag for the employer.

Also, generally labor practices are governed by the laws of the state where the employee works, even if the employer is based somewhere else. That means, for instance, that a Virginia employer might reasonably decide that they don’t want to deal with California’s labor laws (which are quite different from those of many other states), and thus decline to have employees based there.

4. References when you’ve been in the same job for 20 years

How would you handle the following situation regarding references? I’ll graduate soon with a MBA. My education will not help much at my current place of employment. Thus, after working there for more than 20 years, I’ve decided it’s time to look for a new job. I do not want my current employer to know I am job hunting, though. However, as far as workplace references are concerned, the only ones I can provide are the people that I currently work with (supervisors, former supervisors, and coworkers). How should I handle this at an interview? Is it inappropriate to not provide references and explain why I didn’t?

No, you’ll still need to provide references, but it’s certainly reasonable for them not to be your current manager. Can you get in touch with former managers who are no longer with your company and who you’d trust to be discreet? That’s what I’d be looking for if I were the reference-checker in this situation. Alternately, you can also offer up former coworkers who are in a position to speak to your work, but most reference-checkers will want to speak with people who managed you, so I’d try to get as close to that as you can.

5. My current manager and prospective manager talked without my permission

Is it common/legal for my current line manager to communicate with the manager of the company where I applied for a job before interview even has taken place? In this particular case, it turned out that they know each other from previous employment.

It’s perfectly legal for a prospective employer to contact references who aren’t on your official reference list, and it’s not uncommon for them to do so. The part that’s less common here is the fact that the person they reached out to was your current manager. Reasonable employers don’t do that, because they realize it could jeopardize the person’s current job. That was a pretty crappy thing of this manager to do without your permission.

most popular posts of 2014

Ask a Manager’s traffic continued to climb this year, with 8 million unique visitors, nearly 14 million visits, and more than 24 million page views. Thanks for your part in that!

traffic chart

Here are the posts that interested people the most this year, via two lists: the most commented on posts and the most viewed posts. Interestingly, there are only two that overlap between the two lists.

Most commented-on posts of 2014:

(doesn’t include open threads, which otherwise would hold the top 10 places, or “ask the readers” posts, which I covered on Saturday)

10. my new coworker is pushing huge amounts of junk food on me

9. when a coworker missed a deadline, I told her it’s a good thing she’s pretty

8. my coworker has an offensive bobble-head doll on his desk

7. why do interviewers ask about your favorite books or movies?

6. I had to prepare a meal and entertain 20 people for a job interview — and so did 19 other candidates

5. I pulled a prank on a coworker — and it ended badly

4. now managers are calling millennials’ parents

3. new employee insists we call her “Mrs. ____” even though we all use first names

2. my boss makes us all keep kosher for Passover

1. my coworker went through my trash can to get me in trouble

Most viewed posts of 2014:

10. I pulled a prank on a coworker — and it ended badly

9. you can’t predict your chances of getting a job — really, you can’t

8. how long should I give a candidate to think over a job offer?

7. should you refuse to sign a performance improvement plan?

6. employers that ask for high school transcripts from 30 years ago

5. how to write a cover letter that will get you an interview

4. how to rewrite your resume to focus on accomplishments, not just job duties

3. should you ever negotiate salary through email?

2. I had to prepare a meal and entertain 20 people for a job interview — and so did 19 other candidates

1. here’s a real-life example of a great cover letter (with before and after versions!)

update: my creative role has turned into drudgery for the foreseeable future

Remember the letter-writer whose creative role had turned into the very drudgery she was trying to get away from when she took the job? Here’s the update — and it’s the last in our 2014 update series..

As you suggested, I explained to my manager that I wished to be taken off Project Tedious and that I had taken this job in hopes of moving away from that sort of work entirely. He was surprised and was apparently under the impression that Tedious Skill was part of my job description. He admitted that they took the project in part because they had a team member ready do that work. I am not sure how he got this impression, aside from my work history of course, but this was certainly not in my job description and was not my understanding of my role. I used your wording about “I deliberately came here to stop doing that work…” in this conversation, and he seemed receptive, if a bit unhappy.

They had been considering hiring someone to help me out with the project — turns out my long hours did not go unnoticed — so they accelerated that process and he joined about a month later. We agreed that I would train the new hire, who would take over the bulk of Project Tedious. Although my manager and I agreed that I would spend about 25-30% of my time on Project Tedious, it’s closer to 50%. It’s not ideal, but my hours are back to normal and I do feel like my manager is trying to keep me on projects that make me happy. I understand he has to make sure Project Tedious still gets done.

I still have not gotten the corresponding salary bump for doing this higher-paying work, but my year-end review is coming up and I have a strong case for a raise.

Thank you for your advice, which gave me confidence, and to the commenters who pointed out that I was resentful and bitter in my letter. In the end, this mostly came down to me feeling unappreciated and demoralized. With my own attitude adjustment and my manager’s response to my complaints, I’m feeling much happier now. If my time spent on Project Tedious continues to decline, I’ll consider this matter solved!

my interviewer was a distant cousin, telling my staff I’m job-searching, and more

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

1. My interviewer turned out to be a distant cousin

I recently went for an interview and spent half the time trying to figure out why one of my interviewers looked so familiar. It didn’t dawn on me until on the way home it was a distant cousin of mine. I see that side of the family once, maybe twice per year. I’m not sure at this point if he recognized me, either by my name or when I came in. However, we did call another relative to ask where he works to rule out the possibility of an eerie look alike, and they confirmed that was him.

I wouldn’t think twice if he was just on the interview panel, and considering it’s a family owned and operated business, I don’t think they would mind two cousins in the same office. However, he would be my boss. We aren’t close, so I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t want him to feel awkward. I was asked in for a second interview with someone else in the organization (all my correspondence has been with his coworker, so I haven’t talked to him directly aside from sending a post-interview thank you email). Should I disclose it? Should I contact him somehow and ask if he’s comfortable with this? I still don’t know at this point if he knows it’s me since we see each other so little.

Yes, you should disclose it. If the company is smart, they won’t want a relative directly managing another relative because of the possibility of bias or the appearance of favoritism. And you’re far better off disclosing it now and finding out whether it’s an issue, rather than finding out after you’re on the job that they consider it prohibitive.

Start with your relative. I’d send an email saying something like, “I can’t believe I didn’t connect the dots until after I left, but I just realized you’re Percival Montblanc’s son! My mother, Clarissa Plufferton, is his cousin. In fact, I think we might have spoken briefly at last year’s family luau! I’m not sure if this complicates my candidacy for the __ role, which I remain highly interested in, but I’d certainly understand if it does.”

2. When an employer requests references up-front

I came across a job listing that looks promising, but in addition to requesting a cover letter and resume, the employer is also requesting a list of three references. This appears to be standard HR procedure for outside applicants. Because I’m currently the only person on my team who does what I do, pretty much the only people who can speak to my skills are my current boss and boss’s boss. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to let them know that I’m job searching at such an early point in the process. But I don’t want to look like I can’t follow directions. Is there a graceful way to put off providing references?

You can write “to be provided after mutual interest,” which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say — but if you’re dealing with a company that’s rigid about its hiring processes, you risk them pulling you out of the running over it. This is a good time to figure out if anyone in your network has any connection to this company, because if you have a personal in, you can usually get this kind of thing waived. But if not, then yeah, you need to decide if you’re willing to risk them being misguidedly rigid on this.

3. Am I obligated to tell my staff members I’m job-searching?

I’m seriously thinking about leaving my company for a myriad of reasons, including bad work environment and better pay. I’ve developed a close relationship with my direct report and also share frustrations about the company. He confided that he’d like me to tell him if ever planned on leaving since that would affect him. Now that I’ve started interviewing and applying, am I betraying him by not sharing this with him? I want to keep my job search secret but value our friendship and don’t want to seem like I’m stabbing him in the back. Are director-level employees obligated to tell their direct reports under them if they are actively job searching?

No, there’s no obligation to do that and people don’t generally do it. On the other hand, if you promised him that you would, then you’re in a bit of a bind (so hopefully you didn’t promise that).

For what it’s worth, sharing frustrations about your company with the people who work for you is generally not a good idea. You’re leading by example whether you want to or not, and that’s a pretty quick way of compromising the role you have with your company.

4. After an interview, a company asked if I’d be interested in a different position

I interviewed with a company recently and they got back to me via email a few days later, asking me if I would be interested in a different position without referencing the position we discussed in my first interview. I am not sure if I would consider this new position and I was really excited about the first position.

Does this mean I am no longer being considered about opportunity #1? Should I mention it when responding to the email or would this make me appear uninterested in position #2?

It might mean you’re no longer being considered for job #1, but it might just mean that they’re considering you for both. It’s reasonable to say something like, “I’d certainly be interested in learning more about (#2), but I’m especially interested in (#1). Are you still considering me for that one as well?”

5. We’re required to use PTO for our days off

I work three 12-hour shifts a week and get paid for 40 hours. So for example, if one week I work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I have already satisfied my 40 hours to my company so Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are my days off. My company, however, requires that if we are unavailable to our company on our days off (to pick up extra shifts if needed) then we need to take those days off as PTO days. This is ridiculous to me. If I’ve already worked three days (my 40 hours) and then want to go out of town for the following four days, why do I have to use PTO? That’s like saying for those who work M-F and want to go away for the weekend, they would need to take the Saturday and Sunday as PTO days. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Yes, that’s absolutely ridiculous. Your employer sucks.

It’s possible that this would violate labor law in a state like California, which treats PTO as earned compensation. You could check with your state department of labor (or an employment attorney in your state) to find out for sure.

my favorite posts of 2014

I wasn’t going to do a list of favorite posts of 2014 because technically I’m on vacation and being lazy, but then at the last minute, the urge struck. So here they are.

10. my coworkers heard my roommates having sex while I was on a conference call
Because I’m 12.

9. our European clients are sneering at my American colleagues’ table manners
Because this whole topic was fascinating to me.

8. how can I stop being afraid every time my manager wants to talk to me?
Because lots of people are.

7. I had to prepare a meal and entertain 20 people for a job interview — and so did 19 other candidates
Because holy hell, and also it’s the post that got us on Gawker.

6. my boss doesn’t want student workers eating lunch with other employees, because they might hear “adult subjects”
Because that’s crazy.

5. the two interviews of 2014: the lab worker at the Arctic Circle and the former receptionist at a legal brothel
Because they’re fascinating.

4. is it legal for publications not to pay their writers?
Because the ethics and practicalities of this are really interesting (and personal) to me.

3. can your employer do that? probably — but you can still discuss it
Because I want to launch into this explanation in half of what I write.

2. how to make your boss adore you
Because these are my secrets.

1. update from the reader who didn’t want her coworkers to know she was living off cupcakes from the employee kitchen
Because — come on, this needs no explanation.

Want more? Here are my lists from 2013, 2012, and 2011.

update: how important is it to answer every question perfectly during a job interview?

Remember the letter-writer wondering how important it is to answer every question perfectly during a job interview? She worried that she’d flubbed two questions in a recent interview and was wondering how much it would matter. Here’s her update.

Your advice, as well as that of your knowledgeable and thoughtful commenters, was extraordinarily helpful to me. The conversation helped me to focus on some of the issues with myself and my interviewing skills rather than how that particular interview went and whether I messed up a couple questions or not.

Since writing in, I have put myself on a self development path in order to improve my situation. In the comments section I had mentioned my interest in changing career fields towards Instructional Design. Some commenters suggested I look into training, so I did that and found that it would be an excellent avenue for me. Since the letter was posted I have been working to develop my skills in this area by reading, taking classes, getting certifications in the field, and joining some national and local organizations.

I’ve also been reading your site daily and bought your book on how to get a job. After zeroing in on the direction I’d like my career to go, I have followed the advice on your site and completely revamped my cover letter and resume. My resume has significantly improved. I am still struggling with my cover letter a bit, though there is improvement there as well. After months of no interest, I noticed a difference almost immediately after I made these changes. Within 2 weeks of applying with the new materials, I was invited for 4 interviews!

Overall, I think my interviews went well. I was practiced and confident, and when I did mess up a few times, I didn’t get bogged down in those details at the time. Instead, I took the errors, analyzed them, and nailed down what went wrong so that I could learn from it and do better next time. There was a noticeable improvement from one interview to the next. Two of the jobs I received rejections, one (about a month ago now) told me they would get back to me in a week and they never did. I followed up and still haven’t heard anything so I’ve moved on.

The good news is that my last interview did pan out. I was offered a position as a contract Trainer with a consulting firm. Now, I don’t think my new interviewing skills got me this position because they barely asked me any questions. They seemed very enthusiastic about me. The interviewer said they were impressed with my resume and they had been asked by the home office to contact me immediately since they were so interested. It was a very quick process and I was basically hired on the spot. I’m not sure whether my resume is really that strong or whether they don’t know how to hire. So it’s tough to take much away from that experience, except that I now have an opportunity ahead of me that I want to make the most of.

I currently have a 10-week commitment starting in January with the potential for more if I do a good job. I’m excited to be making progress in the field and feel more positive than ever about making a career transition.