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

1. Our intern doesn’t flush the toilet

We have a new summer student in our department. He’s working with my team and reports to my boss, however I have had no interaction with him beyond being introduced to him on his first day. Twice now I’ve been the person to follow him in using our bathroom, and I’ve discovered he subscribes to the ole “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” philosophy and doesn’t flush the toilet after using it. While I appreciate the philosophy and sometimes follow it at home, I think it’s inappropriate (and frankly really gross) at the office to have to look at someone else’s pee. Am I wrong here? Should I say something? Should I ask my manager to say something? Should I get over it for the good of the planet?

Gross. He’s welcome to do that at home, but at work, he needs to flush the toilet.

So yes, say something. If you can swing it, the most direct way to handle it would just be to say to him the next time this happens, “Dude, can you flush after using the bathroom?” (If you feel ridiculous having to say this to a coworker, to get yourself in the right frame of mind try pretending for those 30 seconds that he’s a roommate, which somehow feels like it makes it easier.) And if he argues he’s being environmentally responsible, you can respond, “At work, you need to flush.”

If you cannot see your way to doing it that, which would be understandable, then you’re completely allowed to talk to whoever manages the intern program (if such a person exists; otherwise, his manager) and ask them to explain this to them. This type of uncomfortable conversation is part of the joy of managing interns.

(I’ve talked here before about how I once was the live-in staff member overseeing a house of interns. One of the many weird parts of that role was having to have this conversation more than once.)

2. Antipathy toward fonts

This is not an earth shattering issue, but it is one that has come up in conversations with my son and his girlfriend in regards to designing our mutual eCommerce website and other communications.

We are all in agreement that Comic Sans should never be used in professional environments or really anywhere, other than preschool announcements. And I get annoyed when there are more than three fonts used in an advertisement or web page. Use the same font, people! Just change size, or bold or italicize.

However, I do not understand my millennial son’s antipathy to Arial and Helvetica or his Gen Y girlfriend’s hatred of Calibri. Her antipathy to fonts is such that she won’t reply to job postings using fonts she dislikes. Any thoughts on the “best” or least offensive font?

You can google “hate (insert any font name here)” and you’ll find lots of treatises ranting against pretty much any font you choose. Arial and Calibri are popular to criticize because they’re seen as generic and over-used. (Lots of designers love Helvetica, though.)

There’s no “best” font because it depends on the type of project you’re doing, your audience, what you want to convey, the rest of your design, etc. If your son and his girlfriend are arguing there is a best font without taking those things into account, they’re sort of giving away their lack of expertise.

And if the girlfriend really means it that she doesn’t reply to job postings that use Calibri or other incredibly common fonts, she is ridiculous and she no longer gets any input into anything design-related.

3. Our Christmas party is looooong

I started a new job several months ago, and while I’m really happy with the position, I’m already dreading next Christmas, because the office Christmas party goes on FOREVER. The last Christmas party, my first with the company, involved lunch at a restaurant’s private dining room, then a gift-swapping game, then trivia games, then drinks … I finally bailed in hour six, saying that I had a headache (I didn’t, I was just exhausted), but the party went on for a few more hours after THAT, and I know from talking to coworkers that this is the norm. I’m fine with a party that lasts an hour or two, but all afternoon/evening? No thanks! How can I reasonably bow out next time?

A Christmas question in May! You are my kind of over-planner.

That is a seriously long Christmas party. It sounds like it starts in the middle of the work day (during lunch), so unfortunately you may be stuck for three or four hours — because this is taking the place of regular work that afternoon, and leaving two hours in would be like leaving work at 2 pm because you just didn’t feel like being there any longer. But you can absolutely leave once it’s close to the regular end of the work day, explaining that you have an obligation right afterwards. (Given the time of year, it’s easy to say you have a family thing or need to pick up someone from the airport. Or you might just have an appointment that you couldn’t get out of. But throughout December, a vague “so many family things at this time of year!” will usually ring true.)

If you really want to leave sooner than that, you can of course have something else scheduled for that afternoon that you’ll need to leave early for, expressing your regrets … but if you’re going to be at the company for years to come, you can probably only do that one year in three without people catching on.

You’re probably better off just mentally reframing this in your head to remember that it’s work — it’s work with trivia games and gifts and food, but it’s work — and so you should plan on being there for the work hours portion of it, and leave when work hours end.

4. The person who fired me now works at my new company

A woman who fired me at a previous job three years ago is now working at my current organization. I don’t have particularly strong feelings toward her — it was a bad job, I was bad at it and I was planning to quit soon anyway — but it’s still awkward. As much as I’d prefer that we continue pretending that neither of us sees the other, how do I handle the inevitable moment when we run into each other? (She will not have any influence over my current role.)

Pretend the firing never happened, and greet her the way you would any other distant acquaintance. In other words: “Hello! It’s nice to see you again. How are you liking it here?” or so forth.

That’s going to be far less awkward than any of the alternatives, and will make you look pleasant and professional. It’ll also set it up for her to respond in kind — and it’ll probably be a relief to her, since she may feel just as awkward about it as you do (if not more).

Polite fictions can be very useful.

5. My interviewer hasn’t gotten back to me — should I go to an event where she’ll be?

Last month I had an interview for a job that I really, really want and am qualified for. At first the interview was rocky because the interviewer was going to blow me off because I didn’t have experience in one tiny aspect (which is quite easy to learn, to be honest) but I managed to turn it around and we had a great 45-minute interview. She told me she wanted to hire someone soon because she had so much on her plate and this position is to help with that.

Two weeks after the interview, I emailed her for a status update and she said she was out of town and would make a decision when she got back in three days. It has now been almost two more weeks since that last email and I don’t know if or how to follow up on the this job. I considered attending a public meeting where I know she will be and would see me, hoping that would cause her to contact me but I’m worried that may seem a bit stalker-ish. Would it? What should I do?

Noooo, do not do that. It will absolutely look stalker-ish.

You’ve already followed up once, and she knows you’re interested. If she wants to hire you, she will get in touch.

The best thing you can do for yourself is to decide you didn’t get the job, put it out of your mind, move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if she does contact you.

intern doesn’t flush the toilet, antipathy toward fonts, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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the Ukrainian edition

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: Tomorrow There Will Be Sun, by Dana Reinhardt. Family dysfunction and vacations gone horribly wrong — two of my favorite genres! Very enjoyable in a beachy way.

weekend free-for-all – May 25-26, 2019 was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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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 do not repost it here, as it may be in my queue to answer.

open thread – May 24-25, 2019 was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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

1. My boss wants me to drive her daughter to appointments

I am currently working for my mom and one of her good friends (who owns the company). My mom serves as office manager and I am her assistant, the general assistant, and do anything else that needs to be done. In the past few years I have happily taken care of the boss’ dog when she goes on vacation. This year my mother suggested I take the boss’ daughter to some doctors appointments, which interfered with my daughter’s pick-up from school schedule (grandma took care of it). Now my boss has asked me to take her daughter to a surgery appointment at 8:45 am while the boss is in Hawaii. The doc is located 1.5 hours away and the boss forgot to mention the two pre-appointments that her daughter has at the same location the day before.

In addition, she informed me that during the summer break she is bringing her 14-year-old grandson in three days a week during the summer holiday to be my “intern” so he can learn how to do administrative tasks. I really feel like I am being taken advantage of but don’t know how to tell her. Do you have any ideas?

Oooh, it sounds like the boundaries have already gotten pretty messed up (starting with working for your mom!). But you can try to straighten them up now. I’d say this to your non-mom boss: “I was happy to help out with a few personal favors in the past when you needed it, but I’m concerned that I’m being asked to do more and more personal tasks on top of my regular job. It’s important to me to stick to the admin work that I was hired to do, and not keep being pulled into the personal tasks like X and Y.”

I don’t know how far away the daughter’s appointments are, but if there’s not enough time for her to find someone else at this point and you’re willing to do it this last time, you could say, “I can take Jane to those three appointments this time because I didn’t speak up earlier, but going forward I want to make sure you know I’m not available for that kind of thing.” (But if you haven’t already agreed, it would also be okay to say, “I’m not going to be able to take Jane to those appointments.” If she pushes, you can say, “Part of it is the early hour and the distance, but also it’s important to me to stick to the office work that I came on board to do.”)

And let your mom know she needs to stop volunteering you for this kind of thing too!

The intern is trickier since in theory she has a right to hire whoever she wants to intern and to assign him where she wants, but you could try saying that you don’t need an intern, or that you’d be willing to spend a small amount of time showing him around but don’t have time to train or supervise him, and could suggest she see if anyone else needs help. But I worry that this is a lot of pushback to do all at once, when there hasn’t been any previously, so you might just tackle on the driving stuff first for now.

2. My friend thinks accepting a counter-offer “builds character”

My friend Liza was frustrated with the lack of growth in her position despite having spoken to her manager about it a few times. Her manager’s answer was always that there was nothing she could do. As far as Liza knows, her manager never escalated the matter to the higher-ups. She interviewed for a better position and better pay elsewhere and got an offer. But instead of accepting it right away, she told her manager, who in turn spoke to the higher-ups, who have now verbally promised that Liza will be given the role she asked for, plus more money. This was only two days after she went to her manager.

To my horror, Liza is seriously contemplating accepting the counter-offer. Her rationale is that it’s made her realize that she can “orchestrate the change she wants in her life.” I reminded her that they never considered giving her the role and higher salary until she got a better offer, but she says she can let that go. She says she’s impressed by how fast they’ve come back with the counter-offer, and that this is all character building. If she’s still unhappy, she says, she’ll just look to leave again in one year.

As a friend I want to support her in whatever she chooses to do, but I must say I vehemently disagree. I think she’s a sell-out if she were to accept the counter-offer and she’s going to burn a bridge with the other company. I know that you’re not a proponent of accepting counter-offers, so I’d love to hear your take on this.

Character building? Hmmm.

It’s not that taking a counter-offer never works out — sometimes it does. But a huge portion of the time, it doesn’t. Sometimes the counter-offer never even fully materializes; in situations like Liza’s, sometimes after the person turns down the outside offer, the timeline for moving them into their promises new roles drags and drags and doesn’t even come to fruition. Sometimes it does, but then the next time the person wants a raise they’re turned down because “we just gave you that big raise last year when you were thinking of leaving.” Sometimes the person finds that they’ve used up all their capital and have a lot of trouble getting anything else.

In particular, if Liza would still be working for the same manager who never even bothered going to bat for her until she was about to leave, she has no reason to think that will change (and every reason to think it won’t). And as for being impressed at how quickly they came back with a counter, she should instead realize how crappy it was that they apparently could have moved that quickly all along but just didn’t bother to. It’s not a compliment, it’s an insult.

I don’t agree with you that she’d be a sell-out (she’s only selling out herself, if anyone), but I do agree she’s looking at this through a really odd lens.

3. A rejected candidate tried to get me fired

What do you do when someone goes after you personally for rejecting them? A candidate I turned down in an interview responded by emailing the CEO of my company a screenshot of a years-old social media post (before I worked there) critical of a political figure and said I deserved to lose my job over it. The company is standing behind me, but to me this crossed a line. Should there be any additional response to this?

Wow, that’s a bitter person. (And one who doesn’t realize they just blacklisted themselves from future consideration with your company or anyone who hears about this.)

But no, neither you nor your company should engage. It’s too likely to lead to further contact and/or inflame things further.

Sometimes rejected candidates are a-holes. The best thing to do is ignore and move on.

4. How do I shut down discussion about my name change?

I’m planning to change my last name sometime in the next year. The reason for the name change is somewhat dark and I’m only ever going to tell my closest friends about it. On the few occasions that the name change topic has slipped out in social gatherings—all outside of work—the people who found out were very interested in both the why and speculating at what name I should use.

The new name I’m picking isn’t the same as my partner’s or any of my other family members, so the usual explanations for a name change aren’t available to me. I’m also man who as been married many years, so I think people will be especially curious about the background behind the change.

What’s the best way for me to shut that line of discussion down without seeming rude or making people feel embarrassed? Also, how do people communicate a more normal name change in a large company where they might have contact with people in many departments?

Being vague is the way to go here. “Oh, it’s a long story” (said in a tone that conveys “and one that you’ll find very boring”) or “It’s for family reasons.” Polite people will get that the subtext here is that you’re not up for discussing it. But with people who still ask questions, you can say, “It’s complicated so I’m just cutting to the upshot with people — which is that I’m going by George Warbleworth from now on.” And if someone still doesn’t get the hint: “As I’m sure you know, things with family can be complicated! I’d rather not get into it more than that.” Or, “I’d rather not get too into the details — I’m sure you understand.”

As for communicating the name change: An easy way to do it is to just send an email announcing it to the people you work with most frequently For everyone else, it can help for your email signature to read “George Warbleworth (formerly Warbucks)” for a couple of months. (Also, if you’re changing your email address to include the new last name, you’d set up the old one to forward to the new one, etc.)

5. Can I back out of a project without burning a bridge?

I recently started a new position and so far, I am very happy. In my former role, I was paid as an independent contractor but in practice I was an employee. The organization set my hours, location, duties, etc. In the last year of working for them, I began work on a product design project, but I had other duties as well. My manager there kept pushing back this project’s deadline so that I could focus on other priorities. When I left, my boss was congratulatory but he did express that he wanted the project completed sometime this year and that in order for that to happen he could keep me on as a contractor and pay me for any time I could give moving forward. I would say the work was about 70% done, and the steps to be completed were well defined. I agreed to completing the project with a tentative timeline.

Now that I am in the swing of things at the new job, I do have some free time in my evenings and weekends, but I’ve realized that dedicating the time I need to finishing the project and fulfilling my new job’s duties (it is relatively demanding) is going to burn me out pretty quickly. In addition, my former boss is the type to always find something that could be improved. Which is great in theory, but in reality, this means that when I send off an item, I know there are going to be a few revisions needed before I can consider it finished. In all honesty, I do not feel that I can complete the work in the timeframe specified, and even if I do, I am not able to produce the best quality of work (both for my old boss and new one). One option would be to extend the timeline out, but to be honest, the idea of this work looming over me even longer does not appeal to me. I am accepting that I have to say something. The organization does not currently have anyone with the technical knowledge needed to complete the remaining tasks. I am writing to you to ask if you think backing out of this project is going burn a bridge? Is there a way to do this with minimal damage to the relationship? I feel horrible that I committed to something that I don’t think I now have the capacity to do. On the other hand, I want to ensure I am doing the best possible work at my current job.

When you left that job, you could have turned down the freelance work, and they would have had to find someone else to finish the project. That’s not you damaging the relationship; that’s you doing the very normal thing people do when they leave a job — they stop doing work there. This isn’t that different. Yes, you said you’d do it, but then you realized your schedule doesn’t allow for it. That’s not burning a bridge, or damaging the relationship, or anything that you should feel in any way bad about. (Of course, if they’re unreasonable, then they could be upset about it — but that would be on them, not on you. Any reasonable employer wouldn’t hold this against you.)

The key is to let your former boss know as soon as possible so he has maximum notice. And you can frame it as, “I’m finding that my new position is very demanding and I don’t have the time to work on this that I had thought I would. I’m sorry about that! I’d hoped to be able to help, but I want to be realistic that I can’t, and I wanted to let you know right away so that you can make other arrangements for it.” Be prepared for the possibility that they might push you to do it anyway, or will offer to extend the timeline. Don’t be talked into doing it! If that happens, you can say, “Unfortunately, I can’t. My schedule just won’t permit it. But if there’s someone you want me to update on where things stand and answer any initial questions, I can of course do that.” (And if you feel yourself wavering, remind yourself that you owe it to your new employer to give them your focus and not get stretched too thin.)

my boss wants me to drive her daughter to appointments, rejected candidate tried to get me fired, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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A reader writes:

Last week I received a job offer from a company I interviewed with. The hiring manager called me to verbally offer me the position, then followed it up with an email offer that her boss and HR were copied on. The email let me know that the company’s HR rep would contact me immediately with an offer letter.

I’m excited about the work I would be doing, but am a little concerned because at no point in the hiring process (including on the job posting) did the company reveal the salary range or ask about my desired salary.

The HR rep did contact me and emailed a bunch of standard pre-employment paperwork for me to fill out, but no offer letter, so I replied asking what salary was being offered. She never replied to my email, so a week later I emailed again to follow up on my request, this time asking if she could at least reveal the salary range for the position, even if she couldn’t give a firm answer. Her response was that she “will need to meet with me in person so she can show me the whole package.”

This request is doubly odd because the company is fully aware of the fact that I currently live across the country — I had to fly out for the interview and am moving to their state over the summer. When I reminded her of this and asked if we could get the offer firmed up remotely, she insisted on making an appointment to do a video call with me to “go over the package.”

Am I wrong that this seems like a red flag? I can understand that they extended an offer before discussing salary (even though I don’t think that’s a very good idea), but why are they being so secretive about what they are offering AFTER they have already offered me the job?

I should add that the level this position is at is not at all close to the level where there is a “package” of compensation offered — I would be shocked if anything other than the standard salary/insurance/PTO is even on their radar.

Yeah, it’s a huge red flag. It’s extremely abnormal not to tell you the salary as part of making you an offer — because there is no offer without a specific salary attached to it — and generally people who play games like this and say they want to present it in person are doing that because the offer is terrible and they want to try to sell you on it.

And assuming they’re offering benefits like insurance and paid time off (which does count as a “package”), there’s a decent chance those are bad too, but they’re going to try to sell them to you as “generous” and “highly competitive.”

At this point you should do the video call and find out exactly what the offer is … but when you couldn’t get any info out of the HR rep earlier, it would have been totally okay to contact the hiring manager and say, “I haven’t heard from Jane with the offer letter yet, or the proposed salary. Any chance you can tell me what salary you’re offering so that we can keep moving forward?”

While we’re talking about things you could have done, do not do this again: “A week later I emailed again to follow up on my request, this time asking if she could at least reveal the salary range for the position, even if she couldn’t give a firm answer.” You do not want to imply that you will consider an offer without knowing the actual salary being offered. A range is not okay — not if they intend this as a real offer. You were trying to be accommodating, but you do not want to break accommodating on something like knowing what you would actually be getting paid. (That’s not to chastise you! These situations are weird and anxiety-filled. I just want to make sure you don’t bend too much in future discussions with employers.)

I’ve been offered the job — but they won’t tell me the salary until we can meet face-to-face was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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Here are three updates from people who had their letters answered here in the past.

1. Some men in my office refuse to be alone with women

I know everyone loves updates, and I have a somewhat positive one. So the coworker I mentioned in the letter, who had raised the performance review issue up the official channels, had a meeting with HR. They told her that effective immediately, any supervisor who feels they can’t do one-on-ones with a woman will have to have that policy for ANY of their reports. They’re also going to let all employees know that if any of them are uncomfortable with a supervisor that has that policy, they can request a new supervisor (and knowing the company culture in general, I don’t think there’d be any penalty for bringing this up). They’re doing supervisor training soon that will be including the new policy, and I know they’ve already met with at least some of the culprit supervisors to inform them of this change.

I don’t know if there will be any future fallout, but I feel like my company did the right (and smart) thing in making it equal. I feel a lot less conflicted now about coming to work!

2. How do I break bad news about my dog? (#3 at the link)

My good boy passed away in September of last year. With the advice you and the comment section gave me, I handled it in a few ways. After he recovered from his surgery, I sent a note to my team mentioning that he didn’t have very long, and that I had created a mailing list to advertise the adventures we would be going on every weekend to make his life as full as possible. Through this mailing list my coworkers were able to spend extra time with him if they wanted to, and I was also able . When his symptoms came back (unfortunately only a few months after surgery, not the year or more we had been hoping for) I threw him a retirement party during a workday afternoon (with my boss’s blessing) and invited my team as well as his other friends around the office. It was pretty well-attended and we made a lot of memories! About a week after that he passed away, and my manager encouraged me to take the time that I needed to grieve.

It turned out that life without a dog was almost impossible to bear, and I adopted another high-energy book-smart street-stupid herding dog mix only a week or two after that. He’s got a very different personality – notably, he’s a cuddler, which really benefited me while dealing with this loss – and it’s been fun to introduce him to my team and get to know him myself.

I really appreciate the condolences and the ideas that everyone offered. When I wrote in my brain was completely mush from grief and, to be frank, having someone else tell me what I could do made all the difference. Big love and thank you to the AAM family. :)

3. Is it bad to step back from a management job to a less senior position? (#3 at the link)

First, I just want to thank you so much for publishing my letter regarding leaving my management position and joining a new company as an individual contributor. I wanted to let you know that I took the new job. Of course my prior employer did and said all they could in an effort to keep me. Ultimately I knew that nothing would ever change. I know my manager meant well, but everything I was being promised was just Hollow promises to keep me from walking out that door. So I gracefully gave my 2 weeks notice, and finished out my time there with plenty of hugs and tears from my former colleagues who I will miss dearly.

I’ve been at my new job for a little over a week now, and I’m loving it so far. The new company really seems to be big on treating their employees well. I actually take breaks away from my desk, for the first time in a long time. My new team really bands together to accomplish the workload. No one person seems to have an unreasonable workload, we all divide it up and lend a hand where needed. Also, there is an on-site fitness center in the building I work in, so I’m now able to use a gym free of charge at anytime I like. Because I’m now working a standard 8 hour shift vs 10/12 hours, I now have more time at home to prep healthy meals and unwind after my day by doing things I enjoy. I have my next physical with my primary care physician in June. I’m hoping that we will see improvements in my blood pressure and other areas.

Thank you so much for posting my question, and I also want to thank the commenters for all of their input. Their support, kindness, and sage advice really helped to reinforce what I already knew deep down inside!

updates: the men who wouldn’t be alone with women, the very good dog, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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

I’ve been going back and forth with a pretty weird problem, and someone suggested your blog as a good place to go for advice (I’m so happy I discovered it, by the way!). Here’s what’s going on….

I am a woman in my late 20s and I have been in a polyamorous relationship with a married couple for the past eight months. Things are going well, and I’m planning on moving in with them this summer when my lease is up. I never saw my life going in this direction but I’m really happy!

The problem is I’m not sure how “out” I should be about this at work. I work in a medium-sized (20 people or so) office in a major U.S. city. The office is generally on the liberal side, but it’s still very much a traditional white collar environment in many ways. I honestly have no idea how my coworkers would react to this. I’m generally a pretty private person, and I don’t want to overshare or make people uncomfortable. I also like my job and don’t want this to affect my employment or professional future.

I haven’t said anything so far to anyone, but now that this relationship has become serious I’m not sure where to go from here. One part of me says to just keep it totally on the DL. On the other hand, my relationship affects huge parts of my life — where I live, what I spend my time doing, etc., and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with lying or being evasive for the foreseeable future. I’d also like to have a photo of us on my desk!

Right now I’m thinking that what I might do is refer to them as my “good friends” to anyone who asks, and let people read between the lines. I don’t know though… does that seem like a reasonable plan?

For the record, my partners are NO help on this… they’re both in the art world and have never worked an office job in their lives. Most of our friends are in nontraditional careers too — I’m the weird one who puts on a suit every day!

Readers, what’s your advice? I’d especially love to hear from poly people.

I’m polyamorous — should I be out at work? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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

1. Asking job candidates to follow our scent-free policy at interviews

I know you’ve covered scent-free office policies in the past, and that usually has to do with employees who are already working in the office. What about applying that same policy to candidates who are invited to the office for an interview?

<https://www.askamanager.org/2018/08/our-group-member-has-a-fragrance-sensitivity-and-were-supposed-to-be-hugged-to-check-for-any-scents.html>

The admin team at the front of our office is very sensitive to strong smells (good or bad). Our company is currently hiring for an off-site position, but the interviews are happening in our office. The last few candidates who have come in for interviews have been *bathed* in perfume, to the point where the scent lingers for an hour after they’ve left. Our office has a stated scent-free policy for employees; I’m suggesting that managers who are bringing in candidates for interviews advise them of our policy up-front. I asked if those managers could include the following statement with with their invitation to the interview: “Our workplace observes a scent-free policy, and we’d appreciate it if you would refrain from wearing any perfume or other scented products for your interview. Thank you.”

The managers pushed back, stating that they can’t impose an office policy on non-employees. I think that out of respect for those who are impacted by those scents, and can’t leave their desks or shut their doors to mitigate the smell, we should make the request to applicants. I would go so far as allowing my admin team to leave their work area for the duration of the visit if the impact is too severe.

What you’re suggesting is perfectly reasonable, and in fact is done by plenty of offices with scent-free policies. If you’ve got someone with a serious fragrance sensitivity, you’ve got to let everyone who comes in know that, not just employees who are there every day. (This isn’t perfect, of course; you’re still going to get the occasional delivery person with heavy cologne — but controlling where you can is smart.)

I’m not sure why the managers in your office are pushing back. This isn’t “imposing an office policy” on non-employees; it’s letting them know about a situation that most job candidates will want to be considerate of. Who wants to go to a job interview and inadvertently cause the receptionist’s throat to close up? (And frankly, it’s useful to give them a heads-up at this stage, since if they feel Very Strongly about their raspberry-scented body lotion, it’s good for them to find out now that it’ll be prohibited.) It’s not clear from your letter how much authority you have in this situation, but it sounds like you might be the manager of some of the people with the sensitivity. If so, you have a lot of standing to push here (and if you don’t prevail, allowing them to leave their work area if the fragrance is too strong is a good route to take).

2. Can I wear baggy clothes to work?

Here is a low stakes question for you. I work in a business casual office, with the occasional need for business formal. Mostly I wear dresses, skirts, dress pants and tops. I’ve been semi-rapidly losing weight, in part due to a medical condition (I am under the care of a doctor so weight loss is being monitored in case anyone was concerned). My issue is many of my work clothes no longer fit — especially pants. I’m just struggling to decide between wearing baggy clothes (some are just way too baggy to pass muster), buying new clothes now for this weight, waiting until my weight levels off, or basically switching to dresses every day, which mostly still look fine. I can afford to purchase some new things but would hate to waste money for some work clothes that only fit for a short time (what am I, a toddler?).

I want to continue to look professional, which baggy clothes kind of prevents, but am wary of needless spending and consumption of clothes. I am happy to report, btw, that none of my coworkers have commented on my weight loss! Maybe they all read AAM :). Any advice would be appreciated.

A little bagginess isn’t the end of the world, as long as you don’t work in a field that puts a big premium on an especially polished appearance. But it definitely depends on how much bagginess we’re talking about. If you look like you’re wearing someone else’s pants, that’s not great. So if it’s more toward that end of the spectrum and you have enough dresses to switch to those, that might be your best option. Or you could buy one or two pairs of pants to get you through this period, going cheaper than you normally would since you don’t need them to serve you long-term. (In other words, if you’re normally shopping at Eileen Fisher, go to Old Navy for your interim pants. If you’re normally shopping at Old Navy, check discount or consignment stores, etc.)

3. Can I ask to be excused from active shooter training?

I am the survivor of a mass shooting that took place in 2017. I am still dealing with the trauma in therapy. The time has come for annual safety training at my workplace, including active shooter training. Is it reasonable to ask to be excused from at least this portion of the training? Having gone through it last year, I know that it is a triggering experience for me (I didn’t ask to be excused last year because I didn’t realize how hard it would be). Is this a reasonable request? I’m sure my therapist would provide me with an excuse if needed. The only issue I see is that there is an argument that I need the training to know how to respond to such a situation, know the evacuation plan, etc. But I’ve done it once and I know the gist (run, hide, fight, etc.). Would appreciate your thoughts!

I’m so sorry. Yes, I think that’s a reasonable request. You can point out that you did the training last year, that it was incredibly difficult because you’ve been through this for real, and that you’ve mastered the info. You can offer to bring in documentation from your therapist if they want it.

If that doesn’t work, you’re certainly ethically in the clear to have a conflict on the day of the training (out sick or so forth).

4. How do you frame a cover letter when the hiring manager had your job in the past?

I’m applying to a job that I’m very excited about. However, I’m stuck on how to approach my cover letter. The hiring manager at the new company used to work at my current company and in fact held my very same position (let’s call it a “teapot producer”) for quite a few years.

I’ve been at my current job as a teapot producer at for nearly a decade, and so it will be the position I’m drawing from most in my cover letter. For example, I might talk about how I grew our social media account from X followers to Y followers, but this the very account was started by the hiring manager when they were a teapot producer here. How much do I acknowledge that the hiring manager had my position and therefore knows much of the role and the work experience that I’d be bringing to the table? Do I use phrases like, “As you may remember . . .” or “As you probably know”? I’m also feeling stuck because, while the hiring manager will be the main decision-maker, I’m sure the cover letter will be shared with others involved in the hiring process. If it’s relevant at all, we never worked together but have met and chatted in the past.

I’d include at most one acknowledgment that she has familiarity with what you’re discussing, having done the role herself. Don’t keep repeating it though — it’s unnecessary and besides, who knows, maybe she’s forgotten a lot of the details since she was there. A single “as you know firsthand” will convey that you’re not oblivious to her former work, without making a major focus on the letter.

5. Does my need for quiet in our break room trump my coworker’s need to make phone calls?

I’m an hourly retail employee, and most of my shifts are too short for me to receive a full unpaid lunch break — typically over the course of a nearly five-hour shift, I’ll get one 10-minute break. It is typically the only chance I get to actually sit down, not to mention take a break from having to accommodate customers and listen to the unrelentingly repetitive playlist on the floor. The break room is the only place inside the store that sales associates are allowed to sit and rest. We can leave the store on our breaks but there isn’t really time to do anything more than just stand around outside.

We recently got a new employee who uses nearly all of her breaks to make personal phone calls in the breakroom. I know that her time is her time and the breakroom is ostensibly the place to, you know, take breaks, but having my one moment for peace interrupted by her catching up with her friends (from what I can hear, these are not particularly urgent calls) is really aggravating me, but I don’t think I’m necessarily justified in complaining about it. This especially because I posed the question to a different forum and was piled on, even after being careful not to make an indictment of my coworker — I was told I needed to “learn to live with other people” and that “the break room is for taking a break” and “clearly this is the only time she has to make a call” so I needed to respect that. (for context, she doesn’t work on the floor like I do — she works in the stockroom and therefore gets to listen to her own music, sit down during downtime, generally avoid talking to customers, etc). I just know that whenever I’ve needed to make a call at work, I sacrifice the chance to sit down and instead do it outside so I’m not disturbing anyone and I just really wish she would do the same.

I guess ultimately my question is, does my need for relative quiet take any precedent over her need to chat, or vice versa? Am I justified in being annoyed by what she’s doing? I’m not at the point where I would complain to a manager or anything, but I don’t know if even having a gentle word with the chatty coworker would be appropriate.

Yeah, I hate to say it, but she does indeed get to use the break room for phone calls on her breaks. The answer would be the same if there were two people in there talking to each other; break rooms aren’t inherently designated as quiet rooms, just as a place you can go to relax when you’re not working.

I get why hearing the phone calls is annoying though (especially if they seem like just-to-chat calls, rather than calls for a specific purpose), so if you want to avoid them, the best thing to do is probably to take your breaks outside.

asking job candidates to go scent-free, baggy clothes at work, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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A reader writes:

I just applied (at 9 pm) online for a nonprofit job I would be great at. I didn’t meet all of the requirements, but I wrote a passionate cover letter covering my skills in related areas that are the same as what they specified in the description — just for a different audience.

In the required application fields (drop-down menus) where it asked, “Do you have two years of experience at [type of work]?” I honestly answered “No” for the one area in which I did not 100% meet the criteria. For all the others, I said yes (because I do!).

I just checked my email 15 minutes after submitting my application and was crushed to find that what I thought was a confirmation that my application had been received was actually already an automatic rejection saying, “Based on your application materials we will not be pursuing your candidacy.”

I can’t imagine that at 9 pm someone read my application and determined that I wasn’t qualified. I think it must be that selecting “no” for the question about two years of experience in that specific work area was the issue.

Is there anything I can do now? I am so heartbroken that my resume and cover letter weren’t even glanced at. I am really committed to this organization’s mission and I have so much respect for the director.

I honestly don’t even know for sure that I *don’t* meet that requirement. Maybe I was being too literal in my interpretation of what they were asking for. In the future, should I just select “yes” as long as I can make a case for myself?

People are always encouraging me to apply to positions even if I don’t meet 100% of the requirements, but I feel like I just wasted several hours of my life. Was I wrong to apply to this position? Or, is it just that the norm is that you say “yes” to all the requirements as long as you think you are qualified overall?

*If it makes any difference, the skill they were asking for was two years of experience giving professional development presentations in a higher education environment. I have two years of experience working in higher education and over five years of experience giving professional development presentations … but technically I do not have experience giving professional development presentations to individuals in higher ed.

Ugh, yes, this is frustrating.

Its theoretically possible that someone did indeed read your application at 9 pm and decide to reject you then (for example, different time zones mean it could have been 6 pm where they were, plus some people work late, etc.), but typically people aren’t sending rejections 15 minutes after an application comes in. So it’s pretty likely that this was indeed an automated rejection based on your answers to the screening questions.

Automated screening questions don’t always get at what the employer is really looking for. Sometimes that’s because they’re set up by HR rather than the hiring manager and the HR person doesn’t have the nuanced feel for the requirements that the hiring manager does. Sometimes it’s because you’re an outlier scenario that they didn’t envision. Sometimes it’s just because automated screening can be a really blunt tool when a more nuanced one is needed to screen candidates well.

Or it’s possible that this screen worked precisely as it was intended to. But it’s understandable that you’re wondering.

In general, when you’re filling out screening questions like these, it’s okay to answer the questions in the spirit in which you can reasonably assume they’re intended. In other words, if they ask if you have qualification X and you have a really similar one that you think a human hiring manager would see as equivalent, answer yes.

Of course, you shouldn’t use this as a way to get past the automated screening and answer yes to questions when the honest answer is clearly no. If you did that, you’d likely to be rejected once you a human looks at you anyway, as well as annoying them in the process. But if you’re answering in the spirit the questions seem intended in, you should be fine. And if you get asked about it later on, you can explain you tried to represent your experience as accurately as you could in a system that didn’t allow for details.

As for what to do now … you could see if the system will let you apply again. If it does, do that and change your answers to the questions accordingly. If it doesn’t, this is a case where you could email your materials to the hiring manager directly with a note that says something like, “I’m really excited about this job and hope I might be a strong fit because ____. I think your online application system rejected me because I answered a screening question about giving professional development presentations in an overly literal way. While I haven’t given professional development presentations in a higher education environment, I have over five years of experience giving professional development presentations and two years of experience in higher education. If that doesn’t disqualify me, I’d love to be considered.”

I’m not generally a fan of going around application systems and trying to contact the hiring manager directly (there are many, many reasons why this is often annoying and a bad idea), but this is a situation where (because of the reasonable chance that the system may have erred) you can get away with it.

how can you get around automated screening questions when you’re actually qualified for the job? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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A reader writes:

I have two I.T. employees who like to wear headphones, not earbuds, at their desks during business hours. It’s awkward when someone approaches them for support and there’s a brief waiting period for the employee to remove the headphones and acknowledge the person. I find this unnerving when I approach either of them and have to wait, and suspect many of my users may feel the same. In addition, I think it simply looks bad for I.T. support.

I met with one of those employees today to discuss my management rule to use earbuds instead. 10 minutes after this meeting, I saw this employee with the headphones on in complete disregard. This employee was quite upset when I reminded him that we had just discussed it. He stated there wasn’t a company policy about it. At this point, I told him this was my rule and he then made a beeline to HR. So, can a manager make department rules? Do we have that flexibility?

I answer this question — and four others — 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.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I saw my coworker with the spouse who assaulted her
  • My manager is asking me for twice-a-day reporting on how I’m spending my time
  • I don’t want to tell my manager what I’m getting physical therapy for
  • Should I let a company know that I’m declining their offer because of how long they took to get it to me?

I don’t want my employees to wear headphones was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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