It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. What do I say when I’m calling in sick for a mental health day?
I am a firm believer in (occasionally) using a sick day as a mental health day, when I know I’m not leaving my coworkers hanging. What do I say when I’m calling in sick, but I’m not actually sick? Am I supposed to lie and say that I’m sick? I am a part of a fairly small, close-knit team, so I hate coming back to people asking if I’m feeling better, out of genuine concern. On the other hand, I don’t want my coworkers to think I’m taking advantage of our generous policy just because I felt like taking a day to stay in my pajamas and watch Netflix.
With “mental health days” — meaning a day that you take off to relieve stress/avoid burnout or when you just can’t face the world — say that you’re “under the weather” or “ a bit ill.” You can’t really call up and say, “I can’t bear the thought of coming into work today,” but you also shouldn’t make up a hacking cough. It fine to just be vague. (In fact, it’s fine to be vague even when you have an actual sickness like the flu or horrific diarrhea or whatever. Decent managers will accept “I’m sick today and won’t be in” rather than expecting or even wanting a detailed list of your symptoms.)
2. Will it be a problem that I’ve never worked in an office?
I’m in my mid-twenties, and I’ve been working freelance ever since I graduated, in the arts and media sector. The jobs I do are typically now freelance positions, but 5-10 years ago they were always entry-level in-house positions (and some lucky orgs still have in-house workers for these jobs). I’ve actually gotten pretty good at what I do, my income isn’t so bad, and I’m satisfied with how things are progressing.
However, it’s ultimately my aim to get an office job in this industry, even if it’s not the specific role that I’m in now, and I’m wondering whether I’ll be at a disadvantage by the time the opportunity rolls around. I’m young, but I’m not a recent graduate, and I haven’t ever worked in an office (my previous jobs were retail and cleaning work). I’m getting decent experience in my field, but it’s definitely very different to freelance than to work in office as part of a team, and I understand that.
Will people look unfavorably on the fact that I’ve only ever worked from home, and have no experience working in an office? Is it unwise to only have a freelance background so early on in my career?
Possibly. If your work is excellent, it’s unlikely to keep you from getting hired, but it’s true that never having worked in an office before may giving some hiring managers pause. There’s actually a fairly steep learning curve in your first year or two in an office job, where you’re figuring out … just how to be in an office, and how to get things done in that context. You’re not going to come in like a inexperienced intern who’s learning everything for the first time, but there’s likely to be a learning curve and adjustment period. Not a huge one, and not one that would stand in the way of hiring you if your work is great … but if you’re competing against candidates whose work is equally great and have been working in an office environment, then yeah, it could put you at a disadvantage. Not a significant one, just a small one. But someone who really wants to hire you isn’t likely to be deterred.
The bigger question for you, I think, is whether you’re losing out on things that will later be valuable to you by staying fully freelance now. Are you losing out on the kind of mentoring and feedback you’d get from a decent manager? Are you losing out on collaboration with colleagues? Are you missing out by not having coworkers at all? What about benefits, like paid vacation and retirement contributions? What about the specific type of professional growth that comes from learning to work effectively in an office — will you feel at a disadvantage later if you’re starting from scratch there? You may calculate that the benefits you get from freelancing outweigh all of those things — and they may because there are a lot of them! — but ensure that you’re factoring them into your calculus.
3. People keep asking the origin of my name
I am a white woman with an African-sounding name. Most people assume that I am black before they meet me in person. I love my name. I couldn’t imagine for even a second being called anything else, and I think my name has given me a very unique perspective on race relations in my everyday life (including watching how a LOT of white people will try to ask why I have a black name without actually saying it, as if it’s a bad thing). However, I am very white. My parents have been here for generations, so far back that no one is entirely sure where in Europe we are from.
I am a clinician in my field, and it is a very customer-centered field. I work almost entirely with seniors, and I am very comfortable talking to my clients in a professional but warm and friendly way. But my name is always something that comes up, and I still don’t know how to get around the inevitable “Oh, interesting name, where does it come from?” question.
Here’s the thing. I don’t actually know the answer. I come from an abusive and racist household, so every time I asked my parents, I was given a jokey non-answer. This is obviously not something I want to talk about.
I have tried EVERYTHING to get out of answering the question. I’ve been doing it my whole life. I’ve tried the “Oh, it’s really personal/private/special to me” — which tells the client too much already, and they always try to get more. The “It’s a long and boring story” — which results in something like “I’ve got time.” I went by a nickname for a long time, but now that my diploma and licence to practice have my full name, and that just results in them asking who the person on the wall is. Everyone expects this long story about where my name comes from and what my name means, and I just don’t know how to get out of this conversation while still giving a satisfactory answer to my clients, that won’t harm the rapport I am trying to build with them. I’ll be their clinician for a full three years, we need to have a good relationship.
I’m with each client for an entire hour, and it comes up with Every. Single. Client. Multiple times. They’re coming from good — albeit ignorant — places. Do you have any suggestions of how to navigate this?
How about a bland “Oh, there’s no story behind it, it’s just my name”? Or “I guess my parents just liked it”?
Because of the history with your parents, I think this is feeling more fraught to you than it needs to. The answers you’ve been using suggest that there is a story but not one you want to share, which is reinforcing their belief that there’s something to hear. But you don’t have to indulge people in the idea that there must be a story at all (and it’s a problematic assumption for them to make in the first place). You’re not obligated to come up with an answer that will satisfy them. “There’s no story!” is perfectly fine, just like you’d say about any name where there was no story. And then follow it up with an immediate subject change to signal that there’s nothing else to discuss about it.
4. A graduation mix-up and a pulled job offer
My stepdaughter, who is not the most responsible person in the world, recently graduated from college. She has been job hunting for several months and has finally gotten an offer. When her new employer (a multi-thousand employee, multi-location corporation) did a background check, they discovered that she had indeed not graduated. It turns out she had a financial hold on her account (less than $100) and, as she did not pay it, the university did not graduate her. She has taken care of the financial hold and the registrar’s office provided a letter saying that her coursework has been completed, that she is qualified to graduate, and she will receive her diploma at the end of the next semester, which is December. Her new employer, though, has pulled her offer and blacklisted her.
As someone who is involved in the hiring process for our new candidates, I have never encountered a situation precisely like this. You say you have your diploma, but in reality you don’t, but it’s due to an oversight. I would have indeed pulled the offer. (How could you not have your act together enough to know whether you’ve graduated or not? The fact that your diploma never arrived in the mail didn’t cause you concern? Huge read flags there.) I’m not sure on the blacklisting though. So I wanted to ask your opinion on this. Would you consider this just an oversight? As a hiring manager with no knowledge of all of the circumstances, would you just see it as lying on your resume? This employer decided it qualified as lying on an application. How would you have handled this? Since I know the circumstances around my stepdaughter, my view is clouded. I’m am trying to view this as an outsider would and determine what I would do if ever in this situation.
I wouldn’t have even pulled the offer if she’d explained the situation. Pulling an offer makes sense when a candidate knowingly lied or was so reckless with the truth that it amounts to the same thing. But someone who understandably assumed she’d graduated and didn’t realize a $100 charge was holding up the paperwork, and then took care of it once she found out? That stuff happens, and it doesn’t sound like she was deliberately representing the situation on her resume — presenting herself as a graduate while knowing she wasn’t. Pulling the offer seems more punitive than anything else; they’re saying this is something about her integrity when it’s really not. (Unless it’s a situation where she cannot start the job until she formally has her diploma, but I’m skeptical that it’s that, given the timeline.)
And the blacklisting is absurd, although I suppose if they see this as enough of an ethical violation to pull the offer, it makes sense that they wouldn’t be open to hiring her in the future either.
5. A company responded to my application by suggesting I follow them on social media
I recently applied for a role within a social media business. I received the standard “Thanks for your application; we will be in contact soon” email, but the last paragraph stood out to me: “In the meantime, you can build your digital skills by reading our expert articles published on our blog, following us on Twitter, or joining in the discussion on LinkedIn.”
Do you think following them on these sites would help my chances? Are they just looking for more followers? Or is this becoming a normal way to end this kind of email?
Nope, it sounds like they’re just marketing to job candidates, which is pretty tacky. It’s very unlikely that following them on social media will increase your chances (and indeed, they’re not suggesting that; they’re just suggesting it’s a way to build your skills).
what do I say to call in for a mental health day, I’ve never worked in an office, and more was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.