I can’t afford to buy breakfast for my team, should you always ask about a gap on someone’s resume, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. I can’t afford to buy breakfast for my team every month

At my job, we have weekly meetings where my whole team gets together in the morning. At these meetings, one to three people present what they’ve been working on for the past month. We are an academic research lab in a university, and 15 members of the team attend these meetings. At these meetings, my boss requires that one person presenting bring breakfast of some kind for the whole team. This means most people bring breakfast about once every one to two months.

This has been irking me for a few reasons. I am the lowest paid member of our team (think sub-poverty level for our area) because I am still a student and I am expected to pay for breakfast for all the higher members of our team once a month (my boss makes, literally, 10 times what I make). Additionally, not everyone on our team performs a research role (i.e., support staff/admin staff) so some people are never required to bring breakfast (since they never present), despite also eating it every week. And finally, I rarely eat because I’m still Covid-conscious in small rooms and prefer to keep my mask on, so it’s not like I’m saving money on getting myself breakfast during these meetings (oftentimes I don’t even end up getting to eat any of what I brought).

I know it’s something my boss is really married to, and he has done this for many years if not decades. Financially, I can make it happen since it’s not terribly often, but with rising food prices and inflation, my budget gets tighter and tighter every month. Should I just grit and bear it to keep the peace? I know many people in our group look forward to eating during this meeting every week.

No, you should speak up. And really, they should have been exempting you all along. While I don’t love this kind of system for anyone, you’re a student! You should never have been asked to buy breakfast, not even once.

Say this: “As a student, I’m not in a position to buy breakfast for the team — I really can’t afford it. So I need to exempt myself from the rotation. If that means I should opt out of eating, I will.”

Don’t get into how some people are never required to bring breakfast; that’s not really the point. The point is that you can’t afford to do it, so you won’t be. Period. And notice that with this language, you’re not asking for the favor of being let off the hook; you are telling them you cannot afford it and thus cannot do it.

You could say this privately to your boss, although on some teams, it would be more effective if said in front of the whole team (you could raise it as a sort of housekeeping measure at the end of one of these meetings). Which will work better depends on your boss and your team.

But whenever you say it, say it forthrightly! Don’t be shy about it, or embarrassed. You’re a student, for F’s sake. They’ve all been there and they should all get it.

2. Should you always ask about a gap on someone’s resume?

Should you always ask about a gap on someone’s resume?

Not all gaps, no. People have gaps on their resumes for all sorts of unremarkable reasons — took some time out of the workforce after having a baby, dealing with a health issue, taking a few months off in between jobs, travel, and on and on. The existence of a gap on someone’s resume shouldn’t be a big deal in and of itself.

Ask about a gap if you’re genuinely trying to figure out someone’s career trajectory and there’s a glaring hole that’s genuinely getting in the way of that. Generally that should mean that gaps of only a few months won’t be relevant and gaps from years ago shouldn’t matter at all. (And gaps from during the pandemic shouldn’t surprise anyone.) Personally, I only ask if the gap is a current one (“what have you been doing since leaving X?” — and that’s not a gotcha, it’s genuine interest in knowing because there could be info that’s relevant professionally — like a job they left off not realizing it would be relevant or, for some positions, whether they’d done anything to keep their skills up-to-date during that time if the gap is a long one) or if there’s a pattern of multiple gaps (and then I want to understand what keeps driving them to leave jobs with nothing else lined up — not because that’s an inherently bad thing, but because it can be a bad thing depending on the reasons — like if they’re constantly getting fired, always walking off in a fit of rage, etc.).

3. Invitations to a retirement party that’s much bigger than anyone else’s

Our CEO’s admin assistant asked me to design retirement party invitations for one beloved coworker, who is liked by many any our organization and has been a big part of being involved in many company activities, as well as philanthropic work in her 30 years at the company.

Our company normally only hosts cake/punch in a large conference room, no matter how many years a person has worked here. However, this particular employee is having a big dinner party planned by the company at an off-site event venue with drink tickets, etc.

The admin asked me to somehow word the invitation so that it doesn’t insult others who don’t get this kind of retirement send off. How would you word an invitation in this circumstance?

That’s an impossible task, because of course others are going to notice the difference and be hurt or demoralized. It’s likely to be a major messaging issue, and asking you to come up with the messaging yourself without any direction is ridiculous.

You could try going back to the assistant and saying, “I’m struggling with how to word this in a way that doesn’t raise questions about why Jane’s event is so much more elaborate than other retirement parties have been. Can you explain to me what the messaging is supposed to be so I have something to work with?” My guess is the assistant may not know either and it probably wasn’t her call, but since she’s the one asking you to do it, you’ve got to point out that you can’t do it without more information.

4. My coworker refuses to reply-all when she needs to

I have a coworker who works at an off-site location who I need to email frequently with questions. I often include her team lead and our manager in the emails so they are in the loop and can also see her replies with information I’m trying to find out.

The problem is, she is terrible at the reply-all function and always ends up only replying to me. At times this is fine, but many times there are instances where she is having problems or issues I can’t help her with, and instead of replying-all so her team lead also reads it, the message only ends up with me.

I know the usual problem is more commonly with too many people hitting reply-all when it’s not necessary, but this is a reoccurring instance where I really need her to reply-all. I’ve even pointed it out to her for the more serious issues, letting her know that she should be looping in her managers to draw attention to specific problems. Is there another way to deal with this? I find it constantly frustrating and not sure if there’s anything I can do.

Ask her one time very clearly and explain why (“can you please reply-all when I’ve cc’d Jane and/or Cecil since they need to see the answer too?”). If she continues not to, you can try one more reminder … but after that, you probably need to accept that for whatever reason she’s not doing it and you can’t make her. In that case, you can just forward her replies to Jane and Cecil with “FYI” or “You were left off the cc, but looks like Ophelia needs help with this” or so forth.

Some people will just never manage their email the way you want them to. It’s reasonable to ask once or twice, but after that you’ve just got to work around it. (There are exceptions to this, of course, like if you happen to be their boss or if they’re causing havoc with customers by not doing it.)

5. Do I have to reveal my arrest on job applications if my record was expunged?

I was arrested years ago. Later the case was dismissed and all records of it were expunged.

When applying for jobs, sometimes they ask if you’ve ever been arrested. I answer yes because I have. However, I’ve been told that since my record was expunged and if you look it up there’s no evidence of it, I should say no. But I feel like that’s lying. I don’t mind telling anyone the story because they would be able to see that I didn’t do anything wrong. But I worry about people just seeing “arrested” and having a negative opinion about me. What are your thoughts?

You can answer “no” to that question. That’s what expungement is — legally speaking, it never happened and you’re permitted to say no. You might feel better about it if you reword the question in your head to, “Do you have any legal record of arrests?”

Caveat 1: Certain government jobs or jobs working with vulnerable populations (like children) may still require you to disclose expunged records for relevant charges, so make sure to closely read what you’re answering. (You could also check with the lawyer who handled your expungement to be sure.)

Caveat 2: Order a copy of your own criminal history to make sure your record was actually expunged correctly. I recently had an old arrest from a political protest sealed (it was a bad arrest; I was there to bail out other activists but they arrested all of us, and having it on my record annoyed me on principle) and when I double checked my report months later to be sure, it was still there, despite the judge’s order to seal it. It’s fixed now, but if I hadn’t checked I wouldn’t have known they’d messed it up. My lawyer told me the same thing happened to another one of his clients, who didn’t find out until a prospective employer ran his background check — and his offer was pulled over it. So definitely check.

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