coworker calls me “mama,” why are employers and job candidates held to different standards, and more

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

1. Coworker calls me “mama” because I’m pregnant

I am currently 18 weeks pregnant with my first child. I work remotely on a team made up entirely of remote workers. It’s a small team of all women, all of whom have kids or even grandkids, and we are very close and friendly. It’s definitely a professional environment (and being the youngest member of the team by far, I try to stay very professional) but we also share stories about our weekends, pictures of our pets, etc. and I like that.

I told my coworkers the news a couple weeks ago and they are all very excited for me. Each meeting or call seems to start with a report on how the baby and I are doing. I am totally comfortable with this and it has been an easy pregnancy, so it’s been simple enough to give a little soundbite that I’m feeling fine and everything is going well without getting into details of ultrasound pictures or symptoms.

One coworker is very nice but she is a little awkward. She keeps asking me “How is mama feeling?” Alison, I HATE being called mama, even among friends and family. It feels infantilizing and puts an emphasis on my new role as a mother which is only one part of my life, especially with coworkers. If this were a friend, I would have no problem telling them not to call me mama, but it’s a coworker so I have mostly just ignored it. I don’t mind ignoring it either, but maybe that’s weird too! Any advice or scripts for handling this with a minimum of awkwardness?

Ugh, yes, it’s weird, but there’s always someone who seems to want to do this.

It’s perfectly to say, “Oh, please stick with Beth. Thanks!” Then follow up with a subject change to minimize the awkwardness, if you want to.

If that doesn’t work (although hopefully it will), then you may have to repeat it: “I’m still Beth. Please call me that instead.”

For what it’s worth … you might be totally fine continuing to share those regular updates in meetings and calls, but you also might reach a point in your pregnancy where you want more privacy (especially if you have any complications). It can be easier to shut that down now than try to do it down the road — so it might be worth a “from here on, I’ll let you know if anything changes.” Or not — some people are fine with this level of sharing — it’s just something to keep in mind.

2. Why are employers and candidates held to different standards in hiring?

Why do recruiters do the opposite of what is expected by candidates, then cry that there is a talent shortage? For example, I am expected to customize a resume and cover letter for each specific job application to ensure that either the person reading my application can see how I’m qualified, or a computer algorithm doesn’t automatically reject it. Meanwhile, I get extremely generic messages from recruiters (regarding relevant positions) on LinkedIn only that my profile “intrigues them.” Why should I reply when they made zero effort to customize their message to me, and why do recruiters think this is acceptable when they expect applicants to do the opposite?

Well, you don’t need to reply to recruiters who send you obvious form letters if you don’t want to! Those recruiters tend to be going for numbers over quality, and in a lot of industries (not all, but many) might not be worth your time anyway.

But your larger point stands: Candidates are expected to put energy into things that employers don’t. Part of that is because recruiters need to convey the same message to enormous numbers of people, and form letters make sense for that. (It doesn’t make sense to write a personal rejection note to all 200+ people you might be rejecting for a single position; a form letter is going to convey what needs to be conveyed pretty effectively.) And part of it is that your materials will actually be more effective when you customize them, so it’s in your own interests to do it.

But part of it is also convention. There are a bunch of double standards in hiring that are rooted more in convention than anything else. For example, your interviewer can be late to the interviewer or check her phone in the middle of it, while it’s typically going to be really frowned upon for you to do that as a candidate. And you certainly couldn’t get away with sending employers a list of instructions for interviewing you or simply announce the time you will meet with them, while some employers do exactly that.

So yeah, there are double standards. Some are eye-rolly but not worth the capital it would take to fight them. Others are worth pushing back on.

3. I want to ask for a promotion four months into my new job

In negotiating my current role, the compensation I was offered was deliberately anchored to my previous package, a simple 10{986d44274747a5c76dc1672921bbe0dd933450491f05a8d42739aa242512160b} on top of my previous salary. Frustratingly, my recruiter revealed this without my permission, which I feel was unfair because firstly, my previous company had implemented a company-wide pay freeze for over a year. I was told I was deserving of both a higher salary and promotion but they simply didn’t have the budget. Secondly, during the period I was searching for a new role to get the promotion I desired, I was offered senior roles more than once. However, I felt the companies weren’t the best environments for me to develop so I declined.

When I was negotiating my current package, I did bring up these points, but it came down to them simply not being willing to hire me in a senior role as they didn’t think I was quite there, so they refused to budge on either level or salary, adding that they expected me to progress fairly rapidly. I figured something was better than nothing so accepted regardless.

As my probation period comes to an end, I believe I’ve demonstrated myself to be performing at a senior level and would like to again request the promotion. I like my job and don’t want to go through the upheaval of starting somewhere new after just four months, but I can’t help but feel like I’m being short-changed, which is making me feel very dejected, especially as I see peers with less experience leapfrog my progress. How do I broach this subject during my probation review and find an outcome that suits us both?

Oooh, I don’t think you can. You can’t really ask for or expect a promotion after only four months, unless there are very unusual circumstances (like that you ended up doing a different job than the one you were hired for). They told you clearly four months ago that they didn’t think you were at a senior level, and it’s unlikely they’ll have changed that assessment in just four months. Plus, you accepted their offer for this role at this level — it would be operating in bad faith to resent being expected to stay in it now, when it’s been such a short time. Typically a year would be the earliest you could bring this up.

What you can do, though, is to ask your boss about how things are going generally, and whether she thinks you could realistically be on a path to move up to a senior level in time, and whether it’s something she’d be open to talking about once you’ve been there a year.

4. Should we send a graduation announcement to my husband’s boss?

My 45-year-old husband started his current job four years ago, at the same time he started college. He already had years of experience in his field and the college degree was a personal challenge. He graduates in May.

His company is small, less than 50 employees scattered across the country, and the CEO is his grandboss. The CEO’s wife heads up the home office with a small group. All other employees travel extensively for work. My husband has been pushing for a promotion after several successful large-scale projects. He’s had a small promotion and a raise since he’s been there, and they’ve paid for him to take several professional development courses and obtain certifications. His degree relates directly to the work he has been gunning for (but is not required to do said work).

I think we should send his boss and grandboss graduation announcements as a kind of nudge towards that goal. My husband is concerned it’s too personal but he’s on the fence. If it makes a difference, the announcements are standard fair, no photos, but have the chancellor’s crest for the university. As an idea of the company culture, they send out signed cards from the CEO and his wife and gifts to employees for most major holidays (typically things like company logo wear, specialty food items, and restaurant gift cards). He’s on a first-name basis with his boss and the CEO’s wife, but when speaking about/to the CEO it’s (Full Name). I certainly wouldn’t send them a baby or wedding announcement, but I feel this directly relates to his job. What’s your advice?

I wouldn’t, because a lot of people feel obligated to give gifts in response to graduation announcements (or read that expectation into them). I’d rather see him just send them both a note with the news, including thanks to them for supporting him in that work if they did (and definitely if they paid for any of his courses). But ultimately your husband knows the culture there best, and you and I should both defer to him on what feels right!

5. Putting Klingon fluency on a resume

I am a polyglot and like learning new languages. My current count is six (two fluent, one semi-fluent, three basics). A wonderful part of my CV, which many friends and employers agree, is a world map where I have every country highlighted where a language I know is spoken, and it easily covers a third of the world.

Now I started learning Klingon on Duolingo for fun (they also have High Valyrian), and my level of understanding is getting comparative to other languages I can understand. Is this a thing I could put on my CV, or would it only appear negatively?

I wouldn’t list Klingon on its own without other languages (unless you were a field where it would clearly be a plus, although I’m having trouble thinking of what those might be), but if you’ve already got a bunch of languages on there, I don’t think it would be a problem to add it. That said, I’m not convinced it’s going to strengthen your candidacy in any appreciable way; you clearly already have impressive language skills without it. But some hiring managers will see it as a fun thing that shows personality.

(For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t normally recommend including a graphic like a map on a resume or a CV. If you’re getting interviews for the jobs you want, then feel free to ignore me, but typically I wouldn’t use that sort of graphic on a resume. I’m not going to reject a good candidate over it though.)

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