how can I follow up without being annoying, people ask “who’s in here?” when I’m in a bathroom stall, and more

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

1. How can I be less annoying when I have to follow up with people?

Do you have any suggestions for less annoying follow-up? I have a mainly back office position and don’t work with customers or external partners for the most part, but sometimes I have to request documents for compliance. It’s a pain and I hate doing it, but we have to do it.

Let’s say it’s a signed TPS coversheet. I don’t have the authority to change anything about the process, and management wants it this way. I have to hound our partners for these stupid TPS sheets and send them a million emails.

I have frequent back and forth with several key partners. I have a decent rapport with them, but I can’t help but feel like I’m a pest when I ask for what I need. Sometimes I only get one or two TPS sheets back when I need four, sometimes it’s the wrong name, and sometimes I receive them much later than the deadline.

How can I politely ask for what I need without being annoying? I’m a young millennial woman so that is driving a lot of my thoughts here.

You know it’s a requirement, they know it’s a requirement, and it’s okay to continue checking back until you have what you need. You should do it pleasantly and cheerfully, but don’t feel awkward about the fact that you have to do it in the first place! (If anything, you might tell yourself that they should feel a little awkward that they keep not sending you something you’re clearly asking for.)

Sometimes doing this pleasantly means using softening language like “I’m sorry to bug you about this” but most of the time it’s fine to just be straightforward, as long as your tone is warm — for example, “Hmmm, I’ve got two back from you but still need two more — can you send the X and Y sheets along too?” or “Today’s our deadline for having these in, so could you send them to me this morning?”

And when someone is chronically sending them in late, it’s fine to say, “We’ve to have these in by the fifth of every month for (reasons). Is there something I can do differently on my end to make sure you can meet that deadline?”

Also! If you’re sending a zillion emails without the results you need, the very first thing to try is switching contact methods — in this case, to calling instead. Some people are much more responsive to calls, and the ones who don’t love calls may start to realize it’s preferable to answer your emails.

But sometimes this is just the job, and decent people will understand you’re not hounding them just to annoy them.

2. My coworkers keep asking “who’s in here?” in the bathroom

My office restroom has the usual share of problems, but I’m finding that I keep running into one that causes me more grief than others. For context, I have a medical condition that requires frequent and sometimes lengthy trips to the restroom. Quite a few people around the office know about it, as I also need to take time off every couple months for treatment and I sometimes mention it in passing. I have already set up reasonable accommodations involving these restroom trips with HR, so no worries there.

The problem is that many of my fellow lady coworkers use the restroom as a sort of hangout spot. People will either stand by the sinks and chat, or even carry on conversations while all parties are in the restroom stalls. These conversations are about everything from personal life events, to complaints about others in the office, to private customer information. When one of the speakers realizes that they are not alone in the restroom, they either stop talking abruptly, comment on the extra person and laugh about it, or ask the dreaded question: “Who else is in here?”

I can’t stand this. My choices feel like they’re limited to 1) staying quiet and seeming creepy or 2) sheepishly identifying myself and dealing with the embarrassment. I’ll frequently hear jokes when I go to wash my hands that “I’m eavesdropping.” When I hear certain people enter the restroom, my heart sinks because I know that they’re going to continue their conversation and I’ll eventually be involved whether I like it or not.

If I ran the country, I’d make the question “Who’s in here?” illegal in all public restrooms. Since I can’t do that, what can I do? I don’t want to take away people’s freedom to chat, but I’m tired of feeling like an unwanted presence in my own company restroom. Is there any way to get a little bathroom etiquette going?

I think that when you’re in a bathroom stall, you’re entitled to the illusion of a sound barrier, and therefore you are not obligated to respond to queries directed your way from outside the stall. In other words, stay quiet if you want to! But I can understand why you might feel too weird doing that, you could try “Someone using a toilet!” or even “Ugh, let’s not roll-call who’s on the toilet.”

And once you come out and reveal yourself, feel free to say, “I prefer to believe there’s a sound barrier in bathroom stalls, where noise doesn’t travel in or out.”

3. Interview outfits when a suit isn’t flattering

I have fashion question. I’m hoping to have some interviews in the near future, in an industry where suits are pretty typical interview attire. However, I have a very large bust, to the point where I have to purchase all of my work clothes from specialty retailers. My typical work outfit is a conservative, tailored wrap dress, which works well for my figure. Quite frankly, suits look terrible on me. Button-up shirts and blazers never fit right. They are either so loose in the waist that I could fit an entire watermelon in there, or they have to be tailored in a way that really emphasizes my bust and makes me feel uncomfortable. It would also cost hundreds of dollars, as there are only a few (very expensive!) companies that sell button-up tops or blazers that I could actually fit over my chest.

Is there an alternate outfit I could get away with? Or do I need to lean into the suit?

It really depends on your field, and the norms for your field in your geographic area. There are a lot of fields now where it’s perfectly acceptable to wear something that’s formal but not a suit to interviews — a business-y dress, a dress with a non-suit blazer, pants and a blouse, etc. Those might be perfectly fine for you. (There are fewer formal non-suit interview options for men, but they exist too, usually revolving around no tie or no jacket.)

But there are still fields where you really do need to interview in a suit and will appear inappropriately informal if you don’t — for example, a lot of finance jobs and some law jobs. So you’ve really got to know your field on this one, unfortunately! If you’re unsure, I’d check with a handful of people you respect who work in your field in your geographic region, both at your level and somewhat above it, and see if there’s a consensus. (Avoid asking anyone who’s known to have iconoclastic views on this sort of thing though; you’re trying to find the mainstream perception.)

4. How to answer “where do you see yourself in five years?”

I have no idea what I want from my career. Never have done. I have no particular ambitions or positions I want to achieve. I’m perfectly happy to be in the same position without advancement so long as that position is fulfilling for me. But I have no idea how to explain that in job interviews without coming across as a lazy or mediocre worker.

I’ve been answering the “Where do you see yourself in five years?” question by explaining that while I don’t have a set career path in mind, I know what I want from my position and then explaining what those things are, e.g. I want to work for a company that constantly improves and innovates, I enjoy working on a team, I want to be challenged and fulfilled by my work, etc. But I am not sure whether this is actually a good route to take or whether it is off-putting.

Interviewers who ask that question or similar ones are trying to get a sense of how this job fits in with your longer-term plans and goals. If it helps, you can think of it as, “How does this job fit in with where you see your career going?” They want to understand that because they want to hire someone who will be satisfied by the job and what it will do for them — which could be “help me move toward higher-level position doing X” but could also be stable, meaningful work. It’s fine to say something like, “What I really want is to stay in this field, building my skills, feeling regularly challenged, and doing work that feels meaningful. I’m very open about what that path ultimately looks like, but I’m excited about this role because ___.”

5. Should my resume mention an old internship with the company I’m applying to?

I have been updating my resume as I start to look for a new place of employment (in the same career field). During my junior year in college I was a summer intern with Company A. I interviewed with them once I graduated, but they ended up not having the budget to hire me at that time so I accepted an offer from Company B. Fast forward seven years (all with Company B), and I’m now applying to a new job with Company A. I’m not sure if I should put the internship from so long ago on my resume or not.

I have built a good portfolio of work that I am passionate about over the last seven years, and I want to make sure I have room to highlight those accomplishments. In comparison to my current skill set, the work I did as an intern is less impressive. I did real applicable work there; it was just at a level that reflected the fact I was an intern and didn’t have a degree or much work experience.

Is it a good idea to put the internship on the resume so that I highlight I have already worked there? Should I just list the dates of employment but not list accomplishments for that time? Leave it off from the resume and bring it up if I can during an interview? Forget the internship entirely and focus on more recent accomplishments?

List the internship, because it’s relevant that you’ve worked there before; it could give you a leg up, or it might just seem odd if it comes up later and you hadn’t mentioned it. But don’t devote a ton of space to it — just a single line (or maybe two) with highlights of what you accomplished there is fine.

You should also mention in the cover letter that you interned there at the start of your career.

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