new employee asked me our policy on dating supervisors, lazy friend wants me to be a reference, and more

It’s five answers to five questions…

1. New employee asked me our policy on dating supervisors

I’m the manager at a branch location of a family owned retail garden center. I wanted to ask if you had any advice a situation that I came across recently involving a candidate who I had decided to hire. He was very friendly during the interview, answered all my questions, seemed qualified and even sent a thank you note. Then, on his first day, right after he turned in his paperwork he asked what the company policy was for employees to date their supervisors.

I was totally creeped out and told him that it was not allowed. That’s not necessarily a company-wide policy but he was absolutely giving the impression at this point that he wanted to ask me out. I guess the saving grace of this is that he only lasted for another four hours and then quit because the job turned out to be “more physically demanding than he expected.” But what would be your advice for handling a situation with an employee who shows a red flag right after the hiring process is completed?

Make it clearer in the moment that the question is wildly inappropriate. You answered it as if it were any other question about company policies, rather than the gross, out-of-line statement that it was. I don’t blame you for that; it’s hard to have a perfect answer in the moment when you’re so taken off-guard. But you could have said, “I’m sorry, what?” or “Why are you asking that?” followed by, “I’m having trouble understanding this question as anything other than wildly inappropriate.” Followed by keeping a really close eye on him, because someone who does this is usually someone who’s going to have loads of other problems too (as you saw later that day).

Frankly, it’s so wildly inappropriate and indicative of other likely problems that it also wouldn’t have been unwarranted to revisit the question of whether you’d made the right hire (had he not taken care of that for you a few hours later).

2. I don’t want to be a reference for my lazy acquaintance

I’m finding myself in between a rock and hard place. I met a girl in a seminar just after graduating college. We had both recently moved to the city and were both in the trenches searching for internships. After I found one, I learned that there was another internship position open, so I referred her based on our personal relationship during which she had proven to be intelligent, punctual, and eager to learn. I immediately regretted this decision.

During the course of her internships, we worked closely together and she was often lazy and unprofessional. She would use company time and resources to apply for other jobs daily, was not on top of her work tasks or email, and never took the initiative to join in when our supervisor taught us something new or gave us more challenging work. In short, she did not take advantage of the learning opportunity and was, in general, an ineffective employee.

Now that I have a new full-time job, I find myself lying to her when she asks if I have any prospects or know of any job openings. I know for a fact that she name drops when she applies to a company where she knows someone even without asking that person, but I cannot serve as a reference for her again. Eventually she will find out about my new job as we have mutual friends, but how should I handle letting her know that I cannot vouch for her? What should I tell the hiring manager when she, inevitably, drops my name?

You’d be doing her a favor if you stopped lying to her and told her what’s going on. It could be as simple as: “I feel awkward about this, Jane, but I wouldn’t be comfortable being a reference for you. I’m sorry I can’t help!” If she asks why, you could say, “Well, at Teapots Inc., you didn’t seem to be all that engaged in the work. To be a reference, I’d need to talk about your work ethic, initiative, and general quality of work, and I don’t feel like I can do that in a way that would help you.” You really would be helping her out if you let her know that — whether or not she appreciates it at the time.

And whether or not she does this, if she drops your name to a hiring manager, you should be honest: “Jane and I did work together, but she’s not someone I’d recommend hiring” (and then explain why).

3. Negotiating a gym membership as part of a job offer

I’m in the interview process with a company for a job I’m really interested in, and things seem to be going well. I’m optimistic about my chances, and expect a job offer in the next week or so if things continue to go well.

In my first interview, they told me flat out what the salary for the job was. It was in my acceptable range, but lower than I was hoping for. They didn’t give a range, just a number. Now, I’m absolutely willing to take the job at this salary, as it’s a job I’m interested and the salary is still in my acceptable range. However, this is my first job out of college, and I’d like to get my feet wet with negotiations. I’ve been looking around for advice on things to negotiate other than salary, and most of them seem pretty normal (vacation time, job title) and some of them made sense although I didn’t know how to approach them (office). The one that really threw me off was gym membership.

Do people actually ask for gym memberships? Is this normal? How would you begin to explain to a hiring staff why it was relevant to the job? (Unless you were a personal trainer or something else relevant.)

No, that’s totally weird. Some employers offer subsidized or discounted gym membership as part of their benefits package, but they either offer it or they don’t; it’s not the sort of thing people generally negotiate individually for themselves. And that’s doubly true as someone new to the workforce; it’s going to come across as a bit prima donna-ish at any career stage, but especially as someone junior.

4. Is this a good weakness to share in an interview?

If I told an interviewer that my biggest weakness during an interview is that I am very hard on myself and I continue to feel like I can do a better job and continue to strive for better performance of myself in my career, how would that come across during an interview? Would that not be a good weakness to reveal during an interview?

Nope, it’s going to sound disingenuous, whether or not it actually is. It’s too much in the model of “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard” or other attempts to answer with something the applicant hopes the interviewer will actually see as a strength. (Perfectionism can actually be a crippling weakness, so it’s always weird when people don’t realize that.)

5. Notifying my network that I’m changing jobs

I’ve been struggling with something for a few days now and I’m hoping you can help. In the past, I’ve received several emails from people notifying their network of a job change. They’re pretty basic “I’ll be leaving company X for company Y. If you need to get in touch with me in the future, here’s how” kind of stuff.

I’ve written that up, and made a list of who I’d like to send it to. But the question is, how? Do I send it from my company email address while it’s still active, or my personal gmail? Do I push it out before my two weeks at my current company are up, or wait until the two week gap in between jobs?

Any of those are fine. People do it in all of those ways, and none of them are weird.

{ 384 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. AMT

      Given that the position was at a garden store, I feel like the only appropriate response would have been to knock him out with a potted plant.

      Reply
      1. Ben Around

        I’m glad I wasn’t drinking coffee when I read your remark, because I would have sprayed it all over my screen. Too funny.

        Reply
      2. Karyn

        OMG. All I can think of is a cartoon where someone drops a potted plant on someone else. I cannot stop laughing.

        Reply
    2. Tedy Mosby

      Idk… I read this as “you MUST be misreading this situation.” OP, were there any other managers? Was it possible he was already dating someone who worked there?

      Reply
      1. Anna

        No, the OP mustn’t be misreading it. It’s *possible* but somehow I think unlikely. Especially with how his period of employment worked out.

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        1. OP1

          This is the OP from the 1st question. I don’t feel like I was misreading the situation. He asked me a whole bunch of personal questions about myself like he was making awkward small talk while he was filling out the paperwork until I asked him to focus on what he was doing and finish it up. I do certainly feel like I dodged a bullet!

          Reply
          1. voyager1

            OP1,
            You think he took the job just to ask you out?

            I am waiting for the letter that AAM gets later in the week “so I worked at a garden center for four hours, does that count as work experience?”

            Reply
          2. TrainerGirl

            Perhaps he quit because he was embarrassed that you didn’t immediately fall into his arms? I’d say that he was mortified, but anyone who would ask that type of toe-deaf question probably wouldn’t be aware enough to immediately realize his mistake.

            Reply
  1. pressure-based expression

    #2: perhaps a better question might be: how do I tell her I’m not comfortable asking her to be a reference AND not lose the friendship? Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer for that.

    I think that you are wise to understand early-on that you can’t just offer references willy-nilly to anyone and everyone you know.

    Reply
    1. Jessa

      Probably the best idea is “I’m sorry, I never recommend friends, even if they’re perfect for the job, if it doesn’t work out, it always screws up the friendship.”

      Reply
      1. A Dispatcher

        She already did recommend/refer this person once though. I mean I suppose OP could say this is a new decision she’s made after having been in the workforce for a bit of time now, but I am not sure it’s a great idea because it becomes problematic when/if OP does want to recommend someone else for something down the line, which is likely. Either she will have to not recommend someone who deserves it, or if she does end up recommending someone and lazy friend finds out, then it becomes very awkward.

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        1. AMT

          I agree. Lying would have a better chance of ruining the relationship than telling the truth would. Telling the truth might still end their friendship — some people just don’t take feedback well — but if my friend had a compelling reason not to recommend me, I think I’d want to know.

          Reply
        2. Anna

          Maybe if she said, “I’m sorry, I’ve decided not to recommend friends for positions. I’ve been burned in the past.” Too passive aggressive? :)

          Reply
      2. Stephanie

        Eh, that’s just avoiding the problem. Plus, OP’s coworker might benefit from hearing some honest feedback.

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        1. John

          Absolutely agreed. Unless this person is your only friend in the world, giving that feedback is a risk worth taking for the good of the person.

          And if she doesn’t react well? Geez, is she a friend if she expects you to recommend her when she was actually a pretty crappy employee?

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        2. Nichole

          This is exactly what friends are for. The friend may very well tell OP that there were some extenuating circumstances when they worked together, but now Friend is ready to step it up and get a fresh start. OP still wouldn’t be able to be a reference, but sometimes people don’t realize that other people can see it when they’re struggling. Knowing that others who ARE giving her references noticed the same thing as the OP can help Friend be more proactive in addressing any concerns future employers may run into, including stacking the deck with better references if this job was a fluke. Your former boss doesn’t care enough to tell you this, but your friend does.

          Reply
  2. pressure-based expression

    #3: I’m not an expert, but if I wanted to try negotiating, I’d ask for extra vacation days. I know that the company I work for will negotiate on them. And it’s pretty easy to bring up: “I have a big family spread across the country, and I’d like to be able to see them” etc. I mean, most people can relate to that, and it almost doesn’t even sound like you’re ‘negotiating’.

    If you’re successful, get it in writing.

    Reply
    1. Hooligan

      Hmm…. that might or might not work. In my experience vacay is part of a company wide policy, and you can’t do much with it. If it’s a large company, they’re going to have pretty set vacation policies and system to track PTO, so it’s not even physically possible to negotiate it. In my experience, the most I’ve been able to negotiate is a few weeks unpaid leave early in my tenure. One of my friends was once able to negotiate more. But she was going to a small consultancy that really wanted her for her specific skills – she had 4 weeks vacay at her old job, and she got that at the new job too. But it was a secret, and her colleagues were in the dark about this extra benefit. In any case, she had a lot more leverage than someone in their first job.

      Also, it sounds like #3 read the gym advice membership somewhere or heard it from someone, and it just sounds like incorrect advice. I’ve never heard of someone negotiating a gym membership. It’s always part of a benefits package, and you usually submit evidence that you go and get reimbursed (often as part of your health insurance).

      Here’s what I’ve been able to negotiate:
      * Salary – usually small increments of 3000-5000
      * Starting date – as late as possible because I try to go on vacation between jobs
      * Unpaid time off right after starting – I would get this in writing. Both times I did this, the manager/hr forgot, and I had to ask for the time off all over again

      Reply
      1. SystemsLady

        It also may be the case that if you negotiate for the extra vacation time employees typically earn at 5 years, for example, you won’t get an increase until 10 years or something like that.

        Though if the 5 year level is ideal for you, perhaps that’s not such a big deal.

        Reply
      2. Snowglobe

        I’ve been able to negotiate a higher signing bonus, but that was in an industry where signing bonuses are common.

        Reply
      3. Beezus

        I think negotiating extra vacation is more common than you realize. For salaried employees, it’s often less expensive than paying them more outright, because so many people work overtime before, after, or while providing coverage for vacation hours. Things get done anyway, the business gets covered, and it’s only an incremental expense if you have so many people that the vacation coverage actually requires additional headcount.

        I started at my company’s 3 year vacation accrual level. I didn’t get a bump at 3 years, though. I didn’t even negotiate it – I attempted to negotiate salary, and there was no room to do that, so my boss went to bat unasked to get me the additional vacay time instead.

        Reply
        1. Liz in a Library

          I’ll just throw in another voice who has successfully negotiated vacation time. It really depends on the company!

          Reply
      4. Sans

        I agree about the three things you’ve been able to negotiate – same here. I’ve tried negotiating paid vacation time but it’s never worked. I was able to get unpaid time twice, and with the second company, HR didn’t want the hassle of figuring out how to code unpaid time for an exempt employee, so they said “forget about it” and paid me anyway.

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      5. Alston

        When my boyfriend changed jobs he negotiated for a transit pass. They offered him the same salary he’d been receiving at old job, he told that sounded ok, but that his commuting costs would almost triple based on where they were located. So they bumped his pay correspondingly. I’ll bet the advice the LW saw said ask them to cover the cost of the membership, so basically an extra 100 a month or whatever. unless your old job did that I wouldn’t recommend it.

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        1. Stranger than Fiction

          I think it’s important, however, that Op 3, frames it like “since the salary is at the lower end of my range, i’d like to ask if it’s possible to get X instead…”. If he does negotiate. But, as has been discussed in recent posts, negotiating just for the sake of negotiating, is not necessary. He/she is, after all, just out of school.

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    2. Greg

      Yeah, negotiating vacation time really depends on the company policy. I’ve found the best way to be creative is to think of costs you’re going to incur as part of your job duties, even if they’re not typically reimbursable expenses, and see if they can cover them. I’m thinking of stuff like cell-phones and other electronics (or data plans), commuting costs, maybe even clothing budgets (if you’re going to need to meet with clients a lot and expand your professional wardrobe.)

      The key is, focus on things that will allow you to perform your job better. That way, you can pitch it to them as a smart investment for them to make in you. That doesn’t really apply to gym memberships.

      Reply
  3. A Dispatcher

    #1 – I am really curious about this part of OP’s question : “But what would be your advice for handling a situation with an employee who shows a red flag right after the hiring process is completed?”

    I think the advice given for this specific situation (which EW!! OP, thank goodness that worked itself out lest you have to work with him any longer than 4 hours) is great, but what about for other red flags which are not so egregious or cases when it just becomes apparent very early on that the employee is not a good fit and/or doesn’t end up being the kind of employee they presented themselves as during the hiring process? Is there a time frame or something one should adhere to before saying, “Hey, this isn’t going to work out?”

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It really varies depending on the specifics. In most cases, you can sit down with the person and say, “Here’s what I’ve noticed, here’s why it’s a big concern for me and a probable flag that this isn’t going to be the right fit for either of us, and let’s talk about what to do.” Depending on the specifics, you might frame it as “this is our mistake” (and provide severance accordingly). Or you might frame it as “here’s what we need from the role, I can give you a bit of time, but I want to be up-front with you that what I’m seeing makes me think that this might just not be the right fit, and I’m so sorry we didn’t realize this earlier.” Or in other cases — something really egregious — it might be a more final “We’ve made a mistake; this behavior is so out of sync with our culture that this just isn’t the right fit.”

      But it really varies depending on the details.

      Reply
      1. INTP

        I feel like in the specifics of this case, trying to have a discussion about it would result in the employee stating that they were not trying to ask out the supervisor, don’t make a habit of dating supervisors or underlings, just wanted to know the rules for future reference, etc. It might be one of the cases where it’s easier to just fire the new employee without specifying why. I’m not sure if there’s a way to have a conversation about how you’re concerned an employee will be even more inappropriate with his colleagues in the future that would change the decision of whether to keep them or not unless you’re willing to take promises that it will never happen again at face value.

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        1. Ops Analyst

          I don’t think to would need to be framed as the employee was hinting at asking the supervisor out. Just saying the question in and of itself is wildly inappropriate, especially 5 seconds after handing in your new hire paperwork. It really doesn’t matter why he asked, just that he did.

          I can think of few times anyone should get fired without explanation. Being fired within your first few minutes on the job requires it even more (I’m sure there are some circumstances where one shouldn’t explain, as with a possibly dangerous individual or something, but I don’t think that is the case here.) The employee clearly didn’t know this was inappropriate or he wouldn’t have asked it. So it’s an opportunity to give someone feedback that they obviously need.

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          1. fposte

            Yup. There’s no reason this has to turn into a conversation; you can even cut him off if he starts to explain what he didn’t mean and how he would never to reiterate that it doesn’t matter why, it’s still inappropriate, and it sends a message that he’s here for the wrong reasons, which is a bad start.

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    2. Sarahnova

      this is what probation periods are for, I think. I’d have a sit down as soon as possible to raise concerns, and let them go at the end of probation or earlier if things just weren’t right.

      Probationary periods are rarely used to their full potential, IMHO.

      Reply
  4. Adam

    #1 *Does double-take*

    That is…alarmingly brazen, which is about the nicest way I can think of to put that. Dating co-workers is a veritable field of land mines in its own right. If he doesn’t make it obvious that he’s joking (and even then…err…no…) asking that on your first day pushes the needle into full on purple alert.

    Reply
    1. pressure-based expression

      I’ll agree that dating a co-worker requires a certain amount of, ummm … “sophistication”? But it’s NOT an automatic “don’t do it!” kind of thing. I’ve seen polls that conclude that 10-20% of married couples met at work.

      Reply
      1. Samantha

        Dating a coworker is different than dating a supervisor. But asking about either your very first day on the job is going to come off very strange and inappropriate.

        Reply
        1. Fact & Fiction

          I agree. And it’s one thing if a relationship naturally develops (if it’s with a supervisor, I firmly believe one or both should then find a different job); it’s another entirely if someone is using that question to hit on their boss the first day of the job. Just ewwwwww.

          Reply
          1. Dynamic Beige

            I think though that that also depends on how old you are and what kind of industry it is. If you’re 16 and just got your first job at McD’s, your immediate supervisor could be a kid in your age bracket. And while a question like dating your supervisor would be just about the last thing I would expect coming out of a 16-year-old’s mouth, I can totally see how a certain kind of teen would get a job at the same place someone they liked was working. I wonder how old the people were in this situation (not that it matters because ew)

            If you’re out of college and eying your boss because you want an easier way up the ladder/way to keep from getting fired — ew. If you started working and it just happened that you fell in love then yes for the love of all that is holy and truthful and the sake of your colleagues, one of you transfer. Please.

            Reply
    2. Anonsie

      I’m not gonna lie, going through a whole hiring process and taking a new job just to see if you can get a date with the manager and then quitting immediately when they say no is a level of hustle I’ve never seen before.

      Reply
  5. A

    #4

    Alison, what are some actual ‘good’ weaknesses you can share in an interview? I’ve googled high and low for a ‘good’ answer for this and have nothing….probably since telling them the truth ‘I have formally diagnosed anxiety disorder and can succumb to stress super easily’ wills ee my never have a job ever…

    Reply
        1. annonymouse

          For me I’m honest but I also like to give an answer that could be solved if needed.

          I.e I’d say I haven’t had much experience with PowerPoint or photoshop. Is this going to be a problem?

          I work office jobs and sometimes it is but most of the time it isn’t.

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    1. Brightwanderer

      I actually have responded to that with “perfectionism” – but specifically I’ve explained that I mean it the way Alison does in her link, i.e. I can end up not finishing projects or even starting them because I’m too hung up on getting it perfect. Then I outline the various coping mechanisms I’ve put together for that (which largely include deadlines, point by point lists, and a part of my brain that I have trained to scream JUST PUT SOMETHING ON THE PAGE YOU CAN CHANGE IT LATER when required). It went over well in the last interview I had (which got me hired) and actually I’ve noticed that it’s something my manager remembers and is very good at calling me on – several times a well-timed “hey, maybe just do the non-perfect version” from her has helped me immensely.

      Reply
      1. Alex

        :-/. I’ve also given answers like “perfectionism” without using the word. Once I said: “I sometimes tend to be a bit obsessed with details. For example, when I have a piece of code that is good enough and does the job, I might still try to make it a bit faster, but the improvement might be too small to be necessary.”

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth West

          This is my answer too, except I say something like, “I get focused on details and sometimes forget to step back and look at how they fit into the whole picture. I make sure to factor in time to step back and look at it and see how the details fit, rather than getting them all done and then having to go back and do them over. Writing novels the way I do (in pieces instead of straight through) has really helped me to understand consistency. At some point, those bits all have to go together into a cohesive narrative.”

          Then they get off on “Ooh you write books? What are they about?” etc. etc. So sometimes I leave that part out, unless I feel like it would be a helpful example.

          Reply
      2. JB

        Yeah, I have that problem, too. For me, it’s not a problem with stopping, but it is a problem with making decisions and with letting go of something I’m working on. I have a hard time feeling comfortable that what I’ve done is as good as it can be and that I’ve really caught any possible problems with it. It’s an actual problem! And I work on it! I have a sign in my office that says “You cannot have certainty, and you don’t need it” (phrase picked up somewhere on the internet), and sometimes it actually helps.

        Like Alex, I try to describe the problem without saying “I’m a perfectionist” even though that’s what it is.

        Reply
      3. Ella

        Oh man, I have trouble with the starting too. It sucks. Things are so big inside my head, I’m slowly learning to just start doing something because that’s the only reliable way to assess what the project will actually entail.

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        1. Violet Rose

          I’m the same! I think it’s a combination of decision fatigue (deciding how the project breaks down) and just straight-up fear of big projects. So far, my most successful trick has been to set a timer and say, “Right, I’m going to take 5 minutes to brainstorm bite-sized tasks and then I will have a break.” Almost always, I’ll finish my 5-10 minutes with a direction and a to-do list, and then the actual starting is so much less scary. Because yeah, as you said, at some point you have to just start doing *some*thing :)

          Reply
        2. Brightwanderer

          Ha, yes, this! Sadly, while I’ve become quite good at defeating it in work situations, I’m still struggling to work it out in creative hobbies… how does “big, sweeping, dramatic, yet vague in certain key points” novel concept turn into novel? Uh… well, I’ve written a lot of Chapter Ones…

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      4. The IT Manager

        I still think “perfectionism” is a disingenuous answer because perfectionism is not a weakness. The weakness is the inability to start or inability to finish or knowing when something is good enough. The impact of this perfectionism is the actual weakness and should be the answer to the question.

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        1. Anx

          I disagree with this.

          Attention to detail and high achievement don’t cross over into perfectionism until there is some sort of negative interference with your work or behavior.

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    2. Ann Furthermore

      My usual answer is that I can get too mired down in the details. I’m an IT nerd with an accounting degree, so I’m a very detail-oriented person. For the type of work I do, that’s a good trait to have. But sometimes you need to step back and look at the big picture, and at times I do have trouble knowing when to do that. But it’s something I’m aware of, and over time I’ve gotten better about letting go of little things that won’t matter in the long run, and moving forward.

      Reply
      1. Lily in NYC

        Do you think it would be weird to say that “I’m uncomfortable asking people for money” as a weakness? I’m an executive assistant so it comes with the territory – people assume I just love to plan work parties and that I can’t wait to shake down coworkers for donations. There is nothing I hate doing more. And I had a boss who expected me to get involved with her charities (meaning, ask for favors and money from high-powered strangers). I’d like to use it as a weakness because a. it’s true. b. I don’t want to work there if it’s expected c. using it as a weakness is probably a better way to find out if it’s a component of the job than coming straight out and asking.
        But I don’t know if it’s a true weakness or will just be seen as something I don’t enjoy.

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        1. Spiky Plant

          Eh, I wouldn’t say its a weakness, because it could be something you do well but hate doing. To me, a weakness is something you don’t really do well, even if you’re trying.

          But I would definitely ask about that in the section of the interview where the manager asks if you have any questions for them!

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        2. AVP

          I think it can be a true weakness. I hate it, too, but in my job I often have to follow up on invoices and ask strangers and it’s by far my least favorite thing on my to-do list. The one thing that motivates me is that the only thing I hate more than doing the task is having an un-done “to do” item on my list.

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    3. the gold digger

      I hate detail work but somehow get stuck with it. I make mistakes easily when ticking and tying numbers in strategic plans (especially because plan numbers change a lot and have no grounding in reality). So what I say – and this is true – is that I know I am crummy with super detail work so I create mechanisms to double-check and triple-check everything. I also try to avoid jobs that require a lot of detail work.

      Reply
    4. Sunflower

      I used to be a student manager and I realized that I was not good at exercising authority over people. It really did used to make me really uncomfortable, I’d avoid it and it was something my manager noted a lot in my evaluations. However, I also knew when I was interviewing that there was little chance I’d be coming into a role that required a lot of that. Also, 4 years later, I’m totally different and would have no problem telling people what to do now(lol) so I’m on the search for a new weakness!

      Reply
      1. Sunflower

        Just to add – I think the key to remember here is that you really don’t want to get stuck in a job you can’t do or you’d hate so it really is important to give an answer that really does pertain to you. I think saying something like ‘I have a tendency to get stressed out easily but I’m doing X, y, and z to work on that’. Also Not every job or environment is looking for someone who can handle a ton without stressing out- in fact, I’ve interviewed for a lot of jobs(mostly universities) where they’ve told me ‘Things don’t change a lot here, things move really slow, are you okay with that?’

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    5. C Average

      I’ve never been asked this question, but I’ve thought about it a lot and here are a few of the possibilities I’ve come up with:

      –I’m easily distracted; it’s just plain in my nature. No matter what I’m working on, if there’s something going on in the periphery, I’m going to be interested in it. I’ve worked really hard to learn to manage this effectively and even to leverage it in useful ways. Day to day, I’ve gotten quite adept at switching tasks efficiently, so if I’m interrupted or distracted, I can return to my main focus without too much transition time. And I’ve learned to block out distractions when I truly need to focus on one thing only, sometimes by retreating to a quiet space or listening to music or turning off email notifications. On the plus side, I’m almost always available for ad hoc discussions or drive-by questions, and I find that these interactions can be really valuable when you regard them as an opportunity to connect with colleagues rather than an unwanted distraction.

      –On the flip side, I’m occasionally TOO focused, usually on individual projects about which I’m particularly passionate. If, for example, I’m doing a piece of writing with complex html formatting, I can utterly forget that I’m part of a team, or even part of a country, world, or universe. These periods are extremely productive from an output standpoint, but I sometimes struggle to adapt back to a collaborative mindset when I’m emerging from one of these focused periods.

      Reply
      1. Pontoon Pirate

        That’s also my weakness, to an extent: I often have a hard time re-prioritizing when I’ve become focused on a specific task list, especially when it includes a mix of short-term and long-term projects. I find myself putting off the long-term projects to deal with whatever immediately crosses my desk. I’m teaching myself to set more boundaries around requests where appropriate and be comfortable closing my door and letting folks know my deadlines today don’t include their deadlines (YMMV as to how well I could get away with this at another company).

        My secret weakness is I have no poker face and find it difficult to hide my reaction to a lot of the nonsense I end up dealing with owing to the policies, politics and practices of my particular company.

        Reply
      2. Beezus

        I’m the same way. I’m super duper distractable with problem solving work. Dangle a problem in front of me and tell me it’s super hard and it probably can’t be done, and I’m going to have a really hard time working on anything else. (Fun problems I’ve solved have included getting things out of a closed, locked up warehouse on a Saturday morning without calling anyone from management, getting materials from the East Coast to the Midwest in 10 hours – that one involved commandeering the company plane – and taking information from five sources in two different file formats, and mashing it together to make one actionable report that can be updated in less than 30 minutes a day.)

        Reply
        1. C Average

          YES. The weirder and more difficult the problem, the more compelling it seems to DO THAT NOW. Don’t bother me with mundane stuff when there’s crazy stuff to deal with!

          I’ve tackled some file-format challenges, too. Thank God for Notepad.

          I would love to hear the back story on your fun problem anecdotes, especially the one involving the company plane.

          Reply
          1. Lore

            Totally. I also have a somewhat unrealistic bias toward action–so small tasks, or even big ones, that I can complete without getting feedback from eight other people are always going to be preferable to the things where I can’t do anything but feed information to someone else and then wait for it to be acted upon. I’ve had to create a very elaborate structure of reminders to enable me to get stuff out of my mind while I’m in waiting mode, but still not forget about it.

            Reply
            1. C Average

              YES–oh, man, I so relate to this. I’ve had to really discipline myself to tackle what I call the matryoshka tasks (the ones with tasks within tasks within tasks within tasks) rather than procrastinating them in favor of more linear tasks.

              Reply
    6. Spiky Plant

      It’s been a minute since I was asked this, but now, I’d probably say that I can’t do basic math in my head. I literally count on my fingers. Professionally, I get around it by using Excel for everything; I almost never trust my own brain for anything more complicated than adding together two single-digit numbers.

      Reply
      1. C Average

        For what it’s worth, I can do basic math in my head really well (thanks, cocktail waitress gig in my early twenties!) and while it’s sometimes handy, I can’t think of that many situations where it’s been critical to my success. It’s satisfying to be able to come up with an answer in meetings before the people with the calculators, but I don’t think it’s gotten me ahead professionally or changed anyone’s perception of me.

        Reply
      2. Elizabeth West

        Me either–I’m LD in math, but I can’t say that in an interview. I try to find out by asking questions whether the job would have accounting or budgeting or bookkeeping functions.

        Reply
        1. Loose Seal

          I actually do say it in interviews. Every job I’ve ever had (as a social worker) has always tried to get me to handle numbers eventually, whether it’s budget work or data collecting for grant renewals. I’ve found that if I say in interviews that I have dyscalculia, the interviewer hears it but doesn’t consider it a hinderance since they aren’t planning to give me number work right then. Six months after hire, when they’ve realized that I’m good at keeping a lot of balls in the air, they forget about the dyscalculia and try to assign me a number-heavy task. I remind them about the LD and they give the task to someone else.

          Of course, social work is generally made up of people who don’t tend to judge others for having LDs or other mental health issues so I feel comfortable saying it in that venue. But if I were interviewing outside the field, I’d probably still mention it in interviews because I’d rather not be hired for the job if it’s going to have a lot of numbers in it.

          Reply
    7. Amy Farrah Fowler

      I’ve also used weaknesses that weren’t especially necessary skills in the job. For example, for a telecommuting job that was mostly computer based, I talked about how I’m not especially good with keeping up with paper filing. I’m much more skilled at keeping my computer files organized because when you close them, they always go back where they’re supposed to. However, the tedium of putting paper files back into filing cabinets only to have them pulled out to add new papers to them and then put back away… I seriously avoid that even when there’s nothing else pressing to be done.

      Reply
    8. JayemGriffin

      This is something I’ve been thinking about for my someday job search, and my answer is that I do not handle boredom well. If there’s nothing for me to do, I will ask coworkers if I can help with their workload (good way to handle this!), work on my own pet projects (okay), or poke around and start ‘fixing’ things (BAD).

      Reply
  6. Elder Dog

    #1 I’d be cautious saying anything about how appropriate asking if asking out a supervisor might be, and stick to “coworkers dating is against policy” or something similar.
    You don’t want to leave yourself open to the classic response “You thought I was asking you out? Boy you have a high opinion of yourself. I may have to report you for harassing me.” Gas-lighting is a really common way for creepers to react when caught out being creepy.

    Reply
    1. Ben Around

      I was thinking along the same lines — creeps can be expert shape-shifters.

      And wow, that’s creepy.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      But the manager doesn’t have to allow herself to be gaslighted. The question is inappropriate and anyone reasonable looking at that exchange would know it was inappropriate. The manager doesn’t have to prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt; she’s allowed to use her own judgment on this.

      The problem with just sticking to answering the question is that that would require ignoring a wildly inappropriate remark and troubling information this person has just revealed about himself.

      Reply
    3. Zillah

      I don’t think people should ubiquitously avoid calling creepers on inappropriate behavior because the creeper might try to gaslight them. Why on earth would the OP turn power over to him like that when the OP was the supervisor?

      Reply
      1. Ben Around

        My not-very-well-formed thought is more along the lines of: If I were in the supervisor’s shoes, I wouldn’t want to conversation to be about me. I’d see that as giving power to the creep.

        And wow, the initial post is one of the weirder things I’ve read in a while.

        Reply
        1. Zillah

          I guess I can kind of see what you’re saying in theory – though I actually think that there’s value in making it about you because IMO, it’s important to make it clear that what you’re objecting to isn’t just a theory – but regardless, I don’t think that telling someone “That’s wildly inappropriate” makes it about you at all. “That makes me feel uncomfortable” might, but “That’s wildly inappropriate” keeps the focus on him, IMO.

          Reply
        2. fposte

          That’s not him taking power, though; that’s him flailing when he’s caught. Remember, the OP is literally the boss of him. At that point it’s up to the OP (in theory, at this point) whether she’d want to fire him on the spot or say “If I ever hear you saying anything like this again, you’re out.” Personally, I think we’re describing a job where it’s not all that hard to find people, and if he’s starting to lie and throw blame after only a few hours I’d probably fire him.

          Reply
    4. LBK

      Does gaslighting really apply here? I was under the impression that requires a serious commitment to warping someone’s mentality to where they no longer believe their own perception, like over the course of an abusive relationship. One creepy dude’s comment isn’t enough to do that unless you’re wildly gullible. Just call it what it is: jackassery. No need to conflate it with what’s essentially brainwashing.

      Reply
      1. JB

        I think of gaslighting as whenever you try to convince someone that they are imagining things that really happened for your own purposes. And the technique they were describing (wow, you thought I was actually asking you out?) happens a looooot. And it doesn’t only affect wildly gullible people, either. When you’re trained your whole life not to think too highly of yourself and certainly not to appear to think highly of yourself, someone (apparently) calling you out on doing just that can have an effect. And especially since this strategy is not uncommon, for many of us it’s happened quite a few times in our lives. I’m not wildly gullible, but certainly when I was in my 20s, I thought “did I just imagine he was asking me out?” more than once.

        But I agree with AAM here that creepy dude should be confronted regardless of whether he might try to pull that.

        Reply
        1. some1

          This. It doesn’t have to be a pattern to be gaslighting.

          And, honestly, the only times this has happened to me is when the guy asking me was not available. So when he responded with, “Get over yourself” he was trying to deflect, gaslight and punish. “I’m not a jerk for trying to cheat on my wife; you’re conceited for thinking I was interested in you.”

          Reply
        2. LBK

          I guess I just don’t agree that one instance of questioning your perception of an event rises to the level of gaslighting, even if the person that led you to question it is a jackass or a creep. Wondering if you misread a scenario (even if you didn’t) isn’t the same as someone convincing you that you did.

          Reply
          1. JB

            I’m specifically referring to the person intentionally trying to convince you that you misread it, not instances where I (or someone else) just started second-guessing myself on my own. That’s a creepy person power-play move, and I consider it gaslighting. So do a lot of people. You can disagree that one instance of it qualifies as gaslighting, but I can’t go along with it just being someone being a jackass. There’s an extra level of creepiness to those kinds of behaviors. And given that women are subjected to a whole lot of this kind of behavior over the course of their lives, and it’s specifically designed to undermine their confidence and ability to stand up for themselves, even if this one guy just did it one time to this particular woman, it’s still contributing to the overall problem, so I’m fine with calling it gaslighting. But I think we’re just working with different definitions.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              Really, I think the cause of the disagreement here is that I think you’re assigning too much agency to many of those reactions, which often come out of defensiveness and flailing (as fposte put it) rather than intentional manipulation. Yes, there are absolutely PUAs and others out there who have systems in place where they purposely react this way to garner a certain response. However, I think the vast majority of the time it’s a reflexive defense mechanism to deal with rejection, especially since the whole PUA scheme is relatively recent and these kinds of responses have existed for eons. That’s where I really disagree that it’s gaslighting because I can’t agree that someone could gaslight unintentionally.

              That doesn’t mean that I think it’s a defensible behavior because the result can still be psychologically influential, but I also don’t think that every person who does it is intentionally being a manipulative creep and I’d venture that it’s the minority who are.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                I agree with this, and I’d add that the longer pattern is how you differentiate the manipulator from the panicky “NO U.”

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  I think it’s also important to not assign agency or intention to every instance because that’s how we end up with things like #NotAllMen – ie, people who reject the idea that their natural behavior might be problematic because they’re painted with the same brush as people who are behaving that way on purpose. It discourages self-awareness and self-examination.

              2. mel

                Intent isn’t a great place to draw lines, though. A good deal of daily sexism and racism is unintentional, but that doesn’t make it non-existent nor excuses it from being called-out. People are manipulative without intention and it would be a good practice to actually change bad behaviours instead of just filing them under degrees of intention.

                #notallgaslighters

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  I just commented about this above, but the point isn’t that you excuse people who aren’t doing it on purpose. The point is that you engage them from that perspective, because if you raise the issue without making the delineation (eg referring to any instance of the behavior as gaslighting, when that implies a level of intention) then you turn off the people who don’t realize they’re doing it intentionally. The idea should be to encourage them to self-examine and see if they’re exhibiting that behavior, not to conflate their behavior with the people who are aware they’re doing it because they’ve chosen to.

                2. fposte

                  The #notallgaslighters thing is amusing, but I don’t know where that phrase is going. Even if I have issues with the #notallmen thing, I at least know what it’s saying–that not all men do that. “Gaslighting” is describing a behavior–by definition all gaslighters are gaslighters. So your kid who says “But you said I could!” is as much as a gaslighter as the guy who tells his wife it’s all her fault that everybody hates them and that he gets so mad. And I think that makes the term not useful, because it’s not then describing abuse then–it’s just about a deflection mechanism that can be childish and isolated.

        1. fposte

          I’d be inclined to agree; otherwise it happens so frequently as to dilute the term. It would mean a lot of child gaslighting.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Yeah, it seems like the latest version of ADD or OCD, ie a term that gets thrown around to describe behaviors similar to those related to the core concept of the term, rather than using it to describe that core concept itself.

            Reply
    5. Kelly L.

      Sadly, that’s the first place my mind went too. I feel like I’ve met This Guy. Several This Guys over the years, really.

      Reply
    6. AntherHRPro

      As a manager, you have to give feedback – no matter how uncomfortable it is. You aren’t doing anyone any favors by holding back. In this type of situation, you tell the employee that it is against company policy AND that is a highly inappropriate question.

      By telling the individual that the comment was inappropriate you are actually helping them understand boundaries.

      Reply
    7. fposte

      You just can’t manage out of fear like that. This is a dumb guy, and if he says dumb things it’s hardly surprising. That shouldn’t keep the manager from saying reasonable and appropriate things.

      Reply
      1. JB

        That’s true. Whatever he might have said or done in response, you still have to address is. And if he reacted badly, that’s just another reason not to keep him around.

        Reply
    8. HQ

      According to our company’s sexual harassment policy, what matters is the victim’s perception of the behavior, not the perpetrator’s intent. (Although, it is permissible to ask a co-worker out on a date once without it being considered sexual harassment.)

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Sounds like it’s not entirely based on perception, then, since a single query doesn’t count as harassment whether it’s perceived as such or not.

        In general, policies that include language like that mean that they get to tell Percival to stay the hell away from Bob whether Percival claims he was joking or not. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get in trouble if Bob feels you’re harassing him by using the copier suggestively.

        Reply
        1. HQ

          True. I guess it’s an effort to be fair to both sides.

          I had a friend who received a sexual harassment complaint in her first job out of college (she worked for a different company than I). She managed the company fitness center, and an employee complained that some of the songs on the gym radio were sexually inappropriate. She told him that this was the radio station the employees had voted for, and if he didn’t like the music he could wear headphones.
          In response, the man filed a sexual harassment complaint against her. Thankfully I don’t think she was disciplined, but still–what a horrible thing to have in your file!

          I’m going to be giggling about the copy machine and Bob all day. :)

          Reply
    9. Observer

      As Allison says, she doesn’t have to allow the gaslighting to happen. I would probably respond with “It doesn’t matter who you were asking about. It’s still a wildly inappropriate question.” Or, if I were in the right mood “Go right ahead and report it.” (That assumes that the higher ups have any sense.)

      Reply
    10. INTP

      That’s why I think it might be a situation where it would be justified to fire without discussing the issue. Not because the supervisor has to listen to that reasoning or tolerate the attempt to gaslight – just because I don’t see the value in having a discussion when it’s probably going to devolve into that and you know going in that you aren’t going to take the employee’s protestations of innocence (or admission of guilt but promises to never ever do it again) at face value. Especially if that person might create a headache for everyone by trying to file a sexual harassment claim themselves or something. Don’t give a creep any words or info to twist around.

      Reply
  7. Stephanie

    #3: If you get an offer, maybe you could ask about the health insurance? Sometimes policies will provide gym membership subsidies or discounts?

    Also, you don’t have to negotiate if you’re genuinely ok with the offer (although it sounds like you might not be). As a new grad, you might not have a ton of leverage during negotiations.

    Reply
    1. Ella

      I currently have an amazingly cheap plan (I work for the county government so they can cut a good deal with a county hospital) so I suspect that my next job will entail some kind of, “In order for my take-home pay to be roughly on par with what I’m making now, I need my wages to increase by $X to offset the $Y increase in my health plan” conversation.

      Reply
    2. Artemesia

      Something about ‘gym membership’ for a rank beginner just comes across as naive and entitled. Sure businesses often provide club memberships for the C suite, but the guy starting at the bottom is going to look ridiculous asking for perks like this. Asking for more money is standard, vacation days — not a bad idea to probe a bit there as this is a commonly negotiable item, but gym membership is not a standard negotiable perk for those at the bottom. Even a small bump in salary adds up. When I started my first post PhD job 40 years ago I got $16500. My peer with identical qualifications who didn’t negotiate got $16000. It wasn’t much, but it adds up over time.

      Reply
      1. Judy

        I’d say asking for gym membership for an entry level employee is not a good plan. But I’ve worked several places that everyone has gym membership perks. Either a subsidy ($20-$50 a month) for everyone, or membership at a certain gym. My current employer pays the single person dues for a local gym, if you want a family membership, you have to pay the difference. My last two employers gave a subsidy if you showed you went to any gym a certain number of times in a month, which was somewhat annoying to file the paperwork each month.

        Reply
  8. Tom

    #1 isn’t wildly innapropriate! The company has rules about dating, but won’t tell you? That would be unfair as hell. His timing was poor, but if you have rules it’s not unacceptable to ask about them.

    Also I think it’s fair to ask about #3, heavily depending on the company. Some companies (like my previous one) were full of health nuts, and we were all active exercise-y people, so a company funded gym membership wouldn’t have been unreasonable to discuss. That said, it’s normally ~£35 p/m here, so it might not be worth the effort. (flip side of that coin: it’s ~£35 p/m, it’s not hard for the job to cover at all).

    Reply
    1. Apollo Warbucks

      Re: #1 it’s not the question its slef that is inappropriate but the lack of judgement involved in asking in that manner and so soon after starting work at the company.

      If he wanted to find out about the rules then he could have just asked for a copy of the employee hand book, he made a point of going to the boss and hinting they wanted a relationship with them.

      It’s a very bad signal for the employee to be sending to people that don’t know them well

      Reply
    2. Zillah

      #1 isn’t wildly innapropriate! The company has rules about dating, but won’t tell you? That would be unfair as hell. His timing was poor, but if you have rules it’s not unacceptable to ask about them.

      Completely disagree. Because here’s the thing: he asked a very specific question.

      He didn’t say, “Hey, I’d just like to know for future reference in case it comes up because I know every workplace does it differently – what’s the company’s policy for dating coworkers?” That would have been poor judgment – not because he wanted to know the answer, but because it sends the wrong impression on your first day and there are often more tactful ways to figure out the answer if you’re patient (e.g., employee handbook, observing if there are any relationships between coworkers, asking people as you become friendly with them, etc.). However, it wouldn’t have necessarily read to me as something creepy or sinister – we’ve all had cringeworthy moments where we asked a question at a really bad time.

      But he didn’t say that. He asked about company policy for employees dating their supervisors. That’s creepy. That’s really creepy. Presumably, he only had one supervisor: the OP. The question was about them. And, it’s also just a bizarre question because while company policy on dating coworkers varies pretty widely, most companies are not okay with employees dating their supervisors. It’s so far outside the realms of normal that it’s creepy on those grounds alone.

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth the Ginger

        Yes, it’s like if I asked the barista at the coffee shop, “So, are you allowed to date customers?”
        I’d be pretty obviously not just making small talk about corporate policy – it’d clearly be a hint. That’s possibly mildly inappropriate between me and the barista, but wildly inappropriate to do to your new supervisor.

        Reply
        1. just another techie

          It’s even more wildly inappropriate to do to your barista because the barista can’t tell you off or react in horror to the creepiness. A lot of managers will require that baristas and other front of house staff endure customer flirting/creeping or will even require that they flirt back. They have absolutely zero power in the interaction. Your boss, on the other hand, typically has all the power, or at least most of it, and can fire the creepy creepy employee.

          Reply
          1. Kat

            Those managers seriously suck. I’ve stepped in a few times and told a customer to leave my employees alone. The younger females all felt trapped and like they couldn’t say anything. I sat down with them and explained that they would encounter rude and angry people and shouldn’t treat them poorly, but they also did not have to put up with verbal abuse, physical aggression, or sexual harrassment and it was ok to refuse a customer if it was necessary. I also told them to step away and grab me or another manager if they ever felt unsafe or unable to stand up for themselves.

            Reply
            1. Just Another Techie

              That makes me really happy to hear. I worked a string of barista and waitressing jobs throughout high school and college, and attitudes like yours were few and far between. :(

              Reply
            2. OriginalEmma

              +100. My manager from my first part-time job will always be dear to me because of how he empowered us to deal with creeps, jerks and other unpleasant customers. He also had the eagle-eye and stepped in when it appeared a customer was creepin’. Good man.

              Reply
          2. Elizabeth the Ginger

            Fair enough. It’s inappropriate for different reasons, but both are bad. I do think it might be okay to ask out your barista ONCE, if they’ve been friendly/flirty for a while, AND you indicate that it is totally okay if they’re not interested… but it’s never okay to ask out your current supervisor.

            Reply
            1. Traveler

              Just don’t do it while your son, who is the same age as the barista is standing next to you dying of mortification.

              Reply
        2. Observer

          I’m going to agree with Just another techie. As the customer, you are in a position of power relative to the barista, and in many workplaces, that means she can’t push back.Taking advantage of that is wildly inappropriate in a different way.

          Reply
          1. Verde

            Not any place I ever worked, retail or bartending – inappropriate comments and attempts to flirt or more were put down quickly and fiercely. My only job is to ring up your records or get you a drink – touch me or speak to me or any of the other staff inappropriately and you’re gone.

            Reply
      2. Ann O'Nemity

        Totally agree with Zillah. Asking your supervisor about the company policy on dating supervisors comes across like a creepy pickup line.

        The only exception I can think of is if the employer gave some sort of context. Such as, “Does this company have a policy on employees dating supervisors? The only reason I ask is because a previous employer did not have such a policy, and it caused some discomfort for the rest of us on the team.” Even then, it would probably be somewhat awkward, but at least it wouldn’t have the creepy vibe.

        Reply
    3. Marzipan

      The things that make it wildly inappropriate were both the timing *and* the fact that he asked specifically about the rules around employees dating their supervisors, when OP #1 was that supervisor.

      The timing – well, the only context where I can see it being reasonable to outright ask an employer right at the outset about their rules on employees dating would be if you were already dating another employee of that company when you were offered a job there, and needed the information in order to make decisions about your future. And in that context, you’d ask before accepting the job, not on your first day. I agree with you that it’s not fair for companies to have rules they don’t tell their employees about, but in any context other than the one I’ve just described, *immediately* asking about the rules for dating other employees is inherently pretty creepy, because it strongly implies that your main interest in being there isn’t work-related at all, which is going to send up all sorts of red flags for the employer.

      And specifically asking your supervisor – who you have only recently met, and have no existing background with – what the rules are about employees and supervisors dating? Yep, that’s wildly inappropriate.

      I think I’d be tempted to go down the “Excuse me?” “I’m sorry, I’m not quite clear what you’re asking?” route, personally.

      Reply
      1. thisisit

        i agree with this. but also – if you were dating someone who was already an employee of the company, i’d hope they’d already looked into the dating coworkers bit.

        Reply
    4. MK

      Quite apart from what everyone else said, which I completely agree with, especially Zillah, both those questions would jar a new boss because it shows your focus as not being on the job.

      Yes, dating coworkers happens all the time, but reasonable people who aspire to prefessionalism don’t intentionally look for potential partners among their coworkers. Most managers accept it can happen, but no one would be pleased with an employee who agressively looks for dates in the workplace; and asking about it on your first day does indicate that it’s at the forefront of your mind.

      As for the jum membership, to be frank, it comes off as a bit frivolous to me. As in, seriously, this is such a priority for you that you are spending negotiating capital on it? The only way this would make some sense to me would be if the job was in a related field.

      Anyway, in both cases it’s the specificity that jars me. Don’t ask about dating, ask for the employee handbook; if there isn’t one, ask if there are generally accepted rules of behavior; this will make you look eager to fit in with the culture instead of creepy. Don’t ask about jym memberships, ask for information about the benefits package, which is normal and a practical thing to do.

      Reply
      1. thisisit

        i used to work at a place where people were constantly hitting on coworkers. there was a lot of dating (and more casual than dating) so i guess maybe it set up a culture where it was totally cool to just ask people out (politely or less so). in 2 years, i was asked out/hit on/propositioned by 4 people in my own dept, 3 in another dept (in person, one repeatedly), and 2 people in yet another dept (1 by email after several creepy emails in which he called me “beautiful”, like, as a pet name). i did actually date someone in yet another dept (2 dates), but, workplace aside, his was a standard and respectful request.

        it was my first job out of college and i handled it the way i’d handle it at a bar or a club – rather forcefully. :) but it was so frustrating and interfered so much with work. i wish i had known then how to make management address it (maybe starting with some standard sexual harassment classes??).

        Reply
        1. AMD

          That sounds really dysfunctional. Was it happening to others as well? Were you in a minority gender-wise?

          Reply
          1. thisisit

            it was a pretty mixed crew, gender, race, etc. just… really casual. in the start-up heyday, when we were all hip and relaxed about stuff.

            Reply
        2. MK

          The thing is that, even if dating coworkers is not against company policy, it isn’t generally a good idea. There was serious potential for trouble at some point. Sure, we are human and sometimes attraction happens, but to go looking to it?

          Reply
          1. thisisit

            in my more recent place of employment, there were several workplace relationships. as far as i know, there were never any issues with it. i had a co-worker who was dating someone in another department, but otherwise i heard things through the grapevine. i wouldn’t go that route personally (i like to keep work and personal life separate for the most part these days), but i wouldn’t put a blanket prohibition on it.

            Reply
          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            Also, this isn’t about dating coworkers; it’s about dating your MANAGER, which is a whole different ballgame. Most companies prohibit it because of harassment issues and power dynamics. It’s wildly inappropriate for a manager to date someone they manage.

            Reply
        3. Allison

          In my opinion, that seems kind of dumb. Not dating co-workers per se, sometimes people fall for each other, it happens. But an environment where people are constantly propositioning each other, as though people are actively looking for love (or something else) at work . . . dating/hooking up with co-workers is a huge risk. Even if the relationship doesn’t totally crash and burn, there are usually some hurt feelings at least one person needs to deal with, and it’s awfully hard to heal from a breakup when you have to see the person 5 days a week.

          Look, I like Mad Men, but I wouldn’t want to actually work in an office where guys were constantly hitting on me. If I wanted that, I’d got to a sketchy bar by myself.

          Reply
          1. thisisit

            well i don’t think anyone is advocating for this sort of workplace. at least i hope not.

            we also had no dress code initially. i distinctly remember showing up for work in pajamas at least once.

            i don’t think the owners were aiming for dysfunction, but in this drive to be cool and trendy and casual, these are the sorts of shenanigans that go down. and not shutting it down makes for a difficult workplace in which to get actual work done.

            Reply
            1. Jean

              >i distinctly remember showing up for work in pajamas at least once.

              Whoa Nelly! I must be getting old. Why else would I be so shocked at this idea? Of course, my idea of pajamas = sleeping in an ancient nightgown or T-shirt freebie from an event at my husband’s workplace. Neither option is remotely workplace-appropriate.

              Reply
          2. catsAreCool

            My rules for dating at work are:
            – Never date a supervisor or subordinate
            – Only date someone at work if it will be possible to avoid that person for a while if it doesn’t work out
            – Only date single guys (actually this is a general rule)

            Reply
      2. jag

        “reasonable people who aspire to prefessionalism don’t intentionally look for potential partners among their coworkers.”

        Generally, but there are exceptions. If the employer is among the largest employers in the place (university town, factory town, etc) then that might be most appropriate place to look. Certainly people will look beyond but naturally a lot of looking will be within the same company/organization.

        Reply
      3. Hillary

        Sometimes the circumstances can result in a lot of coworker relationships. I work for a large private company where a lot of people live in the same towns. It’s the only place I’ve worked where every HR form includes instructions on how to fill it out if you’re married to another employee.

        There are specific policies about supervision of any first-degree and second-degree relatives, and generally speaking, people don’t date or marry within their departments (which is informally frowned upon). But dating someone from another work center in the plant? Or a guy working in the plant while his wife’s in one of the call centers (or vice versa)? It happens.

        Reply
    5. Katie the Fed

      ??
      Of course it’s unacceptable to ask about them. There are probably lots of things the company had rules on but are so common sense they don’t need to be discussed, especially on the first day:
      – what are the rules about dealing drugs from my office?
      – what are the rules about having a pet monkey at my desk?
      – what are the rules about assembling a small bomb at my desk?

      Reply
      1. Phyllis

        A former supervisor termed stuff like that as “It’s not possible to think of all the things to tell people not to do”.

        Reply
            1. Verde

              +1
              In my bowling league, we have rule #11 (our first non-house rule) – the Wil Wheaton Rule: Don’t be a dick.

              Reply
      2. Macedon

        In those particular cases, I heartily advise:

        1 ) acceptable, as long as HQ gets a minimum 15% discount on all purchases
        2) only if you can guarantee that the monkey will be provided with a permanent typewriter and an immediate contact list of all our clients
        3) on Wednesdays, we accept pink explosives

        Reply
      3. TotesMaGoats

        But what if the monkey is a certified assistance animal?

        Not even kidding. My FIL worked at SSA for many, many years in labor relations and one employee had a monkey as an assistance animal…until it bit someone and, you guessed it, threw feces.

        Reply
      4. Connie-Lynne

        Heh. You remind me of the time I had to bring my practice swords to work. I carpooled, so I couldn’t just leave them in the trunk, and I had swordfighting practice after work, about 5 min away from my place of employment.

        So I brought them in and I checked them at the security desk. The guards were really uncomfortable, and were going to tell me I couldn’t bring them in, but I had already been dropped off by my carpool, so I couldn’t really leave.

        I was 21, I think. It hadn’t dawned on me that one doesn’t bring weapons into work and hand them to the security guard.

        Reply
    6. Artemesia

      If that isn’t wildly inappropriate, what would be? He is asking his BOSS on his first day of work if it is okay to date the BOSS. Creepsville. He didn’t asks a generic question about policies of the organization about dating.

      Reply
    7. Nerdling

      #1. Wat? No, really, wat? It’s not inappropriate to ask your boss if there are rules that preclude you from dating him or her? Within a short time of having met the person? If that’s not inappropriate, then I want off this planet.

      Reply
    8. HRish Dude

      Based on your responses to this – did you recently quit a job after four hours due to unexpected physical labor?

      Reply
    9. OfficePrincess

      “I was wondering, is there a company handbook I should read or a list of policies I should know about?” is totally ok to say to your boss on your first day.

      “Are there any rules that say I can’t date you?” is very much not ok to say to your boss (or anyone you’ve just met professionally, really).

      If there’s one thing we talk about here, it’s that how you say things and the context you say them in matters.

      Reply
    10. Stranger than Fiction

      Along these lines, I have to admit, at first I read it as any supervisor, not particularly the Op. Maybe this guy is young and naive, and had his eyes on another/different supervisor??

      Reply
      1. fposte

        If it’s so important to him that it’s one of the first things he asks about after being hired, that sounds mighty stalkery, since it’s not like he’s gotten to know his co-workers yet. So I’m still leaning toward young and naive and fired.

        Reply
  9. eemmzz

    #4 OP try to think of a genuine weakness. The old “I’m too hard on myself” would make me think that you aren’t able to truly evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses.

    My weakness is I tend to be really nervous about public speaking and try to avoid it. This includes presenting to small groups. I’m combatting it as one of my objectives – my line manager and I have said I will do a knowledge sharing session before the end of Q2 on a topic of my choice.

    I work as a software developer so public speaking isn’t on the cards often but you can end up needing to present work you’ve done to stakeholders or peers so it’s not a weakness that is a deal breaker for a potential employer (whereas my weaknesses of “I hate mornings” is honest but isn’t a good idea to share in an interview!)

    Reply
    1. Katie the Fed

      That’s my big weakness too. People don’t believe me when I tell them because I’m pretty social normally, but then they see me in front of a room and are like “oh….yeah…you’re right.” Sigh.

      Reply
    2. Windchime

      I try to give a real weakness–and to be honest, I have a lot. I’m easily distracted by noise that I can’t control (so I use noise-cancelling headphones to deal with it). I am still searching for an organizational system that works for me (so I have lots of notes and reminders scattered about).

      There are ways to state a real, honest weakness in a way to acknowledge that you’ve actually thought about it and have ways to cope with the weakness.

      I honestly roll my eyes when I hear the perfectionism “weakness”.

      Reply
    3. Sharm

      This is exactly my weakness and I was coming here to post. I thought it was just me! Even team meetings give me anxiety. It’s like when I was a kid in school and was always afraid to get called on. The thing is, back then, I knew the answers but was just shy. Now as an adult, there’s rarely a “right” answer. I am scared to give my opinion because I feel like my inarticulation will make others doubt my capability. Or, that they think I’m stupid because of what I think.

      It’s a real issue for me, and why I think I’m not meant to be in management. But even to be a SME, I need to work on this to present to groups. I’ve tried to address this by just saying something at meetings. Even one thing. It helps, but I’m nowhere near as confident in this as I am in most all my other tasks.

      It is also the answer I routinely give in interviews. I just worry that after 10 years of working, it’s still my weakness! It’s more like a character flaw at this point. :-\

      Reply
  10. Coco

    One sincere weakness I’ve considered using at an interview is some version of “I tend to cut corners.” I know I’m not very detail-oriented, and even though I know I do excellent work where it counts, it’s hard for me to put fine-tuned attention into small things that don’t seem to matter in the big picture. But I don’t really know how to phrase this in an acceptable way for an interview.

    Reply
    1. Apollo Warbucks

      I’d steer clear of using the phrase “things that don’t seem to matter in the big picture.”

      How about framing that you complete 99% of the core task well but struggle to add the final touches that rally make the work stand out as polished and completed to the highest standard…… then talk about what you are doing to work on improving the work (like building in extra time for revision or proof reading )

      Reply
      1. MsM

        I think you could say that you’re more inclined to focus on the big picture, and you’ve had to work on learning how to distinguish stuff that just takes time away from those larger goals from things that could have an unforseen impact if you don’t address them earlier in the process. Then you can talk about a time when you did catch one of those things, or learned a lesson from ignoring one, so you can show that you have put some careful thought into this issue and are striving for improvement.

        Reply
    2. hbc

      Instead of “I tend to…,” can you use “My natural instinct is to…”? That way you can explain your coping mechanisms. The former makes it sound like “Hey, you’re going to get a lot of unfinished work from me.” The latter paints a picture that you might spend more time and energy to get the polish rather than being incapable of making it shine.

      Reply
    3. Ani

      Is it possible to answer instead: I’m not good at these types of questions, or, I’m not one who knows how to bs my way out of questions like this. It’s such a gross farce of a question that anyone trying to be sincere at all about is going to fail on compared to a total bs artist.

      Reply
      1. ThatOneRedhead

        The point of the question isn’t to BS. It’s an opportunity to learn 1) if the candidate can do the self evaluation necessary to come up with a weakness and 2) if their weakness are aligned with what the position needs.

        Reply
      2. esra

        The question is valuable if both sides are honest: I outright say that I’ve been told I can be too direct, and the steps I take to correct that. Most interviews I’ve had with sane people either come back with “That’s cool, we like direct.” or “It can be delicate dealing with Client X, how would you deal with Y situation?”

        Reply
      3. Sunflower

        So many people think this is one of those sneaky trick questions where the interviewer is trying to get you to slip or mess up and it’s not! This question actually benefits both parties- you’re both getting more insight as to how your skills will work with the job. If you’re not good at or hate doing something that is a huge component of the job, wouldn’t you rather know upfront instead of struggling through the job?

        Reply
        1. Dana

          Agree that the purpose of asking the question is relevant and beneficial, but seriously “What are your weaknesses?” is a terrible way to elicit a conversation about the job. It’s in our nature to not want to expose our weaknesses, so whenever I’ve had to answer this it’s felt like a power play or a ploy and that I’m about to talk myself out of a job. But if it was framed as “Is there anything you’ve had to do in previous jobs that you didn’t enjoy?” or “Is there anything you see about this job description/skill set required that you might struggle with/need help learning?” then it’s a much more clear gateway to the conversation that actually should happen. Not enjoying something is NOT a weakness but it is helpful to know if the job consists of only that thing that they don’t enjoy. It’s also very illuminating to hear what the candidate might need help with because
          A. You’re saying you’d help them, which is much better than them assuming “If I say I’m not good at this, I won’t get the job”. B. It absolutely shows that they are self-aware enough to know what they can improve on without being disingenuous. C. It can open up conversations about how they would seek improvement/master skills if the employer didn’t provide the training to showcase some problem solving skills and/or motivation.

          Reply
        2. Elizabeth West

          Exactly. Employers sometimes don’t bother to include budgeting into a description. If I say I’m not good with budgeting, and the position requires it, then we both know it isn’t going to work.

          I got caught by this with a court clerk position that failed to include cashiering in the job description, but that was a very large part of that person’s day. And the drawer had to balance exactly each day. The phone screener didn’t mention it either, not even when I asked–she only said it wasn’t in that department. The interview lasted about ten minutes. Talk about a fail.

          Reply
      4. fposte

        And no, you can’t answer that way. That looks either like you’re covering up your really serious weakness with the first answer or you’re revealing that your weakness is belligerence with the second. Neither of which is likely to get you a job.

        Reply
    4. LQ

      This is sort of where I fall to. I generally frame it as “When I am creating a tool I focus on getting it completed or working first. I don’t look for the most elegant or precise solution right away. When I redo the design (which often happens for the things I work on as a matter of course) I can usually find a better way to do things. But this can lead to older versions, if they don’t get updated, having clunky design or code.”

      And then I get put on teams with people who are the perfectionist sort, I let them smooth the rough edges (well, they tell me what is not smooth enough and then I fix it) and I tell them that we can’t spend the next 6 weeks on this tiny little project we have other work to do.

      Reply
      1. Windchime

        This is a really good way to put it. I’m good at coding the backend; I like that part. I like fetching the data and writing the methods that do the work. In a past job, I would do that part and create a functional (but ugly and inelegant) front-end, and then pass the whole thing off to a guy on our team who had a great eye. In a short time, he would pass back a beautiful front-end that bore only a passing resemblance to what I had given him.

        He was really, really good at that stuff and I…..not so much.

        Reply
  11. thisisit

    #1 – when I get put in uncomfortable spots, I have a tendency to push the discomfort back on the other person. In this situation, I probably would have responded with “why, that’s an interesting question – why do you ask?” and then kept pushing (in a somewhat dramatic way) until they were forced to either backpedal (depending on if they thought it was a good pickup line/flattering question and I was obviously not biting) or just outright ask me out (in which case I’d go to the inappropriate/bad fit script). I’d probably drop it after that (assuming he showed signs of getting it), but if another red flag popped up, I’d probably consider suggesting that this wasn’t a good fit after all and moving towards dismissal. And then I’d consider what these red flags are and how they might be better caught in the interview process.

    #2 – I’ve dealt with this in various incarnations. If I don’t want to say anything at all about someone, I’d tell them straight up the deal. It’s better to be honest, but I wouldn’t belabor the point. Just say something like, “when we worked together, I had some issues with things/we had very different working styles, and I’m not comfortable giving a reference under those circumstances.”
    Most of the time though, people have come to me asking about a friend of mine applying for a position in their dept/team/project, and I’ve either gone the “she’s a friend, I don’t feel comfortable” route or been more direct and expressed my concerns (though always starting with any positives I can think of).
    I think it’s a good lesson in making sure you know your references are solid and supportive. And for that matter, make sure the person you are asking to refer you is well-respected themselves. More than one person has burned themselves saying I’m a a friend of Joffrey and it turns out everyone in the office has a low opinion of Joffrey.

    #3 – gym membership = weird. maybe negotiate parking/transportation option? don’t even try on an office if you are entry-level.

    #4 – I hate this question. I always say I get frustrated with bureaucracy (which is a huge part of working in my field) and irrational decision-making. I’ve come to realize that efficiency isn’t the only criterion, nor are my concerns the most important (or even most valid or important). I still get frustrated, but I try to keep it to myself and channel the energy into trying another approach, and where appropriate, finding ways to make the process more efficient. I also learned to not take things personally. It’s not the greatest answer, but tends to get nods.

    #5 – I’ve done it in my last week (but not last day), sent it from work email, and included my personal or new email in my message. Some people will respond to the original email (so it goes to the work email), which is why I do it a bit earlier. I also include my LinkedIn profile and invite people to connect.

    Reply
    1. Loose Seal

      #1 — “Why do you ask?” sounds super coy, like you’d be flirting back. Better, I think, to either stick to reciting the company policy and/or telling him that the question is inappropriate.

      Reply
      1. thisisit

        hmm that’s true. i was picturing more of a bitchy smile/innocent question combo – it usually works well for me when guys are indirectly hitting on me inappropriately. forces the question into the open, at which point it’s a lot easier to shut it down.

        but that being said, just saying – “it’s a terrible idea, don’t ever let it cross your mind again” is a direct way to not engage. and probably more mature. :D

        Reply
      2. Traveler

        I think whether or not it will sound coy will depend on the delivery/tone. Though, if it ever had to be escalated, something that doesn’t need a tone to translate would likely be better.

        Reply
      3. OP1

        Looking back, I do feel that if I had responded with “Why do you ask?” it would have come across as flirting back. I had no intention of encouraging this guy in this. I think sticking with Alison’s advice of saying that the question was inappropriate is very good advice. But phew! Right!

        Reply
  12. James M

    #1: The mating call of the simpleton (Merriam-Webster def.)… it takes a certain convergence of arrogance, misogyny, and abdication of rationale in favor of baser instinct to go through with a stunt like that. It’s tempting to call him an idiot and move on, but idiots aren’t typically capable of that much complexity.

            OP1 dodged a bullet, no question about that.

    Reply
    1. NickelandDime

      Yes, THIS. I used to think “Maybe this has worked for them in the past, and that’s why they do this?” or “Maybe they’re just THAT stupid?” But I realized later these reasons probably aren’t the case – and your take on it makes a lot more sense.

      And then he quit his job because he didn’t get the response he wanted. PRICELESS.

      Reply
    2. Dynamic Beige

      “The mating call of the simpleton” — who believes porn is real. I bet if you could interview that guy he was probably thinking that cheesy music would crank up and OP would be all “Date your supervisor? Around here, you’ll be expected to do more than that, mister!” Bow chicka bow bow.

      What a maroon.

      Reply
  13. Tom

    Lol tbh it sounds like the sort of trick which would work, if the receipent was interested in them. It’s the definition of “the difference between cute and creepy”; it’s a creepy thing to do if the receipient isn’t interested.

    Reply
    1. Marcy

      It’s creepy regardless. Even if the supervisor were interested (which would be very unprofessional), I’m pretty sure the other employees would find the whole situation creepy. It isn’t a bar, it’s work. Pick-up lines are not appropriate at work ever and I don’t think any professional would ever find it “cute”.

      Reply
        1. pressure-based expression

          Yeah. I’m “having AAM for breakfast” today. I responded to the question last night, but in the morning light, this “what’s the policy on dating supervisors?” could maybe actually work in some kind of romantic comedy. In the same way that so many things in rom-coms would end with a call to the police and a restraining order. Proof that life doesn’t always follow art.

          It’s creepy in real life, but after giving it some thought, I can see some poor sod thinking he was doing a “meet cute” like in the movies. He was probably a happy-go-lucky millionaire man-child who wanted to settle down with a regular girl who was so unlike the starlets and princesses he usually dated. Until he found out he had been horribly disfigured in a car accident and had been in cryogenic sleep for the past 200 years. And everyone reading this is a simulation. We thought we’d give you fair warning that he’s asked us to shut down the entertainment programming in his pod sensorium.

          Reply
          1. thisisit

            i’m working on a project right now that deals with using media/storytelling to denormalize violence, and it just really reminds me how popular media/TV/movies teach all sorts of harmful scripts around relationships (personal, professional, etc). i find the over-romanticization of breaching boundaries very frustrating. and this is the nonsense it creates.

            however, i would totally watch your movie.

            Reply
            1. Ben Around

              Re the over-romanticization of breaching boundaries:

              I get really skeezed out by marriage proposals made in big flashy public ways, like on Jumbotrons, and I wish the media (of any type) wouldn’t play along. It always looks like a creepy bullying tactic to me. I wonder how many proposal recipients who say yes in that confusing moment in the spotlight later change their minds.

              Reply
              1. The IT Manager

                I’m getting off topic, but I must add that I cringe everytime I see media go crazy over a public military family reunion (especially surprise ones). Why do people think it’s a good idea to have families be reunitied in front of a big crowd who sare and applaud while they cry and laugh and hug? There’s no need for the family to be center of attention while they celebrate the reunion.

                Reply
                1. Corporate Attorney

                  It’s not that uncommon, when little kids are involved, to see that they are totally confused and don’t know how to feel in that moment (especially if they’re little enough they their primary experience of their parent is Skype or Facetime due to a long deployment). It always stresses me out to watch it.

                2. Dr J

                  Yes, all of this. My dad came back from a long deployment when I was about 10 or so. I remember we were in a gym or a hanger or something, the whole unit marched in, there was a short speech by the commander, then some kind of signal was given and us families poured out of the bleachers to go meet our soldier. It was just the families and the soldiers, and if there was any media there I don’t remember them — maybe/probably the official photographer. Even that was kind of scary and stressful, and there was a lot of crazy. I don’t watch the proposal videos because I dislike the flashiness, expense, and pressure — but I can’t even read about surprise military homecomings, it just feels wrong. Although of course I hope those families are happy or whatever.

              2. MK

                I would like to believe that these are couples who have talked about marriage beforehand and are on the same page and also that the proposer knows their partner well enough and knows they will appreciate a gesture like this. It would be a nightmare to be ambushed like this if you aren’t going to say yes enthuciastically, or even if you are, but would prefer privacy for the occasion.

                Reply
              3. Fact & Fiction

                I think people who propose that way should be 100% sure the proposee really wants that kind of proposal AND wants it from that person. As in they have specifically and unequivocally stated those preferences. Otherwise, I agree it can be bullying even if not intended.

                Reply
                1. Verde

                  Agreed 100%. My first one was done in private and I still felt on the spot to say “yes” enthusiastically, even though that’s not really how I was feeling. Luckily got that sorted later, before there was a wedding, but still…

              1. thisisit

                throw woody allen into the mix and it would be the Most Awkward Movie Ever. i would pay for it. in Imax, preferably.

                Reply
          2. Natalie

            Yep, this is like my all-time favorite Onion article, Romantic Comedy Behavior Gets Real Life Man Arrested.

            Reply
    2. Katie the Fed

      No, it’s crazy inappropriate regardless. I’m at work to work, not have my value assessed as a potential sexual or romantic partner. It’s not flattering or cute by any stretch. Women don’t exist for the sole purpose of being desirable to men.

      Reply
      1. nona

        Yep. Though we don’t know OP’s gender. (I’m only bringing this up because I’m a woman who’s heard some really inappropriate things from other women.)

        Reply
    3. la munieca

      Sorry, Tom, this is still both inappropriate and creepy. I’ve dated colleagues in more than one setting, and great care was taken throughout the build up, duration and decline of the relationships to ensure we both felt comfortable at work. Asking this question so quickly and pointedly is putting his romantic intentions above the OP’s comfort at work. It’s disrespectful and signals bad judgement both as an employee and a prospective romantic partner. There’s nothing cute about this no matter whose mouth its coming out of

      Reply
    4. LBK

      Having been hit on at work by someone I was interested in, it was still really inappropriate to do it at work, and it would’ve been insanely inappropriate on his first day. I’m not saying you can’t date or flirt with a coworker, but time and place is critical because I have a professional reputation that doesn’t involve you making googly eyes at me across the office.

      Reply
      1. Kelly L.

        Yup. This is what MRA types miss, I think, in their laser focus on objective good looks, assuming there even is such a thing, as the arbiter of attraction. The guy could look like Nathan Fillion, but if he starts acting like a creep, any attraction is right out.

        Reply
        1. some1

          Absolutely. If no good-looking person ever exhibited creepiness or otherwise dealbreaker behavior, no one would ever lose interest in anyone.

          Reply
    5. ThatOneRedhead

      A question about dating your boss shows poor judgement. That’s one of the first things that most people screen for in a romantic partner, so it’s ineffective, in addition to being really creepy.

      Reply
    6. Cordelia Naismith

      I strongly feel that hitting on your boss on your very first day is always going to come across as creepy and inappropriate to anybody with a modicum of understanding of professional behavior. The only people I can see reacting positively are fellow creepers/sexual harassers.

      Reply
    7. fposte

      Aside from the other problems, the message that’s sending is weird: it says “I don’t care about keeping this job, even though it’s something you, with your job, consider important, and I don’t care about forcing you to do extra work to cover my absence.”

      Reply
    8. Verde

      No, and the word “trick” implies that all that advice or bad gimicky TV/movie stuff showing one person pulling all sorts of crazy stunts and/or not taking “no” for an answer is actually okay. You shouldn’t need to be tricky to get someone into going out with you, and especially not within the first few hours of meeting them on a new job.

      Reply
  14. Macedon

    #3. It sounds a little as if you’re looking to negotiate for the sake of negotiating, which… is admittedly strange to me. By all means, negotiate if you have a vested interest in a particular outcome, but if you’re down to browsing for potential perks and settling on gym benefits as the hill you want to die on, I think you might be reaching.

    Reply
  15. BRR

    #3 It sounds like you want might want to negotiate just to negotiate. You don’t always have to negotiate, if you are happy with the offer you can just accept it. Since it’s your first job do you know if your salary expectations are in line with what these positions pay? I ask because I had no idea when I graduated. I know more now after working but glassdoor wasn’t very helpful at that time. Also as this is your first job you might not have a lot of power to negotiate depending on your experience. Job title for an entry level position might even be pushing it. I would stick to salary or vacation days. You also don’t want to ask for too much or keep going down the list if they say no.

    Reply
    1. Graciosa

      Very well put.

      As someone who has extensive professional negotiation experience, I can assure you that skilled negotiators don’t negotiate just to negotiate. The point of negotiating is to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. When you have that, you stop and move on to the next thing.

      You need to know the value of what you’re negotiating (your services) to the other party, and to the market. You need to know the value you place on it yourself (what you want, what you would accept, what your alternatives are in the absence of an agreement).

      I’ve been through more classes than I care to remember on theories of negotiation, strategies, and practical workshops. The best negotiators I have ever worked with focus on the two major items I just listed, and understand that a negotiation is part of a relationship.

      Honest statements of your needs, wants, and problems to be resolved go a long way. Game playing is a waste of time, and the sign of an insecure or less than ethical partner. Experienced negotiators know how to deal with this, but don’t expect it to impress.

      If you’re honestly satisfied with the offer, there is nothing wrong with accepting it. If you have to ask for something, I would focus on salary – but do what real negotiators do (which includes research) and have the true market data to back it up. It won’t get you anywhere with me (my company doesn’t want salary to depend on negotiation and tries to be fair up front) but you won’t look strange for asking the way you would with a gym membership.

      If you’re looking for things to negotiate with no real sense of the market, you’re not going to create the impression you’re hoping for.

      Reply
    2. CH

      #3 – This is just a thought, but maybe, since you were hoping for a bit more salary and you don’t have much of a record yet, you could negotiate for an earlier review and possible raise? For example, ask for a review at 6 months instead of a year and then of course make sure you knock their socks off in the first 6 months.

      Reply
    3. pressure-based expression

      > negotiate just to negotiate

      I think as long as the OP can deal with (and, one hopes, mitigate) the risk of losing the entire job offer, it’s perfectly okay – even admirable – that they want to jump in and give it a try.

      The absolute worst thing that can happen is that he’ll lose the job. This would suck – wasn’t there a recent AAM letter about someone who had an offer rescinded for asking for a bit more salary? And everyone was like “woah, that’s freaking weird” – but I suspect a) it’s a low probability and b) as a new grad, he’ll have other opportunities.

      He might try and get nothing. Oh well. He won’t really get ‘nothing’ – perhaps he’ll learn a thing or two. There’s a lot to be said for trying something, even once.

      He might be successful. I think it was Artemesia above who mentioned that a small salary increase at the beginning can be quite a bit money, over time.

      I’m no expert on negotiation. But I read a lot. Here are a couple of things interesting items that are worth keeping in mind:

      #1: Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman once maintained that there are four kinds of spending. P. J. O’Rourke described them as:

      1. You spend your money on yourself. You’re motivated to get the thing you want most at the best price. This is the way middle-aged men haggle with Porsche dealers.

      2. You spend your money on other people. You still want a bargain, but you’re less interested in pleasing the recipient of your largesse. This is why children get underwear at Christmas.

      3. You spend other people’s money on yourself. You get what you want but price no longer matters. The second wives who ride around with the middle-aged men in the Porsches do this kind of spending at Neiman Marcus.

      4. You spend other people’s money on other people. And in this case, who gives a shit?”

      #2: from George R. R. Martin:

      “The original estimate of fifty million standards was excessive,” Tuf said, “obviously an inflated figure intended solely to force me to sell you my ship. I suggest we settle on a sum of twenty million standards as the basis for this agreement.”

      “Ridiculous,” she snapped. “My [workers] couldn’t even paint your goddamned ship for twenty million standards. But I’ll go down to forty-five.”

      “Twenty-five million,” Tuf suggested. “As I am alone aboard the Ark, it is not strictly necessary that all decks and systems be restored to full optimal function…”

      “Fair enough,” she said. “I’ll go to forty million.”

      “Thirty,” Tuf insisted, “would seem more than enough.”

      “Let’s not quibble over a few million standards,” said Tolly Mune. …

      “I have a somewhat different viewpoint. Thirty million.”

      “Thirty-seven,” she said.

      “‘Thirty-two,” Tuf replied.

      “Obviously, we’re going to settle on thirty-five, right? Done!” She stuck out her hand.

      Tuf looked at it. “Thirty-four,” he said calmly.

      Tolly Mune laughed, withdrew her hand, and said, “What does it matter? Thirty-four.”

      Reply
  16. TeapotCounsel

    All this grousing about OP#1’s situation. Let’s look at the bright side. Now that he’s quit, he’s available for dating!

    ;)

    Reply
  17. Blue Anne

    I’m really glad I’ve never had the question in #4. My biggest weakness really is that I’m too hard on myself . I have an anxiety disorder, I constantly think I’m screwing everything up, and good lord is it hard to manage. I wouldn’t want to discuss it with an employer, but if I did it sucks that it would come across as a disingenuous attempt to give a weakness that’s actually a strength.

    Reply
    1. Anx

      I concur. Being hard on myself and perfectionism are hands down the two biggest general workplace weaknesses I have. And if an employer is truly looking to understand my strengths and weaknesses and whether or not I’d be a good fit for a role, then I really should mention it in an interview.

      It feels far more disingenuous to ignore the issues until I’m hired.

      I also have an anxiety disorder. For me, perfectionism seems to be my reaction to associating my value with high achievement in my childhood (now followed by very low achievement in adulthood) and having some sort of ADHD PI shadow syndrome.

      This is very confusing to me because on what planet is confessing to perfectionism or being overly hard on yourself anything but being too earnest and forthcoming about a very serious weakness. I can see why you shouldn’t mention it because it’s such a crippling weakness, but I don’t see how it could be disingenuous.

      Reply
    2. LUCYVP

      When it is truly your biggest weakness it doesn’t come off as disingenuous in the same way as someone who thinks this is a sneaky way of ‘using a strength’.
      If you can use an example of when it caused you a problem at work, or ways that you try to cope with this part of your personality, or ways a manager can help you work on this you can be giving great information to your interviewer that come across as truthful and open.

      Reply
  18. Mike C.

    “My biggest weakness is my inability to not talk about how stupid an interviewer is in asking for me this question during an interview.”

    Reply
    1. LBK

      I don’t think it’s a bad question at all. Maybe depending on the phrasing, but it’s really important to know that your employees are self-aware of their weaknesses and for you to be aware of them as a manager so you can help them develop. You also want to make sure your team’s weaknesses cover each other and cover you.

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        Then ask about self awareness rather than ask a candidate to disqualify themselves from a job opening.

        Reply
        1. Ella

          People are going to wildly overestimate how self aware they are, though. At least the weaknesses question lends itself to a behavior-based answer.

          Reply
              1. Stranger than Fiction

                I actually agree, Mike C. It’s a booby-trap (for lack of better term). A better question would be ” what’s an area where you feel you could improve/grow on?”

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  I don’t think it usually is a booby-trap, though; it’s just that candidates tend to perceive it as that, so it ends up being less useful than you’d hope.

                2. LUCYVP

                  In my experience this type of wording tends to get a response more like – ‘ I’d love to expand my excel skills’.

        2. LBK

          ???

          I’ve been candid in my interviews about my weaknesses for every job I’ve ever gotten. I think you’re misunderstanding the purpose of the question and it’s kind of weird that a) you expect candidates to present themselves as if they are perfect employees and b) that employers would actually believe that. We’re all humans.

          Reply
        3. Cat

          Why do you think you’re asking candidates to disqualify themselves? I don’t think anyone expects candidates to be perfect – they’re looking for people whose strengths are in certain areas and who are aware of and compensate for particular weaknesses.

          Reply
          1. Cat

            That said, I don’t really like the question because the “I’m a perfectionist” response is such a cliche at this point – I feel like you don’t get useful info unless the candidate reads AAM.

            Reply
            1. Florida

              Agreed. Originally, this was probably a good question but it has become a useless question. Even a reader of AAM is not going to say, “My biggest weakness is that I don’t get along with people,” or “I spend half of my time at the water cooler stirring up problems with co-workers.” No one is going to tell you what their honest biggest weakness is. They will give you a carefully thought-out weakness that is true, but won’t eliminate them from the running.

              Reply
          2. Mike C.

            Because the interviewer is directly asking the candidate to tell them something bad about themselves within the workplace context.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              So is the plan to just pretend no one has anything they’re not as good at as other things? If that’s the case then how on earth do we ever choose who to hire since everyone is clearly a perfect office worker robot?

              Reply
              1. LBK

                Agreed totally. I think Mike’s coming from the perspective of a bad manager trying to trick a candidate and I’m coming at it from the perspective of a good manager who wants to gauge the candidate’s ability to identify what they need to work on and figure out how to work on it.

                Reply
                1. Cat

                  Yeah, I get that you have to eat so you might be in a position to not be that choosy about jobs – but, well, I think that goes back to a common theme on this blog that you can’t predict crazy people or bad managers. You’re not going to know which answer to any interview question the bad manager will decide is a trick and disqualify you for, and that doesn’t go for the weaknesses type question any more than anything else.

                2. Colette

                  I think your choice is to treat it as a legitimate question and possibly alienate bad managers or treat it as a trick question and alienate good managers. I know what I’d pick.

                3. Mike C.

                  Yes, with the added fact that the status of a manager isn’t known to the candidate so questions like this put the candidate in a bad spot.

            2. Ask a Manager Post author

              I don’t like or use the question in that format, but I don’t have a problem with people asking it. You WANT to have a real discussion about how the weaknesses that you presumably have because you are human may or may not play out on the job. If I have a weakness that’s going to be a real issue for this particular job, I sure as hell want to know now so that I don’t end up in a job where I’m going to struggle or get fired.

              Reply
              1. Mike C.

                Sure, and the interviewer can ask things like:

                1. Talk about a time where you used in the workplace.

                2. Tell me about some skills you’re working to improve.

                Asking a blanket question about “tell me what you suck at” forces the candidate has to sit there and figure out, “Ok, not only what do I suck at, but how much detail should I go into? What if they don’t believe me? What if they think I’m being dishonest or covering up a more serious problem? What if I talk about something minor that is not an issue but just so happens to be this interviewer’s more irrational pet peeve?” Let alone interviewers who go on and on asking, “no really, tell me something you’re *really* bad at”.

                I just don’t like these “tricks”. If an employer needs something specific, then be direct and honest about it. They aren’t a middle-schooler asking someone to the dance for the first time, these are adults conducting a business transaction.

                Reply
                1. Cat

                  I think, though, that you’re characterizing something that could be a trick as something that’s always a trick. “Tell me about a weakness” isn’t inherently a trick – it could be a completely straight forward question and most people use it as such.

                  That said, I do agree that there’s enough baggage about that particular formulation that alternate formulations are better.

                2. LBK

                  Agreed again with Cat – it is not always a trick. Sometimes it’s just an honest question – and you’re also assigning a really high level of negativity to it. There’s also world of difference between a weakness and something you suck at. To me, a weakness isn’t insurmountable, it’s something you’re aware of and sometimes need to consciously correct around. For example, I’ve had to get in the habit of adjusting my body language when someone comes to my cube to indicate that I’m listening, because my natural response is to keep working while they talk (even if I know I’m listening, it comes off as rude). It’s a weakness, but it’s something I know about and something I’ve found ways to work around. I use that as an example all the time in work-related discussions and have never gotten a bad reaction to it.

                  Something you suck at is something you just plain don’t have the ability to do, and presumably such huge gaps like that would be readily apparently without you needing to ask about them in an interview.

                3. LBK

                  Also, I think you actually have it backwards. “Tell me about your weaknesses” is as direct and honest a question as it gets. There’s no feeling around for the answer, there’s no circumventing to elicit the info you want. It’s your own perception of the question that makes it feel indirect because you’re not comfortable treating it at face value.

                  Questions like “Tell me about a mistake you made and how you fixed it” or “Tell me about an issue your manager brought to your attention and how you improved after” are the exact kind of tricks or roundabout questions you say you want to avoid. Those are all just methods of dancing around asking the person what their weaknesses are.

                4. fposte

                  @ LBK–that’s not “dancing around,” though; it’s asking a question in a way that has a better chance of getting a useful and in-depth answer. I’m not putting together a list of greatest weaknesses, I want to know what people do well at and what they’ve struggled at as part of an overall picture. The reason why people find those other questions easier to answer is important–and if it were just dancing around, it wouldn’t be.

                5. LBK

                  That’s fair – although I think for this particular question, it tends to elicit less useful answers specifically because people think it’s loaded (which it sometimes is). Most other interview questions start with a more general one and hone in with follow ups; I don’t see this as any different from any other starting question except that people BS through it more often because they don’t believe the employer genuinely wants to know where they’ve struggled.

        4. Graciosa

          I’m in favor of disqualifying myself from jobs I wouldn’t be good at.

          My goal is not just to find any job, I want to find a place where I can make valuable (and valued) contributions. In my particular career, I’ve avoided marketing or sales jobs. I’m bad at it. I don’t want to do it, so I don’t have any great plans to improve my skill in sales – this is just part of who I am.

          It hasn’t come up in every interview, of course, but I’ve never had a problem saying it when the question arose. The most common reaction from interviewers has been, “Oh, yeah – I hate that too.”

          If it ever did disqualify me from a job, my reaction would not be “How dare the company ask a question that revealed that I’m actually a bad fit for this role!”

          My reaction would be, “Thank heaven I dodged that bullet.”

          Reply
          1. Mike C.

            This is fine, but it’s not going to be answered in an open ended question unless you happen upon the previously unspoken weakness of a particular position.

            Reply
            1. Graciosa

              There’s no reason it couldn’t be answered that way. If I was honest about it, I would have no problem with the result.

              I think the issue comes when people try to “game” the interview – whether it’s with candidates trying to figure out the “right” answer to get a job instead of an honest answer to find out if the job is a good fit, or with employers using stupid tactics rather than straightforward questions (remember the interview panel that shouted “Fire!” as a test?).

              I don’t mind an open-ended question with some reasonable tie to the job (meaning please don’t start asking open-ended questions about sexual preferences unless the job is in a bordello!).

              Reply
      2. AntherHRPro

        I agree. The purpose is less about what the actual weakness is and more about can they honestly and realistically articulate a weakness (we all have them) and what mechanisms have they put in place to address the weakness.

        For me, I am an introvert and am often uncomfortable in very large gatherings. In my work, I have had to figure out ways to manage this as I will frequently have to attend large meetings and/or conferences where I am expected to mingle and meet people. To do this, I set goals for myself. I will talk to X number of people, meet Y number of new people, I will stay at the social event for X number of hours, etc.

        Reply
      3. Joey

        I once had a guy tell me he has no desire to focus or improve on weaknesses. He used basketball as an analogy. He said if I have a natural talent for post play, but not so much for perimeter shooting it doesnt make sense for me to waste my energy improving my outside shot. Id rather work towards becoming the best post player I can be. And in many roles I agree.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          That doesn’t really make sense though because that weakness isn’t relevant to his role. If I’m hiring an admin assistant I don’t care that you don’t know how to fly fish, tell me something you’re working on that I actually care about your ability to do related to the job I’m hiring you for.

          Reply
          1. Joey

            absolutely it made sense. This guy was exceptional at building relationships with clients whereas the other person with the same title really excelled at the analytical piece of the job.

            Reply
              1. Joey

                No, he was pointing out that you don’t have to be great at everything if you hire people whose strengths compliment each other.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  That’s true, but you still need to know what those strengths (and according weaknesses) are in order to be able to do that. Clearly you determined somehow that he was weaker on the analytical side before you decided that would be fine because his team member could cover that piece. And also if you already had a really strong analytical person, then arguably you actually didn’t need analytical skills for his specific spot on the team.

                  Was there anything you worked on improving with him during his time there?

                2. Joey

                  Yes, his strengths are what we worked on. That’s what he had a natural talent for and that’s where he was excited to grow. the other stuff was tedious for him so we didn’t spend a whole lot of time there.

                3. LBK

                  I just find it odd that there wasn’t a single thing he needed to correct or improve that he wasn’t already good at. I can’t picture having such a perfect employee.

                4. Joey

                  I don’t think you’re understanding. We minimized his areas of responsibilities where he wasn’t strong (analytics) and gave them to someone who was and gave him more of the team load where he was strong (client relations).

                5. LBK

                  You’re right, I’m not understanding. If he didn’t actually need to do those things to be successful at the job (because they were offloaded to his partner), then I don’t see how his ability to do them is really relevant.

                  The point I’m trying to make is that I don’t buy that there’s any role where you’re 100% perfect at every aspect of the job that you actually need to do, and asking about weaknesses in an interview is a way to get at that information. It’s not about trying to focus on irrelevant skills or trying to develop things you won’t need to actually do. I still don’t think the response about the basketball team makes sense because all it says is “don’t develop skills you won’t need to use” and that seems obvious.

                6. W

                  youre missing the point. It’s simply saying on many teams there’s no need to focus on improving your weaknesses if you are good enough at your strengths. This is why so many people who are good at sales are given a whole lot of slack at the admin part of their job. It’s not that it’s unimportant. It’s that their strengths are so valuable companies have decided it makes up for their weaknesses by being lax with the admin stuff or hiring someone to do the admin stuff.

                7. LBK

                  I think we’re disagreeing on the meaning of “weakness” in this context – to me, when I’m asking about someone’s weaknesses related to a role, it’s about things that I expect them to do well in a role that they might not. I have low expectations for a salesperson’s admin skills, so I wouldn’t consider it a weakness for that role if they didn’t have great admin skills, because I don’t consider strong ones to be relevant to the position. A relevant weakness would be more like they’ve had trouble clearly communicating with their sales support staff, so they developed a template to use any time they need to request a report or an update to ensure that all relevant info is provided in the first email instead of having to go back and forth.

            1. pressure-based expression

              I can see the logic in this response. I’m not sure everyone would, though.

              I think the entire question is bogus, though, and while I respect the idea of answering honestly, I think it’s still something of a crap-shoot. Human beings are notorious for saying stuff like “you can tell me anything!” without realizing that they really aren’t equipped to handle “anything”. And then when someone tells them something ‘outside of the bounds’, they freak out.

              I’d probably not score points for this, but if someone asked me that, I’d probably say “Okay, this is one of those classic tricky interview questions. I know it, you know it. I’d like to ask: why are you asking me this? Is this a legitimate effort to determine areas of focus for future development? Or are you wondering how well I can BS? Or something else?”

              Reply
              1. Joey

                Well speaking to strengths is also speaking to weaknesses by default.

                I know many folks though wouldn’t figure that out or accept that though. They’re looking for exactly what you’re worst at, but are failing to look at it holistically.

                Reply
        2. Xay

          Except, even in basketball it makes sense to develop your other skills. You can be a great post player, but developing even mediocre perimeter skills makes you more versatile and can extend your career. Same thing in the workplace.

          Reply
      4. Anx

        I don’t think it’s a bad question, but apparently it’s not about answering honestly, but having the good judgment to conceal your true weaknesses for a more palatable one in an interview.

        Reply
    2. Not Today Satan

      Yeah, I know Alison advises to share a real weakness but overall it just seems like a “how well can this candidate BS?” question.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        Maybe if the interviewer is an asshole. I would genuinely ask this question because if an employee isn’t conscious of their areas of weakness they absolutely can’t be working to fix them, and I want to know that an employee knows when they’re going to need to compensate somewhere and how they’ve learned to do it. It also saves me the trouble of spending their first 6 months figuring out where I need to help them improve.

        Reply
        1. Mike C.

          But as I candidate I can’t know if you’re an asshole or not. So if you ask me to disqualify myself in front of you it raises a red flag. If you want to discuss things I’ve been working on to improve myself, that’s a completely different kettle of fish.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            How? You’re still telling me things you aren’t good at. In your terms, that’s “disqualifying” you because you’re admitting you aren’t perfect (which is such a weird bar to expect candidates to meet that I don’t even understand it).

            Reply
              1. Loose Seal

                I’d have an issue with that because you took a question designed to find out about a weakness about your work habits/style and you answered it with a personal one. If I were your interviewer, I’d probably ignore your answer about recovery and try to guide you back toward thinking about work. And, you’d get a red flag from me, not because you are in recovery, but because you thought that was the answer to a work question.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  Exactly. That would be a totally irrelevant response.

                  Also I just noticed the yellow bowtie in your avatar and I absolutely love it.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            But you don’t want to work for an asshole, so you shouldn’t modify your behavior in case your interview is one. You should assume the interview is a reasonable and good manager, and that way you’ll screen for those and screen out the assholes.

            Reply
          3. Stranger than Fiction

            You also can’t possibly know which weakness they may be trying to weed out. Perhaps, if you have a very detailed description of the job, you could formulate an answer based off something Not focused on in the job description.

            Reply
      2. fposte

        And I believe Alison has said it’s not a great question, and I agree. Its odds of eliciting useful feedback aren’t high; I think it’s rare that you get somebody confident enough to be willing to be vulnerable or honest about this in a job interview.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          I think there are ways to ask what’s essentially the same question that will elicit a better response, though, like questions about what kind of feedback their current manager has given them or examples of ways they’ve improved themselves as an employee.

          Reply
            1. LBK

              So as I said, it’s about the wording, not about the actual response. If taken at face value, they’re the same question, just one can come off like a trick. You’ll get the same info out of either (again, assuming the “greatest weakness” question is asked and answered genuinely).

              Reply
      3. Sunflower

        How about rephrasing the question as ‘Tell me about a time that you struggled, why and what you did to work through it’. Seems like a little easier to cloud through the BS.

        Reply
        1. Mike C.

          That’s a great question to ask. You’re still getting the sort of answer you want, and you’re giving the candidate a chance to be a human without shooting themselves in the foot.

          Reply
      4. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."

        Agree! This question invites BS like no other. We spend the rest of the interview trying to show the interviewer how well we can do the job, but this question is so full of landmines because we want to avoid giving the interviewer a reason not to hire us. All the self-awareness aside, it is a potential deal breaker. Hence candidates being susceptible to advice about perfectionism, describing something that is really a strength, and so on.

        Reply
    3. lmgtfy

      I’ve asked it differently, but to get at the same info, especially because people prep to provide a bs answer to the weakness question. Ex. What’s an area of work that’s been challenging for you /What’s something that you’d like to improve if you were in this position.

      Reply
  19. PEBCAK

    #3 — Obviously “gym membership” is weird advice pulled from some sub-par career site, but I will just throw this out there: I worked somewhere with gym memberships that kicked in after 6 months. In that case, you could negotiate that it would kick in earlier. That’s the only situation I can imagine where that would even come up.

    Reply
    1. Loose Seal

      OP asked how one convinces the hiring manager that a gym membership is necessary for the job, though, which leads me to wonder if OP truly does think it’s necessary (like they are a newscaster and need to look their best on camera or going to work for a sporting company — like REI — where it would be assumed all the employees are fit). In that case, do you think it would worthwhile to negotiate either the membership or extra money to cover the membership?

      Reply
  20. Amethyst

    For the weakness question, I personally use that I feel uncomfortable bothering/confronting people when the answer to their request is “no” and it’s going to upset them. I would use examples from my current job of having difficulty knowing how firm to be in turning away someone repeatedly pestering us to use a room rent-free or trying to take up hours of our time to solve personal problems that we just don’t have the resources to deal with (I work in a non-profit and it can be difficult to explain to people that we can’t just give out money or arrange for social-services type help).

    Basically to answer the question I try to think of the thing I least enjoy doing at my job and try to examine why that is. In this case it is a personality thing I have to work on (vs. something external like “I hate dealing with the leaky roof”), so it serves as a weakness, with the benefit of being something actionable.

    Reply
    1. The IT Manager

      Basically to answer the question I try to think of the thing I least enjoy doing at my job and try to examine why that is.

      This is great advice for someone trying to define their weakness.

      Reply
      1. Amethyst

        Thank you! This can be such an awkward question to answer, I always like to read how other people handle it too.

        Reply
    2. Natalie

      Ah, great suggestion! This framing also helps the questions serve the candidate – if I’m telling someone something I’m bad at that also happens to be something I hate doing, it’s a much more effective tool to screen out jobs I won’t like.

      Reply
      1. Amethyst

        Thank you! That’s a good point. If the thing you need to work on is a primary component of the job it could definitely affect whether you end up wanting to take it or not.

        Reply
  21. YandO

    ” Is this a good weakness to share in an interview?”

    Howe about: My biggest weakness is the fact that I have a really hard time figuring out my weakness. I have not had a lot of extensive feedback in the past and I feel it is very important, so I have made a point to seek constructive criticism and feedback in order to identify my weaknesses and ways to improve upon them.

    Assuming the person is junior and never had a managerial role.

    Thoughts?

    Reply
    1. Katie the Fed

      no. I would probably injure myself trying not to roll my eyes if I heard that.

      We expect people to be self aware enough to know what their strengths and weaknesses are, regardless of feedback. Certainly you’re not perfect at everything. And you almost certainly HAVE gotten feedback, although it might have been informal. From teachers, bosses, friends, etc. If you really can’t think of anything, ask your friends or parents. I’ll bet they could help you.

      Reply
      1. YandO

        Self-awareness is something that comes with experience and maturity, when someone has not been in the workforce long enough to really identify their weaknesses or had managers who gave them direct feedback, I think saying “I am really not sure, but I want to learn” IS honest and self-aware.

        That’s my thinking, but I wanted to know how others would perceive it. So, thank you so much for your honest response!

        Reply
        1. esra

          I think Amethyst above makes a good suggestion here, to think about the kind of work you don’t like doing and about why that is.

          Reply
        2. LBK

          If you’ve done any work at any point in your life, even in school, you should have some idea where your strengths and weaknesses are without someone having to tell you. Self-awareness is just thinking about the things that have been difficult for you and trying to identify a pattern; I don’t think maturity or experience or required for that, mostly just a willingness to admit to yourself that you’re not flawless and look at the times you haven’t been.

          Reply
          1. YandO

            ok, I see that my point did not really land as I had hoped. This is good info.

            Thank you for your feedback!

            Reply
            1. LQ

              At one point in my career I (thought) I wanted a job with more feedback and structure. So I was direct about that. “My previous job I had nearly no interaction with my boss and no structure to my job, which was a great way to grow to be a generalist and I have a wide range of skills to show for it, but I’d really like to focus in on X and get more feedback and experience with this specific thing that your job is all about.”

              (I’m not really sure if this is what you are going for but it might be. I only needed 3 months at a temp job to be completely dissuaded of that notion.)

              Reply
              1. YandO

                First, after reading comments it is clear to me that this is a really bad idea. I am glad I have not actually used it.

                Second, yes, I do want more feedback. Well, I want a mentor. Someone who would take an interest in me and would be willing to provide guidance that includes direct and honest feedback.

                Third, what I was trying to say, which obviously either does not make sense or did come across correctly, has to do with the idea that “self-awareness” is not something that comes easily to people. Having trouble figuring out your own weaknesses is a weakness and an honest one. Also, being able to see that in yourself and seeking to changing is something I would have respect for.

                It would be great if we all stood in front of the mirror and were able to identify everything that is wrong with us in an honest way, but it is human nature to live half our lives in denial. Can I identify weaknesses? Sure, I absolutely can, but are the weaknesses I identify, my “real” weaknesses? Weaknesses that would my boss mention?

                I thought of that response not because I cannot figure out my weakness. I have plenty: directness, lack of formal technical training, getting bored with monotone tasks, still learning American rules of proper communication, etc. I thought of that response because I consider it one of my weaknesses to not always see myself objectively and I’ve made it my mission to get better at it.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  So you’ve got some possibilities right there. Remember that part of talking about your weakness is discussing what you’re doing to overcome or compensate for it. Lack of formal technical training seems like a tricky one to me, because that’s likely to be apparent from your resume if it really matters, and in many cases it won’t (very few people are formally trained on the Office suite, for instance). But if you tend to make mistakes or lose focus during repetitive work and have figured out a way to fix that, that’s fine to talk about; if you’ve struggled with figuring out office communication and have had some missteps because of that but are now more aware, that’s fine too.

                  Just avoid the “flaw that’s really a strength” approach. It’s very easy to talk about not liking monotonous work in a way that sounds like you think you’re too good for such stupid stuff; it’s easy to make “too direct” sound like you think people you talk to should deal with how you talk. That’s what you need to make sure you avoid.

                2. Sam P

                  You’re right! Self-awareness absolutely does not come easily to everyone. Understanding this about yourself shows that you’re already more aware, and that’s great! It’s not going to be helpful or appropriate in the interview context, as you’ve seen here, so I would suggest focusing on just one thing (like suggested above – perhaps something you don’t enjoy about work, and why) and think about how that impacts your work, your working relationships, how you would manage someone who had that quality, how you would handle a client who had that quality, a co-worker who had that quality, etc. and that might give some insight to how your “weakness” could manifest itself in the workplace, and how you might develop compensating behaviors to address it. You might discover that the “weakness” has no impact at all, so you move on to another one, but really give it thought. You might think getting bored easily has no impact on others, but think about how you would motivate an employee who gets bored easily, and think about the working relationship on a team when a co-worker gets bored easily. Again, the impact might be minimal and you might move on to directness or communication skills, etc.

        3. Graciosa

          I would absolutely expect some level of self-awareness even from very junior people early in their careers. For example, even then, I knew there was a reason I was not in marketing or sales (I hate selling). I knew this when my age was in the single digits thanks to girl scout cookies. Certainly I’ve matured and learned more since then, but this was not an impossible question to answer honestly.

          I like the focus on what strategies you’ve used to manage a weakness, but no one is good at everything. I’d rather be upfront about this than find myself in a job that’s a bad fit.

          Reply
  22. Mockinjay

    #1: Could the garden center implement a probationary period for new hires?
    Or, if the business is located in an Work-At-Will state, can you simply let creepy employee go?

    Also, to better understand legal implications, can you find a course or seminar on employer/employee rights in your area? My sister is in the restaurant business, and did this when she encountered issues with a newly hired employee and couldn’t fire her. It helped her screen potential hires better, within the law (fed, state, and local statutes combined – jeez it was complicated).

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Why couldn’t your sister just fire the creepy employee? Unless she’s in Montana, she was in an at-will state. (Okay, maybe she was in Windsor or something.)

      Reply
      1. Mockingjay

        Protected class.

        The restaurant is located in an historic building and occupies three floors. Servers must be physically capable of carry heavy trays up and down steps. This is made very clear in the ad and during the interview process.

        My sister hired a young woman who said she was physically capable of the job. After hire, the server revealed that she was pregnant and asked for accommodation. It came out in later that the server knew she was pregnant when she applied, and knew she wouldn’t be able (willing?) to do the stairs. Legally, my sister was stuck with paying a server who couldn’t serve. There’s more to it than that, of course; my sister had to hire lawyers and it took months and cost her a lot of money to get the situation resolved (they settled out of court).

        I didn’t realize how complicated hiring can be, especially in a service industry, until my sister told me about all this. She is a good employer; most of her staff are long term, and to date she has only had one or two bad apples for employees.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          While I understand that it would be tricky, I don’t think it would actually be illegal to fire her in that case. Being pregnant doesn’t make you magically untouchable, nor does any other medical condition; you still have to be capable of performing the necessary tasks relevant to the role with only a reasonable accommodation required on the employer’s part (so letting her use the service elevator if there was one or something like that).

          Reply
        2. Natalie

          That sounds more like a case of extraordinarily risk averse attorneys than actual employment law. Unless they pay all temporarily disabled employees to do nothing, they weren’t required to pay her to do nothing either.

          Reply
          1. Poohbear McGriddles

            It’s amazing how the term “protected class” has become a sort of HR-Kryptonite. After all, we are all protected. You can’t fire someone for being in the majority of the class any more than you can fire them for being in the minority. But you can fire either for issues with attendance, performance or conduct.
            For the restaurant, it would only be an issue if they wouldn’t accommodate Pregnant Penelope, while Ingrown-Toenail Ignazio got to stay on the job doing lighter duty.

            Reply
        3. fposte

          Can you clarify here? Your sister decided not to fire the woman because of her pregnancy, but somehow the employee still sued? (If there’s a lesson here, it’s that you might as well fire the person.)

          Reply
          1. Loose Seal

            I’m guessing, because it’s the food industry, that the pregnant woman wasn’t “fired;” she just stopped getting assigned shifts.

            Reply
    2. OP1

      We are in a work at will state. So, yes, I can fire people with cause but the question was so out of left field and so wildly inappropriate that in the moment all I could think to say was, “No, it is not allowed.”

      Reply
  23. The Office Admin

    #4, I find this question to be very difficult, because it’s hard to quantify a weakness to someone who doesn’t know you. My biggest work related weakness(because this doesn’t/wouldn’t happen in my personal life) is I get really annoyed when I see inefficiencies or a poor process for completing work. As in, it grates on my soul to see or do something that is inefficient and incapable of being changed due to SOP or protocol. This tends to bring my work attitude down because I always think something like: “Clearly, I work for idiots that can’t see that this process takes twice as long to do instead of doing x, y and z.”
    This is why I’m a solo office admin. I make my own processes ;)

    Reply
    1. Lore

      I totally agree with this! Especially when there is a valid objective of the process that could more easily be achieved other ways. That is–I’m not saying the thing you need is unreasonable. I’m saying, the process by which you insist I get it to you is broken. And yet you won’t let me change it.

      Reply
    2. Sam P

      Depending on how this was positioned, I would absolutely want someone to be honest about this in an interview, and honest about how they handle it. For you, Office Admin, you handled it by creating an environment where you don’t have to deal with it! But for other people, on the one hand, I really, really want to hire people who are passionate about process for our entry level roles. I need people who want to raise their hands and say “This seems inefficient; I think there’s a better way” At the same time, some of our processes seem inefficient because they are impacted by other divisions we can’t control. Everything works smoothly in Spout Design, but the Handle Division is crazy and doesn’t have their cocoa together, if you will, and Spouts are downstream of Handles. I need to know if the people who are going to be super passionate about making the spout process as smooth, efficient and controlled as possible are going to be OK with knowing what we can control and what we can’t. So I want to know how they handle being driven mad by inefficiencies and poor process. Does it give them an uncontrollable need to make it better? And can they recognize when there are things that are outside of our control that we will need to accept and move on, and how does that affect their attitudes and engagement?

      Reply
  24. hotel spa manager

    This particular mix of questions is reminding me of an interview I had with a massage therapist a couple of years ago. His answer to the weakness question was that he found he totally lacked a good sense of boundaries with clients, and that he was surprised coming out of school how difficult it was to just see his client’s bodies as only bodies and his clients as just coming in to receiving an impersonal service, or something like that. Naturally, this position had opened up after one of our therapists was fired for sexual harassment. I ended the interview pretty quickly at that point, shook his hand, and as I was leaving he said with this bewildered look, “you know, I’ve been trying to put my finger on it all this time, but you look like (some actress) and let me tell you, that is -pause, slow head shake- a HUGE compliment. She is absolutely beautiful.”

    Needless to say we did not move forward to the actual massage stage of the interview. Yuck.

    Reply
      1. hotel spa manager

        Don’t doubt this at all. Not sure what departments you’re referring to but this is super common with our doormen.

        Also, the single case I’ve heard of a male therapist running a long spanning one man happy ending ring was at a five star hotel spa. He had a lot of regular clients, eventually was a bit too presumptuous with a newer one and the whole thing finally unravelled.

        Reply
        1. Joey

          Yeah, not the spa. That would be kinda weird for therapists who’re about to put their hands on you in an intimate way

          Reply
      2. Malissa

        When I waited tables, flirting was just part of the job. If it didn’t work Hooters would not be quite the success that it is. And from my experience, the good servers flirt with everybody. The trick is to always seem interested and available but never actually be available.

        Reply
    1. C Average

      Wow.

      “My biggest weakness is that I cannot restrain myself from behaving like a creeper, and it alienates people.”

      Reply
      1. hotel spa manager

        Yes, a self aware guy for sure. He answered our “what do you do in your downtime at work” question with an equally honest, “usually read comics and take naps”. Plenty of red flags to choose from in that one.

        Reply
    2. Myrin

      Anecdotally, my mum, a retired massage therapist, experienced the opposite from time to time: clients would think she tried to flirt with them by massaging them – and not even “at certain places/very forcefully/very tenderly/with lingering touches etc” but just plain regular massaging, doing her job. I just- I have no words about something like this tbh. “She touched my nubile body which is what I pay her for. Clearly she wants a piece of that.”

      Reply
  25. HRish Dude

    #1 – What the bloody hell? What kind of person even asks that question to a supervisor? Especially a new on that they do not know a thing about.

    #3 – It sounds from the letter – it may not be the case – that you are just negotiating for the sake of negotiating. If the salary is in your acceptable range, why do you feel the need to “get your feet wet with negotiations”?

    Reply
  26. Employment Lawyer

    Re #1:

    The “dating supervisors” question would be appropriate in only one instance: If the potential hire is currently dating someone in a supervisory role.

    I would ask “why are you asking that question?” and if the response was “I’m currently dating an employee” then it would seem reasonable.

    Reply
  27. DrPepper Addict

    #1 – To me it sounds like his intention the entire time was to ask this person out. He was probably interested in the job enough to attend the first job interview and when he found himself attracted to the interviewer that’s when he decided he was all in. I’m sure he planned ahead of time to quit that same day if he got rejected. Sounds like he was more interested in a date than a job. You handled it well however, OP.

    Reply
    1. Poohbear McGriddles

      Yep, nothing labels you as a prime catch like being unable to put in a full day’s work!

      He really thought this out.

      Reply
  28. Merry and Bright

    This is strange timing for me as I had a gruelling phone screen by conference call this morning. One of the questions was: “Tell us about your 3 [three!] worst weaknesses and give us an example of how each has caused a problem in the workplace.”

    I needed a coffee after all that!

    Reply
    1. "Find yourself a cup; the teapot is behind you. Now tell me about hundreds of things."

      I’d have been on something a darn sight stronger than coffee after that! Love to know more but I suppose this is more one for Friday’s open thread.

      Reply
  29. C Average

    You know, it occurs to me as I’m reading these comments that no one ever is going to reveal her “biggest weakness” in a job interview, which makes the question doubly absurd. I’ll bet a lot of people don’t even KNOW their biggest weakness, and if they do, they do their best to never speak of it even to their therapist or best friend, much less a potential employer they’re meeting for the first time.

    The question we’re all addressing is “what is a suitable-for-public-consumption weakness you’ve worked to address and are comfortable sharing with me?”

    Can you imagine if people REALLY confessed their biggest weaknesses in job interviews?

    “My worst weakness is that I stir up drama. I have managed to alienate everyone in my life by always assuming the worst motivation on others’ parts. Everyone here will hate me within a month.”

    “My worst weakness is that I cannot manage my finances and it affects every area of my life. I am a spendthrift and I’m severely in debt, so I hope you don’t mind if I receive collection calls at work.”

    “My worst weakness is that I’m socially tone-deaf. I cannot read social cues. My cringe-worthy jokes will cause people to avoid me in the hallways. No one will ever invite me to lunch.”

    “My worst weakness is that I’m incompetent. I am very friendly and nice but not very bright. You will struggle to figure out how to deliver negative feedback to me about my work, because you’ll clearly see that I’m doing my best, and everyone will like me and no one will want to see me fired. You will eventually help me secure a position I don’t deserve just to get me out of your department.”

    “My worst weakness is that I’m arrogant. I already believe I can do your job better than you. I will undermine you at every turn, and you will struggle to deal with my passive-aggressive, manipulative, asshole-ish behavior.”

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Heh.

      “My worst weakness is I’m kind of shady. I’ll go through drawers for money when you’re out, and if I’m doing the coffee run you’ll never get change. Would I actually embezzle? I don’t know, but I’m thinking about it.”

      “My worst weakness is that I’m not as good at covering my tracks as I used to be, so you’ll find out more than my previous bosses about stupid stuff I do.”

      “My worst weakness is that I deeply resent having to work for a living, and I will make that resentment clear as often as possible, both by calling out at short notice for random reasons and for trudging sourly through my days.”

      Reply
    2. Malissa

      My biggest weakness is that I don’t function in the mornings with out coffee. Want your numbers right? Give me 15 minutes to settle in over a cup of coffee and get organized. Jump on me right away as I walk in, well who knows what you’ll get.

      Reply
    3. James M.

      “My 3 worst weaknesses are gambling, booze, and women… order doesn’t matter.”

      … what would a manager even say to that?

      Reply
  30. OP #2

    Just to clarify, I did speak with her about her behavior at work and pointed out that printing out a dozen copies of your resume and several job apps and then proceeding to fill them out at her desk instead of doing the work she was there to do just wasn’t appropriate. She just laughed it off saying, “Well, the boss doesn’t know what I’m doing.”

    Our particular field of work is heavily network & referral based so it’s difficult to get jobs when you don’t know anyone, hence why I sought to form a network of my peers as soon as I started my career. I realize that I made a mistake, this was due to my inexperience with this type of situation and will not be repeated. My main fear was that I wouldn’t know how to handle speaking to HR if she did name me as a reference or mention that she knows me because even though I’ve already told her that I wasn’t a fan of her work, she never asks anyone before she does it. She even went so far as to call an acquaintance’s former manager about her old job the day after the girl told her she would be leaving that position.

    I didn’t want to seem to HR that I was sticking my nose into this girl’s business, but I happened to know what she was up to because my desk was directly across from her and we shared a printer. I’m not the type of person that would report my coworkers for this type of thing or attempt to micromanage them (I was not her manager or supervisor and certainly not her Mommy), but in this case, I was personally offended that she would behave this way when I put my name on the line to vouch for her. Anyway, lesson learned. If she does try to connect with my company, I will just tell HR the truth because I can’t risk getting off on the wrong foot at this job.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I know it’s too late, but when you see her doing something like that, that’s a good moment to say “Okay, that’s your call. But please don’t ask me to be a reference again, because I’d have to mention stuff like this.”

      Reply
  31. Molly

    Now I’m really interested – what do other people say when asked about their weaknesses???

    At my last job interview, I said I worked great under pressure but wasn’t great with downtime; I tend to slack off online when I run out of productive tasks.

    That’s absolutely true, and I got the job – though it was an internal interview, and I had a long reputation with the company and my interviewer for living up to the “great under pressure” part.

    Reply
    1. Arabella

      A very straightforward friend’s standard answer is: “If you ask me what I think, I’ll tell you.”

      (He will, too.)

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Does he frame that so it’s clear he realizes it’s a weakness, or does he think it’s really a strength? Because if it’s the latter, that’s cheating.

        Reply
    2. Lore

      A couple of things that I have used depending on context:
      1) I tend to give *way* too much context when describing a situation/problem. Sure, sometimes other people need to know all the details, but most of the time, they just want either my opinion or my proposed solution. If they need to know how we got there, they’ll ask. I spend a lot of time deleting information from emails.
      2) I can be very, very impatient, which sometimes leads to “jumping the gun”–a pet peeve is when someone sends me eight consecutive emails each involving part of an issue, rather than waiting till the end and compiling all the info into one place. So I find myself particularly mortified when I catch myself doing the same thing, since I know how annoying it is!
      3) I mentioned this above, but I also have a strong bias toward action; the task that I can complete will always creep up my to-do list simply because I can complete it.

      Reply
    3. cuppa

      Using the language above, it’s my natural inclination to take things personally, which has prevented me in the past from delivering feedback effectively. (i.e. thinking “why is that person driving me crazy?” rather than looking at the actual performance issue). I’ve gotten a lot better at this, but sometimes I have to remind myself of this inclination, and when I hear myself thinking these things, I have to recognize that and change my thinking.

      Reply
    4. a

      I’ve actually never been asked this question, but this is what I think I’ll say if I’m asked.

      When I have to tell people something unpleasant, or ask for something from them, my instinct is to add too many qualifiers. It makes it seem like my request isn’t as important as it actually is. Even when I plan out what I’m going to say, in the moment I end up talking too much and sometimes I even make their excuses for them or completely miscommunicate what I meant to say.

      I usually combat this by preparing one blunt statement that might even seem rude if I just said that without anything else. Then when it’s time to actually say it, I can add a few statements to soften the blow and still get the point across.

      Reply
    1. LBK

      If you haven’t already, I highly recommend the (free!) interview guide on this site! It’s really detailed and helped me out a lot for my most recent interview, even as someone who generally considers himself good at interviewing. (For the record, I did get the job that I interviewed for after reading the guide.)

      Reply
      1. Jade

        Yes, I did get the free interview guide – I’ve only had one interview since then, and even though I didn’t get the job I felt better about how it went than I have about any prior to reading it.

        *Thank you* for the reminder – I have another interview later and I think (know) I need to re-read it.

        Reply
    2. ThursdaysGeek

      I’m a poor negotiator. Advocating for myself is not something I have to do as part of my daily tasks, and so I’ve never gotten very good at it. Except for that, I’m smart and get things done, so you can get an excellent worker on the cheap. Plus, since I know not to compare myself to my co-workers, I’ll figure I’m getting what I deserve when I am paid less than the others who do the same work. Oh, and I’m trusting too, so I’ll believe you when you tell me this offer is the best you could get. :)

      Reply
  32. Alis

    #4: Well, it’s not a great response, it is a decorated rehashing of the ol’ perfectionist routine (as Allison points out).

    That being said, it is better than the classic Homer Simpson’s group interview with the nuclear power plant.

    Smithers: What would each of you say is your worst quality?
    Man 1: Well, I’m a workaholic.
    Man 2: I push myself too hard.
    Homer: Well, it takes me a long time to learn anything, I’m kind of a goof-off…
    Smithers: Okay, that’ll do.
    Homer: … a little stuff starts disappearing from the workplace…
    Smithers: That’s enough!

    Reply
  33. OP1

    Thank you for all the comments and suggestions! I very much appreciate all your help on this. A couple points that people have brought up; the only people to whom this guy would have reported to would have been myself and my assistant manager who this guy had not met yet. While he was filling out his paperwork, he asked me some personal questions about myself like he was making awkward small talk until I asked him to focus on what he was doing and finish at a table away from my desk. I have since had people bring in their paperwork already completed. I have been the manager of this store for a year and a half now and want both the business and myself to prosper. Hence asking advice on what to do about an employee who shows an issue right after the hiring process is complete but before they have done any actual work.

    Reply

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