terse answer Tuesday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

First, some late-breaking news: Today, I walked. Slow, lurching steps that are sort of reminiscent of Frankenstein, but since these are my first unassisted steps since breaking my foot 17 weeks ago, I will take what I can get.

And now:  It’s terse answer Tuesday!  We’ve got seven short answers to seven short questions, including a secret hiring process, the necessity of makeup when interviewing, and more. Here we go…

1. Working in a space with no natural light

My group at work is about to do an office move. In the last office move, despite having almost no seniority compared to the rest of my team, I lucked out and got a cube with a window. My new workspace will be an open space with almost no access to natural light. I definitely know, from the past, that natural light makes a huge difference in my mood and general happiness at work. Is there a way I can explain to my management that I’m worried I’ll be miserable and a huge irritable jerk in the new space they’ve assigned me? Without seniority I have no official cards to play, and I’m worried about looking like I’m blowing up over nothing.

You can certainly ask, but if it’s not seeming doable, don’t push too hard — after all, there are lots of other people who would like space with natural light too, and you don’t want to come across as if you think you have more of a claim on it than others do.

2. My new employer has a secret final hiring step that they won’t tell me about

I’ve been working in a contract-to-hire gig and am in the process of converting to a full-time employee. Both my boss and HR have said there’s an extra step after all the paperwork is signed before I’m completely converted. When I’ve asked what it is, all I was told is that it was just a small extra step but have not been told what it is. I have even asked coworkers and they get all tight lipped about it. How common is this? Have you seen what these small extra steps were at other places? What if I’m completely uncomfortable with this purportedly “small” thing? I’ve been told about a drug screen and I’ve done those before and it’s scheduled before my first day as their employee so that’s not it. I’m confused and irritated. I appreciate any help or insight you can provide.

No idea. This is weird. What are they going to do, haze you? Since it’s not a drug screen, I can’t imagine what step remains that they don’t want to tell you about, but I think it would be reasonable to say that you’re not comfortable finalizing things without knowing what this additional step is, or at least why it can’t be shared with you.

3. Employer is searching our purses when we leave work

I work for Goodwill in Florida and they have now started searching purses when we leave. Mind you, my purse has been locked up in a locker the whole time I’m there. Is this legal? They argue they do it in our stores, but I work in the main office.

Courts have decided these cases on a case-to-case basis, so this is going to be very general information, but here goes. In retail environments, employers are allowed to ask to search your belongings (and you’re allowed to refuse, but they could fire you for refusing) because courts have ruled that there’s a legitimate business interest in preventing theft. It’s murkier in an office environment, where courts are more likely to rule that searches violate your privacy if they’re done without any reasonable suspicion that you’ve violated the law or your employer’s policies. Employers can mitigate some of this risk by having a policy alerting you that they’ll be searching your belongings, but again, this can be a grey area that varies from state to state and case to case.

4. Employer won’t pay lodging expenses at an event we’re expected to attend

I’m an intern for a small nonprofit in DC. In the next few months, our nonprofit has an event in a major city about 5 hours from DC. All of the interns (there are 6 of us), were told that the nonprofit would pay for our bus ride to and from the city, but the one night of lodging and food during our stay would not be provided. While we never signed a document stating it was part of our internship to go to this event, it is the nonprofit’s biggest fundraiser of the year and it is strongly recommended that the interns attend. This seems extremely unfair and unprofessional to me. What are your thoughts on this situation?

Yep, it’s unfair and bad management. If you expect people to attend an event, you pay their expenses to do so. This is true for everyone, but it’s especially egregious to do to interns, who aren’t exactly earning big bucks. I suggest that you all explain that you’d like to go but can’t afford lodging while you’re there.

5. Must women wear makeup to look professional?

I am a lady, but I don’t really wear makeup that often and don’t know much about applying it, so I often go barefaced to interviews rather than risk over doing it. Is that instinct wrong? Is it expected that women wear makeup in industry?

There are indeed some people who believe that women look more professional with makeup, and there are plenty who don’t care at all, but either way, you shouldn’t have to wear makeup if you don’t want to. That said, there are some industries where it’s more expected, and if you’re in one of those, it might be worth learning how to apply some basic makeup so that you’re not worrying about it in interviews. Not that you should have to, but sometimes people are silly. (And if you do decide to go that route, most makeup counters will teach you for free, especially if you then buy a couple of their products.)

6. Bringing a written list of questions to an interview

I always make sure to have questions to ask my interviewer about the organization, the position, etc. Sometimes I have a fair amount of them, so I write them down. Does it look bad to read off a list of written questions? I make an effort to memorize them, but I’ll look at my list to make sure I’m not missing anything. I’m not sure whether have prepared a written list of questions shows that I’m very interested and take the time to prepare or that I’m sloppy and need notes. A lot of my interviewers are reading off a list of written questions so I thought it might be fair to have a physical reminder for myself.

Nope, a written list of questions is good. You’ll look prepared. Just don’t read it like a script.

7. Asking about raises during a hiring process

How do you broach merit raises during the job interview process? I would really like to avoid working for an organzation that doesn’t give their employees raises/cost of living increases. The last two companies I’ve worked for made it known that merit raises aren’t given even if you’re among the top performers.

Wait until you have a job offer, and then ask how the company typically handles raises. This is a normal thing to discuss when you’re negotiating money, but I wouldn’t get into it until you’re at that point.

{ 128 comments… read them below }

  1. ncd*

    #1 If you can’t get an office with windows, could you maybe try a natural light box? It isn’t quite the same, but it might help if you don’t have any other options.

    1. Diane*

      Ditto the Happy Light. My office mate and I managed for four years with one, and when he wasn’t there to turn it on, I was extra grumpy (his light, high shelf, my forgetfulness . . . ). It made a world of difference.

    2. Ashley*

      Get plants and lots of them. Not huge ones, but it helps to get certain plants that can survive with just regular lighting. The outdoors feel may make a difference in your mood. It did mine :)

    3. Kelly O*

      I was just thinking if you can’t score a window, get one of those natural light lamps. I don’t have one, but a friend of mine got one fairly recently and it’s helped her a lot. I’m seriously considering one for my cube.

      1. Angela*

        I LOVE my natural light lamp. Since I live in a generally cloudy area of the country, it goes a long way to help my mood during the bleak winter months. I definitely recommend investing in one. They’re not too expensive, either.

  2. Grich*

    #7 – try asking about “opportunities for growth and advancement” or something similar. They may tell you about raises ;)

  3. EG*

    Re #7 (asking about raises while interviewing):
    You could try framing it in terms of evaluations. How often are their formal evaluations? Are there systems for informal evaluation? Usually evaluations and raises go together, so you may learn something useful.

    1. Anonymous*

      If the OP truly wants to know about raises (i.e. money), I wouldn’t count on just asking about evaluations and having raises be made clear. At my company, they have purposefully disconnected evaluations (done in the fall/winter) from raises (done in the summer), and our raises are not based on our evaluations, or merit of any kind, at all. They determine what the market rate is for your position, whether you are currently over or under that rate, and you get a certain percentage (higher or lower than the cost of living percentage they also determine) based on those factors and nothing else.

      Ask me how well this works for being motivated to go above and beyond in your performance. :-/

  4. Evan the College Student*

    Re #4 about the conference in DC –
    Definitely follow AAM’s advice. But if it doesn’t work out and you still decide to go, you might look around for lower-cost options than hotels. One time when I was in middle school, my Boy Scout troop visited New York City and stayed in the attic of a church; I don’t know exactly what the scoutmasters paid, but I’m sure it was cheaper than a hotel. No idea whether there’re similar places in Washington, but there might be.

    1. Anonymous*

      Thanks for the advice. I think my main concern wasn’t whether or not I could find cheap lodging (it will be quite tricky though), but rather the principle of the issue (that my employer won’t pay for work related travel and that I’m being greatly taken advantage of). I’m going to speak with my boss about it.

      1. KayDay*

        They should pay for it. I work at a very small non profit, and we either pay for staff/interns to go, or they don’t go. At non-profits especially, no one should expect lower-level staff pay for company events. If they won’t pay for your lodging, you could offer to go up in the am and leave at night (it would be a long day, but at least you would be there for the afternoon sessions).

      2. From Michigan*

        At this risk of drawing ire… There is a big, big, big difference between “strongly recommending” that interns attend an event and “requiring” attendance as part of the contract/performance evaluation/grade etc.

        Additionally, I would rethink the frame of mind that you’re being “greatly taken advantage of”. I think that would apply if, say, you were expected to do all of the set-up for the event (but not required to “attend”) and the organization didn’t pay for that travel. As a nonprofit employee myself, I know that there are a lot of reasons/discussion behind employee reimbursement, etc. For example, the budget may be such that the company can’t pay for everyone’s lodging, and so opts to pay for none, or pays for only employees critical to the fundraising goal.

        I understand that interns don’t make a lot of money. However, if I were told that an intern was receiving reimbursement for an event because s/he can’t be expected have money, but that I, an employee, was not being reimbursed, I would be very angry and it would damage my loyalty to the organization. After all, my career is tied to this organization; it’s more than a “learning opportunity” for me. “Unfair” is in the eye of the beholder.

        You have the option of viewing this major event as an excellent opportunity. You also get to make the decision of whether this event is important enough to your development for you to invest in.

        Good luck!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, all of this, if indeed attendance is not mandatory! OP, a couple of your follow-up comments here have indicated that you might be taking a more aggressive stance about this than is warranted, so again, make sure that you’re simply explaining to your boss that you’d like to attend but can’t afford it — not going to battle over it or feeling aggrieved. (Unless, of course, it’s really mandatory, in which case you can feel a little aggrieved but still need to talk it over politely and without rancor.)

        2. KellyK*

          I think that’s a really good point. There’s a big difference between strongly recommended as in “This is essentially mandatory, but we don’t want to say that outright.” and strongly recommended as in “This is a fabulous learning opportunity that we think you’d benefit from.” If the organization is recommending you go for your own benefit, rather than theirs, then they really aren’t obligated to pay for it.

  5. df*

    For question # 5, if you do decide to learn how to apply makeup, there are a lot of videos on youtube that show you how and make it interesting.

    1. The Right Side*

      Very true.

      And Mary Kay – any consultant will you give a free “makeover” – from foundation to eyeliner plus usually free samples, too. They often go for an overkill look – so you really want to emphasis NATURAL as-in “newborn baby” – b/c the term natural is relative, so don’t be afraid to explain :)

      Plus, I don’t care WHO you are – a little powder to take away shine is always a good thing!

  6. fposte*

    On # 5: I’d also say that makeup is often kind of a shorthand code for a professionally sleek and polished appearance, and that there are other ways of telegraphing “sleek and polished” even in fields where makeup is the norm. (And, of course, we’ve all seen makeup jobs that were far from sleek and polished!) I’d also note that you don’t have to do everything a makeup counter suggests–I find it easy to be overwhelmed with three-piece eye-color plans and foundation and bronzer layers, but you can wear makeup without doing all that.

      1. Amy*

        I personally buy and wear 4 items, and they all can be found at WALMART! Hard Candy brand…. anyway “glam-o-flauge” its a concealer that actually is crazy enough to cover a tattoo with layering. I apply a little under my eyes and just on the blemishes and rub it in. Then the brand has a trasnlucent powder that is called “welcome matte.” It gets rid of shine and neutralizes everything. Then I have a brown-ish eye shadow CLEAR mascara both from Covergirl. Clear makes your lashes do the same thing and you dont have to worry about looking like you have too much on.

        Hard Candy used to be expensive in the 90s and I don’t know what is going on now at Wal-Mart but both pieces together will be $12 and then the other two together probably the same. I’m very low maintenace and I feel this is the way to go for work. Also, if you hate Wal-Mart like a lot of people, just get those types anywhere, but they really help. If you have any blush, that will just eccentuate your cheeks and make you look refreshed.
        THis is just my advice but good luck and don’t chane yourslf too much! :)

      2. mh_76*

        #5 – Find what works best for you…be patient, it may take a while. Some people take more than an hour to get ready, complete with shower, 3-color eye makeup, blowdryer, & curling iron. Others get up, get dressed & brush their hair (or wear a b-ball hat on a non-work day), and are out the door within 10 minutes and no makeup. If you do opt for makeup, minimal (or the appearance of minimal) is best. If you choose to wear foundation, powder, and/or concealer, make absolutely sure that it matches or is close to our natural skin tone, which is difficult in artificial light and even more difficult if your complexion is very light (like mine) or very dark.

      3. K*

        absolutely agree! I personally would add a lip gloss or tinted balm at minimum for a polished finish. Definitely more polished, awake and to top it off, you won’t come across as looking “made up”.

        1. K*

          I realize that I sound confusing with so much advice before me. I agree with AAM’s comment about groomed brows and mascara. My minimum meeting/interview make up involves gloss and mascara. You won’t appear to others as being made up, but it adds some polish and will definitely make you look more awake. Day to day, I usually go bare faced.

          I personally love the clinique counter. It won’t be cheap like the drug store brands, but I love the mascara and the almost lipstick for subtlety and quality. The staff there should be able to recommend shades or applications. I also like this choice because the brand does gift giveaways at department stores 1-2 times per year. If you buy your basics then, you have samples of things you wouldn’t ordinarily get that you can play with at home (for free!) to get some practice at application or finding a look.

          If you are set on the drug store, go with Mabelline Great Lash mascara. For gloss, you will have to go through some testers to find something that you like. I use Burts Bees balm, Rimmel or Joe Fresh (if you have one).

      4. Candace*

        That’s exactly what I was going to say. If you feel obliged, all you need is some mascara! I will often have a casual day when that is all I wear. If you do decide to go to a counter be sure to tell them exactly what you want and what you don’t. They can sometimes be pretty pushy with putting 20+ things on your face.

      5. Anonymouse*

        Please Jesus don’t pre-interview pluck your eyebrows yourself if you’ve never done it before. No one ever gets it anything but awkward on the first try. In high school, we all looked like Mr. Spock, or transvestites, but we eventually learned.

    1. Kelly O*

      Speaking as an extremely pale person (who admittedly loves makeup but that’s another story) if you have very light eyebrows, just a little eyebrow pencil or powder can make a world of difference. Takes maybe thirty seconds tops.

      Other thing that can help? Blotting papers if you have a little bit of shine. Just blotting that shine away can help with making you look more polished. (And less nervous/sweaty/whatever.)

    2. Emily*

      Like the OP I rarely wear makeup. I actually do know how to apply it, and I love doing dramatic makeup when I’m attending special functions at night socially, but it’s essentially something I’m not willing to spend any amount of time on as part of my morning routine before work, so I go bare-faced to work every day.

      At conferences where I am supposed to look more polished, I do wear makeup, but I keep it intentionally minimal so I look “fresh” and not like I’m ready to go out on a date. I usually just do thin eyeliner around the outer half of my eyes (this makes them look more open than lining the full eye), a mostly-unnoticeable mauve/rose shade of eyeshadow just on my lids, a bit of white or light pink eyeshadow in the inner corners of my eye (another trick to open up small eyes), and a brown mascara (less stark than black). Other than my eyes the only thing I’ll apply is a bit of blush/rouge, along your cheekbones from the “apple” of your cheek sweeping up to your temple helps make a round face look slimmer.

  7. 2nd time around*

    about #4-event lodging. I took a 2day course and didn’t have much money for a hotel room. I was able to find a nice hostel and got a private room for 1/3 the cost of a hotel room.
    about #5-makeup. I don’t wear makeup and don’t usually take the extra step for an interview. A good facial scrub and maybe a little lipstick is my advice.
    about #6-list of questions. I bring a written list all the time. Good luck!

  8. Blue Dog*

    Re No. 6 – it is one thing to appear enthusiastic. It is quite another to come with a pre-printed list of questions. You will look like a prima donna at best and a douche at worst. In either event, I think it would be awkward and you would come off bad.

    No one has a whole list of issues (at least they shouldn’t). Remember the one or two deal-breakers and worry about the rest if and when the offer comes.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What?! No, this is absolutely not true. I’d be concerned if a candidate only had one or two questions. I want them to be interested in the details of the job, the organization, the team, etc., because I want to see that they’re being thoughtful about whether or not this is the right fit. Any hiring manager who had a problem with a candidate having questions is a hiring manager you absolutely do not want to work for. And having a list of questions written down ahead of time makes you look prepared and responsible. Seriously.

      1. Blue Dog*

        A free flow of info is one thing. Questions about insurance, raises, working conditions, vacations, possibility of advancement, corporate culture, etc.

        I just think whipping out a list is a turn off.

        Every interviewer is different. But for me, by the time they get to the interview, everyone is qualified and I am looking for fit.

        1. Diane*

          So is the job candidate. Good questions range from work culture to special projects to news items about the organizations, as well as those pesky benefits. As an interviewer and as a candidate, I want to make sure there are no nasty surprises and lots of clarity about expectations. A lot of those issues will be addressed during an interview, but a list is no big deal. If it was, I’d take that as a red flag that my need for information and clarity was not consistent with culture.

        2. Josh S.*

          I’m with AAM on this one.

          I usually prepare for interviews by jotting examples I want to be sure to remember that I believe will be relevant and questions I want to be sure to get the answers to. The simple act of writing it down generally means I’ll remember it. But if, for some reason, I don’t recall an example, it’s right in front of me.

          Not a script of what to say or what to ask, but a few words to spark my memory.

          And when the interviewer asks you, “Do you have any questions?” it’s not your turn to raise all the issues you might possibly have. It’s your chance to figure out fit, to understand company culture, etc.

          At one point, I interviewed at a company that was heavily involved in the gaming industry (gambling). The company had a fantastic reputation, a wonderful culture and start-up feel, and perks you don’t hear about very often any more outside of Google. They often got awards for the “best company in [MyTown] to work for.” But when I asked my various interviewers, “I’ve had family members who had gambling addictions. I know you aren’t responsible for their actions. How do you square working at a company that serves the gaming industry with the consequences it can have for these people?”

          The responses basically told me that I would be dealing with some huge guilt issues if I worked there. I’ve got no problem with gambling myself, but the attitude among the people there was callous; I wouldn’t have fit or been able to deal with my feelings of complicity for very long at all. I took myself out of the running for the position.

          There were a whole list of questions I had for the place. This was one of the key ones, but an interview is 2-way flow of information. If you don’t ask questions, you won’t know about whether you’ll be a good fit.

        3. Kelly O*

          You’re also assuming that the questions are one-sided, about insurance, raises, that sort of thing.

          Like Josh S. mentions below, depending on the industry and the opportunity there can be all sorts of questions you might have specifically about the company, the job, or any number of things that are relevant but not self-serving.

          Those things can also help you determine the correct fit, not just qualification.

          1. Amy*

            I agree, and a note card is a nice way to go. I had one a while ago taped to the inside of my binder I brought. I left it open and glanced down at it to remember the important questions I had. Sometimes interviews can turn into opportunities when you’re not expecting it. Last time I had an interview at 2. Then at the end I was invited back for a second interview at 3:45 that same day. I had some time to prepare and thought of tons of things I may want to know. The interviewer said “I like to see you are thinking long term here, Amy” This was a positive that I was making sure of the fit and my future. AAM = good hiring manager :)

        4. YALM*

          I absolutely disagree. I want a candidate to ask questions, to be clear about what the job is like and what the expectations are and what the culture is. I don’t want to hire a candidate who decides after starting that this is the wrong job/place/boss. It’s a huge waste of time for all involved and it’s an expensive mistake.

          If a candidate can remember every question and doesn’t need a crib sheet, that’s fine. If not, bring the list.

        5. K*

          You aren’t going to hand the list over to the interviewer. The list is to keep you on track as to what has been discussed and what remains that you would like to know. I have yet to be interviewed by anyone effectively that didn’t have a list in front of them of the questions that they needed to get through or material that they needed to cover. You need to do the same thing. These questions are the opportunity to demonstrate your interest and distinguish yourself. Write them down on whatever you brought with you to take notes.

    2. Emily*

      Prima donna?

      I’ve never been on an interview where I didn’t have prepared materials. The interviewers always have them, and I’ve never been interviewing for a job where I would be expected to speak extemporaneously so I’m not interested in an employer who expects me to do that in the interview as some kind of test. I jot down key words/phrases related to questions I’m sure they’re likely to ask (Why are you leaving your current job, why are you interested in this job, etc) and a list of questions about the company and what they do, as well as what normal workdays are like. I want to be sure I’m on board before I come board, and any manager I want to work for wants me to be on board before I come on board too. My questions are often things like, “I saw you have offices here and in Cambodia. Is that because of a particular interest in Cambodia, or does the company plan to open offices in other countries over time?” or “How do people in the office usually communicate–is it mostly verbal and in meetings, or is most communication in writing, like over email and via written reports?” I want to have a clear picture of what my job is actually going to be like before I decide if I’m right for the job.

      1. Emily*

        (Like KayDay I just have a spiral notebook that sits in my lap/on the table in front of me during the interview where I both have my advance notes and also jot down things they tell me, so I’ll remember later. I also do some hiring at my job and I’m alarmed when candidates come in and don’t write anything down because I’m skeptical they’ll remember the fine details, especially if they’re interviewing with five companies this week.)

    3. Charles*

      Well, I guess I am a prima donna or a “douche” (douche, really? THAT’S the word you really want to use? I always considered it best to keep feminine hygiene private – but I guess that also makes me a prima donna too!)

      I always have a list of questions prepared before the interview, and, yes, I “wipe out that list” when the interview starts and check off items as we interview. Usually, they address most of my questions. There are some left over, and others that come up, that I will ask.

      Please, note that I used the word “we” in that last paragraph as interviewing is a two-way street. While, you may have decided that everyone that you interview is qualified (why else would you bring them in?) the job seeker needs to decide if you are “qualified” to work for. Don’t assume that you are. (THAT assumption would be the definition of a Prima Donna)

      Recently, I was on an interview in which the interviewers told me that we ran out of time and that questions will have to wait until later in the process! WTF?!

      And, no it is not because they thought that I had a huge list; they had simply, and inconsiderately, scheduled interviews back-to-back, leaving only 30 minutes for each interview. We, job seekers, all met each other in the waiting area. Turning a professional job interview into a cattle call. Now, that’s is what I would call “douche” behaviour!

    4. Anon1973*

      I actually went on an interview that opened this way, “We believe you’re a very intelligent person and have rsearched us. Therefore, we’d like to do things a little bit differently and instead of us asking you questions, why don’t you start first? What questions do you have for us?”

      All that is to say: I disagree that having a list of questions makes someone a prima donna. Companies expect it. In my case, it would have shown I was unprepared. And no, these aren’t questions about insurance or salary. These are questions about the job.

      1. land of oaks*

        I think we should all be glad Blue Dog is upfront about this, cause I definitely wouldn’t want to work for someone who thinks that employee doesn’t have as much of a right to ask questions as the employer does. If Blue Dog thinks I’m a prima donna when I whip my list out, and decides not to hire me, then my list is accomplishing exactly what it is meant to! Establish that this is not a good fit!!

  9. Anonymous*

    Thanks for answering my question (number 4) on this blog! I’m going to schedule a meeting with my supervisor to raise this issue. I don’t believe any of the other interns will bring this issue up, but I’m going to do it because it’s wrong and because you gave me advice to bring it up. I have a strong gut feeling the non-profit is going to tell me I can stay with a staff member’s family friend/work friend (very awkward!), from a business perspective, is this an acceptable solution to the problem?

    1. Long Time Admin*

      For one night, I think it would be acceptable. However, if it makes you feel REALLY uncomfortable, then it would not be acceptable to you.

      Most employers do not pay for first class hotels rooms on business trips, at least not for the hoi polloi (that would be us). The world’s largest retailer used to have a policy that you would book the least expensive accommodation possible, and share the room with a co-worker (sharing a room with anyone other than Jeff Bridges does not appeal to me).

      Discuss this in a very calm manner with your supervisor.

      1. Anonymous*

        I believe IKEA has a similar policy. And the flying cattle class bit applies to the CEO as well. On the ground, it is alleged that while he will drive himself if necessary, he generally prefers his senior citizens bus pass, since it’s cheaper.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      When you meet with your manager, your goal isn’t to protest the decision or get them to change their mind. It’s to nicely explain that you’d love to go but unfortunately can’t afford it. Be very aware of this difference, for the reasons that Rindle explained below.

      On staying with someone: If it’s sharing a hotel room, this is very, very common. If it’s staying in someone’s home — ugh, but some nonprofits (particularly with tighter budgets) do do this. Depends on the culture.

      1. Students*

        Have you heard of companies asking people to stay in a hotel with strangers? I’m in academics, and a lot of our conferences involve this. I seem to be the only one who thinks it’s bonkers to stay in a hotel room with a complete stranger (yes, it’s same gender – no, that doesn’t make me feel any better about it). These aren’t co-workers, they are other people in our field from different states (and countries). I really confused my boss when I opted to get a cheap hotel room for myself, with my own money, instead.

        These also aren’t hostels, either. I could kind of understand the rational if we were saving money by doing this, but these are usually at rather expensive hotels.

          1. 37-year old female CPA*

            The big accounting firms I used to work at expected their staff to share hotel rooms at training conferences. They’ll honor (same gender) roommate requests, but if you don’t know anyone going the same time as you, they’ll just assign two random people, not necessarily from the same office or the same line of business. I always thought it bizarre and cheap for an employer with revenue in the billions. (Managers and people from foreign offices got their own room.)

        1. Jamie*

          That’s really creepy – they need to stop asking people to do that.

          I’d have definitely paid for my own room, too.

        2. Heather B*

          When I have traveled to professional conferences I’ve often posted to mailing lists for alumni from my school or people in my state professional association to see if anyone wants to share. Sometimes these people are total strangers. I guess there’s a little more of a trust level for me because I’ve at least made the contact through an organization that I trust… but I also see where you could be squicked.

      1. Heather*

        and what about feminine hygiene products? There’s a reason women carry their purse into the bathroom.

      2. KellyK*

        This could be a good idea in some cases. I can see it working *if* you work in an area where things aren’t commonly stolen out of cars, *if* you can lock the bag somewhere out of sight, like a trunk or glove box, and *if* you aren’t likely to need too many personal items during your shift and can keep what you do need in your pocket. (I’m thinking mainly of Heather’s point about feminine hygiene products, but also things like meds you would have to take during your shift.)

      3. michael*

        your car doesn’t have locks? i also have expensive prescriptions. i keep what i need in a ill box in my pocket.

        1. The gold digger*

          My car has locks, but thieves have broken the window before (twice) to steal items that were not visible in the trunk, such as the old shower curtain I used to keep there in case I needed to change a tire in the rain. They also stole four quarts of motor oil and my prescription sunglasses that I had been dumb enough to leave in the car.

          They did not, however, steal my cassettes, which I found insulting.

          As far as fem hygiene products – a friend used to work at a research center. You couldn’t take anything in or out of the lab, so the company stocked the ladies’ room with tampons and pads. That’s a fair solution.

          1. kb*

            Pretty sure a place that searches all employees’ bags before they leave isn’t going to be rushing to provide (expensive) tampons and pads for the staff.

            Heck, I work in the reproductive health field, and we dont do that.

          1. NDR*

            So true! I had my purse stolen once and was so much more heartbroken that they got my favorite red purse than my crappy old credit cards.

            1. saro*

              I had my car broken into and they stole my Quran (wrapped in pretty fabric) and my Best of the 70s CDs. There is a thief out there who is pondering religion while listening to the Bee Gees.

  10. Brightwanderer*

    #2 – is it possible that this “secret extra step” is just some sort of surprise gift or celebration, or something really silly like, I don’t know, being knighted with an inflatable sword? The fact that everyone’s so tight-lipped about it might suggest that they don’t want to “spoil” whatever it is. It’s a stupid way to handle it, because as you’ve demonstrated, the person out of the loop is likely to get worried about it, but I can imagine it being a sort of office injoke that no-one realises isn’t funny for the outsider.

    1. Long Time Admin*

      I can’t imagine WHAT it might be, but it totally turns me off.

      I would certainly think again about accepting a position with an employer who would not be up front and honest with me about everything in the hiring process.

      1. Anonymous_J*

        It turns me off, too. It could be something silly or cute, but it’s really creepy to be this secretive, honestly.

    2. Commenter*

      That was my thought too–maybe it’s actually something fun. What is the rest of the office culture like? If there have been other celebrations or “team-building” or appreciation things happening, this could very well be the case. On the other hand, if the office tends to be the opposite of that environment, maybe the extra-step is more serious. You’ve been working there, so you’re in the best position to assess the culture. But not knowing what it is, I’d just sit tight and see. If it is a fun surprise, you don’t want to come off as a worrywart, and if it is something truly bad, you can always turn them down, right?

    3. Andrew*

      Sounds more like the premise of a thriller/ horror movie: the final step is really taking a blood oath to protect the secrets of the Illuminati, or becoming a guardian of the secret Hellmouth, or something like that.

    4. mh_76*

      #2 – Did any of your colleagues also start there as contract-to-hire workers? If so, maybe they could shed some light on the “secret next step”. Maybe ask someone before or after work, en route between your desk and your cars/train station/bus stop.

  11. Rindle*

    #4: I totally get why you are frustrated, and I would feel the same way. Even if money weren’t an issue, it would be the principle of the thing.

    And it sounds like money isn’t much of an issue, really. You think they may offer a free place to crash, or the interns could pitch in for one hotel room with two double beds and a cot. Now, both of those situations sound like the seventh circle of hell to me, but they are options.

    Here’s where I’m going with this: you’re right. It’s unprofessional. Before you talk to your supervisor, just be honest with yourself about why you’re talking to him/her and what you hope to accomplish. If you need to make the stand on principle, I get that. But the words and attitude you choose will impact how your supervisor sees you. If you have an obvious chip on your shoulder, or if you are flaunting the moral high ground (which you have, IMO), it will come across and your boss probably won’t like it.

    There’s a reason they aren’t paying for your hotel and meals. They didn’t arbitrarily make the decision. And whatever reason it is (budget, rite of passage, *their* principles, whatever) is something your supervisor (or his/her supervisors) believes is okay. You’re telling them it’s not okay. You aren’t wrong, but is it worth it? Only you can answer that question. Just be sure to consider it. Good luck!

    1. Heather B*


      I read a great book on negotiation called “Getting More” recently. One of the best tips was that you can make the conversation be about who’s right, or you can make the conversation be about how to get what you want/need. If you choose to have the former conversation, it’s unlikely that your partner in negotiation will be interested in helping you out.

  12. KayDay*

    re: #6-bringing list of questions: I always bring a nice covered note pad thingie (the graduation gift from my university) to interviews. I store copies of my resume, a pen, etc. in it and use the pad to take a few notes during the interview. Since I have it out for the whole interview, I usually jot some questions down discreetly on it. That way I still have questions written down, but I’m not whipping out a new sheet of paper when asked about my questions.

  13. Seal*

    Re: #6: I agree with AAM that it’s OK to bring a list of questions to an interview. In my industry (academia) day-long interviews where you meet a lot of people and tour several facilities are the norm. It’s mentally and sometimes physically exhausting for even the best-prepared candidate. Having a list of questions to refer to and taking discrete notes throughout the day insures that you don’t forget anything and makes you look organized.

  14. Catherine*

    5. Whenever a woman mentions wearing makeup to look more professional, my first thought (unfortunately) is always, “And *what* is your profession, exactly?” I think that the commonplaceness of makeup-wearing varies with the field and with the region of the country. I do tend to associate full makeup with women in sales positions, because that’s who I most often see wearing it, and, at least in my area, I see more and more women without makeup as I look up the pay and education scales. Perhaps that is because the women who don’t like to wear it feel more confident as they gain power and therefore feel free not to bother. (I will admit that my profession is among the more liberal professions out there, so attitudes toward gendered appearance may be looser in what I normally see than in some industries.)

    I’m in my early thirties and haven’t worn makeup since I was a teenager. Some people must notice, but no one has ever indicated to me that they do. It has been 100% a non-issue. For an interview, I’d say to do whatever makes you feel most confident. If you think that wearing some makeup will keep you from worrying about what people think, then do it. But if figuring out how to apply the makeup gives you another set of worries, then don’t do it and just make an effort to put forward the best appearance that reflects the “you” you’re comfortable being.

    1. Jackie*

      AMEN! Love this response. I am the same way…haven’t worn makeup since highschool and I don’t plan on it. I really think it’s ridiculous that women should ever feel expected to wear makeup!

      1. Joey*

        Ever? It should be expected when it’s the norm in the profession or company culture. When I was younger I used to have a similar view for men with long hair and earrings. You quickly learn that you can be yourself, dig your heels in, and limit your job opportunities or you can conform and progress professionally.

        1. Anonymous*

          Why should it be expected for someone to wear make-up? And how can it be a way to progress professionally? Maybe I misread your last sentence, but it sounds like you are saying that one must conform (ie wear make-up) in order to progress.

          I’m in my mid-twenties, and I don’t wear make-up. I hate how it looks, and I think it feels funny. Maybe I’ll change when I’m in my thirties, but right now, I don’t buy it. I think it’s expensive, and I would prefer to spend my money on other things – like clothing and accessories, etc. No one in a supervising/management position has said anything to me about it; only a coworker has. But I shut her up real quick.

          1. fposte*

            While I doubt that makeup itself is actually necessary for success, I agree with what I see as Joey’s underlying point.
            There’s a risk and a cost to bucking convention, whether it be refusing to shake hands, wearing flip-flops in the office, wearing jeans in a suit workplace, or anything else. You’re always free to make the choice, but you’re never free to insist people can’t assess you based on that choice.

    2. Colleen*

      THANK YOU! I was reading the responses above and wondered if I was the only person out there who didn’t wear makeup and wasn’t stressed about it and didn’t want to.

      (Yes, I know a little mascara will help make me look more awake, but I don’t want to wear it. )

      Just…. thank you!!! So much!!!

    3. Steve G*

      I think this question is funny because alot of men have no idea if a woman is wearing makeup or not. I always thought my 2 girl coworkers were au-natural until they started talking about makeup – had no clue they ever wore it. So I don’t think a guy interviewer is really going to notice or care either way (unless you have a hideous scar and don’t want to be remembered as “the girl with the scar”

  15. GeekChic*

    #1: Florescent lights trigger my migraines. I’ve never had a problem with an employer either leaving them off or switching them for full-spectrum bulbs over my work area. You might see if the full-spectrum bulbs are an option for you.

    #5: If it’s any comfort, I’m female and have never worn make-up (allergies and just don’t like it). I work in IT now but have had front-facing and senior management positions in the past and it was never an issue. That said, I would never work for a company where it was an issue.

    1. Jamie*

      I second the fluorescent lights as a migraine trigger…I’ve also never had any resistance to asking for them to be swapped out.

      Maybe because I’m even less delightful when working through a migraine.

      As far as the make-up thing goes, I don’t see why it would matter as long as someone is clean and pulled together. I do wear make-up because it’s my personal preference, but I’ve certainly had days where I was running late and just never got around to it and I don’t think my work suffered.

      Although, on the rare occasion I don’t wear it people will tell me I look tired. I’m pale and as Alison mentioned upthread a little mascara will do wonders for appearing alert.

      1. Megan*

        I almost loled at the reference desk reading “maybe because I’m even less delightful when working through a migraine.” Love.

        This is pretty much where I fall, too – I prefer to wear a bit of makeup, because I kind of like it and it makes me feel that I look better, but I also love my sleep. On days when I’m running late, I figure everyone I work with would much rather I not spend the 10-15 minutes on makeup. They don’t care that much how I look, as long as I’m getting the job done.

      2. HR Gorilla*

        Side note: I haaaate when people comment that I “look tired” or “look sick.” Gee, thanks! The only thing that can mean is “you look like sh*t.” May be a picky point or a sensitive subject with me, but I much prefer “you don’t seem like your usual self today…feeling okay?”

        1. Jamie*

          Yeah – why do people do that? If I look tired or sick pointing it out isn’t going to make me feel any better.

          The same goes for overly enthusiastic complements. I started using a new moisturizer and, no kidding, in the first week I had three seperate co-workers go on and on about how different I looked…brighter and happier. The heck? I didn’t mention it to anyone (I don’t find my choice of moisturizer to be particularly interesting) so it was really weird and although it was confirmation that the product was working I was actually kind of offended.

          Nothing like being paranoid that everyone thought you had been looking like crap before.

          Offhand comments that someone looks nice, or has cute shoes or whatever – that’s fine. If it turns into a conversation about someone’s looks it gets creepy – no matter how complimentary it is.

  16. Anonymous*

    To the Makeup Question – Just wear a tinted moisturizer and some mascara and you’ll be good to go! If you are fair skinned, add a bit of blush. and a hint of lip color – a tinted lip balm. simple and natural!

  17. blu*

    For number 2, is it possible that they are referring to administrative steps that don’t warrant explanation? Once a candidate accepts our offer there are additional things we do before they start/get converted (like get their payroll records, system records, timekeeping, and other data initiated/updated etc). Usually the date you sign the offer isn’t the same date you get converted/start. I wonder if the OP is just reading into this too much. Perhaps “tip-lipped” is really your peers don’t know what the extra step is because they are not in HR. I wonder if maybe the conversation with the manager and HR looked like this:

    OP: Ok once I sign the offer I’m an employee right
    HR: No, we still have another small step to complete and then you will be an employee.

    If I were the HR person I would have no clue this person is walking around thinking I’m hiding a secret from him.

    1. YALM*

      It’s certainly possible that the small step is no big deal. But OP indicates having asked what it was and not getting an answer. Seems hinky. Not necessarily “Run Away!” hinky, but still…

      1. blu*

        I kind of get that, but I feel like we are missing some of the context here. The OP said “Both my boss and HR have said there’s an extra step after all the paperwork is signed before I’m completely converted. When I’ve asked what it is, all I was told is that it was just a small extra step but have not been told what it is”

        If there conversation happened like the one I wrote above then I’m guessing Boss and HR haven’t given anymore thought to this and don’t know he is ever this concerned over it. When we bring on a new hire their are a number of steps in between accept and offer to bring that person on-board, but if the new hire asks me about them my first inclination is not to info dump on them, but to give them a more generic answer like what the OP received. Chances are the small steps really are just small steps and are nothing to be concerned about.

        1. Former Temp*

          It could be anything – having a committee sit around and talk about you behind your back or a credit/criminal background check. I once temped at the very very large soft drink company and it came up at a meeting that they occasionally drove by an employee’s home before offering them a transfer because they wanted a wild guess as to whether housing/relocation would be prohibitively expensive. (A manager pointed out that this was “creepy”.) I do think it’s kind of a red-flag that your coworkers are clamming up when you ask.

          To bring a contractor on full time, it could be something like checking your Facebook or Twitter account to see if you have something up that is public AND embarassing, either to you or the company. If it were a completely benign administrative step, you’d think they’d tell you what it was. If it’s so secret, why even tell you the step exists?

  18. XYZ*

    #5: You want to be at your best for an interview, so just do what makes you comfortable! And if you do opt for makeup, keep it simple.

    I enjoy getting dolled up for special occasions, but I just wear tinted moisturizer for work. I work in a creative agency, where I normally wear a sweater, jeans, and flats/sneakers. If I were expected to wear a nice button down shirt and dress pants to work, then I would consider wearing more makeup. It all depends on the office environment.

    I’ve seen a lot of women overdo their office makeup. They cake on layers of powder and go for over the top eyeshadow more suitable for a big night on the town. Plus, most offices have bright fluorescent lighting, which can make heavy makeup look really awful.

  19. Jamie*

    “I’ve seen a lot of women overdo their office makeup.”

    Yes – if you are using Marlo Thomas from her That Girl era as your model put down the trowel and back slowly away from the mirror…

  20. Malissa*

    I always have a list of questions and things I want to know about going into an interview. I view it as more of a check-list kind of situation.
    There are things I just want to know before taking a position. Like why is it open? What’s a typical day like? What’s their total annual budget, if I can’t find the information online. (I’m an accountant–this is important to me). And especially what they are looking for in an employee.
    If I don’t have the list, then I know there’s things I’ll regret not asking the minute I’m out the door. I find that usually at least 50% of my list is crossed off before the part of the interview where they ask if I have questions. In one rare instance I had the whole list crossed off.

  21. Jamie*

    The contract to hire arrangement – are you a private contractor or are you going through an agency?

    I was hired from a contract through an agency once and they needed to pay a fee in order to put me on permanently. The agency wanted the equivalent of 35% of my first yearly salary and it took a couple of weeks of negotiations to get it down to the 25% they settled on.

    If you’re going through an agency it could be paperwork/money on that side…but still no reason not to explain that to you.

  22. Heather*

    My husband once had a boss who had an off-site one day at a majorly expensive amusement park in Southern California. The kicker? He expected everyone to pay for a day at the park with their spouses, plus dinner at the most expensive restaurant in the park. After a few people complained about the expense, he wrangled a small discount for dinner, but only for the employees.

    And this was after nearly a year of unemployment and we had totally drained our savings to survive. He felt like he couldn’t say no, since it was his first month on the job, so we had to charge everything.

    That boss wound up making my husband absolutely miserable, and this was only the beginning.

  23. Anonymous*

    This sounds to me like it is something they have planned to make you feel like you are part of the group. Like a party or your new team goes out to lunch. It could also be something like a new name tag or key card that says you are an employee not a contractor. Usually co-workers are not” tight lipped” unless it is something that is an inside joke/ fun and most companies would not have a final step that could disqualify you after so much time and energy was spent on other parts of the hiring process. Also most managers would not call something that could disqualify you at the last minute “small.” I would not worry about it until it happens, if it turns out to be another actual step in the hiring process you can talk to your manager at that point to explain (calmly and professionally) how the process looked from your perspective.

    Keep us updated we want to know what it is!

  24. Vicki*

    > there are lots of other people who would like space with natural light too

    You might be surprised. I have worked in too many places where the employees next to the windows complain of glare or too much light and pull the blinds. (I’ve worked in places where other employees turn OFF the lights in the room. It’s hateful.)

    1. KellyK*

      It really depends on the placement of both the window and your desk. As much as I really appreciate natural light and the ability to see outside, the last time I had an office with a window, I had to move my desk three or four times to get an angle where I didn’t have the sun glaring on my monitor. (I’m also not comfortable having my back to a door, so that limited options more than just the window.)

    2. Laura*

      I’m one of the “turn the lights off” people…bright overhead lights make my head pound and I’m much more comfortable working with room lights off, desk lamp/floor lamps on. Just saying, it’s another one of those to-may-to/to-mah-to things: to me it’s “hateful” when people walk into my office and flip the overheads on.

      1. Liz in a Library*

        Agreed. I get terrible migraines from overhead fluorescent lights. My least favorite thing is the world is when someone walks into my office and turns on the light.

        It’s my office!

  25. AD*

    Re: #1 If you legitimately have seasonal affected disorder (appropriately shortened as SAD), you can get a doctor’s note on this, but I agree that the natural light lamp works wonders, as well.

    Re #2 It could be a test in the vein of the Wonderlic. For some reason, companies are super-secretive about these things.

    1. fposte*

      A doctor’s note doesn’t earn anybody the right to an office with a window, though. If the SAD rises to the level of a disability, you can talk to your superiors about accommodation, but a light box is likely to be the reasonable accommodation given anyway. And if it doesn’t rise to the level of a disability, then there’s not much point in getting the doctor involved, because there’s no legal force to a medical recommendation; might as well just ask on a “Hey, any chance this could happen? It would really help” basis.

      1. Steve G*

        I don’t think a light box works for all people. Some people just don’t care about sunlight, others crave it. I crave it, so get this person and the feeling you get that you’re really missing out on something when it is sunny out and you’re inside, or worse, can’t even see the sunlight! Alot of people don’t get this, they can easily and comfortably hangout inside watching tv on a sunny day and not feel like they need to get sunlight.

        1. fposte*

          I’m not disagreeing with that; my point is that the doctor’s note has no legal meaning on its own, and that even if SAD is considered a disability under ADA (which it doesn’t sound like it would, in this case), the office isn’t obliged to provide the accommodation of the employee’s choice, just a reasonable accommodation.

  26. Joe Schmoe*

    Regarding Question #2 – I am extremely curious to know what that final “extra” step turned out to be!! Can you follow up with that person after they complete the hiring process??

    Regarding Question #3 – Neiman Marcus had a distribution center in a town near where I used to live and they required all employees to only bring clear purses/bags when coming to work so they could see the contents at all times. I have also heard of other retail places that required this. If it becomes a problem, just stop bringing a purse. Get a keychain that you can clip on your beltloop and leave everything else in the car.

    1. OP #2*

      To be honest I have no clue what it was. There was no mention of any additional steps ala ‘oh by the way do this.’ I just handed in my benefit package and they took my picture for an ID badge. It must have been the picture, haha. Otherwise, I’m at a loss. Oh well, it’s a good position with great people as well as a great place to be for only being 25 years old (not to mention a senior role as well, sweet!). Though, I did get my lunch bought by one of the project managers and there was some minor fanfare and congratulations all around so it’s been a good day.

  27. Suz*

    Regarding #5 – Why is everyone telling the OP to wear makeup? If you don’t normally wear makeup, don’t wear it. As long as you look neatly groomed, that’s all that matters. No need to pretend to be someone you’re not.

      1. Another Emily*

        Word to that! For what it’s worth, I don’t wear makeup either. Nobody cares.

  28. Anonymous*

    Re: #5. Be yourself for the interview, but take a look around once you get hired. If all the other women in the office are wearing makeup, dressed professionally, have their hair done, etc… you should try and make adjustments too, especially if the position merits a professional appearance. I work in an office right now where every single woman wears makeup, does their hair, dresses just above business casual (as we constantly have unannounced client visits) and we have one woman who consistently does not wear makeup, comes to work with wet hair in a ponytail, and wears clothes that are clearly old (fraying, holes, etc). It drives the rest of us crazy that we put in effort to look professional, while she prides herself on “leaving the house in 10 minutes”. It is embarrassing to have clients come to the office. And to stop the “may not have money” critics, this is clearly not an issue as she regularly brags about new cars, vacations, gadgets, elite memberships, etc. But if your job doesn’t involve any client contact and the workforce seems amenable to a no-makeup look then ignore everything I’ve said.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This sounds less about her not wearing makeup and more about her presenting an overly casual appearance in general. If she came to work with groomed (and dry) hair and in professional clothes, I don’t think you’d really care that she wasn’t wearing makeup.

      1. fposte*

        I think sometimes “not wearing makeup” is used to sum up a jeans-and-sneakers approach rather than to mean simply not wearing makeup. What’s really significant is the dominant message of appearance rather than any individual component.

    2. Anonymous*

      I agree with AAM as that sounds more like the whole package rather than worrying whether she is wearing some mascara or lip gloss. If I was the boss, I’d be more concern about the ratty clothing than the lack of make-up issue. Where I work, it is stated that clothes must be in good, presentable condition.

  29. Liz*

    Congratulations on the progress with the foot!

    And to jump in on the makeup debate, I think visible makeup is off-putting. Subtle makeup is fine, but when someone is wearing makeup I can see, that’s all I can look at and I can barely hear the person talking.

  30. anon-2*

    #4 – I worked at a company which would always allow us our own hotel room, but the per diem for food was so stintingly low, we had to dig down into our own pockets. A road trip cost us money.

    One manager had the audacity to tell us “there are places you CAN eat in New York cheaply”… and began to rattle off places like a comissary for unemployed actors, and other places that are basically soup kitchens. “That’s where my family and I eat when we’re in New York!!”””

  31. khilde*

    #1 – About a year ago, our offices were moved from a 3rd story office space with a windows into a newly-remodeled space in the basement. I was dreading, dreading the move thinking I was going to wilt up like a flower….but it hasn’t been that terrible. You get used to it. I have not tried the light box (but after all those glowing reviews, might have to check into it!), but I have been fine without it. Maybe just try it out for a few months and see how you adjust. You might be surprised. If it turns out that it terrible affects your mood and productivity, your boss might be willing to work with you. But if you say “I *think* I am not going to handle it well…” — I don’t think I’d be impressed. I’m sure no one else wants to move to a space without windows either. You’ll be ok. Just blow up a picture of a relaxing outdoor scene and hang it on your cube wall.

  32. anonymous*

    re: #4, I spoke with my boss, explained to them that it would be a financial struggle to pay for my own lodging and then clarified with them that since this since lodging wasn’t being payed for, I assumed this wasn’t a mandatory event and that there wouldn’t be any negative repercussions for me not attending. My boss said this was a reasonable concern and I later received an email saying the company is paying for interns lodging. I was floored as I was expecting to not attend the event. I’m very glad I spoke up! Thanks for all the advice., everyone.

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