why would my former boss invite me to lunch?

A reader writes:

Why would my former boss invite me to lunch?  Haven’t seen or heard from him in over a year.  My position was eliminated due to budget cuts.

There are all kinds of possible reasons your boss might invite you to lunch:

1. He simply wants to catch up. Did the two of you have a good relationship, and was he a generally social guy? If so, this is possible.

2. He has a job opening or knows of an opening somewhere else that he thinks you might be interested in, and he wants to feel you out about it.

3. He wants something for himself — he’s interested in a job that you somehow have a connection to, or wants advice on something you’re an expert in, or who knows what.

But you won’t know which of these it is until you go. Unless you really hate the guy, there’s no reason not to go and catch up and find out what’s up. And if nothing else, it’s worth maintaining the connection for its own sake; they tend to be useful in all kinds of ways you might not anticipate (to say nothing of references, etc.).

{ 34 comments… read them below }

  1. EngineerGirl

    This is true networking. When I was younger my one boss invited me to lunch. It turned out that he wanted to talk about my weaknesses and how I could improve them. Some of the things were hard things. He also wanted to talk about my place as a woman in a incredibly sexist organisation – he wanted to speak frankly on how to survive it and it wouldn’t have been good to do it at work. I appreciate that he did it away from work.

    1. Bridgette

      Wow, his caring is impressive. Those do sound like difficult things to discuss (especially hearing about your weaknesses) but it’s great that he wanted to invest in you by talking about them.

  2. Not So NewReader

    Run a “what if” scenario in your head. What if the conversation is very bad and you find yourself upset? Then get up and leave. You are meeting in a public place, probably you each have your own transportation. Seems to me he is handling this in the politest manner possible.

    “What if” he has an offer or a venture you are not interested in? After you get through your no thank yous, etc, ask him if you may contact him in the future if you find something professionally interesting to the both of you.

    1. clobbered

      I’m not sure the what-if game is a good idea here, you can drive yourself crazy (“what if he wants to declare his unrequited love for me now that I no longer work for him”).

      I’d go with what Andy said below and just ask (at least if the OP feels at all nervous/suspicious about the request – if it was one of my former bosses I’d just say hell yes and go straigh to arguing about who’s buying the beer).

      1. Ryan

        You don’t know that the OP wouldn’t welcome such a declaration do you? But yeah…you can drive yourself nuts with what-ifs.

      2. Not So NewReader

        This is true.

        And yeah, I had thought about Mr. Ex-Boss turning in to Mr. Stalker. I kind of felt that if the guy was creepy, she would have just said no and not written to AAM.

        Definitely, OP, if your intuition is flashing warning lights then do not go. Trust your intuition.

        I am thinking the guy just joined Amway and he is recruiting.

        The way I use the what if technique is like this: I figure out what is the worst thing that can happen? What do I fear the most?
        The next step is to figure out what I would do if that happened.
        If I cannot figure that out- there’s my answer: “Do NOT do this.”

        Above everything else, OP, pay attention to your gut/intuition.

      3. AG

        My maxim: you’re allowed to play the “what if” game, but you must answer the questions you ask. Often I find realistic possibilities aren’t as bad as I can scare myself into believing.

        1. Jamie

          My mom used to say 98% of the stuff you worry about never happens…and there’s rarely much you can do about the other 2%.

          Even though I can tear holes in the logic of her theory all day long, I still find it comforting.

          And now that I’m an adult I have nothing but sympathy for a mom who was desperately chucking platitudes at a kid who worried about everything like it was my freaking job. I can see why she didn’t bother fact checking the validity of the stats once she found a phrase that worked.

  3. Frances

    I will caution that if you still know someone else at your old employer, you might casually reach out to them and make sure your old boss is still in good standing. One of my old bosses was forced to resign for misuse of company funds (while I was still his employee) but had a settlement with the employer that they wouldn’t make public why he resigned. One of the first things he did after his resignation was contact a couple of people who had previously worked for our department to try to establish networking contacts — unfortunately for him, they were still friends with our department coordinator and knew exactly what had happened. Which doesn’t mean that’s what’s going on here, just that it’s better to make sure you have all the information going in.

    1. Jeff

      Excellent advice.

      And if his answer is vague or non-specific? Be ready to be assaulted with a multi-level marketing scheme sales pitch when you show up!

      Likely not the case, but those kind of sales pitches are often pre-ceeded with an invitation for a free meal in order to help you feel obligated to reciprocate by making a purchase or joining.

  4. Ryan

    Simple fix –

    “May I ask what this is regarding?”

    You have every right to ask and it’s not the least bit inappropriate especially if you haven’t heard from him in a significant amount of time (or EVER since your departure from the company).

  5. Scott M

    I wonder if the OP has a personality similar to my own. I’m a terrible networker. I have trouble talking to people, just to talk. There has to be some other reason to interact. I need to have context for the conversation.

    If my old boss called me up for a lunch, I would be uncomfortable. Since he’s not my boss anymore, why would he want to talk to me? Our relationship is one of boss/employee. Since I’m no longer his employee, whats our relationship?

    I know this is done all the time, but such things just makes me uncomfortable. I wonder if the OP feels the same way.

    1. Chinook

      I am like this too – horrible networker and not great at small talk. But, when a former boss invited me to her new company’s Stampede Breakfast (where they invite all sorts of vendors and clients and is the sort of thing done around town for 2 weeks straight), I was curious enough to take up the invite (plus it was a free breakfast) but smart enough not to mention which company I was going to when I asked to come in late that morning (i.e. it wasn’t an interview and I wasn’t looking but…)

      Turned out to be a smart move. She wanted me to to meet her boss and a her coworkers because she had been talking about me to them for a potential opening. Nothing came out of it until 2 months later when I was asked to come in for a formal job interview for the job I eventually got.

      In short, the worse that can happen is a free meal or coffee for you, right?

    2. Anonymous

      Perfect chance to practice networking and talking though…lunch with former boss == no pressure. Try stuff out!

      Another place this introvert goes to practice talking to folks is stores where they have high pressure sales folks. Or ooh car dealerships. What are the poor sales folks going to do, tell you you are a nut case and walk away? I don’t think so.

      And two weeks ago, I had a nice phone conversation with Sean from the Republican Party. I spend a half hour trying to convince poor Sean to vote more appropriately.

      All practice counts. Get out there!

  6. Anonymous

    What if he is using you as an alibi while he murders someone? And he somehow makes you think it’s 1:30pm when it’s really 1:15 so you’ll testify he couldn’t have pulled the trigger since he was sitting right in front of you!

    What if he isn’t a murderer, but wants some of your saliva so he can have you cloned? That’s creepy, right? Ugh. I hate it when that happens.

    Or even worse, what if there is already a clone of you out there, and your ex-boss and the clone are in cahoots – they want you out of your office so the clone can take your place and embezzle….wait for it…one billion dollars! And you’ll take the rap for that.

    Be careful. Be careful.

  7. Canuck

    Perhaps I’m more optimistic, but given that we don’t know what the working relationship was prior to the OP’s position getting eliminated, I’m inclined to think this is more of a positive.

    To me, the worst case scenario is that the ex-boss just wants to catch up (if he was a stalker, the OP would have known this by now, but he hasn’t been in contact for over a year). Best case scenario, he has a job that he thinks the OP would be great for.

    1. Anonymous

      I sure hope you are right Canuck! I was an administrative assistant at my former job and had a great working relationship with my former boss. It wasn’t his decision to let me go–it was his boss! I would just love to go back and work for him. We had a great group.

  8. AG

    Best case scenario: he has a job for you.
    Worse case: he is trying to sell you something.

    Either way, it’s a free meal. Go into it with an open mind and a closed wallet!

    1. AG

      I always thought it was standard that the asker pays, especially when it’s someone who is presumably older and makes more money.

      1. EngineerGirl

        I prefer to pay my own way. That way I am free with no obligations. Also, since we are both paying it places us on a peer-to-peer level.

    2. Rana

      I always assume that I’ll have to pay. That way if there’s any awkwardness over the bill it consists of you being pleasantly surprised, rather than the two of you looking guiltily at each other.

  9. Jen

    4. He/she has just started an Avon/Pampered Chef/Arbonne/31 Gifts/Tupperware business and wants to tell you all about it.

    Or maybe that was just my old boss.

    1. Not So NewReader

      I tend to think this is what the meeting is about. A lot of these multi-levels teach their reps not to say over the phone what it is they are doing. Wait until the perspective client/recruit is in front of you, then tell them what you are doing.

      I do not care for this strategy. I think that the covert message here is “Yeah, I know that when you find out it is Amway/Tupperward/Avon you will not continue the conversation with me. So I dragged you to this restaurant where you feel you have to stay long enough to finish the food on your plate.”

  10. Freddy

    I resigned from my job last week. Actually my boss forced me to resign with a threat to fire me down the road if I don’t resign! So I resigned. The next day he messages me to buy me lunch. I said Ok and now I’m meeting him tommorow! He asked that I bring my resume if I care to. Can someone tell me what he wants? How do I approach this?It’s so weird because I have worked there for one month before getting fired. I don’t even know the guy that much!

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