salary when you don’t know what the job is, illegal interview questions, and more

It’s short answer Sunday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Being asked about salary when you don’t even know what the job is

I have a question about networking and salary. I have a great networking contact who is in management at a company I want to work for. He told me to apply for a general position (not from a listing) and use his name. The hr contact he gave me got right back to me and thanked me for my interest and asked my salary requirements.

I really don’t know how to respond to this. I’m not even applying for a specific job and don’t have a real idea of what the job entails! I don’t want to price myself out of an interview and I don’t want to lowball myself either. It feels weird to go back to my contact and ask for his advice, but it also feels weird to start arguing with HR over a hypothetical job and salary. Thoughts?

They’re asking because they assume that you, like most people, have a certain range that you’re looking for that corresponds with the type of work you’re seeking to do and the level that you’re at. But it’s certainly reasonable to respond with, “Well, without having a specific position to discuss, it’s difficult to give a specific answer, but in general I’m looking for a position doing XYZ. I’d be glad to talk salary once we’re able to talk about a specific role!”

That said, be prepared for this to be met with skepticism, because they’ll assure you still have a salary range in mind, regardless (which you probably do — it’s just silly for them to be starting there before even hinting at what type of role they’d be considering you for).

2. Talking with multiple recruiting companies without it getting back to my employer

I am in a very comfortable job that I like a lot (3+ years, first job) but I have started to look around for a similar position with more responsibility or a different set of tasks.

I always thought I would be searching for a while for positions in this very specialist field in this small (non-U.S.) area, and I was fine with that. Now it turns out there is a lot of demand for someone with my profile and work experience, and I have had several recruiting companies contacting me without even knowing that I was looking. Do you have any advice on how to coordinate different recruiting companies wanting to talk about job opportunities? I am very hesitant in giving out my information to multiple people since I currently do not want word of my search spreading too far. Are there any unwritten rules that I should be aware of?

If they’re contacting you without knowing that you’re looking, it’s fine to say, “I’m happy where I am now, but I’d be glad to talk with you with the caveat that I need to keep our discussions confidential for now. I wouldn’t want my employer to think I was actively looking to leave.” Which is true.

3. Applying for an internship after being rejected for an entry-level position

I have several companies that I would really like to work for and have applied to entry-level positions there. If I get rejected, is it acceptable to try again for an intern-level position, or will that look inappropriate? (My financial situation means that I really need to try to have a more substantial income if I can, but I will take an internship and work something out if I have to.)

Yes, you can do that.

4. Should I complain to an employer for asking me illegal interview questions?

I interviewed for a position at a small nonprofit (4 full-time staff members). I had two interviews; both were with the executive director and the person I would be replacing (the executive director’s #2). I was highly qualified for the job, had excellent chemistry with both staff members and the organization, and felt confident with my answers to their questions. I was not hired.

During the course of the interview, I was asked several questions by both staff members that I know are illegal. These included, “Do you have children?” and “Where did you grow up?” The one that especially bothered me was about where I lived and “How long is your commute?” I live in a suburb but no more than 30 minutes from the city and it is an average commute (i.e., all my neighbors do it and my last commute was 80 minutes). This came up again in my second interview. There was nothing in the job description, nor did anyone tell me the job required urban residency. I know a lot of these questions came up conversationally but I still feel bothered by it.

I was rejected in a voicemail. I emailed a thank you and got a pleasant thank-you back. I want to reply and let them know they are asking illegal questions and while I won’t press charges or while I don’t care, they should know if they want to grow their organization. But a part of me thinks I am just bitter and should let it go. Thoughts?

Yes, let it go. These are not illegal interview questions. In fact, there’s no such thing as an illegal interview question, other than questions asking about disabilities. All the other ones that people think are illegal — questions about kids, marital status, ethnicity, religion, etc. — aren’t illegal. What’s illegal is making a decision based on the answers, and so as a result, smart interviewers don’t ask them — no point in asking a question that (a) you can’t take into consideration and (b) might make the candidate think you’re going to illegally base your decision on.

What’s more, even the law preventing employers from making decisions based on the answers to these questions wouldn’t apply in this case, because Title VII of the Civil Rights Act only applies to employers with 15 employees or more, so this employer isn’t even covered by it. And what’s more on top of that, asking where you grew up (unless it’s designed to get at ethnicity or national origin) or how long your commute is isn’t even sketchy; they’re pretty common get-to-know-you questions.

All of which means, let it go and move on.

5. Should I keep recommending this former intern or should I decline?

I’ve recently served as a reference for an intern who worked under me a couple of years ago. His work was sub-par and I wasn’t particularly impressed with his soft skills either. I’ve been recommending him as an act of good will but am wondering what other options I have without ruining his chances for the positions he’s applying to now? Should I continue to recommend him or can I decline?

Please decline. Would you want someone recommending you hire a candidate whose work was sub-par? Your own credibility is at stake here; you’re vouching for work that you know isn’t good. Tell him you no longer feel comfortable acting as a reference for him.

6. Recovering from a bad interview when you’ll want to apply again

I have a question about recovering from an awful interview, when the organization is one that you’ll need to apply to again. I recently had my first post-grad school interview for a contract position with a regional government. I prepared in advance by brushing up on Excel, reading about the acts covered by the department, studying the position, and practicing interview questions. I felt well prepared (thanks in no small part to your interview guide).

But the interview was terrible. The interviewers asked questions that I wasn’t expecting (I understood the job to be focused on client service; the questions were much more technical and covered ground not outlined in the position). The only opportunity to address how I would be a good fit in terms of experience and personality was at the very end, during the “do you have anything to add?” stage. I don’t think I did all that well on the skills test, largely from the stress of what I knew was a bad interview, but partly because I didn’t have the level of technical skill that I was expecting to need from the job description. Overall, just a bust.

My question is, how do I proceed when applying to future postings with this organization? Should I just lay low for six months or so? I live in a rural region, and this is one of the major employers for people with my background. Honestly, I’m just thrown. I feel like it was such a bad way to start off my job search, and I’m embarrassed by my performance.

Assuming you don’t get the job, follow up with them with a gracious note, and say that you realized in the interview that you didn’t have the technical skills for this particular position, that you hadn’t realized that beforehand, but that you’re very interested in working with them in some capacity and that you hope that won’t mind if you’re in touch in the future about openings that seem like a better fit. Then do so.

This is a good approach because it will show that you understand why this wasn’t the right fit and that you’re not clueless about what your strengths are, and it will set you up applying again in the future. That assumes, though, that the company is smaller enough that anyone will remember or care — if they’re large enough, no one will and this won’t matter at all.

7. How should I approach this potential networking contact?

I’ve read several of your responses about not asking for informational interviews when you really want a job interview, and I’m not sure what I want or what’s appropriate. Recently I was browsing LinkedIn and came across the profile of someone whose list of certifications and resume matches what I’d like mine to look like in the future. He’s employed by a company whose work I’m impressed with and works on projects that I find interesting and lives in a city where I’m planing on relocating.

He viewed my profile and added me as a connection and then a few days later viewed my profile again. I’d like to send him a message to ask if he has some time to answer some questions about how to grow my career, but also would like to ask him to keep me in mind for future openings. Is this a bad idea?

Start with the first part and hold off on the second for now. He doesn’t know you yet and has no reason to keep you in mind for future openings. The value that he really brings to you is that his career looks like what you’d like yours to look like, so focus on that. Send him a note telling him exactly that and ask if he’d be willing to let you pick his brain about his career path and how you can follow a similar one. (And then make sure you come prepared with good questions; it’s frustrating when you make time for a request like this and then the person doesn’t have many questions to ask.)

{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. TheSnarkyB*

    Whoa, “press charges”? OP #4, I’m curious about why you were offended by questions like “How long is your commute”. Could you shed some light?

    1. Jamie*

      I was wondering this, too. Most people have their home address on their résumé anyway, I’d find it odd if someone found that question off putting.

      I’d also like to know where are these places where 30 minute commute is a cause for concern. That’s considered short in my corner of the world.

      1. EJ*

        I’d like to know why the OP would be so certain that they were rejected because of a commute time? Given the fact that they are so upset over this interview result, I think there might be something else at play.

        1. Jessa*

          I agree with you EJ, there’s something missing from the question I think. Information we don’t have. Unless the commute information indicated a strong reliability on an unreliable transportation method (buses when the job requires OT or travel that would make using buses difficult for instance.)

          1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            I could see there possibly having been an issue with commute in the past; like, maybe the previous incumbent commuted in, and as a result wasn’t able to get to the office in time for something major that had emerged and needed to be dealt with? In a small organization, it could be that being available immediately could be a factor when deciding between two otherwise qualified applicants.

      2. The Snarky B*

        Same here, Jamie – 30 min is average-short if you’re in the city- but if you’re outside, it’s almost impossible.

        On a separate note, If AAM posts had time stamps, I’d have a pretty good record of when I go to bed every night and wake up in the morning.

        1. Lillie Lane*

          Meaning you’re driving 60+ mph and there are no stop signs, curves or school buses. I live in a rural area and more than 30 miles in half an hour is impossible unless you’re reckless.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      In rural areas, a 30 minute commute in good weather is about two hours in bad weather. Confusingly, home county can be shut down (no cars on the road) and work county can be up and running. The employee cannot leave home, even though the roads in the next county are fine. (There are no buses or taxis.)
      Employers quickly learn that it takes a certain type of person to drive on glare ice for two hours and then work an eight hour day.
      If an employer questions an applicant’s ability to get to work the applicant must be ready to address the employer’s preconceived notion. That can be a tough one. In some cases, the interviewee has hit a brick wall.
      One job I had, a coworker timed how long it was from leaving the parking lot of our work place to opening the door of her home. Four hours! It took her four hours to go from work to home. She said she sat down and cried.

      1. nyxalinth*

        Absolutely. Since I take the bus, my uppermost limit for transit time (meaning getting on the bus then off at my stop at work) is about an hour and 15 minutes and no more than two buses. Anything more than that, especially three or more buses, you run more risk of being late, especially in winter.

      2. Marmite*

        Here if you are claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance while looking for work one of the rules is that you must be willing to accept a job with a commute of up to 90 minutes in each direction. My brother went to a couple of interviews for jobs that would be on the edge of that 90 mins and the interviewers made it clear they were concerned about the travel time that would be involved for him. Especially if you will be relying on public transport long commutes are not ideal for employer or employee.

        1. Carrie in Scotland*

          Mine was only an ‘up to an hour’ commute but that was 2 years ago now so it may have changed to the 90 – where I live that is quite far away commute on public transport. It would be rather difficult.

    3. FiveNine*

      For some reason I want to give the OP the benefit of the doubt — that OP was just lashing out (safely) by writing the angry thoughts out. It’s the sentence where even the OP during this fit recognizes that he/she is taking the rejection as a bitter pill that makes me want to view the situation this way.

    4. Miss M*

      The “press charges” comment was an overreaction, even if the questions were illegal. The remedy in that case would be to sue them – not to have them arrested and put in jail.

    5. SevenSixOne*

      Many applications and interviews in my area really stress the importance of having “reliable transportation”, which always seemed to mean having your own car. I think a lot of people have really gross assumptions about the type of person who uses public transportation– that they’re unreliable/irresponsible/unsophisticated/probably more likely to be nonwhite/whatever.

      Which is reprehensible, but not against any law.

      1. A-a-anonymous*

        Well, to be fair, there are lots of professional-level jobs where you would be expected to get to sales calls, meetings, or whatever in a timely manner. Not having a car would make that pretty difficult if the place you’re going isn’t quick to get to on public transportation.

        1. SevenSixOne*

          Maybe so, especially since the public transportation in my area is a total joke. Even someone who owns a car may not be able or willing to come in at 5:30 a.m. on short notice, attend a meeting in a town 20 miles away once a month, or whatever other demands of the job make “reliable transportation” essential. Interviewers would do better to address these issues directly instead of treating car ownership as an indicator or anything other than car ownership.

    6. Liz in the City*

      The only thought I had about this was if this was for a city or government position, where residency matters in holding the position. Like in NYC, some city positions mandate that you live in city boundaries. But yeah, maybe the person interviewing you was just trying to establish some common ground (“yeah, the train stinks in the morning, right?”) rather than screening you out. More likely, getting your feathers in a tizzy about the question was more of a red flag.

      1. Jessa*

        I have never seen a job where residency was a requirement that did not say so in the advert, or where the recruiter did not say so. Or barring that on the phone call to set up an interview, they’d say this. In a case like this unless they’re completely asleep at the wheel there is ZERO reason to waste the time of someone outside the residency limits. UNLESS they state they are in the process of moving within them (some places give you x amount of time to live there. Usually from 3-6 months and you’ll be dismissed if you have not moved by then. And because it’s usually statutory there’s no recourse on that one. You move or you’re out.

  2. ABC*

    Nothing to add except OP #2, what is your profile that you are in so much in demand? I could really do with some of that interest!!!

    1. AB*


      I’m not OP#2, but I can tell you that there are indeed some careers that are super in demand in the U.S. — click on my name here to check one out (IT business analysis).

      Because this type of role isn’t effective to outsource to India (like software development), in the U.S. if you have demonstrated skills in this area, you won’t stay unemployed for long (in particular if you are willing to relocate, if you are living in an area with few opportunities available — there are many other locations with tons of openings that recruiters are desperately trying to fill).

      I am contacted by recruiters and peers almost every week with requests to consider 6-figures long-term consulting contracts or full time positions. I also have to recruit business analysts for my employer on a frequent basis, and can tell that demand is higher than the offer (mainly because you need to put some effort into finding ways to practice and stretch your skills on your own before you can be considered for a position like this, and that takes discipline that many people don’t have).

  3. Hmm*

    Illegal interview questions? There’s a lot going on in corporations and with hiring managers where supposed HR Specialists are quickly defending the actions of the managers. What people fail to realize is their HR Manager and many contracted HR Consultants are biased. Their predominate role is to defend (support) the HR department or manager/management. That’s one of the reasons we fail to see many studies on bullying managers.

    Additionally, there is a difference between being ethical or moral and doing something illegal. Just like there is a difference between knowing the truth and the facts.

    As you can see, unless you work for a company like Google, youre going to run into supervisors or managers who will ask questions that they ethically or morally shouldn’t. One question not addressed is how often have you been sick or missed work at your last job.

    To quote Denzyl Washington in one of his movies, it’s not what you know, it’s what you can prove. The culture within management has become this way where they can still go on being very unethical or sneaky while still doing nothing illegal.

    Next time, don’t ask an HR Manager or consultant to give you an answer you may like, they usually won’t.

    1. -X-*

      Are the questions the OP mentioned inherently unethical?

      And if you think they are, why?

    2. Cathy*

      We’re all biased. It’s part of the human condition.

      For example, you’re biased towards Google. Having been through them, I can tell you their hiring practices are slightly weirder but no more or less ethical than any other large tech company in California.

    3. Min*

      “Next time, don’t ask an HR Manager or consultant to give you an answer you may like, they usually won’t.”

      This statement confuses me since I didn’t see anything in the letter about asking an HR manager or consultant anything. Surely I’m reading this wrong and you’re not actually implying that AAM’s response was biased or unethical?

        1. Min*

          Wow. I thought that was how it came across, but I was really hoping I was just misinterpreting the comment.

          I suppose next time you should just say it’s illegal to make people happy. ;)

      1. AP*

        Luckily,AAM is here to give us the truth, not necessarily the answer we might like to hear!

  4. Elise*

    #4 – I’ve had employers ask the commute thing too, and it’s not meant to offend. They are just concerned that if the commute is long that you will soon be either looking for another job or stressed from the drive. If you don’t have a problem with the commute, just make that clear as you answer the question.

    Examples: “I would have an hour commute, but I am used to that at my other jobs” or “I love driving and getting the time to listen to audiobooks” or “it gives me the time to read” (if you take public transportation).

    1. Elise*

      Also, if you have been with your current employer for a decent length time you should mention that your current commute time is longer and was not an issue for you.

    2. E*

      I can definitely see where they’d be considered about commute time, but it’s also genuinely a way to make small talk. I’ve been on both ends of that question in interviews. I live in a city and my office is near multiple branches of public transportation, and often there’s just that element of, “did you find us okay? Where are you coming from? Oh, yeah, that’s not bad at all.”

    3. Ron*

      I think we all know co-workers who have quit and moved on because they got tired of a long commute. It all depends on the person, of course, some people are fine with it. But it’s not an unfair question to at least bring up and see what the applicant has to say about it.

    4. AdAgencyChick*

      Yup. When I see a street address on a resume that’s far from where we are, I cannot help but ask how the person feels about the commute. Advertising often has long and unpredictable hours, and all other things being equal, if I have one candidate who lives a few subway stops away and another who lives far out on Metro-North, I’m going to wonder whether Metro-North is going to complain when asked to stay late, “But I need to make the 6:27!” I’ve been burned by this before, when I had to constantly cover for someone in my group who, although not my boss, outranked me and who commuted to NYC from Philadelphia. This guy pretty much skipped town at 4:45 every day, leaving me holding the bag whenever someone had to stay late. It was bad enough from a boss, and I won’t put up with it from a direct report.

      Not illegal to ask, and not even unethical, because a candidate’s ability to deal with his/her commute does make a difference in some jobs.

      1. Jessa*

        Ask then. If that’s the reason you’ve questions, ask. And if the answer isn’t enough to ease your mind, then don’t hire. But don’t just suppose. For instance the answer may be “I take the bus, but if I have to stay late my S.O. can pick me up on the way home. As long as it’s okay to stay in the building til they get off at 8 or whatever.”

        My issue is with generic questions where the interviewee has to guess what the issue you’re trying to decide about IS. If it’s “sometimes you have to stay late, and ‘I have to get the bus’ is no excuse, do you have alternate transportation on short notice?” Then ask that.

        1. Marmite*

          It’s also possible the candidate is looking to move or willing to move for the right job. I’m job searching at the moment and my lease is up soon so I am happy to move for a job I want. I’ve left my address off my CV for exactly the reason AdAgencyChick highlights, people make assumptions without asking. So far I’ve only had one interviewer even ask where I live and that was for a job with very specific residency requirements.

        2. KellyK*

          Definitely agree. Better to ask specific questions and discuss concerns than to make assumptions.

    5. LPBB*

      I ultimately turned down a job that I really really wanted because the commute was hellacious. I was asked about the potential commute during both the phone screen and the interview, too. I wasn’t offended because it was big drawback for me and I asked a number of questions of my own about the commute during the interview.

      Commuting is huge…it can have a huge impact on your quality of life as well as your productivity and your enthusiasm for the job. A friend of mine took a 30% paycut because she was exhausted from 10 years of a 90+ minute commute.

      1. Dan*

        I’m guessing that the person’s net pay cut was a lot less than 30% once commuting costs were considered. First, we usually talk about those numbers pre-tax, so right off the bat we’re talking closer to only a 20% net pay cut. Throw in lower gas costs and less wear and tear on the car, and *maybe* we’re talking a 10% paycut? And you get all that time back?

        I have a six mile driver to work. When I look at relocating (I can’t afford to buy in the area I rent) my commute costs go sky high and all the numbers go to crap.

  5. Sharon*

    Re #6: it sounds from the LW’s description that they interviewed for skills not mentioned in the job position ad. If that’s the case, the LW shouldn’t feel at all bad for doing poorly. The company posted a very poor job ad that didn’t actually describe what they’re looking for. How are the candidates supposed to know that? They aren’t, of course. It happens kind of alot, so you just have to try to forget it and move on. But in no way should the LW feel stupid or unprepared.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This. I think what sometimes happens is the employer suddenly realizes they need XYZ, But it is too late, the job has been posted. All they can do is go with what they have.
      Or it could be that they realize that consistently their candidates lack XYZ. Rather than tap dance around that issue they chose to address it head on.

      1. Julie*

        Wouldn’t it make sense for the job applicant to say something in the interview about the questions/conversation not seeming to match the job you were applying for?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, but I think it’s often hard for people to have the presence of mind to figure out exactly how to handle it during the stress of an interview.

          Ideally, though, you’d say something like, “I’m getting the sense from your questions that X is a bigger part of the job than I’d realized from the ad, and I don’t have much of a background in it. Are you looking for someone with a a lot of experience in it?”

    2. jesicka309*

      Sometimes you can’t even work out what the role is from the ad! My current role I had no idea what it was when I applied. I was looking at postings at a TV station, came across a role that said “entry level”, “attention to detail” “monitoring inventory”, “fantastic phone manner and customer service” “media or communications degree desriable” etc. But I could not for the life of me work out what the role was. I applied anyway (thinking well, I’m entry level, I have the degree, customer service and attention to detail!).
      And in the interview, they explained what the role was. Turns out, they had a different, ‘fancier’ title for what I, and most industry professionals, would call traffic.
      They use fancy words to describe a role, but they should have been honest that it was receiving calls from sales and helping them to book in their commercials. I didn’t know what I was exactly getting myself into until my first day on the job.
      Fancy titles and fancy descriptions that don’t line up with actual job duties pprobably result in a lot of unhappiness and turnover, IMHO.

  6. Mark*

    #4 is something that has always bothered me because I believe the nuances behind protected class related questioning is completely bulldozed by the statement “illegal questions”, which is something that I have heard from the mouths of HR specialists frequently. There is a distinct difference between whether actually asking a question is illegal or unethical and whether or not it just might lead a candidate to believe they are being discriminated against based upon a protected class that they belong to. But then, folks often don’t even have an understanding of what constitutes a protected class anyway – the Supreme Court ruled that “pregnant” does not equal “female”, people.

    I get that Human Resources is applying a technique based upon the lowest common demoninator – namely that many folks just won’t have good sense so better you forbade them from even asking the question at all and listing out a long list of “thou shalt not’s”. But I think that this ultimately disservices employers because it sometimes causes them to be scared during the interview process that they might unintentionally show bias (especially, it seems, in the public sector). I feel like that hampers you in the quest to find the perfect candidate, if only because it makes for an awkward experience that might in fact turn off your most qualified applicants.

    1. Cat*

      Taken to extremes, sure. But I do a lot of interviewing and have never found it awkward not to ask a candidate about their race, religion, ethnicity, marital status, sexual orientation, or plans to have or not have children. All of those things have new brought up by various candidates on their own and that’s fine but I can’t imagine a situation where it would actually be awkward for me not to ask.

    2. Rich*

      I advocate staying away from the children questions and all that because I think it makes it more awkward for the candidate than the interviewer. Most job seekers who’ve been around for a while know those type of questions aren’t the best, even if they don’t know they aren’t technically illegal.

      I’m actually curious what the stats are on candidates filing and winning lawsuits because of something asked in an interview that they thought was discriminatory and led to them not getting the job.

      1. fposte*

        I’d guess zilch–I can’t see the EEOC filing or granting a right to file on such a one-off; absent explicitly discriminatory statements, illegal discrimination would be virtually impossible to prove in such a situation. If it turns out to be part of a pattern, however, that’s a different matter, so a complaint might lead the EEOC to investigate further or contribute to an ongoing investigation.

        It’s worth noting that there’s no federal protection against parental status anyway. Some states have it, but the feds don’t care if the interviewer says “We don’t hire people with children, because we hate children,” as long as doesn’t result in disproportionate impact by sex, race, ability, etc. Even birthplace might not be a problem as long as it’s not a national origin/correlation with ethnic group thing.

  7. Anony1234*


    I had an interviewer make it a big (bad) deal that I lived an hour away from the job. He asked me how I was going to handle it, and I told him driving is not a big deal for me. He quickly interrupted me, telling me that it would eventually wear me down. Instead of just listening to me and absorbing the information, he shot that down; that wasn’t the only question he reacted like that on too. I was really tempted to stand up, thank him for his time, and leave. If living an hour away was too much, then why did he make me drive an hour for an interview? I even so much as questioned him in my thank you note, explaining to him that after all I did come in on time to the interview from having driven an hour to get there! Needless to say I didn’t get the job, but after seeing how he had been in the interview, I wasn’t sorely upset either.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is the brick wall that I mentioned earlier. A job seeker hits this wall a couple time and this issue gets tough.

      What bothers me in your story Annony, is that the interviewer does not seem to realize he is talking to a fellow adult– a competent adult being. His assumption is that you are not capable of making these decisions. Big red flag. You dodged a bullet.

    2. nyxalinth*

      I has someone on the phone bluntly tell me that even though they were easily reached by public transportation and it wouldn’t be that far for me, that they would not hire anyone who took the bus. I asked if they’d had problems before and he said, “No. I just think that if you’re of working age you should be responsible enough to have your own car. I don’t want people taking the bus.” And he hung up on me. Oh well, bullet dodged.

      1. Jessa*

        So when cities are strenuously advertising transit and begging people not to take cars (pollution, crowding, road damage, overuse of gasoline etc.,) when places have incredibly good transit and absolutely horrible parking, you’re supposed to take on this 3-600 a month loan, plus parking charges, plus insurance, plus gas when you can get there on a transit pass that might be what? $150 a month? Is this guy going to PAY you enough to be LESS responsible than someone who takes the bus?

        1. nyxalinth*

          Apparently so. I also figure that this doofus had a mental image of people who take the bus and didn’t want to look like a dick or get in trouble for discrimination and so that was his excuse.

      2. Christine*

        Well, I can’t drive because I have a slight vision impairment. So does that automatically make me irresponsible??? *headdesk* Wow, you definitely dodged a bullet, nyxalinth!

        1. nyxalinth*

          Yeah, plus he sounded like a real nickname for Richard even before that topic came up.

          I sometimes see ads for customer service jobs stating they want people with ‘reliable transportation’ here. I don’t think they’re screening out people who bus it, though. It’s usually either there’s no bus nearby, or it’s not actually customer service.

          1. FiveNine*

            Actually, here it seems to be the opposite. If an ad states an applicant needs to have ‘reliable transportation,’ it’s almost always a euphemism for customer service or service-oriented work as opposed to professional. And it’s NOT necessarily code for “must have a car.” It’s more that many service-oriented jobs have very strict punch-in times (with, say, call center employees needing to be on the phones with a very precise start time, etc.) It’s not that they won’t hire you if you use public transportation — but it’s likely they have a system in place where you are going to get automatic “occurrences” that quickly can lead to your being fired if you’re even a minute past the window of time you have to punch in; if you use public transportation you really need to consider whether you’re willing to take an even earlier ride just to be super-safe to keep your job.

      3. The gold digger*

        Wow. My husband and I have one car between the two of us. (Well, he has a ’65 Corvair in the garage. It has antique plates, which means it can’t be driven in January, not that he would – he won’t even take it out if it looks like it might rain. Snow and salt would be even worse. He doesn’t even like me to open the passenger door because there is something special about it – my driving it is out of the question.)

        Anyhow. We have the one car between us that we use. When I got my job last summer, at a salary that was far lower than I had been getting, we did the math and realized that after the married filing joint taxes and social security, the remaining salary would just pay for a new car and the additional expenses. (Yes, I was quite demoralized by this.)

        So I take the bus to work instead. I have no interest in working just so we can have two cars. The bus is (for me) a great way to get to work. I walk four blocks to the bus stop in the morning and 40 minutes, later, am left half a block from my office. I pay $60 a month for a bus pass rather than $100 a month for parking and I get to read without guilt for 80 minutes every day.

        I guess that makes me irresponsible.

        1. Lillie Lane*

          I find taking the bus to be a nice thing. You can read or listen to a book, work on a craft project, etc. It gives you more time in the day as well as the benefits of less gas consumption and traffic. Too bad not everyone agrees.

        2. ThursdaysGeek*

          I wish I could be so irresponsible. I just checked our local bus system, and a drive that takes me 20 minutes would take a bit over 45 minues, and get me to work either 45 minutes early or 15 minutes late. Plus, I have to drive 4 miles to the nearest bus stop. And yet, all that reading time is attractive. I’m going to have to look at it more: maybe I could make it work.

  8. Juni*

    #7; you’re lucky it’s been so much time. Reach out to the former intern and tell him, “John, it’s been too long since I’ve been able to view or review your work, so it’s time to drop me from your reference list. It would benefit you to use someone who is familiar with your more recent work, keeping me on your list is becoming less helpful to you over time.”

  9. AdAgencyChick*

    #5: This is not an act of goodwill. You’re recommending a subpar person to other people with whom you have a good relationship. So your treating this person better than he deserves is actually a negative act toward people you like and trust! I wouldn’t do it.

    1. -X-*

      I had a terrible intern ask me for a recommendation and I told him I wouldn’t and why. And advised him to at least try harder in his next position. So my advice was, I think, a service to him, even if he didn’t want to hear it.

      It was very “awkward”, which is something a lot of people here seem to want to avoid.

        1. -X-*

          For me, it’s harder with someone who’s trying to do a good job but isn’t very good.

          If they’re terrible, it’s not so hard.

  10. Rich*

    1. Definitely not a fan of blurting out a salary range with no job requirements/qualifications to go off of. I like the advice given. Far too many people end up trapping themselves in a range that isn’t their true range because of situations like this.

    4. Great clarification on illegal v. legal for interview questions that dig a little more than some may like.

    7. It’s mind-boggling how many people are reaching out to folks on LinkedIn that they had no previous contact with asking to be kept in mind for jobs. Or better yet, asking them to forward their résumé through. What’s scary to me about this is if this is what’s being done online, what are people doing in real life networking? Actually, I already know. That explains all these business cards I have from people that I’ll never reach out to because I remember nothing about them other than them wanting a job.

    1. J.D.*

      OP #7 here. I’m wondering what networking strategies you feel work better and also what the point of using LinkedIn is if not to network to find a job. I’m aware that it’s in poor taste to come right out and ask for a job, but on the flipside this person’s resume looks a lot like what I hope mine will look like in 10-15 years. I’m relocating to a new city without a job or any professional contacts how do you suggest I make them?

  11. Kathryn T.*

    Out of curiosity, what do you do when you’re asked a question that reflects on protected status, and on followup, the interviewer makes it clear that they intend to make a hiring decision based on your answer? I had an interviewer once ask me “So, are you planning to get married soon? What about kids?” When I said “um, is there a reason why my personal plans are relevant to my job duties?” he said “Well, of course, I don’t want to hire a woman who has a husband and family to get home to, I want someone who’s going to put the job first.”

    This was fifteen years ago, but I think I just looked at him with my jaw dropped and said “Um, marital status is a protected classification under the EEOC?” and he rolled his eyes and said “Whatever.” The interview didn’t exactly go well after that, needless to say.

    1. fposte*

      Pragmatically? You can mention something to somebody else at the organization if you think the interviewer is non-representative, but there’s not much you can do to make them be nonsexist right there and then; if you think he’s representative of the organization, you run like hell.

      You can certainly complain to the EEOC about the gender discrimination comment. However, marital status isn’t actually a protected classification under the EEOC, nor is parental status, so those aren’t problematic in their own right–it’s the fact that he was linking them to female-only issues that makes them problems. (Marital status *is* protected for government positions under the Civil Service Reform Act.)

      1. Kathryn T.*

        It was for an internal interview at the (big) company I already worked at, and I mentioned it to the internal recruiter, who was appalled. I meant more like “what do you do or say in the moment?”

        1. fposte*

          I think no matter what the ideal would be, the reality is your jaw hangs open for a while and you say “Huh?” Alison’s earlier suggestion is “Instead, figure out what the question is getting at, and answer that instead.” (That’s from her earlier post her:

          And in general, both job-seekers and interviewers would benefit from a quick check on actual state, local, and federal protections in this area–a lot of us, like the OP, are sure we know and don’t actually have it right.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In response to a comment as blatant as ““Well, of course, I don’t want to hire a woman who has a husband and family to get home to, I want someone who’s going to put the job first,” I think I’d say “wow” and/or give a polite WTF face. (Polite WTF face = strong concern and a hint of “Maybe I didn’t just hear you correctly — huh?”)

          And with an internal interview, you then go talk to whoever is in a position to handle this (probably HR).

  12. Karyn*

    #4, I just want to point out that you can’t “press charges” for this kind of thing, even if the asking the questions were illegal (which, as Alison pointed out, isn’t the case). “Pressing charges” is for a criminal matter – your remedy would be a “cause of action” in a civil matter. Sorry if this is nitpicky, but if you were going to point out potential illegal behavior, you wouldn’t want to look silly by using the wrong terminology. Plus, as the holder of a J.D., it bothers me when people use these terms incorrectly.

    I’m actually a little curious as to what led you to the belief that asking about where you live or your commute time is illegal. I’m not trying to be snarky whatsoever here, I swear – I just really want to know where you got the misinformation. For instance, a lot of my younger siblings’ friends who are interviewing for first post-college jobs think all kinds of things are illegal in the interview process (for example, when the potential employer calls references outside of the ones given by the candidate), and when I’ve asked them where they got that idea, it is almost always from their parents. So I’m very curious now if there are other sources out there for this misinformation. If you’d care to share, I’d be very interested!

    1. doreen*

      It’s because people have a tendency to both overgeneralize and misremember. If one employer had a policy of calling only listed references (and some do) , it gets generalized to all or most employers only call listed references and then this memory morphs into it’s illegal to call anyone else. You’re hearing that it comes from parents because you’re talking to people just out of college. When you’re talking to older people, they come up with just as much misinformation, but when you ask where they got that idea, they’ll tell you something like “that’s how it’s been at every job I’ve had”, even if their experience in terms of employers has been limited. Twenty years ago, I had a group of coworkers who were absolutely convinced that every full-time job was legally required to provide good health insurance. It didn’t occur to them that everyone they knew either worked for the government or had some other unionized job and it might be different for the McDonalds night manager.

    2. -X-*

      Yeah, the “it’s illegal to ask that” thing annoys me.

      I suppose if a company had a history of bad treatment of certain protected classes, say historically discriminating against an ethnic group known to live in a certain area, and formally or informally used the addresses on applications to tend to weed certain people out as “not right for the job”, we could see the issue of where someone lives as some small piece of evidence of illegal discrimination. But it’s not surely illegal in itself.

      1. fposte*

        I’m presuming it’s also extrapolating, in the way Doreen perceptively describes, from the laws against discrimination based on national origin. But yeah, that’s a pretty big jump.

    3. some1*

      I’ve known a lot of educated, professional people who think it’s illegal for an employer to give a bad reference, or any reference beyond confirming dates of employment.

      Just because a lot of employers have that as internal policy doesn’t mean that’s what the law is.

  13. Dan*


    The only time that I would think the actual job description matters vis a vis pay is when you are older and considering stepping down from higher level responsibilities for a less stressful job.

    At my age (mid 30’s) I’m looking to move up in my career, which means move up in pay. I’m definitely not interested in a pay cut, no matter what the job, nor am I even interested in a lateral move. Which means I’m looking for a pay increase. The only question is how much. Sure, I’d love to double my salary at the next job, but that just ain’t gonna happen. 20%-30% increase is much more likely. So I’d be targeting jobs that requires skills and experience that pay that much.

    In any event, I know what I want to make at my next job, and have no issues applying to blind ads requiring me to name my price. If I can’t get what I want, I’m still really happy where I’m at.

    1. Dang*

      OP # 1 here: thanks for your input, and I agree. Unfortunately I will be unemployed within the month so I think That has clouded my assessment of this situation a bit.

      I ended up asking if there was a job description I could refer to, and she sent me an entry level posting. At that point I named my price knowing that they wouldn’t match it (I’m not to the point of accepting entry level with 5 years experience and a masters). She said she understood but it turns out that the company is specialized enough that most people have to start in entry level positions. However she did forward my résumé to someone else in a management position. So retrospectively I think she was really asking if I was willing to accept an entry level position, but masked it with a salary question.

      Thanks for the input, all,

  14. Andy Lester*

    Thanks for continuing to beat the drum that “illegal job interview questions” is a myth.

    As to “I want to reply and let them know they are asking illegal questions and while I won’t press charges or while I don’t care, they should know if they want to grow their organization,” I suggest that #4 question his/her motives more carefully, because it sounds more like #4 wants to tell off the company than to actually help them.

  15. Anonymous*

    #1 I generally tell HR at this point it is a negotiable item when I learn more about the job and the salary range.
    #4 I have been asked questions in a round about way that disclose your age as well as a possible disability. I have been asked how far I live from a job, which is no big deal.

  16. ew0054*

    In response to #1, I have been pushed into corners by headhunters asking for my salary before even knowing what or WHERE the job is located. So I just tell them ”no thank you.”

    No matter how you look at it, the employee is always at a disadvantage, I feel. In an effort to level the playing field, should I instead give a range (like $20k spread) or just round up ”total compensation” to the next highest 10k?

  17. Anonymous*

    #4 – Although I know this is a US blog, it would great for you preface that these types of questions are not illegal in the US as I’m sure there are many Canadian readers (like myself) as well. In Canada, asking questions about age, race, religion, sex, disability, etc. are all illegal.

    1. A Reader*

      I think it’s sort of the same in Canada as the US, it sometimes comes down to how a question is asked. An employer can’t ask outright if you’re married, but they could couch it by asking if there is anything that would impede you from relocating or something similar.

  18. Joe*

    There certainly are unlawful, and even illegal, interview questions. Before you answer that there are not, you’d have to exhaust every possible jurisdiction.

    Title VII (US federal law) states that merely classifying an applicant based on some data is unlawful:

    “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer…

    (1) …

    (2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      At the federal level, the only illegal interview questions are about disabilities. I don’t know of any state-level laws that make the other categories of questions (about race, religion, etc.) illegal but I suppose it’s possible some states have them — but I’ve never encountered any that do. Can you cite any?

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