I don’t want to take on a new role, baby talk part 2, and more

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

1. I don’t like job candidates asking me what I don’t like about my company

I work in HR and I was conducting a phone interview yesterday. One of the questions asked by the candidate at the end was “What don’t you like about the company?” (She asked this right after asking what i do like about the company.)

Now, I’m all for people doing their research and weighing the pros and cons of working at a particular organization, but I believe it’s inappropriate to ask your interviewer that question, at least in that particular wording. I was put on the spot, and if I actually had anything bad to say, and I said it, and then she told people, it could technically affect my own standing/employment with my company. I actually do love the place I work at, and the only thing is the long commute, so that’s what I said. “It’s not the company, it’s the commute.”

If she wanted to know the negatives of working at my organization, she could just do some research, or reach out to contacts of hers who are working at the company, and NOT involved in the hiring process. What do you think?

Nope, you’re wrong on this one. It’s absolutely reasonable — and, in fact, smart — for candidates to ask questions like this. If your’e not willing to give candidates a reasonably candid view of the good and bad about working for the company, you should bow out of conducting interviews. That’s as much a part of the process as you asking them about their experience; part of your job as an interviewer is to help the candidate determine if they want the job at all.

2. Coworker using baby talk, part 2

I’ve read your post on a coworker using baby talk, and it hit home. I have a similar situation, but the context makes it difficult to bring up — she only does it when talking to our office-mates, and only when discussing friendly, non-work things. She would never use the voice with our boss, or a client, so I don’t feel like I can tell her that she is undermining her credibility as a professional. It’s still unbelievably grating, however, and I know most of the office hates it.

Most of the baby-talk is between her and one other coworker; it’s become their little shtick as they’ve gotten to be friends outside work. But the rest of us have to listen to it all day. Our office is an open-plan room with all 6 employees in the same desk area, all on the same level in the company. Our boss is in another room, and has probably never heard the voice.

Also tricky: the coworker in question is somewhat disliked in the office, and I think she knows it and gets passive-aggressive. She will pick controversial political fights for no reason or ask borderline offensive questions, and there is no way she believes the questions are benign. Most times, however, she’s very nice. I can’t tell if this is a situation where she knows she’s being annoying, or if she’s truly trying to be friendly. We have all told her, repeatedly and bluntly, that we hate the one baby-talk word she uses (‘ewwww, grosie!’), and she just laughs and uses it anyway.

How do I handle this? We are a very small office — no HR person, no one to discuss it with besides our boss, and it seems excessive to bring it up to him when I’m essentially just not this person’s biggest fan. It’s not affecting her work, just the personal atmosphere of the office. I would love to ask her to stop, without putting her on the defensive.

You can ask her to stop in a polite and reasonable way; whether she reacts defensively is up to her. But it’s important to note that the fact that she’s only doing this in social conversations at work doesn’t mean it’s not affecting her professional reputation; it absolutely is. If she’s doing it at work, in earshot of coworkers, it can impact her reputation.

The next time she does it, say this: “Jane, would you mind not doing the baby talk voice? It’s incredibly distracting to hear that in an office.”

3. When an application systems chews up your resume formatting

Do HR professionals typically dismiss a received resume and cover letter if the application program “chewed up” the resume? I’ve submitted a couple of resumes only to see after they were submitted that the formatting is very askew, so I’m wondering if the receiver would understand that or just think I’m an idiot and toss the application? I don’t want to annoy or confuse people but should I bother sending it again?

Depends on the recruiter. They’re less likely to toss it because they think you’re an idiot and more because they don’t want to bother trying to decipher it. If you can upload your resume in PDF, do so. If that’s not allowed and you’re concerned about what the program might do it to, use a plain text version with no formatting.

4. How to talk on your resume about being an early woman in a male-dominated industry

I’m reworking my resume to emphasize my accomplishments over my work history as you suggested, but I’m not sure how to word what I did.

When I started working in the film industry in the camera department, there were very few women working in that capacity. I became a member of a small organization dedicated to helping women within the entertainment industry which has grown into a major org. I was not a founding member, but an early member. Likewise, I was not the first of any of the major accomplishments of women in film, such as being the first to join the ASC, or the first to lens a feature film. But I was a pioneer in helping to break the ‘glass ceiling’ for women and faced a LOT of harassment from men who thought women did not belong on set and tried to make my job harder to discourage me. For example, part of a dolly grip’s job is to move and help set up equipment that supports the camera, but I had a man tell me, “If you think a woman can do this job, then do it. I’m not going to help you lift or move anything.” Their actions and remarks did discouraged me, but never stopped me. I had a lot to prove and I did. Today, it is common for women to be working in the camera department. So, my question is how do I write about my determination to work in the industry in a capacity that wasn’t open to women when I did not achieve acclaim or public recognition for my efforts, but simply helped pave the road for others?

I’m not sure it fits well on a resume, but it’s certainly something that you could talk about in a cover letter or an interview. Resumes are really for what you achieved in the sense of work that was done or things that you built, and less about personal characteristics. But cover letters and interviews are a good place to talk about the latter.

(That said, I could imagine a bullet point on a resume like “one of first women to work successfully in what was then a nearly entirely male field.”)

5. If HR selects candidates, how can they really know what the hiring manager wants?

I started my job search a month ago after being in school for 3 years (finished my undergrad degree and got my MBA), but I previously had 10 years of experience in my field. I’ve submitted about 2 dozen resumes and had 4 interviews so far, but I discovered during 2 of the interviews that the positions were for a lower level than the description made them seem to be, and even the interviewers realized quickly that I was overqualified. Both interviews were set up by company HR professionals who I also had phone interviews with, so I am wondering, do most companies have the hiring manager or HR go through the resumes to select interview candidates? If its HR, how do I know they understand what I do as well as someone who actually works in my field? Now I’m wondering if I have been dismissed for positions which (in my opinion) were a good fit since I have been chosen twice now to interview for bad fits. Maybe that is just part of the process and I have to accept that I have no control?

Some companies do have HR people do the first-round selection of candidates … although a good hiring manager will insist on doing it herself or having it done by someone in her department who knows intimately what they’re looking for, at least if the role is higher than junior level. But in many companies, particularly larger ones, that just doesn’t happen. The way around it is, of course, to network your way in — so that you’re getting to know hiring managers directly and HR becomes a non-factor.

6. Who should I list for references?

As a recent college graduate in my first professional job, the recent spate of questions about references has me wondering who I should be using when I start looking for the second job. Would hiring managers prefer to see my supervisor at this job plus relevant coworkers or colleagues from professional organizations, or my supervisor from this job plus supervisors from college? The college positions were in my field but had significantly less responsibility than my current job. What should people in their first professional jobs who can’t list their current supervisor do? I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a job ad in my field that doesn’t ask for references at the beginning of the application process, so this will be an issue for anyone in this field who doesn’t want to risk letting their supervisor know they’re job searching.

Assuming that you can’t list your current manager (which is true for most people), then list managers from previous positions. Reference-checkers would nearly always prefer to talk to previous managers than colleagues or contacts from professional organizations, even if those managers were for jobs not in your field. Managers can provide a much different perspective than people who have never been responsible for overseeing your work.

7. My employer wants me to take on a job that I don’t want

I am currently in a job that I have only been in for a little over four months. I would like to leave ASAP but would stay for the recommended time (one year?) except I have one big concern. Currently, I am in Position A. I know that my employer’s goal is for me to eventually handle Position B’s responsibilities, so that the person who is currently in Position B can move to Position C. After seeing firsthand the responsibilities of Position B, I know with 100% certainty that I do not want that job and responsibility. I am scared to still be working there when the Position B person becomes the Position C person and I will need to take over Position B, which I absolutely do not want to do. I am unaware of their timeline. How should I handle this?

Tell your manager now (don’t wait) that you realize they’re hoping you’ll eventually take over Position B, but that you want to remain in your current role and do not want to do Position B. See what they say. They might be assuming you’ll be fine with it, so you need to speak up and let them know that you’re not. That might be enough to change their plans. If it’s not and you’re told that you’re moving to Position B regardless, then you’ll need to decide if you’d rather quit than do that work, or whether you’d prefer to do it over the alternative (unemployment or having to find another job before then).

{ 172 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessa*

    I agree with Alison on the baby talk. It’s reflecting badly on her with her internal customers (her fellow employees,) and while it probably has not yet risen to the point that someone needs to tell her boss, if she keeps refusing to do anything about it when people are telling her they are being distracted from their work, maybe one of Alison’s “When she does x this happens to the work in this department” discussions do need to happen with her boss.

    1. A Bug!*

      I agree. As AAM says, if you do it at work, it’s going to your workplace reputation.

      And since the baby talk is voluntary and not, say, caused by something like a speech impediment or a throat condition, it’s absolutely valid to bring to her attention that: it’s distracting to their coworkers; and it reflects poorly on their professionalism to engage in it in the workplace.

      One thing that stands out to me in the letter is that apparently two coworkers are regularly engaging in baby talk, but the writer concentrates on one coworker who is identified as a disliked person with antagonistic tendencies. So that makes me wonder how much of the irritation caused by the baby talk is the baby talk itself, and how much of it is caused by the fact that it’s this specific person engaging in it. I know that I personally have to be very aware of my tendency to be less tolerant of the quirks of people I dislike, so I may be projecting here; the OP’s the only one in the position to know for sure.

      If it’s just the baby talk, then both coworkers are the issue, and I’d advise the writer not to single out the disliked coworker when addressing it, because it might otherwise appear that you’ve got it out for her.

        1. Meredith*

          Hi, person who wrote the letter here. Sorry, I was afraid my letter was becoming a novel and didn’t make that point clear.

          Co-worker B seems embarrassed to bring the voice into the office; B responds a little when A initiates, but quickly drops it. From the way the shtick suddenly appeared one day along with inside jokes, I figured A and B use it together while they carpool. But co-worker A uses it frequently, and with all of us.

          But you’re absolutely right – I’m more sensitive to it because she’s not my favorite.

  2. Jen in RO*

    #5 – Sometimes HR does select the wrong candidates… and I always wonder if we’re not missing out on some great people because our internal recruiter doesn’t understand what we’re looking for. All we can do is hope…

    1. LisaLyn*

      Yeah, I feel that way, too. In fact, I have confirmation that it does indeed happen. I had a coworker from a previous employer give me a heads up that he was applying for a job in my new organization. His skill set matched what we were looking for perfectly but his resume wasn’t forwarded to us from HR. They had it, but it had been weeded out and they couldn’t tell me why.

      After that incident, several others shared that similar things had happened during other searches.

    2. moe*

      My old department once asked the HR recruiter to see the “rejected” pile of resumes, four or five months into a fruitless search. The hiring manager was horrified at some of the great candidates who’d been rejected, and snapped one of them up within a week.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      Me too. I’ll tell our internal recruiter, “I can be flexible on A, B, and C, but I absolutely need X because Y,” and I’ll get back resumes that are missing X with a plea from the recruiter, “This person is really affordable, would you be interested in meeting with her?” I feel like because the recruiter’s company-dictated metrics are all about how quickly and cheaply they fill positions, rather than how satisfied the hiring manager is with the selection of candidates, that I’m missing out on some good ones.

    4. Jazzy Red*

      The HR director at my company, who recently retired, had the most idiotic ideas about handling resumes and job postings. They only look at the first 20 applications; if there’s even one thing that doesn’t match the job ad, the resume is tossed; and HR determines the qualifications after the hiring manager tells them what he or she needs, etc. (and often contrary to what the hiring manager needs). We have also heard of many really great job candidates who would have been hired by the managers but were never advanced in the process.

      Now that our HR guy is retired, we’re hoping the new director will use some common sense and the hiring process will improve.

    5. Felicia*

      I recently had an interview after doing a phone screen with HR, and I realized when I got there that the job was a pretty bad fit for me, and i was a pretty bad fit for the job. The job ended up being very different than what the person in HR told me. It felt like a waste of time.

    6. The Other Dawn*

      It’s happened to us, also. We were looking for X with some Y experience. HR set up an interview with a few candidates. It was very clear after about 5 minutes that none of the candidates came close to fitting the job requirements and we had to apologize for taking up their time. Makes me wonder how many applicants we had that actually fit the description.

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Those of you who are dissatisfied with your HR and who are hiring managers — you should speak up and push back about this. I’ve always insisted on selecting my own candidates, so you could do that, or if that’s not possible in your organization, you can complain that it’s not being done right and that you’re missing out on strong people as a result.

    8. Anon*

      This actually makes me feel a lot better about not being invited to interview for some of the jobs I applied for. There were some where I met every requirement and thought I was really well qualified and I just couldn’t understand why I didn’t get an interview. Even if HR isn’t the reason, just the fact that I can tell myself that makes me feel so much better!

      1. OP for #5*

        That’s why I asked the question because while I know there were some that were kind of a stretch, there have been some that I was a perfect fit that I didn’t hear a word. One of the jobs I interviewed for that I was overqualified for posted a pay range less than an hour after the interview which very clearly indicated its level in the organization. Just one more frustrating aspect of looking for a job.

    9. Riki*

      I work in HR and this is exactly why I work very, very closely with the hiring managers whenever we need to fill a position. The company I work for employs quite a few engineer types who possess very, very specialized skill sets. I know little to nothing about this side of the business and am not qualified to evaluate engineering candidates properly.

      Some of the hiring managers HATE this, btw. They just can’t be bothered, and I have to force them to work with me when I’m drafting a job description or reviewing resumes.

  3. EngineerGirl*

    HR people: I know that there are good ones out there, but a lot of them really don’t understand what the business needs. For example, our HR people don’t get the difference between a real-time embedded software person, an IT person, or a database person. To them it is “computer”. Then it is frustrating when they demand a place at the table. If you know them your HR person you might want to talk to them about the differences (nuances) of your job. A good one absolutely will want to be better in their job.

    1. Anne*

      I have a friend who makes a decent living as a freelance tech interviewer, believe it or not, because of this phenomenon. We’re in a smallish city with a lot of finance and IT, and a lot of HR departments just don’t have the knowledge to pick out the best candidate for specialized positions.

      So they talk to him about what they need, he tells them what to put in the ad, goes through CVs, does most of the interviewing, everyone’s happy. It seems like a really nice alternative to the headhunter/agency setup.

        1. Anne*

          Yes, I think most of his business is word-of-mouth, because whenever someone in IT hears about what he does, the reaction is “Oh my god, can we have that please!” :)

          1. Cat*

            That’d also be useful for small companies who need to hire an IT person but don’t have anyone on staff who can technically evaluate the candidates. We could certainly use that.

    2. Joey*

      Let me guess, you’re talking about internal recruiters, right? If they had the mindset of a commissioned recruiter they would do better. Far too often internal, salaried recruiters don’t take the time to learn the business and its needs. Its only when recruiters see consequences to poor performance will they shape up.

    3. Jubilance*

      Absolutely. When I applied for my first job out of grad school, I learned that the team had been searching for a year because they were hoping to have someone in to cross train with someone who was retiring. Unfortunately, for 9 months the HR recruiter didn’t understand that “chemical engineering” and “chemistry” are two different fields, and kept finding candidates who were engineers but didn’t have the lab training to run a chemistry lab. The delay meant by the time I was graduating I found the job…but I was unable to cross train with the person I replaced as he retired the day after I interviewed :-(

      1. Jessa*

        Okay, that was an issue with the hiring manager, I mean if it’s taking 9 months they should have been pro active with the HR people much earlier than that.

  4. jesicka309*

    #5 My HR person should have screened me out of my current role. I was fresh out of uni, working for a competitor, with no idea what I wanted to do, applying for a role below my skills. I didn’t even know what the role was, and title meant nothing to me. HR Rep could hardly explain it.
    By the time I got to a second interview, I was too excited about the company to accurately evaluate whether I was actually a good fit for the role – that should have come up in the first interview, but the HR rep had no idea about the specific details and drudgery that comes with the job. She even told me that plenty of people from this department had moved up within the company (lies).
    So they can also let candidates down too, because they can’t self-screen properly if the HR rep is completely unaware of the role they will be hiring for.

  5. Marmite*

    1 – I’ve asked this question, usually worded as “what’s the most difficult aspect of working here?” or something similar, and it’s given me very useful information. It’s particularly interesting to see how people respond when asked in a panel interview situation, where one of their supervisors is present, as it gives a good idea of how comfortable people are speaking honestly in front of management. I don’t expect anyone to trash their company in front of their boss, but if they glance nervously at the manager and then fall over themselves to saw how great their employer is that says something useful to me.

  6. Anne*

    Kind of building on #6… what about references from volunteer work? I’ve been on the organizing committee for a local gaming convention for a few years. It’s pretty hard work and regularly attracts a few hundred people. This year, I’m switching role and taking on all the finance work for the event, which is directly relevant to my work. I feel like another member of the committee would be a great reference, but I’m not sure how that would come across? Especially as I’m good friends with most of the committee… Hm.

      1. Anne*

        Well, there is always a head of the committee/main organizer, but it changes nearly every year, and tends to be a college student (as they have the most time, and we’re attached to a college gaming club). Which is annoying, because… it really is hard work, directly relevant to my profession, and I do a great job. I would have a great reference… from a 20 year old gaming buddy. Argh!

        1. MovingRightAlong*

          Does the college club have a professor or staff member attached as a sponsor? Some colleges require this to form a club, even if the professor is barely involved otherwise. Do you rent a space for the convention that has a permanent manager or other staff? It sounds well worth getting creative with your reference source in order to include it. As long as that person is or has reason to become familiar with your work.

  7. Bryan*

    For #3

    I wonder if it is similar to a situation I had where you clicked upload and it had to be in word format and it automatically inserted it into a text box on the application form. The text box was about 4 inches wide so it became a mess and who knows what the formatting looked liked on the other.

    1. Julie K*

      I always create a text-only version of my resume in Notepad. This way I know exactly what it will look like in non-formatted text because sometimes if you create the text-only version in Word – even if you save it as text format – it can retain some Word formatting (which will then look bad in a text-only box in an online application). I use either asterisks or dashes in place of bullets, and I use ALL CAPS for headings (in the formatted version they might be bold or centered). I also put everything on a separate line. For example, on a formatted resume, it’s common to see the dates right aligned on the same line as the company name or job title, but in my text-only resume, the company name, job title, and dates are each on separate lines. And use plenty of spacing between sections. It’s not pretty, but it’s readable.

      1. Julie K*

        I’m not sure if the ALL CAPS headings are OK – because that can be seen as shouting in email, etc. But since there are limited ways to differentiate between headings, job titles, etc., I hope an exception can be made for the all caps by the person reading it.

  8. EJ*

    #4 – maybe this is just me, but I think the OP is focusing on the wrong thing. Being ‘first’ to do something, or saying she paving the road on something, doesn’t speak as loudy as “I became a member of a small organization dedicated to helping women within the entertainment industry which has grown into a major org”. I would focus on the development of the small organization.

    And I say this as one of few women in a male-dominated field.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      As one of “the first” I have to strongly, strongly disagree. Back then it was normal to be physically threatened and assaulted. It was normal to have your work sabotaged. It was normal to have critical information withheld. It was normal to be given the worst tasks and the monkey work. Succeeding in spite of this is a huge accomplishment that is poorly understood by today’s work force. I suggest you rent the movie “North Country” to see how it was really like – even in an office environment. And FWIW the violence scenes were too mild from my own personal experience.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        It’s so easy for people to forget what the “firsts” actually went through, paving the roads for those who come later. They deserve recognition every single day for their vision, persistence, forebearance, courage, determination and pain.

        For the OP, I think she should have a line on her resume such as “member of Professional Organization since 19XX” which should at least provide a talking point during an interview.

      2. Chinook*

        I agree that showing yourself among the first in a field shows that you had to put up with a work environment that may not have been as easy to deal with as it is now. It isn’t an accomplishment so much as a mark of survival and commitment (because you stuck with it even though the situation was far from ideal). I have been among the first women to do something in my church and while I was never physically intimidated like EngineerGirl or the OP, knowing you are bucking the trend and having to fight for every inch does require you to reflect on whether or not you really want to do it and why it is important to you. As well, you often have to be better than average because you know that your work is being scrutinized and any fault that would be considered normal by most people will be blamed on you not being able to hack it.

        I agree with AAM that it might only get a line in your resume but, if I was the OP, I would definitely toot my own horn in my cover letter by pointing out that I was among the first while, at the same time, not bad mouthing my colleagues who made it hard (which may be difficult).

    2. FiveNine*

      She can say in her cover letter that she helped pioneer women breaking through the glass ceiling in her field — and she can back that up. It most certainly is an accomplishment, and I would advise against downlplaying it (why? Who does that serve? It’s not accurate to downplay it, it’s shortchanging her, and I am hard pressed to think of any other accomplishments in the relevant field that candidates are advised to downplay or not mention at all).

      1. OP#4*

        I appreciate the feedback about my question and the support I’m getting.

        @Chinook, you hit the nail on the head when you used the word ‘survival.’ It was rough. I had forgotten about some of the subtle forms of sabotage and a lot of memories are coming back.

        @FiveNine, you raise an interesting question that a co-worker of mine addressed. “Who would it serve to downplay it?” This colleague (a male) suggested that by mentioning gender at all, I might come across as a man-hater, or a woman who’s going to give male managers a hard time, bucking them at every turn. Any validity to that?

        1. MovingRightAlong*

          About the risk of being perceived as a “man-hater,” I’m sure it’s possible that someone would choose to interpret you in that way. However, I don’t think the risk of running into someone of that mentality is worth shying away from your own accomplishments. I would treat it just like any other accomplishment: present it for consideration, but don’t come off like you’re bragging about it. Serving a pioneer in your field certainly seems worth mentioning and especially when you can tie it to a professional organization.

          On a personal note, I’d like to thank you for your work and perseverance. It was women like you who paved a way for myself and many of my friends.

          1. Julie K*

            Plus, if you ran into someone who reacted to you as though you were a man-hater or who wanted to defend the actions of the people who made your job so difficult for all those years, you definitely would not want to work for him/her.

          2. OP#4*

            @Julie K, that is my feeling, too.

            @MovingRightAlong, thanks for saying that. :-) My wish is for everyone to be able to do what makes them happiest, without hassle.

        2. Chinook*

          I think I understand what your colleague means about not wanting to risk sounding like a man-hater. I hope he was trying to say that you don’t want to sound like you have a chip on your shoulder. I have met some pioneers in fields where there is some hostility towards those from the demographic of the majority already in the field because “they all have it out for me” and to those that came after them because the “newbies” have it easy. This is not an attractive quality in anybody but I could see happenning if you have to fight for every single millimetre you go in your job.

          OP, I am guessing you are not one of these people with a chip on their shoulder, so your friend is warning that you want to make it sound like you don’t. The last part of breaking down the walls is dealing with lingering perceptions, I believe. So, framing it by pointing out on your resume how l0ng you have been in the field and mentioning in yoru cover letter your accomplishments without putting others down will help to make it look like you include yourself as part of the larger group without self segregating.

          Question to the audience – do you think the title “pioneer” is something you should call yourself or is that an honour others give to you? (Ex: we would think differently if someone called himself Mr. Wonderful vs. someone calling that person a wonderful guy. Is “pioneer” like that?)

          1. Chinook*

            My apologies to the real “Mr. Wonderful” Kevin O’Leary. I like his money advice and have a great business idea if he ever wants to invest! It involves Chocolate Teapots and we already have staff willing to work under our boss as soon as can perfect the tempering technique.

  9. Cat H*

    #1 – Haha, I find it mildly amusing that an interviewer doesn’t like questions that an interviewee asks!

    1. Anonymous*

      #1- in the past I have asked the interviewer what they liked about working for X company, and never bothered asking what they didn’t like, simply because I didn’t think I would get a straight answer. But I’m in agreement that it’s relevant and not inappropriate at all. Interesting turn of the table here…good job interviewee!

      1. PEBCAK*

        The wording is important, here. I think “what do you find most challenging about working here?” or “what do you wish you had known before you took your current role” or something might come across as more agreeable to interviewers who think “what don’t you like” is putting them on the spot.

      2. Rob Aught*

        It’s highly relevant and completely fair. I don’t want to paint my employer in a bad light and obviously I like working where I am at or would not still be here.

        That said, no office is perfect and I think giving a candidate a fair assessment of the pros and cons can help avoid an unfortunate situation down the road. You can talk about the negatives without painting a picture of dire discouraging despair.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      I laughed when I read the first post, too. I find it hilarious that an HR person gets all bent out of shape by a job candidate asking the same kind of intrusive prying questions they ask us!

      I do agree with pebcak that it might have been asked in a better manner, though. No need to be as rude as HR people tend to be.

      1. -X-*

        How about this as an answer to that question: “I can’t really say, because if I actually had anything bad to say, and I said it, and then you told people, it could technically affect my own standing/employment with my company.”

        That way the OP doesn’t say anything and yet says a lot……

        1. BCW*

          Thats BS though. If a person being interviewed said anything like that, they’d be dismissed. Think about it Interviewer: “Why are you looking to leave your current job?” Applicant: “I can’t really say because if my job found out, it could affect my standing”. No way that would fly.

            1. Jazzy Red*

              Sadly enough, we seem to know people who think that would be perfect acceptable to say.

              Takes all kinds…

      2. Legal Eagle*

        I usually phrase the question as “Tell you what you like the most about working here and what you like the least.” If people give me an honest answer, I trust the entire organization much more.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But the original wording isn’t rude! It’s a perfectly reasonable question! (I actually just had a candidate ask me this the other day and it didn’t come across as rude at all.) Seriously, any interviewer who would find this rude has lost sight of what the point of the conversation is.

        1. KarenT*

          I agree it’s a good and fair question, but I would say it’s better asked of a hiring manager than of an HR person. The hiring manager has a better assessment of the challenges of that specific department and role. Many HR reps are trained to ‘sell’ the company and aren’t in a position to evaluate it critically in a way that would be helpful for a candidate.

        2. Marmite*

          Yes, exactly this, I don’t see how the original question is rude. I’m a fan of asking “what do you wish someone had told you before you took this job?” as well, but that’s really a different question. The answer to that could be “to brush up on my Excel knowledge” or something similar, it wouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as what don’t you like here.

    3. EnnVeeEl*

      How about: I don’t like HR people asking irrelevant questions about my work experience and background, making it obvious they didn’t chat for very long with the actual hiring manager about what their needs are. I don’t like HR people asking me things like what my GPA was in preschool. Or my social security number. Or for 15 references on an application without knowing if you even want to talk to me first. This is such a common question, it actually makes me angry she had the nerve to write in about it. And didn’t you ask that question when you took your job? Or a variation of it? Because if you didn’t, it tells me a lot about you. And if you did and you have a problem with OTHER PEOPLE asking it, it says something about you too. Everyone in this process should be trying to ensure a good fit and a successful employee/employer relationship. This chick sounds like she is checking off boxes and anything outside of that box throws her off.

      1. OP 1*

        I appreciate all the feedback, but I must say some of the sarcasm was unnecessary. I neglected to mention that this candidate was great overall and is moving to our second round of interviews. I did not let anything colour my judgement. I have had several variations of “what are the challenges of working here” and I have been fine with those. I just felt like I was being put on the spot with the wording of the question (and she wasn’t rude when asking it) its just something I personally haven’t encountered before, and now I know better. All H R people aren’t jerks you know, some of us are actually trying to improve our hiring techniques and knowledge :)

    4. bearing*

      But here’s a question. Is what the interviewer doesn’t like really relevant to what the interviewee would like or dislike at the company? If you’re looking for a good fit, then that’s rather a personal attribute; what one person hates, another person might thrive on.

      I’m not sure it makes sense to make the question about the interviewer. I suppose if you’re looking for dysfunction that anyone might recognize, that might work… but wouldn’t it be better to phrase the question in a way that doesn’t bring the interviewer’s personal tastes into it?

      1. Cat*

        Well, yeah, if the interviewer tells you their favorite thing about the company is something that you’d hate or that their last favorite thing is something that you’d love, that is revealing information. And of course you should be asking other questions to get at things that the interviewer may not have strong positive or negative feelings about. But it’s important to get information across the spectrum of reactions.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          If an interviewer told me their favorite thing about the company is “the happy family feeling we all have, and all the wonderful company-wide celebrations and lunches we have all the time”…I’d run for the hills.

          If the interviewer said they love that training and education are always on-going and tuition reimbursement is generous, and that people are promoted from within all the time, I’d do everything I could to get a job there.

          And I know people who do exactly the opposite of me. So, you’re right, what one person loves might be what turns another per off.

      2. Marmite*

        It may well reveal something useful about the culture though. If the interviewer answers that they don’t like the frequent 6am starts or the bi-weekly mandatory meditation sessions or the competitiveness between coworkers, that’s useful info.

      3. T in Construction*

        We had a candidate ask a similar question recently (“what do you find most challenging working here?”). My supervisor told her that we work in a very old school industry, and while our company is changing to keep up with the times, a lot of that 1980s business mentality is still around because the employees are either over 50 years old or under 30.

        I really liked that she asked because we’ve had problems with younger employees really resenting the slowly changing culture. If that’s something that is going to really bother you, I’d rather you ask in the interview and decide it’s not for you.

  10. Cait*

    Re: #6, I’ve been wondering about references a lot myself. All the advice I keep seeing says to only list previous managers, but what if you can’t locate them or are so new to the working world that you don’t have any? I worked at a big-box store all through school where employees didn’t even know the managers’ last names, so finding them on LinkedIn or similar is a no-go. Of course I realize NOW that I should have kept in touch with them somehow, but unfortunately I left that job before I started reading this blog so at the time it didn’t occur to me. The only solid reference I have from a manager right now is from my current internship.

    Is there anything I can do to mitigate this, short of continuing to work unpaid internships until I get x-number of references?

    1. J.B.*

      It’s a little different when you are new to the working world. Give coworkers names and explain the situation of that one (or was there a shift supervisor or something?) and then try to find people who were responsible for something you did – professors at school, volunteering, etc. I think your current internship reference + a couple more people familiar with your work is a starting point, it may still take a while unfortunately.

    2. Kaye*

      Oh, man, I had an incredibly hard time with this for a few years. I worked retail in high school, and got promoted and took on a number of supervisory responsibilities — then during my freshman year of college, the store manager (a glowing reference!) was arrested for embezzling, and went to jail.


      Then in college I had a good job for four years on campus, and I got promoted to one of the highest roles in student management (where 9 of us oversaw the other 200 student employees), and gained another glowing reference! And then when I went to grad school, my undergrad alma mater disbanded that department, folded its tasks into two other departments, and “strongly encouraged” the three “grown-up” full-time workers to retire. All did.

      Oops again.

      So there I was, finishing grad school, with 6.5 years of work history, and not a single accessible reference. (And this was, of course, prior to Facebook and LinkedIn existing.) That really did suck for a while.

      1. Chinook*

        “Kaye was a fabulous employee and I learned not schedule her for the same shifts that I planned to skim money off of because she was always insisted on checking each others count at the end of the day. She also had a habit of askign questions when she noticed when others were not following company procedures. As a result, I highly recommend her for any detail oriented work.” Shuvon, resident at Kingston Women’s Correctional Facility.

        1. Kaye*

          Ha! Not so far off, although the manager was a he. I did question the short tallies and the manager got one of the junior clerks in trouble for it. :(

  11. Michael*

    #1: What about the writer’s concerns about his/her criticisms of the company coming back around to hurt his/her employment?

    What would be a more comfortable wording that doesn’t put the interviewer on the spot? Maybe, “What things do employees not like about working for the company?”

    1. Anonymous*

      If the person refuses to say anything not ideal about the company because they are afraid that they will be hurt in their position then as a potential employee I’m going to run away, because that is saying something. By not saying anything you are saying, “I’m scared of my company and they punish people for honesty and only want “yes” men.”

      1. EngineerGirl*

        You betcha. Refusal to acknowledge problems is a red flag for me. That creates disaster projects and I don’t want to work there.

      2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        This isn’t necessarily true. There are tons of people out there who are, well, wusses… that is to say, no amount of openness in the office will inspire them to actually be open about the office. I mean, it’s people’s jobs. When you have that kind of skin in the game, many people are going to have comfort thresholds that will simply never be met, because they’re not willing to risk it.

        A great boss can say, over and over again, that they want to hear about problems, that the door is always open, etc. That doesn’t mean that employees will believe them.

        I agree it doesn’t look good, as a prospective employee, but I hope that you’re not looking at that as a make or break. I’d be surprised if I ever got much more than lip service when I asked that question (but I’d still ask it).

    2. Yup*

      Personally, I’d ask the question more generically just because I feel like I’d get more useful information: “What sort of things do people find hard to adjust to at the company?” or “What’s the one thing you’d change about the company if you could?” or “What kinds of challenges does the organization face in attracting and retaining great people?”

      If I were asked “what don’t you like,” the wording brings to mind little nuisances like a long commute, annoying coworkers, or yucky cafeteria food, rather than the big picture things which I imagine the candidate is really asking about, like low pay or no hope of advancement. Which is just me being overly literal. That said, the like/don’t like wording is really common and fine for interviews, just like strengths/weaknesses.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Which, to me, is the good part about how the “what don’t you like” question is worded.

        Rather than the interviewer responding honestly (saying, perhaps, that completely unqualified people get promoted based on the good ol’ boy network), the interviewer can say that it sure is a pain in the neck that they’re always changing the floor plan and she has to move offices every 6 months.

        I can’t imagine it’s as difficult as the OP says to dance around this question with a fluff answer.

        1. PEBCAK*

          I think it’s interesting that, at some positions, I would have given an answer that would have probably been attractive to some candidates. I hate, hate, hate after-work socializing, and when I worked somewhere that did a ton of it, I would have said so. This was no secret to anyone I worked with.

        2. OP 1*

          The thing is, I wanted to be honest, like Allison said I should be, and I was. I did say terrible commute, and that’s the only thing wrong with my current job. Its nothing to do with the company. I didn’t want to dance around that answer, because that would be so transparent. I should also point out that I am just starting out in my career, and to people who are offended that “I had the nerve to write in with this question” I’m just trying to learn more and to improve.

  12. ProcReg*

    I asked the question, “How does your team handle disagreements?” Boy, they did not do well on that question! One said, “We’re a happy family”, another said, “We go behind close doors sometime”, and the hiring manager never answered the question, stating instead that the problems come from the external customers.

    Yeah, I ride unicorns to work…Not disappointed they picked someone else.

    1. Lora*

      Yes! I always ask this! You really do get the most amazing answers sometimes. Although sometimes I phrase it as “tell me about a time when you had to resolve a conflict”.

      “I don’t know, we never had conflicts at (previous job). Everyone was completely professional.” (Previous job) was notorious in the industry for screaming, knock-down drag-out arguments.

      “Once one of my reports didn’t want to do (incredibly trivial thing), so I just used my authority to tell her she had to do it.”

      “Solving conflicts is really HR’s job. I don’t think I’m qualified to do that.”

  13. Kit M.*

    Re: 5 – Last month I had an initial interview with an HR person. I was worried because explaining my work to laypeople is not my strong suit. I was amazed and relieved when the HR person showed a real understanding of the type of work the hiring department did, and clearly understood the implications of the anecdotes I gave in response to her questions. Later, the hiring manager told me that that particular HR person makes a point of trying to understand the work the department does, so it seems I (and they) just sort of lucked out.

    1. bo bessi*

      Thank you for bringing this up. Not all HR staff are completely clueless about the industries they work in. I hire architects but am not one myself. That doesn’t mean I’m not familiar with the latest rendering software and what it can do. I go to AIA meetings to keep up with design trends and make sure I have a thorough understanding of a manager’s needs before vetting the first resume or portfolio. My firm is awesome and makes sure that everyone who works ON the business also understands what it takes to work IN the business.

  14. Anonicorn*

    She will pick controversial political fights for no reason or ask borderline offensive questions, and there is no way she believes the questions are benign.

    I wouldn’t allow this to continue either. It seems like this person probably has more issues than the baby talk alone, especially considering you (or your team) have asked her to stop using a certain word before and she ignored you.

    You might consider having a big picture discussion about professionalism.

  15. Joey*

    #1. C’mon op,
    That’s about the weakest answer you could have given. Your commute has nothing to do with the company. How about giving candidates some real feedback about what its like to work for your company. Surely, there are negatives or at minimum things that could use some improvement. And if you can’t think of anything why not give some examples of what your employees say. Its not bad mouthing your employer if everyone knows for example you can’t take days off during the busy time of year or if the budget for professional development has been drying up. Don’t you realize that employees are more likely to stay if they know about the good AND bad before accepting an offer? And there’s few people who have a better birds-eye view of the organization that HR.

    1. Kelly O*

      Totally agree with this.

      I had a boss at one point who was very open and upfront with people interviewing that one of the negatives of our department was that you basically could not schedule time off from say mid-August through mid-October because of our budget and fiscal year closing processes.

      It doesn’t say anything negative about the organization, but it’s an honest assessment of what is required.

      1. Natalie*

        Similarly, I had an interview with the ED of a nonprofit who frankly explained that one department had historically been really passive-aggressive in addressing their issues with the department I would have been joining. In my case, it wouldn’t have been a dealbreaker (as a Minnesotan, I speak passive-aggressive as a second language) but had I been offered the job I would have really appreciated knowing that upfront. And for all I know, they may not have hired me because of my directness, and that’s ok – maybe I wouldn’t have been a good fit!

  16. Jim*

    Sorry, but the wording for #1 is a major issue. It’s absolutely 100% fine to ask questions like “what are some of the challenges the company will face in the next 5 years?” or “how has this company responded to adversity in the past?” but “what don’t you like about the company?” is going a step too far.

    Your role as an interviewer is to identify whether a candidate would be a good fit for the company, and to help explain to the candidate what the role would be like for them. However, you are still acting as an ambassador of the company, and many companies would be annoyed to hear internal grievances aired to candidates.

    I suspect Alison has more control of the hiring process than most, which makes her answer more reasonable: she largely sets the tone for how hiring should be done. The rest of us sometimes have to respect the policies that are set by others, and it simply isn’t realistic to say that you should not participate in the hiring process if you disagree with this one point.

    1. Joey*

      You’re getting caught up in the wording when you should really be thinking about the intent of the question. Candidates don’t want to hear your gripes, they want to know what you would change if you could. Surely that’s an answerable inquiry.

      1. Jim*

        By internal grievances I meant precisely the things I would change if I could, not petty issues. In many companies, discussing what you would change at the company with a job candidate would be considered inappropriate.

        1. Joey*

          If your company doesn’t value discussing this type of valuable feedback with candidates why not tell candidates that……in a round about way. That says tons about your company.

      2. Lisa*

        then ask,
        what is the most challenging part of managing your team?
        If you had an important initiative, how long would it realistically take for the initiative to come to fruition?

      3. Meg*

        In the same breath, it’s the wording that gets people in trouble. Depending on the job, especially a client-facing position, being choosy with words and having clear, concise communication is key. Props to the interviewee for having the guts to ask, but if the HR person gets iffy with a question, imagine how a client or customer could get with a similarly worded statement or question.

        Often times, with a client-facing position, you can’t always fall back on “Oh, well I didn’t mean it like that.” Really? That’s too bad; that’s how the customer/client/HR person took it.

        Great intent, could have been worded differently. A good pairing would be “what is your favorite part of your job?/What is your least favorite part of your job?”

        It’s the same as employers asking “Do you have kids?” vs “Do you have any obligations that would prevent you from working after [time]?” – the intent is to find out availability. Same as “Do you attend church?” vs “Are you available to work weekends?”

      4. Nichole*

        100% agreed. Jim made some good points, but the wording doesn’t matter because the OP is the interviewer, not the interviewee. Whether she should have phrased it differently is an opportunity for learning for us, but useless to the OP. The point the OP should take away, IMHO, is that getting hung up on the wording isn’t a good use of his/her time for this particular question, and it’s more useful to, as you said, focus on the intent.

    2. Del*

      I disagree. I think the questions you’ve listed as alternatives are fundamentally different questions than the one that the OP was asked. “What don’t you like about the company?” is much more internal, and has much more to do with an individual’s experience on the day-to-day level, whereas “What are some of the challenges the company will face?” speaks to long-term, external challenges that might very well not impact an individual performer in any substantial way.

      “What would you change about your experience at this company?” might be an alternative that still speaks to the individual’s experience, but I don’t find “What don’t you like about working here?” at all unreasonable. The interviewer’s job isn’t to paint a picture of the company that’s all roses and unicorns. They need to give the candidate a realistic understanding of what they can expect in working for the company, and that includes the bad with the good.

      If an interviewer, someone who presumably has some tenure with the company and brings value to the company, can’t say with confidence, “Well, here are some of the negative aspects of our culture,” then that’s probably a company I wouldn’t want to work for. That sounds terrifyingly restrictive and resistant to feedback.

      1. Jim*

        I think part of the problem with the question in my mind is that it doesn’t get to the real issue. The candidate wants to know “what will I not like about this position?” but the candidate is asking “what do *you* not like about *your* position?” which may or may not be at all related.

        Again, I don’t think anyone has a job at a perfect company, so I don’t get this attitude of “I wouldn’t even work at a company if X” where X is one tiny part of your job. I’d also say that internal feedback and interviews with external candidates are quite different things.

        That said, I do think you’re right that interviewers should make sure the candidate is fully aware of the difficulties of the position they are being considered for.

        1. Joey*

          You’re going to get nit picky with a candidate’s question when most experienced interviewers are just as bad and often worse?

        2. T in Construction*

          I agree – the OP’s answer about the commute really has no meaning to the interviewee. The interviewee might live 10 minutes away from work, or not mind the commute, whatever,

    3. Kelly O*

      But that’s when a good interviewer can understand what the person is really trying to ask. What do you dislike doesn’t mean there aren’t any convenient Starbucks on your commute, or that the person in the office next to you listens to Daft Punk cranked up to 11 all day.

      And, honestly, it peeves me a bit that we’re dissecting this so closely. All the crazy questions people get asked by interviewers, and when someone asks a reasonably good question of the person interviewing them, somehow it could get spun back on the interviewer? At least the interviewee was not sitting there with a red pen asking you what you made at every position you’ve had for ten years and nitpicking titles…

      1. fposte*

        I don’t disagree, but I do think it’s useful to potential applicants to hear about ways that might have a better chance of getting you the information you want–that’s another way in which asking question as the interviewee is like asking questions as the interviewer.

        1. ADE*

          I kind of side with the OP. I would have rather seen the interviewer phrase the question in a way that allowed for some amount of critique from a more positive angle– for example, a question along the lines of, “Where do you want to see this organization grow?” If the OP really wanted to pull up gripes, he or she should realize that it’s not going to come out in the job interview but would probably be accessible by doing some informal off-the-record homework.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But savvy candidates don’t just want to hear the positive. They want to hear the other stuff too, so that they can make an informed decision about whether this is the right fit for them. And savvy employers want them to hear that stuff, because they want people to self-select out if they’re not the right fit (and because they know better candidates are attracted to transparency).

          2. fposte*

            I would see that as a totally different question from “What don’t you like?”, though. “What would you change about working here?” would be closer, and it’s probably less likely to startle people, but it’s also going to get you slightly different answers in many cases.

          3. Kelly O*

            It kind of follows the line of thought about asking what your weakness is – oh I’m such a perfectionist or workaholic or whatever.

            Sometimes its good to be as honest as you can be. I’d rather interview with someone willing to admit the restroom doesn’t always smell of roses, and am more willing to tell that person more about myself.

      2. OP 1*

        “Nitpicking titles” only happens when people portray themselves to be something on their resumes but their actual job title was something else, IMHO.

  17. Anon*

    #5 I can’t tell you how much it irritates me to know that my HR dept does the initial screenings now. We switched over to a more computerized system and now resumes aren’t released to me until they pass the first screen. I hate it.

    Let’s add to that with the fact that I’ve told that that I prefer to do my job offers myself and they do it for me without telling me.

      1. Anon*

        Have done so on both the screening and job offering. The screening part falls on deaf ears. The job offer will probably get chalked up to forgetting. But you better believe it won’t happen again.

    1. Joey*

      Hris systems typically screen to make sure your candidates meet the minimum qualifications. Some go further and can score candidates based on how closely candidates match the minimum and preferred qualifications. HR usually either sends the top candidates and/or the minimally qualified. they usually dont send applications that don’t meet the minimum quals.

      Why would you hate this? The candidates who fall through are usually the ones who don’t fill out the app, don’t fill it out correctly, or provide info that is too vague.

        1. Joey*

          When you are hiring for multiple positions that generate hundreds of applicants each, it gets a whole lot easier to trust automated systems. You just have to understand how they work.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            In general, though, I’d say a manager shouldn’t be hiring for more than ~10 positions at a time, unless they’re hiring a crew all doing the same work (in which case it’s really 1 position, not 10). And for 10 positions with hundreds of applications each, you can definitely do the screening without an automated system, although it’s not the most pleasant thing in the world.

            1. Joey*

              Theres a couple problems though. Too many hiring managers like to complain either way. They think its too cumbersome to screen resumes, yet they don’t want someone else to screen them.

              And, in large organization screening is usually centralized. Its really difficult to do it efficiently if managers insist on doing everything themselves.

              1. Lora*

                Why not frame HR screening as a service HR can offer, and have the hiring manager state their preference when they submit the job description/requisition?

                1. Joey*

                  Efficiency. It takes a lot longer to do things manually when an HRIS system can do it in seconds. Most companies look for ways to shorten the time it takes to hire someone. Of course its all for naught if ROI is lower than doing it manually. But generally when used correctly automated systems are worth it.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The problem is that hiring managers often can’t make HR screen correctly, and so when that’s the case, they’re better off doing it themselves.

              2. Anonymous*

                Very true. I work in HR and my company’s hiring managers (for the most part, there are a few exceptions) refuse to screen resumes, so I screen for all positions company-wide. I would much rather they, or someone on their team, help in the initial screening process.

                I often worry that I am weeding out good candidates because I may not understand how experience B could apply to qualification A when it’s not clearly spelled out in the resume. It’s the part of my job that causes me the most stress. My message to hiring managers who aren’t satisfied with the resumes HR is sending them: Get involved! I don’t know of any HR people who would not want a hiring manager’s assistance with recruiting.

                1. Joey*

                  It takes a special executive to agree that screening applications is just as or more important than running the day to day operations.

                2. Julie K*

                  This underscores the need for a great cover letter. I used to think that it was rude to explain why my experience with X makes me a good candidate for position Y because I thought the hiring manager would feel that it’s obvious. However, I have learned from AAM that it’s really important to highlight that kind of information myself because HR or the hiring manager doesn’t have time to closely read my resume and figure that kind of thing out for themselves, and it’s my job to do it anyway.

      1. Mike C.*

        Evaluation algorithms can really be terrible, especially if it’s HR that has set them up.

        1. Joey*

          The ones I’ve seen are pretty simple actually. The ones I’ve seen are based on specific application questions like “how many years of experience do you have doing x”. Or “do you have a license to practice engineering in x.”

          1. KarenT*

            The problem is the systems aren’t flexible. Like if you write “how many years of experience do you have doing x” and the candidate answers 2.5, but the posting requires 3-5 years, that candidate would be weeded out when they could be awesome in other ways. Even seemingly black and white questions like “do you have a license to practice engineering in?” can weed out candidates. What if a great candidates answer was “I’ve taken the licensing exam and will have my license within a month” or “I’m certified by X country and my license will be transferred by this month?” The application would block them out too.

      2. KellyK*

        That depends entirely on how accurate HR’s assessment of the minimum qualifications is (and whether there’s any wiggle room in those qualifications). If you have hard, fast requirements about type of degree and years of experience, then it doesn’t take any specific knowledge about the job to make a good first cut. But if the requirements are all related to the work, then they have to be evaluated by someone who at least understands that type of work.

  18. BCW*

    #1 Its a bit ridiculous that you feel “put on the spot” to answer a question when thats exactly what you are doing to the person you are interviewing. I’m assuming you aren’t giving them a list of interview questions first, so by definition any question you give them is putting them on the spot, but now you can’t handle when it happens to you? I don’t think any questions regarding the company and aspects of the job are inappropriate, which is exactly what this was. I’m guessing you ask these people about their weaknesses or things they could improve right? But thats somehow fair game, but asking you about the company isnt?

    1. Esra*

      I agree about it being ridiculous to feel put on the spot by an interviewee asking a fairly normal question. I’m always super skeptical when someone can’t identify anything they would improve in their workplace.

  19. Lisa*

    Related to #7 – How does one turn down a perceived promotion ? OP clearly isn’t looking to stick around, but for someone that likes their company / job and wants to move up, but doesn’t want THAT particular job … how can you turn down a new job in the org even if its really only lateral ? You saying no, can be a signal that you don’t want to get ahead, when you really just like the responsibilities of job X and want to still move up but with track Y instead.

  20. Omne*

    On #1 I tend to disagree with the answer only because the interviewer was an HR person and not the hiring manager.

    Asking an HR person for their views on working there isn’t likely to tell me much about the place other then what it’s like in HR. The suggestion that the applicant seek out others in the company more directly involved would be much better. Finding out that the interviewer doesn’t like some aspect of the HR job might be mildly interesting but probably not useful. Where I work HR has only a very vague idea of what we do and what it’s like to work here. We’re constantly reminded of that every time we have sit down with them and say ” Yes, we really do need to fill that position since it does the statistical analysis for a full work unit. ”

    The other problem for the interviewer is that the HM might not be happy if the HR person is criticizing the company, and by extension, their work unit, to applicants. It might be fine for the HM to be candid and do so but probably not HR.

    I really think it come down to who is doing the interviewing.

    1. Joey*

      Sure HR can give you good info on what its like to work there. Who do you think is responsible for aggregating this sort of data?

  21. anon in tejas*

    thread jack.

    I am presenting some information at a conference on my experience creating a position, hiring and managing.

    I am obviously going to say how great a resource this website/blog is. Are there any others that you would recommend?


    1. Chinook*

      Anon in tejas, Allison has an “Ask a question” link at the top of the page. While we go off topic here, threadjacking won’t get you the best results. If you ask her a question directly, you will get a more directed reply from both her and her commenters.

      Allison, is it possible for y0u to add a button under or over “How to comment” on your right side as you seem to be attracting a lot of new readers? (Congratulations!!) As a regular reader, I went looking to see how hard it would be to find and even though I knew it was there, I missed the option to submit a question at first glance.

      1. Natalie*

        In that vein, I wonder if it would be helpful to add something to the “How to Comment” page about this blog’s cultural norms regarding threadjacks. You could mention the regular open thread and so forth.

  22. Ash*

    To OP #7: At my previous position, I started working there as Position A and never wanted to do Position B at all. Then the co-worker in Position B left for another part of the organization, and my supervisor basically forced me into her job. I was in the same boat as you; Position B was something that I had no experience with, I didn’t want to do at all, thought it would be stressful, too much to handle, etc. But after having a talk with some friends and doing some self-realization, I realized that my supervisor was basically saying she thought I could do this very demanding job with no experience in the particulars of it, and you know what? After getting into the job, I loved it and was amazing at it. I learned a lot of important things that I continue use on a day-to-day basis, even though I no longer work there, or do any of the exact same kind of work. It helped me improve many skills and create new ones, and I’m glad I did it.

    I say you should take an objective look at the position and figure out why you don’t want it. Are there good reasons for it, such as it’s very deadline-intensive and you don’t work well under heavy pressure because of anxiety issues? It’s customer-facing and you are terrible with people? Etc. Even if some of those things are the case, are they areas in which you can/should improve? Would this look good on your resume? Is this something that can help you in the future, if you take an actual, honest look at it?

    Don’t sell yourself short because it looks difficult or you’re scared.

  23. Lily in NYC*

    I got the giggles because of the “early woman” wording in #4 – all I can picture is a cavewoman working among a bunch of guys in suits.

  24. Lily in NYC*

    #5 – just because HR does the intial phone screening doesn’t mean they are the ones selecting candidates. I go through resumes myself, and then give HR a list of names to call for the initial screening. We give them very strict parameters on what to discuss in the initial screening and the person is generally scheduled for an interview unless salary expectations don’t line up or if something weird/bad happens on the call.

    1. Lily in NYC*

      replying to myself – I just read all of the other comments and see that HR does the initial screening in many companies. Hmm. That might be efficient, but it doesn’t seem ideal unless you luck out and have a great HR rep that’s doing the screening for you.

  25. Sniper*

    #1: Your question comes off as ‘how dare the interviewee ask any probing questions!’ Any competent interviewee is going to be asking these types of questions and being in HR, you should know this already.

    This question also goes to show how high and mighty SOME in HR think they are. It generally stems from those in organizations where HR functions as gatekeepers to hiring decisions. It’s time to climb out of your ivory tower and do your job in the proper way so that your impact is in a positive manner for your organization. An attitude like this only hurts you and your organization.

    1. Mike C.*

      I feel your anger here, but pay special attention to the last part of the letter – worrying about bad statements coming back to her.

      What I think is going on here is that she doesn’t realize that a hiring situation is exempted from the general “Saying bad things about work is ~*~unprofessional~*~” rule.

    2. Jen in RO*

      I’m not in HR and I find the phrasing used by the applicant odd. If I were involved in hiring as a peer and I would hear that question, I would definitely do a double-take.

    3. OP 1*

      Please read my other comments. I am appreciative of all feedback, however I’d like to correct you when you say you think I’m high and mighty and living in some kind of bubble. I don’t ask someone “what are your strengths” that would be putting them on the spot. I ask them “what key factors have contributed to your success in the past and how do you continue to incorporate them” there is a difference in the wording which puts people at ease. I wrote in this question to see if I was the only one who thought it inappropriate. I assure you I am doing my job, because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t really care what others think about my hiring practices, now would I? :) thanks for the feedback.

    4. OP 1*

      I can’t speak for all organizations, but at mine, H R works very closely with the hiring team and we aren’t “gatekeepers” to hiring decisions. Our hiring managers have access to our applicant tracking systems, and we go over each initial interview with them in detail. If they don’t like what we give them, they ask for better/more.

  26. Lar*

    #3 – It’s not a bad idea to go ahead and create a plain text version of your resume for this very reason. Most computers have notepad or a similar basic text and formatting program. Copy and paste your resume to notepad, edit it to make it look how you want and save it. Now you don’t have to spend time editing in the employers tiny little box when you have to upload to a plain text or ascii only application.

  27. Anonymous*

    I have a coworker who frequently talks with a really bad Irish accent. Honestly, I would prefer the baby talk.

    1. Anonymous*

      As a younger person who gets called “sweetie” rather too often by colleagues, I would prefer the accent :)

    2. Jazzy Red*

      I have a team member that I don’t like, and his voice grates on my nerves. He used to be in radio and actually has a nice, melodious voice, but to me it sounds like fingernails on a chalk board, just because I don’t like him. I try not to show it, though, since we do need to work together.

  28. Angela*

    #3) When I receive a resume that is indecipherable, I just politely let the candidate know and ask them to please submit it in a different format such as a PDF or Word.doc. I obviously cannot speak for other HR people, but for me, it doesn’t give a bad impression of the candidate.

  29. Angela*

    #) I have had candidates ask me this question before, but not with those exact words. I do agree that it is reasonable for a savvy interviewer to try and obtain that information. On the other hand, I do watch how I respond to those questions as I wouldn’t want to scare the candidate away or be viewed as badmouthing the company. I just try to answer that question honestly, but very professionally. From a candidate’s perspective, I would suggest trying to word this question in a way that it won’t come off as rude to the interviewer and inserting it in during a point in the conversation where it would flow easily into the conversation. Interviewers tend to be more honest and provide information when we are feeling relaxed and enjoying our conversation. At least that is how I feel. If I feel that a candidate is genuinely interested in the information and not just looking for me to bash the company (which I would not do) then I would certainly be happy to talk about the cons of working here. That’s just my opinion; perhaps others may feel differently.

  30. MarieK*

    #1 – I’m curious how other people out there would actually answer #1’s question honestly in an interview. I think it’s a great one but I wonder what answers would be helpful without making the manager come off as bitter or unhappy. That’s a tough position to be in when the manager is trying to attract new talent.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are so many answers that would be true but not sound in any way bitter and unhappy! For instance, I told someone the other day that I thought the organization sometimes made impact measurement a project unto itself and that the payoff didn’t justify the time/energy put into it. In the past, in a previous job, I’ve mentioned high workload, limited resources, and other stuff that were genuine problems.

      1. MarieK*

        The high workload/limited resources thing is definitely what I would bring up. I tell everyone in my group up front (in the job description and in interviews) that this job has a very heavy workload with a lot of quick-turnaround requests; I know that will be a turnoff to a lot of people and I’d rather put it out there right away. I guess I see this question as similar to the “what’s your greatest weakness” question. They both are reasonable to ask, but both must be answered carefully!

      2. Anonymously Anonymous*

        Exactly I’ve heard high work load, flexibility, changing systems, taking on various roles as some answers to the question. Most times the information was volunteered.

  31. OP 1*

    So I’m finally home and can answer from my computer, instead of from my phone. I’d like to thank Alison for answering my question and providing me with her helpful feedback. I’d also like to thank everyone else for the input.
    I’d like to provide some more clarity. These aren’t excuses or justifications, but maybe it’ll help to see things from my point of view. When I mentioned that I work in HR, I was trying to say that if it was the actual hiring team, or people the interviewee would be working with closely, and she asked them that question, that wouldn’t be weird for me. I just felt it was a weird question to ask HR. As stated in my other comments on this thread, I have been asking variations of “What are the challenges of this position” or “What challenges has this organization been facing lately” and I have been fine with that.
    Some people wondered how I didn’t come across this question before, I believe I explained it earlier in my comments by saying I am just starting out in my career and have a lot to learn. To some people who wondered why I would just say commute and that it was a weak answer, well I’m sorry, but that’s my answer. I have nothing bad to say about my company at this moment. I can’t say for five or ten years down the road. Things might be different.
    To the people thinking I’m coming off as high and mighty HR, I”m sorry you feel that way, It wasn’t my intention to portray myself like that. I am just trying to learn and gain some perspective from others.
    To the people who have agreed with me or seen it from my point of view, thank you for understanding what I meant.
    I can’t speak for all organizations, but I’ve never asked for a social security number (only until after the hire is finalized and we need their banking info) and I certainly will not waste my time asking for references before even the first interview. We usually email candidates after their final round asking for references, and giving them enough time to give their references a heads up.
    Not all HR departments are inept and robotic.
    We work closely with our hiring managers to work out what they want, and we check with them regularly to ensure that they are happy with the services that we provide them.
    I’d also like to reiterate that this candidate has been moved to the second round. I was surprised and weirded out by her question, but I didn’t let it get in the way of the fact that she’s a great candidate and has all the qualifications.
    I hope this makes my position on this clear.
    Thanks again for your help.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you really don’t have anything you dislike about the company that you’re willing to share, you need to find out what some common concerns/dislikes of employees are so that you can pass that information along to candidates who ask this type of question in the future. It really is part of your job as an interviewer, and “commute” really doesn’t answer what they’re trying to learn (obviously).

      1. OP 1*

        I haven’t been working on any exit interviews, but I know that’s a good way to get feedback.

    2. EngineerGirl*

      I find it terrifying that the HR person finds nothing to dislike in a company run by human beings. There’s no room for improvement? Really?

      This sort of blindness keeps things from being fixed.

  32. OP 1*

    ugh. *been asked variations of what are the challenges, etc.
    sorry for the various grammatical errors, I’m tired!

  33. OP 1*

    I have a question, if I hadn’t said I was in HR, would people’s reactions have been different?

    1. Esra*

      Honestly, I’d be skeptical of anyone, in any position, who couldn’t think of some area their organization could use improvement in.

      1. OP 1*

        That’s not applicable if the interviewer hasn’t been there long enough themselves, but thanks for the input!

        1. Esra*

          As an interviewee, I’d just assume my interviewer had been there long enough to have a good idea about the organization. Otherwise I think it would feel a bit like the blind leading the blind.

  34. OP 1*

    Yup, I was offended/put off at the time, but I’m glad to have spoken to everyone here about it!
    I’ll be able to tackle this situation better in the future.
    Thanks again, Goodnight all.

Comments are closed.