job candidates who earn too much, leaving a job due to bullying, and more

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

1. Is it worth talking to a job candidate who’s currently making far more than I can pay?

I am the hiring manager for a manager-level position at a large association. The online system my organization uses to collect applications for our openings asks for salary information of the applicants’ previous positions. This is not something I would normally ask for, but of course I note what people say if they choose to fill it out.

We have an applicant who seems like a great candidate. His initial phone screening went very well. However, I can see from the application that he is making in the neighborhood of $25,000 more than is budgeted for the position. We could not possibly come close to matching his current salary, in part because of the constraints of our budget, but also because of our commitment to ensuring pay equity among staff with similar positions and levels of experience. Other managers with his level of experience make much closer to the budgeted salary for the position.

I’d like to bring him in for the next round of interviews, but I’m wondering if I should first call him up and talk through his salary requirements. I don’t want to waste his or our time. It’s certainly possible that he would be willing to take a pay cut to join our organization, but it’s also highly likely this is too much of a pay cut to continue considering this position. I would love your advice on how to proceed!

Yes, call him and talk to him about it! It’s possible that he’s open to taking less because he wants a shorter commute or better quality of life or all sorts of other reasons. It’s also possible that he isn’t open to it, of course. Either way, the best thing to do is let him tell you how he feels about it, rather than deciding without talking to him.

2. I left a job due to bullying and now it’s hurting me in interviews

I resigned from a prestigious, high-paying management position recently because a part-time software consultant verbally harassed and bullied me and my staff. The owners are well aware that this consultant has bullied everyone for years (due to many complaints), but they did nothing to protect me or other staff from this person and set no behavior guidelines for this person after I voiced many complaints over a period of months.

I don’t regret leaving the company because the daily harassment was hurting me psychologically, but the issue I have is that I feel being honest in interviews about why I left the company is hurting my chances of being hired. I am tactful with my explanation and simply state that this person had a different management style than I was comfortable with and was aggressive towards me and my staff and I don’t criticize the owners, but despite this honesty, I am having trouble getting past the first telephone interview. What are your thoughts?

Yep, I’d come up with another reason to explain why you left. It sucks that you can’t be honest, but the fact is that at this stage, interviewers know very little about you and your judgment. They don’t know if you’re melodramatic or high-maintenance or difficult to get along with, so they don’t know if your version of events is credible, or if you were the problem, or if this is all code for “I was pushed out.” In fact, one of the few things they know about you at this point is that you’re wiling to air your former employer’s dirty laundry (however tactfully you’re doing it).

You’re going to get better results if you can use a different explanation.

3. Do these recruiters’ overtures really mean anything?

I moved across the country about 14 months ago for my husband’s job. I have a strong resume, great references and a wonderful reputation, but continue to struggle to find a full-time position. I know a lot of that comes from being in a new city. I’ve been building a local network, and have had quite a few interviews (nearly 10) where I made it to the third round before I was cut from the process.

Most recently, I’ve encountered an identical situation with two different employers. In both cases, I was working with internal recruiters, and after a few weeks I was told they went in different directions (an internal candidate, and an internal referral). Both recruiters then sent me new openings within their companies, and suggested I explore those options. Another thing to note is that after interviewing, I hadn’t heard from the recruiters for 2-3 weeks, and then only after I inquired on status. Are these new suggestions just an empty gesture of good faith on behalf of the recruiter, or should I assume that they still see potential for me to find a fit within their organizations?

Assume that they’re being genuine. Recruiters are very comfortable rejecting people and never talking to them again; they do it all the time. So if they’re reaching out to you about new openings, it’s because they think you’re a viable candidate.

4. What should I wear to this second interview?

I was wondering if you can help me in regards to appropriate dress for my next interview on Wednesday. This is my second interview with this company. The first was a group interview and now we have moved to a one-on-one stage. In the first call, I was told to wear “smart casual,” so I wore this with my glasses and pulled back hair. (Only later to read on the net that jeans were a giant No No, even with smart casual — but they were very nice jeans! Oh well. Live and learn.)

The place I’m applying for is just a summer job as a waitress at a water park’s cafe and they said that the group interviews would be informal, so I figured what I wore to the first interview ended up being okay — nothing requiring a full business suit but still neat looking. The sort of thing I would wear to meet the boyfriend’s parents. However, they did mention that the one-on-one interview was more formal this time (but still same dress code) so I’m stuck with the dilemma of what would constitute “smart casual” in this situation. The company culture seems to be fairly laid back and trying to project a “fun” image, which is why I’m hesitant to overdress, yet I have to still look professional. I only own either jeans or dress pants and with the latter I can’t seem to achieve the “casual” bit. Or am I over-thinking this entirely?

What you’re looking for are pants that are more formal than jeans but less formal than dress pants — like khakis or just plain cotton pants. Alternately, you could wear a skirt (just make sure it’s not too short).

On a side note, I wish people would stop making up terms like “smart casual,” which generally just manage to confuse people. (For my wedding, I want to tell everyone to come in “slothful lounge,” but I am being overruled.)

5. Contacting companies I’d like to work for, without a specific job opening

I am moving back to the U.S. from overseas soon, and in preparation I am sending letters of introduction along with a copy of my resume to companies that I am interested in working for. These letters are basically elongated cover letters stating my current situation, job history, accomplishments at previous jobs that highlight skills, and also reasons why I am interested in working for the recipient company.

My question is regarding how and if I should follow up. If I don’t hear anything back from the companies, is it alright to send them another note when I am back? If I don’t hear back, should I leave well enough alone? How do you as a hiring manager regard letters of introduction that are not for any specific job opening but more of a “please keep me in mind should anything come up” letter? Anything to avoid when writing an introduction letter?

Well, first, why are you sending elongated versions of a cover letter? Just go with a normal cover letter, of about one page in length. Hiring managers aren’t likely to read anything longer, especially when they don’t even have job to fill.

Beyond that, I wouldn’t follow up if you don’t hear back — you’re already contacting them unsolicited about an opening they may or may not have, and so following up a second time risks being annoying (since if they wanted to talk, they would have told you).

I’ll also add that while I know this tactic has paid off for some people, it often doesn’t really get you anywhere, so make sure you’re applying for actual openings as well.

6. Am I too new to ask for an ergonomic keyboard?

I work in a job that requires a lot of typing, which has caused me wrist pain. I got an ergonomic evaluation and they recommended I get a special keyboard, but my department would have to pay for it. At some point my manager would have to authorize the purchase. As a relatively new employee, two months, will this potentially send the wrong message/be a bad idea?

How expensive is this keyboard? Assuming we’re talking about a sum in the low three figures, it shouldn’t be a big deal to ask, and no reasonable manager will think worse of you for it. It’s not like you’re asking for a fancy chair because you like fancy chairs; you’re asking for something that’s medically necessary to do your job.

7. Being drug tested on your first day at work

Is it normal for a company to require a drug test on your first day of employment? And require you to give a urine sample in the office, with no prior notice? In my past experience, if a company requires a drug test, they will specify that in your offer letter/onboarding documents, and have you complete the test prior to your start date. It seems odd to me that a company would test after you start, seeing as if the person fails, they then get fired — which is a pretty awkward situation that could have been easily avoided.

Yeah, it’s terrible practice for exactly the reason you state, but not uncommon. Bizarrely, many companies do all kinds of stuff after the job offer that could result in the offer being revoked — drug tests, background checks, salary verification. It’s inexplicable. (I’ll spare you my rant against drug testing, since I’ve given it here recently.)

{ 122 comments… read them below }

  1. Jacqui*

    #5 – I got a 6 month contract job by contacting companies blindly! I was laid off from my job in May 2008, and hit the ground running – sending out cover letters WITHOUT my resume attached to medium sized companies I was interested in. One company wrote back and said they are not hiring at this time, but to send my resume incase something opened up. Well guess what, 6 weeks later that same company called to hire a contractor (because one quit in the middle of a project). I interviewed, and got the job!
    **I recommend sending a cover letter without the attachment so you don’t end up in the spam folder.

    1. Jacqui*

      I also recommend not sending the resume with a blind first email letter so that you get a chance to customize your resume to a position if there is something that aligns with your background.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      While it’s great that this worked for you, I wouldn’t recommend sending a cover letter with no resume as a strategy in general — many/most hiring managers are going to be annoyed that the most relevant info they want wasn’t included and won’t bother writing back for it. (Occasionally some will, of course, but there are exceptions to pretty much everything. I wouldn’t use it as a general strategy though.)

  2. The Other Dawn*

    #6: I have an ergonomic keyboard and I typically spend only about 50.00 when it’s time to replace it. Yes, there are lots of keyboards over 100.00, but a 50.00 keyboard will accomplish the same thing.

    1. Jessa*

      This, and I see no reason you can’t just buy your own, they’re very inexpensive and most computers do not need special software to run them. Ask your IT people if they care if you put one in, and if they don’t go for it. Also get a letter saying “this is your keyboard,” in your file, if you want to take it with you when you leave.

      1. Chinook*

        If the company did an ergonomic assessment, this would signal to me that they take this type of thing seriously and budget for it accordingly (especially since this should save money in lost work days and medical insurance). Before spending your own money, ask your manager to approve the keyboard based on the assessment. The worst they can say is no and then you go out and buy what you want (but keep the receipt as proof of ownership so you can take it when you leave).

        1. Ruffingit*

          It sounds to me like she had an ergonomic assessment done on her own, rather than the company paying for it because she says she I got an ergonomic evaluation…. I read that as she went out and had one done outside of company time.

          In any case, it doesn’t change the answer. She should shop around for a good price and then present the best buy to the manager and go from there.

      1. Jamie*

        This. They are inexpensive and if they won’t just bringing your own. But first ask at work, for all you know IT can have one lying around the office from a previous employee.

        I’ve never had anyone ask for one, but if they did it would be no big deal. Hats why IT budgets have a line item for misc stuff like this.

      2. Escritora*

        I adore that keyboard so much I use at home and at work. Our systems/IT people had no problem with supplying one for work, but this is a newspaper, where it’s an easy sell. If yours won’t supply one, I wonder if you can expense it if you buy it yourself?

      3. Liz*

        The keyboard Sabrina linked to is the one I use. I also discovered I needed an ergonomic keyboard close to the start of a new job, and I just bought it for myself. Now I’ve been there longer, and I know the work environment, I wouldn’t hesitate to ask for a $35 keyboard, and I’ll get my department to pay for the replacement when it’s necessary.

    2. Vicki*

      If the OP’s wrists are beginning to hurt, and has had an ergo eval, no san manager will say “no” to an ergonomic keyboard. It’s SO much cheaper than the medical bills, time off to heal, and an OSHA complaint.

    3. Jazzy Red*

      OP # 6, if your company won’t pay for one, get it yourself. SAVE THE RECEIPT, because when you might have to prove you own it when you leave.

      Two different employers got ergonomic keyboards for me when I asked about them. It’s a very cheap “reasonable accomodation” for an employer to make.

  3. Op #5*

    Thanks so much for answering my question! To answer yours, I elongated my cover letter to reflect my current situation and reasons for moving back to the US ( civil unrest ). With your advice and experience in mind I will keep sending refined letters of intro (if only to feel like I am being proactive). I will also continue to apply for posted positions. I’ve reached out to my network as you’ve suggested and can only hope for the best. When I dont get a responce it often feels like I’m not doing enough which then leads to over doing it! Thanks again for your response and also for the blog!

  4. Annoyed*

    #1: yes yes yes yes YES! Always ask them about salary, NEVER assume! As a job seeker, it is so frustrating when jobs assume I won’t work for their pay without asking me first. Let ME decide what I’ll work for, don’t do it for me.

    My husband has a very good job with very good pay and benefits. I need a job, but it doesn’t need to be high paying. I get excluded from jobs I would love because they assume that with a Masters degree I will want more money. I don’t, I just want a job where I feel like I’m doing some good for the world, and those jobs rarely pay well, but I’d take one.

    So yes, ASK!

    1. Jessa*

      Please number 1 ask. Don’t subject someone to a grueling process or rule them out of it without a five minute phone discussion. It’s unfair to you and to them. As Alison said there may be many benefits your company offers that they do want. It also may be that no, they do not want to take that big a hit. But it’s not a lot of your time to find out. Make the call.

      1. WWWONKA*

        I have said it here before. Why don’t hiring companies tell you their salary range and see if that is ok with the candidate? It’s a lopsided game. I had an phone interview last week and they asked what I was looking for and asked my previous salary. I told them my previous salary and that as I knew hardly anything about the job my salary was not set in stone and was negotiable. Such a game gets many candidates tossed out.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I wish they would. I can’t tell you how many times I applied for a job and found out in the interview that the salary wasn’t even livable. If I had known ahead of time what it paid, I wouldn’t have applied and we both would not have wasted our time.

          1. Ruffingit*

            AMEN!! I have advocated for this often as well. Please companies start doing this. It’s so much better for everyone involved and would save so much time. And yes, I’ve heard all the arguments about salary is different for this or that experience level and so on. But that is easily solved by doing something I’ve seen in job ads before, which is stating this:

            “Salary is between XX and XX with the higher end for more experienced candidates.”

            THANK YOU! I now know what I can expect on the very low end and how much they are willing to pay on the high end. It makes such a difference for everyone and is so easy to do.

            1. Felicia*

              I’ve seen salary between xx and xx depending on experience. I have no idea why everyone doesn’t do that

              1. WWWONKA*

                I just looked at a job posting that had the salary range. For what they were expecting the range was to low for me. But, with that it kept me from applying and wasting everyone’s time.

                1. voluptuousfire*


                  No need in wasting anyone’s time. I’ve been pretty lucky in that the interviews I’ve had lately have given me the salary range off the bat and they’ve been satisfactory. Nothing is more frustrating when you become excited about a position and can picture yourself fitting well into the company and you find out the pay is crap.

                  It’s also pretty interesting how two companies can have a position with very similar duties and consider it two different experience levels and adjust the pay accordingly. I applied for one two jobs with very similar responsibilities and one company considered it entry level. The other company considered experienced/associate (they were both on LinkedIn) and paid 10 grand more than the first.

          2. Anonymous Accountant*

            Agreed! This has happened to me several times and it’s so frustrating and a waste of all parties time.

      2. Felicia*

        I think it would be super helpful if companies put a salary range in job ads. That way it’s more likely that everyone who applies would be fine with the salary, and at least they’d know. You seem fairly certain with what you’re willing to pay, so I never understood not letting candidates know right in the job ad, when you know exactl what you’re willing to pay. That way most people who aren’t ok with the salary won’t apply

        1. Lynn*

          I’m starting to see a delightful trend of employers stating a range up front, either in the posting or in the initial phone screen. Or at LEAST asking what range I had in mind, which is lopsided but prevents the stupidity of going through the whole dog-and-pony show just to find out we’re WAY off on pay. I never liked the fiction that we write wills or fry chicken or whatever for fun, and never thought of getting paid.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Creative professionals still deal with that a lot–it’s almost like “Oh, but you do art/writing/design because you’re talented, and you enjoy it, right? Why would you want to get paid for it?”


            1. Pussyfooter*

              There’s that silly stereotype of artists starving On Purpose because they don’t want to compromise their Philosophical Vision. It’s nonsense of course. Up until some outspoken guys went rogue from the 19th c. Academic art community, this wasn’t really a societal expectation.

              If you’ve done the work to get the skills and make a quality product, for heaven’s sake respect yourself–and fellow professionals–by charging charging a decent income.

            2. Mike C.*

              It would be difficult to resist the urge to slap someone who said something that blindingly stupid to me.

  5. Not So NewReader*

    For OP #2, you can make your transition feel like less of a lie by focusing on your desire for something better than what you had. Which is actually why you left- you wanted something better than what you had. Put some thought in how to define the word “better”. Maybe you want more opportunities for different types of work. Maybe you want do more of X type work and less of Y type work. And check out the companies as you apply, you could say “I am really looking forward to digging my hands into ABC.”
    Think about reasons other people give for leaving their jobs. I met a woman that just left a job she LOOOVED. It was her best job ever. (Yeah, I found that jawdropping, too.) So I asked her why. She found an opportunity she could not possibly turn down- more money, more responsibility, career growth, a once in a life time opportunity, etc. See, people leave jobs just because they feel stagnant. You could describe yourself as having plateaued and you were ready to move on. (It’s true, the bully stymied your growth. Management worsened the situation by turning a blind eye therefore you had maxed out- no more options.)

    1. Another Emily*

      Is this a good time for “It wasn’t a good fit, culturally?” (unsaid: because my managers were asses)

      Then again, they might ask you to elaborate.

  6. Anonymous*

    Regarding #3, as a hiring manager, I work closely with the other hiring managers in my function. When one of us finds a good candidate that we don’t select for our own search, we pass them along.

    From the perspective of the candidate, it probably looks like the internal recruiter is asking you to apply to another posting, but it’s actually happening because LaterPosting hiring manager told the recruiter to do that after hearing from EarlierPosting hiring manager. Just last week I ran into one of my colleagues with an interviewee I had not hired myself – we do talk to each other, and talent is noticed.

    As a candidate, you don’t have much control over whether or not this is happening, but it should be a good reminder to be cheerful, pleasant, and professional at every stage of the hiring process (including the performing stage when you’ve got the job).

    By the way, not hearing anything for 2-3 weeks after applying is not unusual – we may still be gathering candidates and evaluating the pool.

    1. OP number 3*

      Thank you for posting on this topic. I’ve been in the professional world for about 8yrs and have never worked with recruiters before this current search. I’m especially glad you provided more insight into the 2-3 week call-back timeline as well, because I wasn’t hearing much of a consensus on that from my peers.

      1. VictoriaHR*

        Internal recruiter here. We’re driven by the hiring managers; we have no hiring power whatsoever ourselves. So when we have a job order, when a successful candidate has been identified, we thank everyone else, notify them that the position has been filled, and move on to the next job order. I personally keep a pile of resumes of people whom it would be good to revisit when new job orders open, but we can’t spend a lot of time on it.

        And usually the 2-3 week call-back period isn’t the recruiter’s fault; it’s the hiring manager’s. They take forever to make a decision, want to interview 10 more candidates before deciding, or go on vacation without making a decision. Or someone may have been offered the position and is taking their sweet time in accepting/declining, which would affect whether or not someone else could receive an offer.

  7. A Teacher*

    #6, as someone that used to have to write functional capacity assessments for people returning to work from work comp injuries and as a former clinician in a PT clinic, get the keyboard. Two reasons: you don’t want it to get to the point where you need PT for something like carpal or tarsal tunnel, it can also end up impacting your overall posture and shoulder if you compensate for pain. Second reason: should you develop CT or any other condition it becomes a work comp case and work comp is not something you want to deal with if you can avoid it. I’d take Alison’s advice and have company purchase it if possible.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      Also try warming up your hands and forearms, and doing some careful and simple stretches before starting your work (take care not to overstretch your thumbs – I learned that the hard way). You can also do these things during the day. It’s amazing how much this can help. Do a search for “hand exercises” and try them out.

  8. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    #4: Actually, I really don’t think you went wrong in your first choice; I’d definitely describe your outfit as “smart casual” and I think your jeans are dark enough that it’s possible nobody even noticed they’re “jeans.”

    I think it’s possible you could wear dress pants to your smart casual second interview; I’m envisioning a sort of flowy blouse, short sleeved, with a floral pattern or something. Though a skirt is a great way to go!

    It seems like, in telling you Smart Casual, what they really wanted to say was “Look nice, but don’t show up in a suit or something” so I think you could even go with (very dark, very nice) jeans again with a more formal top and be totally good. :)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Agree with all of this, especially the flowy blouse with dress pants. I’d be wary of wearing jeans again, though, no matter how nice, since they said this round is more formal … and there are stodgy people like me who will frown on jeans in interviews (even though I live in them when not in fleece). I could be off-base on this for this particular context, but for interviews I’d always err on the side of caution.

      1. PEBCAK*

        I had an event that was listed as “smart casual”, and posted on my FB feed asking what that meant. The answers were things like “whatever J. Crew is showing this season,” “business casual, but designer,” and “expensive casual.” I am TERRIBLE with this stuff, but the take-away I got was that it should be business casual, but a little more fashion forward than what I typically wear.

        1. T*

          “Smart Casual” brings to mind what a Banana Republic advertisement would wear, if that helps at all.

      2. Jo - OP 4*

        Thanks guys. I’m aware this isn’t a fashion forum but I was just really confused as to what ‘Smart Casual’ meant – everyone has a different definition! I wouldn’t have shown up in jeans for an office position or had they not mentioned the words “informal” on the first phone call. I just got wary after they said “More formal this time” but still wanted me to be casual in some form… Grr. Business casual is a lot less vague, I think. Smart/semi casual will be the death of me.

        A skirt is a bit of a no-go at the moment due to cold weather, otherwise I do have a nice high waisted, knee-length black circle skirt I would wear.

        If anyone is interested, this is what I currently have lined up:

        If jeans for an interview makes you frown, you might have had a heart attack at what some of the other applicants in my group showed up in. One young gentleman apparently felt that a printed singlet/muscle shirt and orange shorts was appropriate. I shouldn’t gossip, so I’ll leave it there. It was just interesting to see how far to heart a few took the “Casual” bit.

        1. tcookson*

          The blouse and dress pants look just right.

          My jaw dropped when I saw that there was a site where one can put together sets of outfits and forward them to friends! I hope that service is free, and I am off to check it out right now!

          1. Jo*

            Yeah, polyvore is free. A lot of people use it for making fashion magazine style spreads. I don’t quite have the eye for it but I do love putting outfits together on there. Perhaps I’m studying to be in the wrong industry…

        2. Jazzy Red*

          Let us know if you ever see Mr. Muscle Shirt/Orange Shorts at work!

          My friend had to go to court last year, and she wore a casual cotton top and slacks (that’s what we wear to work) and told me that she was waaay overdressed for court. Apparently, PJ bottoms and flip-flops are the dress code there. (I would have sent them into orbit, because I would have worn a suit if I owned one.)

    2. Jessa*

      If I am not sure of the place I would ask about denim if given any kind of casual clothing description because some places no matter how nice have a “no denim no matter what” rule, and I wouldn’t want to go afoul of that. Without that knowledge, I’d avoid denim just in case.

    3. Loose Seal*

      I liked your outfit too. Change out the jeans for black dress pants and I think you have a winner.

      You didn’t list your jewelry. I would think an oversized broach or a big, bright necklace would add to the “smart” part of the look.

    4. AG*

      I am unclear why a summer job serving food at water park has such rigorous rounds of interviews along with dress requirements. I had a summer job as a hostess at a chain restaurant once and I filled out an application, talked to the manager, and they hired me. It was barely an interview.

      1. Felicia*

        All summer/retail jobs I’m experienced with had those kinds of requirements. Even Walmart had 3 rounds of interviews. I think it’s because there are so many un/under employed people out there, which means more people are competing for such jobs than they used to. Also depends where you live. But in my experience, what the OP is describing is the norm, and sounds just like the interviews for the local amusement park.

        1. Jo - OP 4*

          It’s partially due to the fact that they have to hire so many people – at the end of each trading season the park shuts and fires all its casual workers (‘Fires’ is perhaps not he best word – but they are employed for one season only, welcome to reapply for next etc) and then at the beginning of the next one, must hire staff for its souvenir and retail shops, ticket offices, admin, lifeguards & ride operators, and the food & beverage staff for fast food and function centre respectively. I imagine this would elicit tonnes of applications, and group interviews would mean they can get through a lot of them. In the first lot of group interviews I’ve been told that they cut down the applicants by half. They are pretty informal – more of a relaxed discussion, trying to see who has the right sort of attitude and who looks like the sort of people they want to eventually hire. Then they get to one-on-one stage which is more a traditional interview. (I just realised as I wrote that I’ve been calling it the ‘real’ interview in my head…) A discussion of your qualifications, whether you are a right fit for the culture, ‘why do you want to work here’, ‘where do you see yourself’, etc. and they cut the numbers in half again to whomever they finally wish to employ.
          I could be wrong. But years and years ago the manager was at a careers day I attended and I’m pretty sure he said something along those lines.

          Oh and Alison – I used the question out of your interview prep book “What separates the good from the best?” I feel like it really helped in comparison to the other candidates in my group who didn’t ask anything at all. This website has helped me so much…

          1. Jo*

            UPDATE: I got the job! I start training next Saturday. Such a relief after 2-3 years of job searching along with 6 months panicking about what’ll happen next year because I’m going to have to move house and I can’t do that without the cash in the bank.

    5. anon*

      I’d say wear the dress pants with a nice top. I suggest you dress a step above what you think would be acceptable. Also, “smart casual” is the dumbest term I have ever heard. Who events this crap?

  9. Sharon-op*

    #7: the lw states that this was done in the office, which makes me want to know what kind of office it was. Not many places have a company nurse any more. If an HR person asked me to pee in a cup, I’d high-tail it outta there! LW, can you clarify that?

    1. Sharon-op*

      I should clarify that when asked to do drug tests in the past I was always sent to a medical office or lab.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      The only place I’ve ever been asked to do that in the office was at temp agencies. They had a kit they used. For actual pre-employment testing, I too was sent to a medical office or clinic. I hate testing almost as much as receipt checking.

  10. Liz T*

    Small error in #4: You wrote “less casual than dress pants” when I think you meant “less formal” or “more casual.”

  11. Gilbey*

    Yes ask.
    25K is a pretty big hit to take but you never know what people’s situations are.

    I took a little bit of a hit in my current position but I also transitioned into a a completely new type of job. I also am in a position ( home life) that allowed me to do so.

    I agree with the other posters. Companies need to state the salary range up front. If want $18/hr and the job posts at $8-10 at least I know up front whether I want to apply.

  12. Ramona*

    #6: Please, please, please get the ergonomic keyboard asap. I kept ignoring the pain in my thumb to the point that I had to get surgery on it. It’s much better now, but I don’t have full mobility anymore. It’s not worth going through that when all you need is a keyboard that probably costs $50.

    1. Rana*

      I’d also recommend going to someplace like Fry’s or Best Buy or whatever and test out a few brands. Just because a keyboard is “ergonomic” doesn’t mean that it’s ergonomic for you.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Excellent point!

        There are more options now than ever, so getting the correct one for you means trying them out.

  13. LK*

    #1 please ask your candidate! I switched fields about a year ago & had an interview for a position that seemed like a great fit. The interviewer let me know the salary range at the start of the interview (it was $22,000 less than what I was making) and he asked if it made sense for us to continue talking. It turned out I couldn’t take the position with that salary, but they set me up with something part-time instead (so I could kerp my high-paying job but still get ecperience in my new field).

    So please call your candidate and discuss each of your salary expectations! if not, you won’t know what he’s open to, and if you are too far apart on salary at least you’d be doing him the courtesy of not wasting his time with interviews.

  14. Kerr*

    #4: Your first interview outfit looks like it fits the “smart casual” definition well. In fact, given the job and environment, the dark jeans probably weren’t a bad move.

    I’d go with the dress pants for a second interview, and pair them with a floral or patterned blouse, or a jewel-toned (or other non-neutral color) semi-casual jacket, as per your first look. If you don’t have prints, and wind up with an outfit of solid colors, you might try pairing it with a piece of statement jewelry (i.e. something bright/large/dramatic, not clinking bangle bracelets), or a printed scarf.

  15. Marina*

    Regarding made up dress codes, I was just invited to a wedding where the dress code is “casual/awesome”. I know exactly what I’m going to wear, too!

    The best one I’ve ever seen, though, was a charity fundraiser where the dress code was “Portland chic”. (That’s Portland, Oregon.) Everyone I’ve ever mentioned it to has said, “So… fleece?”

    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      Haha, just went to a Portland Chic wedding. I wore a long sundress and was the dressier person there. The bride’s sister wore khaki shorts, a t-shirt and Birkenstocks. It was awesome.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m from Portland. I went to a Catholic funeral last week and the daughters of the deceased wore sun dresses and flip-flops.

  16. Anon*

    It seems like AAM answers the same questions (or some variations of the same question) repeatedly. It’s really annoying especially since I’ve submitted questions that are just ignored. Time to find a new blog…

      1. FD*

        I’d like to see Alison do a post of her top ten weirdest stories/questions. The black magic post, the coworker who was a prostitute post, the crazy dietitian post…

      2. Layla*

        In defence of “smart casual”, in my experience its been so often used that I wouldn’t think anyone were making it up !
        Might take some serious research to know it wasn’t a “miss manners approved” dress code type

    1. Anonymous*

      If your Q isn’t related to something HR can influence than AAM has nothing to help with. Just something to think about!

    2. Another Anon*

      Making a comment like this is like crashing a party you weren’t invited to, then loudly announcing you’re leaving.

  17. Pussyfooter*

    “slothful lounge” ; )
    Alison, I happen to like sloths (the animal) and know a co-worker who holds an annual “pajama party spin class” at my gym, so this makes me smile. Maybe your bridal shower could be themed “Slothful Lounge”?

    1. Carlotta*

      I just wanted to say I love the dress code “slothful lounge”. I’m a big fan of come home, take off office dress/tights and into pjs for the rest of the night. I feel slothful lounge would be a step up from pjs but still very comfy.

  18. Reader #1*

    #1 Thanks for answering my question! I should clarify that I was not going to assume the person would not take the pay cut. I was more wondering whether I should continue with the interview process without discussing the pay issue until we got to a point where we felt like he was the right candidate, or whether I should bring it up now to avoid potentially wasting everyone’s time. I think the answer is still bring it up now, but don’t worry, I wasn’t going to dismiss the candidacy outright! :)

    1. BCW*

      Just curious, why didn’t you bring it up in the initial phone screening? I’ve had quite a few phone screens where that was brought up. I’ve them ask me what I’m looking for, or them tell me their range and see if it was acceptbale. Thats what phone screens are for, to decide then if its worth anyone’s time to continue.

  19. Anonymous*

    Regarding #2, in my opinion, it is better to be honest in interviews. If a job was terminated because the person was unhappy with the working environment in an old row house with leaks, floods, and termites near his or her desk, and the bosses thought the person should find another job due to unhappiness, it is better to say that, than say, ” I left for new challenges.” If an applicant does not disclose the true reason for why he or she was terminated, the interviewers imagine all kinds of things. Why not just tell them the truth. There have been other articles on here about unpleasant situations with employees having to work with their desks near a bathroom and things like that. I would perfectly understand if I were an interviewer and someone told me the working environment was unpleasant because it was in an old row house. It is better to tell the truth.

    1. BCW*

      I think it comes down to perception. As Allison said, they don’t know anything about you to know if you are blowing things out of proportion. For example, my former roommate had borderline OCD and had to have everything perfect in the house. I lived like a normal, single 30 year old guy. If you were to ask most people, they might say I was a bit cluttered, but nothing terrible. However he thought I was a complete slob and that the place was always disgusting. So using your example, if I interviewed someone and they said something like that, I’d have to wonder if it was REALLY that bad, or if they were just someone whose perception was off. Same with discussing relationships with co-workers or a boss. There are 2 sides to every story, and if you are only getting one, especially from someone you just met, you can’t be sure how reliable it really is.

      1. Ruffingit*

        Exactly. It’s a matter of perception and also of discretion. Companies you’re interviewing with will want to assess whether or not you have any discretion regarding past employers. If you’re the type to spill their dirty laundry all over the yard, that is not going to be good for you.

        You need to be seen as someone who can professionally handle bad situations and one way to show that is to be professional regarding your past bosses and employment. I’ve had some beyond crazy bosses in my past, but I never told future interviewers that I left the job because my boss was batsh!t crazy. I simply said that my goals were not compatible with my former employer (because I enjoy personal and professional sanity, which I added silently in my head to that response) and that was that.

        There’s just no reason to tell all the down and dirty details to a future employer. They don’t know the people involved so the perception issue comes into play and the only thing spilling the dirty laundry will accomplish is showing that you have no discretion and you can’t be professional.

        1. Another teacher*

          Exactly. It’s important to find a way to make the situation a non-issue. I also left a job because of bullying. Until I could mentally reframe my reaction to what happened, my resentment showed in interviews no matter what I actually said.

          1. jesicka309*

            YES. This is destroying me right now. Everytime I’m interviewing my resentment seems to pour into every response I give. I think I need to work on it, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who can’t keep their baggage out of new opportunities.

            1. Jazzy Red*

              Yes, you do need to work on this. If you have someone who will do some role-playing with you and let you get it all out on them, do it. Otherwise, try writing a letter to the person who caused all this, and then burn it (or delete it).

    2. fposte*

      I guess I’d be grateful for a candidate’s honesty if she said she left her job because she didn’t want to work with leaks or floods or bugs, because we then wouldn’t hire her. I’m not sure that’s the effect the candidate’s going for, though.

      1. fposte*

        To clarify–we do indeed work in a building with leaks, floods, and bugs, and there’s nothing I can do to change that.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I was just thinking that must be a “interesting” building that you work in, fposte. One must be made of stern stuff ;) …

          For me, rats, snakes and fires kind of do me in. Yeah, I have had more than one of those at the same time. Not fun. The kangeroo might have been fun but not in the workplace….

          Seriously, though, chronic leaks, floods and bugs can make employees feel like they are jumping through hoops just to get through an ordinary work day. It takes stamina to keep showing up.

          1. fposte*

            Well, we don’t get them every day. Or at least not all three every day :-). But to me it’s just standard old building stuff. And even sometimes newer buildings–if you live in a house anywhere it rains, you’re going to sometimes encounter bugs, leaks, and floods. I’m sure there are versions of those I’d find unacceptable, but if a candidate couldn’t face them, then it’s probably best I know.

            I’ve never encountered chronic fire, snake, or rat problems (save for the usual urban rats around when working in a city) or any kangaroo problems at all, but I think I’d be a lot more bothered by those.

    3. Cat*

      I can’t imagine ever hiring a candidate who said she was leaving her job because her desk was near a bathroom. We don’t actually have any desks located near bathrooms, but I’d be wondering what other space requirements she end up having that I wouldn’t be able to control because it’s an office building and not a private home.

    4. Liz*

      It’s just so tough, because when you interview you have to pretend you can handle ANY work situation because they just plain don’t know you yet. Like if you were on a first date, and the guy/girl said “my ex was just plain batsh*t crazy” – you want to believe them, but part of you thinks, maybe this person is sexist/maybe they’re the crazy one. A close friend was fired from a job where their boss was just plain vindictive and unpredictable, and dragged them through a series of performance reviews that were clearly designed to starve my friend out, until they got desperate enough to quit. And then 5 days after being told they’d made it through the performance review period (several months), they were fired. Now, what do you say in interviews? Management style didn’t mesh with me? That sounds like you’re particular about your managers, when what it means is “my manager was a crazy person who was out to get me for no reason.”

  20. Limon*

    Leaving a job under bullying circumstances can be super hard when it comes to interviews, as everyone has said. I totally agree. I felt I was pushed out of my last full-time position, and yes, I had a very bad vibe when I interviewed so at least my instincts were working fine. Just that I was broke and wanted the money.

    At interviews I have felt very conflicted and it was hard. Only one place asked for honesty and they seemed very sincere. Otherwise, I haven’t said anything negative at all and left people to figure things out on their own.

    Also, instead of fighting all this I decided to turn and go in a completely new direction. I volunteer, work several part-time and freelance positions which I enjoy, and do alot of gardening and organic farming things.

    This way, spiritually I am in a different place. This helps change my perspective and my goals and now that really comes through well in interviews. Actually, I have turned down a few positions recently because I didn’t feel they were the right fit. (I did it really nicely tho!) These bullying situations can make you really stop and examine your life and make some positive changes – if you allow it.

  21. Not usually anonymous*

    Note: I am just picking a female gender, because I am also female.

    A manager left her job, because a part-time software consultant bullied her and her staff? Doesn’t that raise all sorts of questions? I ask this as a woman who was bullied by her first employee.

    1. BCW*

      That struck me as odd too. I guess I don’t get how someone who is below you in the hierarchy can bully you. Bullying is usually about a power differential. If you have the power, how does that work?

    2. jennie*

      I agree this would be a red flag to any employer. Without knowing the details it seems like this manager was ineffective at managing. Most employers won’t take a chance on that.

    3. rlm*

      I agree it would raise questions in an interview (to the points AAM made), but I want to point out that anyone can be bullied and anyone can be a bully. In fact, the person in the lower-ranking position might bully the higher-up as a way of establish their power and look for weakness in the manager.

      1. Sarah M*

        I wrote this question and understand that it could be perceived that I should have been able to “manage” the bully. First of all she was not my direct report and had worked at the company as a consultant for five years before I started. In reality she didn’t report to anyone and the owners stated that they did not want to “manage” her bad behavior, they wanted to run their business. She bullied everyone in the company and another staff member wrote a harassment letter to HR regarding the bullying she received from this consultant. The owners only response was that the consultant was not to deal with any of the staff any more, just the managers. I was one of those managers and had to work closely with her everyday. I tried to “manage” her bullying for two years and in the end placed complaints with HR and asked the owners for some behavioral guidelines for her so that I would be able to work with her without her screaming at me, monitoring everything I did, criticizing me professionally and personally, teasing and mocking me, etc…the list goes on and on.

        Neither HR nor the owners would set any guidelines for her behavior and I was emotionally and psychologically drained from dealing with this condescending, aggressive person every day that I made the tough decision to separate employment.

        I say shame on this company to let a consultant run the company and treat staff and managers poorly without setting guidelines for behavior. I was a high paid manager and am expecting an offer from a new employer this week who was told the truth of why I left my previous employer and didn’t bat an eye at my truthful explanation. I will let you all know the outcome!

  22. Limon*

    Bullying can take many different forms, superiors, inferiors you name it. Absolutely ‘inferiors’ can bully a superior.

    Just think of when a new boss comes in and the people being supervised don’t want a woman/new person/a man/or whatever, just fill in your choice. Maybe the employees are lazy and the new boss asks them to be hard working and productive. You can see where I am going with this.

    Those being supervised can create situations where the boss is now the target of their bullying behavior – ‘forgetting’ emails, directives, meetings, or conversations. Asking the boss to repeat things over and over. And finally, just not obeying the new boss and creating problems downstream and of course! talking smack about the new boss to anyone who will listen.

    Please, bullying is just a facet of human nature and anyone, anywhere can do it to another person. The key is to be able to resist that and be “bully-proof.” Also, remembering that people are bullied for their strengths, and not their weaknesses is crucial.

    Gary Namie has done alot of work with this area.

      1. rlm*

        Not always, unfortunately. HR has to be involved in many cases, and they don’t always take the appropriate action.

          1. Not usually anonymous*

            Our HR department said it made no sense to issue a warning at all for employees on a limited contract, because I can only issue a warning once every 6 months, so it takes 1,5 years to fire someone.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              What?! An HR department that only allows a manager to issue a warning once every 6 months is being allowed to run amuck. There’s no justification for that rule, and it’s at odds with managers’ ability to manage. Your problem was your HR department, not your employee.

    1. BCW*

      Honestly, I think bullying is also a term that is thrown around WAY too much these days. I was a teacher, and even some of those definitions I thought was a stretch. Sometimes people just don’t get along and act like jerks. That doesn’t make them a bully. Not to pick on you, but really, asking someone to repeat things over and over is a bullying behavior? If a manager can’t handle their subordinates, and think they are being bullied by them, they probably shouldn’t be a manager.

        1. BCW*

          Why do you disagree? If they are new, they need to be able to come in, take charge, and command respect. If people can’t get with the program, have a talk with them and let them know what happens if they don’t get with the program. Again, some people might be total a-holes, however that doesn’t mean they are a bully just because they don’t respect the manager.

          1. Not usually anonymous*

            The first step in solving a problem is identifying it. So figuring out that the subordinate is bullying them is the first step for the manager to stop the bullying.

  23. Steph*

    #6 – Definitely go for the keyboard, you may be surprised by your supervisor’s response. About 2 weeks after I started my current position, I pulled pretty much every muscle in my neck as a result of poor office set-up and dual monitors(looking back and forth constantly when you’re not used to it does a number on you!) and had to take 2 days off of work because I couldn’t turn my head. When I came back, my boss insisted I try out every chair in the place, look into foot rests, and any other ergonomic contraption they made, which was a response I didn’t see coming at all. I also got an ergonomic mouse, which you may also find helpful.

  24. Limon*

    Lol! I so agree ! if I was the manager I would definitely not tolerate bullying. They would get a simple talking to once and the second time, out.

    Having been a target, and seen it done to others – I try and be a super supportive and positive manager. Firm, good boundaries but also generous and supportive of my people. It’s amazing how much people will do for you when you are encouraging and structured. Positive feedback goes a very long way and reaps great rewards.

    Bullies are really dumb people, when you think about it. If you want to get people to like you – be nice! The greatest strength is kindness, as the Talmud says.

    1. Limon*

      I thought about this thread overnight and then went back and reread the OPs original comments. I’ll just say this last thing and then no more posts from me.

      She said that she was the manager over her staff and that when she she spoke up about this consultant’s behavior nothing was done. It sounded like a small office, no HR. When she spoke to the owners (many times, she said), the owners chose to do nothing.

      That makes me think that the owners were ok with the consultant behaving like this, were not willing to protect their staff and were willing to allow her to leave rather than confront the consultant. Was this consultant important to the business? maybe. Were the owners poor managers? yes. Did she do everything she could? yes, it sounds like it. It sounds like she was not allowed to fire the consultant, nor was she allowed to protect herself or her staff.

      How awful. No wonder she wrote in.

      On anonymous web-blogs, people can jump to all kinds of conclusions and often are quick to criticize others – there’s no recourse, right? I wanted to be fair and go back and see the comments. Her concerns are valid and I agree, she is in a bad place professionally but I believe the universe is ultimately good and that good things can come from bad situations.

      1. Sarah M*

        Limon, Please see my response to your earlier post and I say BRAVO TO YOU! You stated the situation exactly! This consultant did NOT report to me and I had no managing control over her and the owners just wouldn’t get involved. They are the losers because they lost a highly dedicated, hard working, professional manager and are stuck with a horrible consultant that no one can stand! This situation has made me even a better person and my next employer will only benefit from this bad experience!

  25. Anonymous-2*

    #7) I cannot believe you had to actually pee in a cup IN THE OFFICE. Could the at least send you to a medical center? How strange! We only drug test people who are behaving in a way that would make us concerned that they were impaired and not able to perform their job functions. I like that a lot better. I cannot imagine handing a pee cup to a newbie “hey can you run into the bathroom and drop off a urine sample”.

  26. Tara T.*

    Liz’s Aug. 1 comment above: “Now, what do you say in interviews? Management style didn’t mesh with me? That sounds like you’re particular about your managers, when what it means is “my manager was a crazy person who was out to get me for no reason.”” The problem with all this is if the interviewer is suspicious for any reason, the interviewer might think any excuse you give is a cover up, no matter how you put it. Some interviewers are easy going but others are suspicious over the least little thing.

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