my coworkers keep badmouthing my boss to me, is it okay to just order coffee at a lunch interview, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Is it okay to just order coffee at a lunch interview?

So at a certain stage of your interview for a job, you are being asked to meet the interviewer for lunch at a certain place. You meet, the interviewer orders lunch, and you order just a coffee. Is this ok (or should you be ordering lunch)? Is it ok to offer to pay for coffee/lunch at the end?

You should order lunch too. The interviewer is extending you hospitality by inviting you to a lunch meeting, and ordering just coffee is socially a little tone-deaf. It’s assumed that the interviewer will pay; she’s hosting the meeting, and it’s a business expense for her.

2. How can I stop coworkers from badmouthing my boss to me?

I have been hired at local university and have found myself in an unpleasant situation. I am a secretary for one of the department heads. A woman in my building (not in my department, but she supplies a service to us) trashes my department head. She wants to talk about her and have me go along. I have been there only a month. The first week I was there, I had four people come to me and trash her and tell me these horrible stories. I have not been the receiptant or witnessed anything that they are referring to. I have found that one behavior they talked about was something the prior secretary had offered to do and then the department head took advantage and was inconsiderate. I am getting the impression that some things were asked by the department head, she agreed, and then resented agreeing to it and felt stuck. She agreed, suffered some sour grapes, and complained to everyone vs. standing up for herself and confronting the issue. I am of the view that you stand your ground when asked to do unreasonable things past your job description; just be polite about it.

I have started telling people that I like my department head and I get strange looks. But this person wants to come into my office and trash my supervisor and I am terrified that my boss will hear her running her mouth. I get rid of her as soon as possible. Please give me a quick statement that I can parrot back that can end this. I want to keep a good relationship with the woman but am at a loss. I want the freedom to make my own opinion without so much input from others.

“I’ve enjoyed working for Jane so far.”

If that doesn’t work, then move to: “I’d rather not discuss her like this. Thank you.”

3. New manager is constantly texting and emailing during meetings

Within management of the medium-sized company where I work, we have a new manager in her very early 30s. During meetings (intimate meetings of 4 to 5 people) when others are speaking, the new manager will pick up her mobile phone and start checking email, texts, etc. Please note that we are not in the medical field where she could be responding to a heart attack or the birth of a baby–there’s no emergency. When I have broached the subject and shared my disapproval of this practice with others on the management team who are higher in the organizational structure, I’ve been told that her actions are related to her age and “that’s how they are.” I think at any age it’s rude, counter-productive and no different than simply talking over someone and starting a separate conversation during a meeting. Is my attitude outdated? I’m not that much older than the new manager and I’m great with technology–just not at the expense of the objective of the meeting or the respect of the time of others. What’s your opinion?

Yes, it’s rude — although it’s also the culture in some offices, so it’s possible that she’s coming from somewhere where this was well within cultural norms. Someone who’s peer level with her or above her would ideally say something about it — either in the moment (where “Oh, do you need to step outside to deal with a message?” can be pretty effective) or as feedback outside of it (“I’ve noticed you’re often on your phone during meetings — we generally try not to do that here unless it’s an emergency” — although that’s something that ideally would be delivered by her manager).

The excuse that “that’s just how people in their 30s are” is ridiculous; that is not just how people in their 30s are. Plenty of people under 40 don’t do this, and plenty are able to pick up on cultural norms. But ultimately, if people with authority over her don’t care, that’s their call.

4. How many in-person interviews should an employer do for one job?

I recently went through an interview process for several different jobs. I received two offers and accepted the position that was clearly a better fit. My question has to do with the job I didn’t accept.

My interviewer (who is a professor) was very clear about her process. She had phone interviews with several candidates and the top two were flown out for a site visit and interview. I was her second choice candidate, and when the first choice candidate declined, I was offered the position. Since I also declined, the professor has no one for the position and has to start over. She also now has a time issue and needs a candidate who can start ASAP. Someday I hope to be in her shoes and this makes me wonder… how many candidates do I do site interviews with? She probably had to pay $1000+ for my travel expenses — this can really add up as you start to add additional candidates. What is your experience with this?

How many candidates you interview in-person depends on the position, but for a typical position I’d say you should aim to do 3-5 in-person interviews. For roles that are more senior or otherwise harder to fill, that number will probably go up.

However, when it’s a role where you’re paying to fly candidates in from out-of-town, it’s not crazy to decide just to fly in your top two finalists — but I’d meanwhile hold off on rejecting anyone else who might be competitive, in case those two don’t work out. Then you’d still be able to go back to them if you need to. And given the travel expense, you’d want to do as much probing as you can ahead of time about what your finalists are looking for in an offer — i.e., talk about salary and other potential deal-breakers ahead of time, so that you’re setting yourself and them up for a successful offer as much as possible.

5. I was asked to turn over my phone before taking a post-interview skills test

Can you tell me if it’s legal for a company that interviewed me to ask for my mobile phone without prior warning? They had just put me in a room alone to do a 45-minute skills test and asked me to leave my phone outside the room. Fair enough they didn’t want me googling answers, but they didn’t tell me in the paperwork beforehand that they’d want the phone. I was then left to calculate percentages on things on a budget too without being given a calculator, so I spent 25 minutes on one question using long multiplication and division, which I hadn’t used for 20 years! None of this seemed quite right!

Yes, that’s perfectly legal. If they want to test your ability to do math without a calculator, it’s not crazy that they don’t want you to have your phone with you.

Whether wanting you to be able to do math without a calculator is a reasonable thing would depend on the nature of the job — but either way, it’s not illegal for them to request that you not take your phone into the testing room.

{ 261 comments… read them below }

  1. But is it Leeeeggggaalll??*

    Honestly, I don’t know how you reply so patiently to that question.

    Does anyone really, REALLY, think that legislators passed a law saying an interviewer cannot require a candidate to leave their phone outside the room when conducting pre-employment tests?


    1. EJB*

      But isn’t there a issue bout data protection/privacy & shouldn’t they have checked i could lock my phone before handing it over? I was too nervous to think of that & just handed it over anyway and only thought about afterwards about it…Also wouldn’t it have been better to say that that would be required in the pre-interview paperwork then I could have locked the phone. I’m just curious, I actually trust the company anyway as I know them.

      1. Liz*

        You should lock your phone, or have it auto-lock, as a matter of principle anyway. Or you could have just switched it off before handing it over (but again I’m assuming you require a passcode when it starts up).

        There are some potential disability issues, as another commenter mentioned, and that might be another question for Alison: “I have a learning disability and part of a reasonable accommodation is the use of a calculator/ability to write things down rather than working in my head. How do I do this without prejudicing potential employers against myself? I’m perfectly able to do the job as long as I have access to a calculator/piece of paper.”

        1. Jessa*

          Yeh and there’s a difference between asking for a calculator though as an accommodation. A lot of (probably MOST, heck even when I had a brick style mobile it had a calculator function and a basic calendar,) phones today have internet access, so they’re not just taking your calculator, now. They’re stopping people from using Google or something else to get answers from. If you don’t know how to do a calculation plugging things into Google will get you an answer even if you have no idea how to do %. It’s not however unreasonable to say okay, here’s the phone, but get me a calculator unless you’re not permitted to use them at work at all (which would be silly really.)

          1. Mike B.*


            I’m inclined to believe taking the phone was entirely about removing her access to easy answers and not about forcing her to do arithmetic. Given the difficulty she had with the problems, it doesn’t seem likely to me that she’s in a field where it would be helpful to test her math skills.

            Regardless, the question is absurd. People are so oddly convinced that we have robust employment laws that protect workers and applicants against even the smallest and subtlest mistreatment–have they not been paying attention for the last forty years?

          2. Eden*

            For one of the jobs I interviewed for, I had to take a timed test, which was a combination SAT-style math problem/IQ test. I had to take it first online (it stipulated no calculator) and then again in my in-person interview so they could make sure I hadn’t cheated the first time!

            I am not really sure what good this does the company, making applicants jump through weird humiliating hoops (it’s been approximately one hundred years since I have had to do long division sans calculator), and I ended up not taking that job offer. It wasn’t just the test that turned me off, but it was part of a larger red flag that there would be potentially strange unmeetable performance criteria.

        2. some1*

          +1. I don’t think they expected you to turn it over without locking it first. And it should be locked and on silent when you are at a job interview so you and the interviewer aren’t disturbed by incoming calls, texts and emails.

      2. Luxe in Canada*

        It’s not really a privacy issue, as you can turn off your phone or decline the test (which would mean that you wouldn’t be hired, but you would still have that choice.)

        If it helps, think of it as a test of more than just your math skills. You got a chance to show the company in real time how you can rise to a challenge and follow the flow of things. When you met unexpected circumstances, you were able to handle the changes in a different way. That’s pretty impressive in my books.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        This is pretty normal for state-mandated testing where I live. You must abandon your phone …. and everything else you have with you. They even check your pockets. They give you a locker and a key. You are allowed to keep the key on you.

        The only issue I have with what happened to you is that you should have been told before the test what to expect. That way everything boils down to your choice. If you chose to have a phone/handbag/wallet, you know before hand that it will be locked up for the duration of the test. Also, I could see where they were putting my stuff- they did not just toss it into a box behind a desk somewhere.

        It’s also been my experience that if they tell you that you do not need a calculator you probably don’t need one. I took a test last year where they said bring a calc, which I did and I never used the calc to do the test. After doing the test, I was not even sure why they thought I needed a calc.

        But, yeah, some of these tests, I feel like I am walking into a prison not a testing room. Don’t even get me started on how non-essential some of the questions were….sigh.

        1. Audiophile*

          I just took a state test recently and the notice for the test said cell phones and smartwatches were prohibited. Now a lot of people brought them in, so an announcement was made to shut them off. And then right before the test began, another announcement was made to shut off all cellphones and that exams would be taken and void if you were caught with your cell phone in the exam room, hallway or restroom.

        2. Natalie*

          This reminds me of going into the National Archives in DC – you have to check everything except paper. If you want a writing implement, they will give you a pencil.

          Smartphones and tablets weren’t a thing the last time I was there. I wonder if they let people take those in.

          1. TK*

            Archivist here– many archives allow researchers to take their own photographs of materials rather than pay for copies (in some cases, you have to pay to take photos, but that’s rare) now that digital photography is so common and easy. We don’t where I work because it’s a bigger risk than we’re willing to take with regard to copyright, but at somewhere like the National Archives where almost everything is in the public domain it’s a no-brainer. We do obviously allow computers and such for note-taking purposes, since that’s the main way many people organize their research these days.

            I worked for a branch location of the National Archives for work-study while I was in graduate school and I believe they even allowed small personal scanners. You’re right about the pencils, though– one thing you’re never allowed to have around archival materials is an ink pen!

      4. Koko*

        I was thinking this, too. I lock my phone but know a lot of people who don’t, and after all the horror stories we see here I wouldn’t be TOO surprised if “can you do arithmetic the old-timey way if we ever had to complete budgets during a blackout?” was just a ruse to get a chance to snoop on her phone.

        1. Koko*

          In fact, in the last year, I found two different cell phones on the subway and the only reason I was able to reunite both with their owners was because both were not password-locked. I was able to get into both of them and contact the last person the phone owner had been in contact with to arrange returning the phone.

          I’ve had to keep my phone locked for work for years and it’s easy to forget that there are still a lot of people, especially those without jobs, who don’t password-lock their phones.

          1. Sunflower*

            I don’t think this is a thing yet but someone needs to figure out how to remotely disable a passcode. I have lots of friends who had passcodes on their phones, lost their phones and then people find them and can’t contact them because their phone is locked. So lots of my friends have taken their passcodes off in case this happens. I mean you can do so many things with a phone it’s kind of wild no one has thought of this yet.

            1. badger_doc*

              iPhone has this feature–I found one in a parking lot one time that was passcode locked, but the owners went online and had a text message sent to the phone which was visible to me and gave me a number to call if found. Ingenious!

              1. Jennifer*

                Hah, I found one that was locked and then the lady used her iPad to track me and my friend down (we were in a coffee shop trying to figure out some other way to contact the lady).

              2. Cassie*

                My HTC phone lets me set a different lock screen image than the regular wallpaper – so I could put my contact information on there.

                The newer HTC UI version removed the functionality, though – not sure why…

            2. Cat*

              I think there’s also an app that will display your contact info even when the phone is lost.

            3. Robin*

              On my Samsung Galaxy, you can designate “emergency contact” numbers that you can access without the passcode. I have my husband’s number there.

              1. Koko*

                When I took emergency preparedness training, I was taught to look for this–it’s actually all cell phones that have them, although it can look different on different phones. It’ll be a button on the lock screen for Emergency Call, and if you tap that, there will be another button to access the ICE (In Case of Emergency) contacts. You can dial 911 or ICE contacts from the Emergency Call screen without having to unlock the phone.

                Unfortunately, almost nobody knows about them, so it’s unlikely anyone who found my phone would ever go looking there (the ICE contacts button on the Emergency Call dialpad is a weird icon of a person with lines coming out of it and doesn’t really look like an address book/contacts list), and when I’ve found founds and looked, 9/10 times there are no ICE contacts defined. It’s one of my pet issues, trying to spread awareness about ICE contacts beyond the emergency preparedness community!

                My phone has an option for text that can scroll across the lock screen, so I’ve set mine to scroll “If found please text [my alternate number] to reach phone owner.”

            4. De Minimis*

              I worked in retail once and someone left their phone. They called [presumably on someone else’s phone] to try and see where it was, and we couldn’t answer it since it was locked [this was pre-IPhone so I don’t know if there was a way to answer a locked flip phone back then or not.] They eventually showed up all irate because we didn’t answer it.

            5. AdminAnon*

              My phone (Galaxy S4) has a feature where you can display a message on the lock screen. My dad set his to display his name and my mom’s phone number with an “If found, please contact…” message. That way, the phone is still locked, but if anyone finds it they can get it back to my dad. Personally, I think that is brilliant!

          2. themmases*

            At least for Android, there are apps available to lock only individual functions of the phone, without locking the whole thing. I use AppLock for this and it’s pretty great– there are others as well.

            I lock my email, texts, photos, Facebook, phone settings, and the app store, and the AppLock app itself (I also hide it from the app list). I use the option to draw a pattern to unlock, and it’s reasonably quick. The phone would be pretty useless to a thief, but anyone who wants to return the phone to me can easily get into the call function.

          3. Jennifer*

            Yeah, the reason I got mine back was because it was unlocked. I honestly don’t know whether locking or unlocking is better at this point. I give up.

          4. EJB*

            Yes I’ve never put a passcode on my phone so my was already turned off as I obviously knew it shouldn’t be on for an interview. If I’d known they would ask for it I’d have put a passcode on though just so I didn’t have that feeling that they could be going through my phone (I’m sure they wouldn’t but it crossed my mind!) while I was left in the room…

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I wouldn’t be TOO surprised if “can you do arithmetic the old-timey way if we ever had to complete budgets during a blackout?” was just a ruse to get a chance to snoop on her phone.

          Well, first, they didn’t say that — I did. It’s more likely that they didn’t want her googling answers, as others have pointed out.

          But it’s really, really unlikely that it was a ruse to snoop on her phone. That kind of thing is not common.

      5. My 2 Cents*

        Do you really think they looked through your phone while you were taking the test? Not likely at all. There is a very easy and simple way to lock your phone so no one can get into it, this shouldn’t be an issue.

        Plus, leave your phone behind when you interview, I always left mine in my car, that way I was 100% guaranteed that it wouldn’t ring during the interview or cause some other embarrassing issue.

        1. EJB*

          I travelled 100’s of miles from home by public transport to London so sadly needed my phone with me!

      6. Natalie*

        There isn’t actually a ton of privacy legislation in the US, and what little we have is constructed quite narrowly. Your doctor can’t tell people your medical information, but I could, provided it was true. HIPAA, FERPA, etc don’t apply to the common citizen, which would usually include a potential employer.

      7. Observer*

        Sure, it would have been smart for them to tell you in advance. Other than that, though, taking phones is a hugely standard item. In many cases, they do provide calculators – perhaps you could have asked for one. Or maybe, as Alison says, they want to know if you can do math without one. (I can’t imagine why they would care, but that’s a different question.)

        It’s not their job to make sure you can lock your phone. Normal cell phones can be locked, so even if they wanted to be nice, they would have no reason to question it. And, unless the circumstances are rather unusual, they don’t have any obligation to make sure that their staff can’t get a look at what’s on your phone, although I would hope that any sensible company would understand that allowing staff to pore through the phones of people who are taking pre-employment tests is a hugely stupid thing to do.

        1. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

          I can think of a reason why they want to see that you have basic math skills. It’s really easy to become reliant on technology and trust that the answer the program is giving you is the correct one. But if you know how to calculate things in your head, you can look at them and see if it’s approximately what you expected. It’s much easier to correct errors that way. I was able to correct a fairly major formula problem on a spreadsheet my predecessor had made because I knew could estimate what the answer should be, and it wasn’t the answer I was getting.

    2. Elysian*

      There are actually some state laws that prohibit employers from asking you for things like your facebook password. I’ve never read those laws (just read about them in the news!) but its possible that taking a candidates phone could run afoul of them if the potential employer is using the phone to access Facebook or the applicant’s personal email or something. However, it doesn’t sound like that was the case here. Besides, everyone’s phone just have a lock on it, just as a matter of course.

      1. Tina*

        Except in some cases, those laws only prohibit them from asking for your password – they don’t prohibit the employer from asking you to log in and show it to them.

        1. Elysian*

          Sure, that may be – like I said, I haven’t read them and of course each state would also be slightly different.

      2. fposte*

        I’m thinking the OP may not be in the US anyway, which further complicates things.

    3. falala*

      Can we please stop ragging on people for asking questions that they honestly don’t know the answer to? This may seem like common sense to you but obviously it doesn’t for others. Plus you’re coming off as really self-righteous.

      1. Koko*

        Thank you for speaking up for the LW! Yes, it’s well known to those of us who’ve been reading for ages and realize that in the US virtually everything is legal and your boss can make you carry her around the office on your back as her own personal horsey and it’s probably legal. But to those who are just getting into the workforce (and coming from school where there are TONS of laws about what teachers can/cannot do to minors) it’s not so obvious.

        1. Poofeybug*

          Ok, Koko, hilarious! I now cannot stop imagining me having to heft my 6’4″, 275 lb. boss on my back!

          1. Tina*

            After having “significant” delays on my train commute this morning, I needed that laugh! Thanks.

        2. Felicia*

          Plus some readers don’t live in the US , and in many other countries, less things are legal! Though I have learned that this is not the blog to ask my non American legal questions, other than an open thread, that’s because I’m a regular reader.

        3. Eden*

          Now I have to explain to my officemates why I just let out that loud guffaw noise. Thanks for that.

        4. Tinker*

          I think you’ve hit it on the head here about school — to a degree, you can look back to that previous question about curling one’s hair in class, where the teacher is drawing a direct parallel between school and future work. That’s a common behavior — indeed, one that is often deliberately undertaken (although often in a wonky manner) out of a desire to prepare students for what is perceived to be their future.

          Result of this is that many folks have a tendency to see “teacher”, “police officer” and “employer” as near-synonyms differing largely in their domain, and in two of these cases the roles involved are notoriously governed by laws and higher authorities that can be appealed to. It’s natural to extrapolate from this to the third.

          This sort of attitude often works to the advantage of a certain sort of employer — it encourages folks to concede in minor conflicts and to socially enforce that behavior in others (we see some of that here, in fact). The downside of that is that when certain lines are crossed (disposition of personal property being one of these), folks start looking for that external authority rather than working interpersonally to solve the conflict, and at that point we start complaining about people being “litigious”.

          I think it’s healthier generally for people to think of the synonym set as being more like “spouse”, “personal trainer”, “employer” — cases where there’s a financial relationship as well as some degree of personal interaction and common interest, and the laws (which exist) that govern the relationship a) generally don’t cover everyday concerns b) indicate the flaming demise of the significant part of the interaction.

          I also think, even though it’s a trope, it would be nice if folks would be a bit more hesitant to lay into the OP because of confusion on this point. It’s obviously a common misconception, so it’s to be expected that folks will often have it.

        5. EJB*

          Precisely and this was in the UK! & I haven’t been for an interview for 7 years. Constructive answers are good! and Alison has told me it was legal – that was the answer I needed really and was interested in.

    4. Mike C.*

      How in the heck are you going to know the answer unless you ask? The person isn’t preparing a lawsuit, they are writing into an online advice column and asking for advice.

    5. Lizzie*

      I’m always puzzled by the extraneous details like “without prior notice,” as though someone is going to take the time to legislate a notice period for phone deprivation during pre-hiring testing.

    6. Katie the Fed*

      I would assume that if people had all the answers they wouldn’t be writing in.

    7. Random concerned citizen*

      Please don’t bash or judge the OP. That is not what this blog is about. The OP had an honest question and AAM graciously answered it. It is these types of comments that scare off individuals who would like to ask AAM questions but fear what commenters will think/say. Stop with judging please.

      1. Tinker*

        Yeah, I’m all longwinded and stuff but I really do think this is something we need to work on. It’s definitely tempting, particularly as we’re so often engaged in these questions as a community, but the ultimate point is for folks to learn things that they didn’t know before, and to do right things that they were previously doing wrong.

        As such, being hard on people because their question reveals the ignorance that they came here to fix is rather counterproductive.

          1. Deedee*

            A few months ago my husband had an issue come up at work and wanted me to write in and ask “if it was legal?” And even though I would not have worded it that way (!) I did decide not to ask his question because I was worried that some commenters would pile on with condescending attitudes. I think it has gotten a bit better since then, and most of us are very friendly and helpful when we comment, but there is an element of cliquiness going on here which is fun for the regulars but a bit intimidating for newcomers looking for advice. IMHO. (and my husband’s situation resolved itself very nicely after all!)

      2. EJB*

        Thank you all for these comments in support of my question! I haven’t a clue of the law, don’t study it and really got a good answer to my question from AAMM as you say. I’m likely to never post on this again as so many people seem to be slating me for simply asking a question. I’ve never been on a forum before if that’s what you call these things and now I know why. I’ll just ring up a lawyer friend and ask them next time as I’m a specialist in my own field and don’t feel I need to know the law & thought that’s why these things existed. Why do people get so heated about these things? do they need less time at the PC I wonder?

        1. MM*

          EJB … ignore the sour pusses. If you have a question and wish to post it in the future, please do so. I got some great idea on how to handle the bad mouthing co-worker; and I believe the readers are correct that she probably is a gossip. I see her running her mouth more than working. One month here and I found one individual to watch out for. But there are always a few in the mix.

          Readers … please be kind when some asks a question. It’s not because someone is ignorant, the ? is asked because someone has not faced a particular situation and/or problem before. This should be a place to ask a ? without expecting so much backlash you will not seek assistance in the future.

          Sometimes I’ll ask ? even if I know an answer … because I am hoping that I am wrong; or am misreading a situation.

  2. Graciosa*

    I am actually rather impressed with the company in #5 (although I admit this could change depending upon the nature of the job, which is still unknown). I am frequently amazed by the number of people who don’t know how to handle simple math – I love the idea that someone is testing for it! Multiplication and division seem quite straightforward as a request, so I really don’t understand the complaint.

    If the OP’s issue is that this is all done electronically now – well, yes, it usually is, but electronic systems are not always available and hiring people who can still function without them is an idea I support wholeheartedly. I had a personal experience of a restaurant that refused to sell food because the POS system was down. The kitchen and rest of the restaurant still functioned, this was just a computer glitch.

    The resourceful response would be to figure the checks out with a pencil and paper and keep serving (given knowledge of the menu prices and sales tax rate). The staff could even keep a record of sales on paper and enter them later to bring the inventory up to date when the POS system comes back on – this shouldn’t have been an insurmountable problem, but the staff felt it was.

    I still remember the reaction I got when I suggested that they could figure this out. In retrospect, I’m not sure they even believed they knew enough to make change without relying on a computer.

    I’m delighted by the knowledge that someone in the world is testing basic math!

    1. CanadianWriter*

      Staff in places like that aren’t usually allowed to sell anything when the system is down, even if they’re not idiots who can’t add. I keep track on a piece of paper and ring it in later but could be fired for that.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This. It’s not that the employees are mathematically challenged. It is that management makes their lives miserable over a 1 cent error.
        The staff is unwilling to go through that misery.
        I have taken all kinds of math courses. It’s not worth it to me, to jeopardize my job and income over this point. I, too, would not use pencil and paper even though I know how.

      2. Sunflower*

        IMO it’s a liability for both server and restaurant. When a POS system is in place, it’s really hard to give away or steal stuff besides fountain drinks. When it’s not, it’s SOOO easy.

        1. Lora*

          I do not understand this mind-set. I get it that lots, if not most, restaurant chains get their food partially pre-cooked in big plastic bags/bins and it gets microwaved or briefly thrown on the grill for customers. So portions are actually much more tightly controlled than you’d think and it’s easy to notice if there’s one missing. But most purchasing/inventory control systems (e.g. SAP) are known to be accurate only to 5-10% of the nominal value–for example, if Applebee’s orders 100 chicken filets, they might only receive a bag containing 95 filets from the truck, because the bag was loaded by weight rather than per filet, and the order will nevertheless be considered filled rather than short 5. Another bag might contain 110 filets, and then it’s all good. So there’s no point in tracking something more closely than the inventory control system is able to count–it’ll always be wrong by a bit. And then you have to account for things like, customer sent food back and it had to be re-made, spoilage, things like that, which will cause even more to be lost. When determining product price points in the business model, it makes more sense to be very generous in estimating losses and conservative in projecting profits, so a $0.01 error won’t be noticed.

          Are chain restaurants much different to mom-n-pop restaurants in this regard? I mean, I worked in a couple of family-owned places waiting tables in high school, and they usually cooked us supper, gave us leftovers, etc. One of the perks of the job was that you got a hot dinner.

          1. Sunflower*

            Bc restaurants want to notice the 1 cent error. I’ve never worked back of house but in school we were taught to count all the food that came in so if you were short 5 filets, you noted it. Restaurants are not really profitable businesses and it’s really important to control costs as much as possible. Also, with setting price points, people already think that restaurant prices are high and restaurants will usually cut portions before increasing prices.

            The 1 cent error here is referring to employee error. If your food cost is rising or inventory seems off, it’s highly unlikely your meals aren’t portioned correctly or you aren’t getting your food- your employees are stealing it. Something like 3/4 times your restaurant inventory is off, it has to do with employee theft. Employees never steal just once and rarely alone. Also food used isn’t physically counted. Inventory is taken before the order comes in, after it comes in and then those numbers are subtracted to get the usage. So you only notice stolen food in the P&L reports and it usually takes some time to notice.

            POS systems account for literally EVERYTHING that happens in a restaurant. When food is sent back or wrong orders are made, it’s always put through the POS system in some way. When an order is canceled, it’s still in the system- it’s not like throwing a written check away. With no POS system, I can just toss the checks away and pocket the money. Or I can not do it and my boss can accuse me it. But with a POS system, not only is the restaurant getting the backup that I charged for the order but I can also point to it and say I did

    2. Anx*

      I don’t think it was just a math issue when the POS went down. Servers can’t even change an order when a customer makes an addition without hunting down a manager for an override. We can’t fill drink orders, either, without waiting for the machine (which is a real pain when you’re only open window in a 5 minute span has no available machines and you can’t get a head start).

      1. Koko*

        And sometimes there’s really dumb things like the cash register drawer won’t even open without the POS system or a physical key which is only held by the manager who has already gone home for the day.

    3. EJB*

      Yes I can see what you are saying totally and I agree and soemtime test people for maths myself. However finance was a very small part of the job I was going for so seemed very odd and meant it was hard to get through many other questions they would have been more interested in as they counted towards more of the job score if you see what I mean. I think it may have been a mistake in the circumstances actually, that someone forgot to leave a calculator. Anyone finance I’ve spoken to thought it mad as you generally don’t work without them in finance teams even if you can add up perfectly well etc

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        My first thought was actually not about the calculator OR the Internet. I assumed they didn’t want you taking a picture of the test and putting it online for the benefit of other candidates. Yes, it would have been better if they’d given you a locker with your own ke, (like with many standardized tests), but I completely agree with them not wanting your phone in there.

        1. the gold digger*

          a picture of the test and putting it online for the benefit of other candidates.

          Why would anyone ever do that? You would just be giving an advantage to your competition.

          1. Cautionary tail*

            Because people sometimes go for job positions with the decoy (person who doesn’t really want the position) interviewing first, and then feeding the questions to the real applicant who interviews later. In my experience this tends to happen more in situations where internal applicants are almost guaranteed that they will be interviewed. I have seen people do this and I’ve even been asked to do this for someone who really wanted a position. I declined.

      2. Dani X*

        Why didn’t you just skip those questions, go to the ones you would be able to answer more quickly (and apparently would count more) and then go back to the math ones at the end?

      3. Heather*

        I’m guessing from “maths” and “thought it mad” that you’re in the UK? It still seems unlikely, but maybe there is some labor law regarding how employees’/candidates’ personal property must be handled…

    4. FiveNine*

      I’m not impressed. The SATs for at least a generation now have not just allowed students to use a calculator but have recommended that they bring one for the test even though all the problems can be completed without one.

      1. Kay*

        I tutor for SAT prep, and you’re right that pretty much every problem can be solved without a calculator. However, the SAT is timed and some of these problems would take a prohibitive amount of time without the calculator. I am a huge proponent of a calculator being a tool to make you more efficient, not a crutch that you are incapable of math without. For example, when doing exponents, why would anyone know 8^5 in their head? or long multiply it out? But order of operations? you should control that in your head and only plug in steps if necessary to be faster.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yes, this. The SAT isn’t intended to test people on basic arithmetic. This happened in the upper-level math and science classes I took in school too–sure, everybody knew how to multiply 257 x 463 or whatever, but it was time-consuming and not the actual skill being tested, so the teachers would permit calculators so we had more time for the higher-level problem solving.

          1. Natalie*

            My chemistry professor in college had a very similar philosophy about basic formulas and the periodic table of the elements. He believed most scientists memorized those things by using them, so they were posted up on the walls of the classroom and not covered up during tests. He was far more interested in testing our knowledge of the concepts, not whether we had committed the atomic weight of carbon to memory.

            1. Heather*

              I like him!

              It reminds me of all the memorizing of dates we had to do for history classes. There are so many interesting lessons from the past that we could apply to our lives now, but we never learned about them because we were too busy memorizing the date Archduke Ferdinand was shot.

      2. Lora*

        Well now I just feel old. :/
        64×64 = 4096 because 64×8=480+32=512 and 512×8=4000+96


    5. Jessa*

      I have a processing disorder, I understand maths through Calculus, I cannot however add without my fingers. I need a calculator. I can estimate, so I have a clue if the answer is in line with reality (IE I can check that the calculator works in general,) but for me it’s an absolute reasonable accommodation to get me one. And if I were in a place where the system went down, I guarantee that between my phone and in that case the spare calculator in my purse (solar so it doesn’t need a power source,) I could continue to work.

      1. Finny*

        I am the same in that regard. Though when I was in school it was just called stupidity. Only recently did I learn the term dyscalcula, which I may not be spelling correctly.

    6. Elysian*

      I mean, its only delightful if they will need to do math without a calculator on the job for some reason. There’s no legitimate purpose in testing me on my times-tables if the job wouldn’t involve skill at all.

      Even if the POS is down, someone probably has a phone with a calculator (or, like others said, they might not even be allowed to operate when the POS is down). I honestly can’t think of a place where I would be without a calculator. Unless this person is interviewing to be an elementary school math teacher, this seems to just be meant to embarrass applicants.

    7. Mike C.*

      It’s a bit insulting to assume that the reason the place shut down was the lack of basic math skills on the part of the staff don’t you think? Just because it’s a “low skill” job doesn’t mean they’re stupid.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yes, I have. And one of the biggest mental-math whizzes I’ve ever met worked in one of them with me. What are you driving at?

          (Having worked in a busy restaurant, I’ll add to all these other arguments the fact that when you’re slammed and trying to remember five hundred other things, sometimes your mind goes blank on something you know full well how to do.)

        2. TK*

          Yeah, I’ve never worked in a restaurant, but it seems as though it would be impossible for a restaurant to remain open with anything even remotely approaching normal efficiency if they were all doing math with pencil and paper. Or even probably doing the math on a calculator without the computer.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            The cafe downtown where I worked in CA did it once–some dumbasses blew up a power transformer on Earth Day as some sort of protest. We had to serve the lunch rush with no power. There was no soup, no coffee, and all the sandwiches had to be served cold. The cashier used a calculator. We were really busy that day and went through the food so fast it didn’t have time to spoil.

            Some of the customers were mad, but not many. They knew it wasn’t our fault. Most people were surprised we stayed open. The regular government people–cops, meter maids, and a judge–were happy they could at least get food.

    8. Natalie*

      It’s not really about math, in that case. The entire restaurant process usually runs through the POS system.

      Orders are relayed to the kitchen and/or bar when they are entered into the computer and then transmitted to a thermal printer. If you’ve ever seen a professional kitchen, you might notice multiple slips stuck into the line, right at about eye level. Those are order tickets, so the cooks know what they need to make and in what order, as it’s usually first come first served. In the old days they would have been handwritten, but the restaurant probably doesn’t stock order books anymore. They might not even have that much paper on the premises.

      Without paper or a POS system, your server is now relying purely on memory to calculate your bill. They have to know the sales tax rate for their city – possibly two sales tax rates if you ordered alcohol. They have to write that sales tax amount down somewhere else because it has to be remitted to the state. And all of this needs to be documented to the satisfaction of a restaurant owner and, potentially, their accountant.

      And when they finally figure out what you need to pay, they can’t open the cash drawer or take a credit card without the POS system. I guess you could write a check, but not a lot of people carry them and not a lot of places accept them.

      1. Kelly L.*


        My dad used to rail about how grocery store cashiers were lazy these days and Back In The Day they’d have memorized the prices of everything in the store instead of having to scan them. Well, (a) he’s talking about a Back in The Day before he was even born–it was probably something his own father ranted about–and (b) THERE WERE PROBABLY LIKE TEN ITEMS IN THE STORE! Perhaps <i.because we have the technology, all this stuff has gotten too complex and varied to really do on the back of an envelope.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Ha! I can remember my father abandoning a whole cart of groceries because the cashier made one or two mistakes. I cringe even now.
          I am sure those cashiers in the golden olden days did their own fair share of creative pricing, sometimes even INTENTIONALLY!

    9. Eden*

      In the case of the test I had to take, I think it was more testing whether you could prioritize. You could skip questions, and I think the result was based on how many you answered correctly of the ones you answered.

      The test I took was 50 questions, and you were given 15 minutes. Most of the questions were something like this:
      If a hat factory makes 923 hats in January, and they increase their production by 15%, how many hats will they have produced by the mid-point of the third quarter?

      Frankly, doing that math by hand would take me at least 15 minutes all by itself. (I’m blaming too many mini-strokes for my inability to recall parts of my multiplication tables.)

      So while I agree, the ability to do basic math is a good thing (I used to calculate surgical drug dosages, something you DON’T want to get wrong) and being able to estimate the answer is also valuable, not all math-intensive pre-employment screenings are actually evaluating that.

  3. Lizzy*

    1.) I have a phobia with eating in front of people I don’t know very well, so I understand wanting to just order coffee; however, it still is proper etiquette to order a meal (even if on the lighter side) and I know some people who would be outright offended if you just ordered coffee.

    3.) Some people will argue that type of behavior should be nipped in the bud by 25 or 30 — whenever we are supposedly proper adults –but I think it is more than an age/generational occurrence. I am in my late 20s, but I know people much older who act in a similar manner and are more attuned with social media and technology than I ever could be. I always had a theory it was a personality type that was prone to that type of behavior (i.e. My 60-something great aunt is obsessed with her iPad and acts in a similar manner in regards to communication). I am sure you could make the argument that 20-somethings and early 30-somethings make up the majority of culprits, but I keep seeing this behavior across the board. And heaven knows today’s teens don’t know it any other way!

    Another quick story: I was at my first opera last November and when intermission came, about 80% of the patrons couldn’t wait to whip out their smartphones in the lobby (some couldn’t even wait for intermission). The average age of a patron in attendance that night was mid 40s, with many people much older than that.

    1. Puffle*

      You would need a crowbar to separate my 60-something parents from their gadgets, whilst my 20-something sibling is indifferent to technology.

      1. Piper*

        Yep. My mom is so obsessed with Facebook, I think she spends about 90 percent of her day on it (including at work) and is constantly posting the lastest memes, random quotes, her own rants about everything under the sun, and all of the warning posts that should have been Snoped before posting. I, on the other hand, check it about 2-3 times per day. It’s just not my main priority by any stretch. (I’m in my mid 30s.)

        1. Audiophile*

          Those warning posts drive me nuts, they’re all basically the same and they’ve been proven untrue ages ago. That ‘Facebook is going to charge you money to use it’ post that circulated, did kind of come true. You can now pay $1 for someone who’s not your friend to see your message.

          1. Hlyssande*

            …That’s really gross, actually.

            I wonder how many abuse ex-partners, stalkers, etc are using that to make their targets see their messages. I hope it doesn’t work if the person has been blocked.

        2. De Minimis*

          Same here, my parents are in their 60s and are on Facebook way more than I am, to the point of annoyance [using it to send fairly important messages instead of just calling or texting….ugh] My dad actually brings a tablet to church and that’s what he uses to access the Bible, although of course maybe it’s easier for him to read and take notes.

          In a small meeting I think it’s not appropriate to be constantly checking messages, although at a former workplace it was pretty normal for people to do that if it were a larger meeting and they were taking time away from their projects to attend, especially if someone were manager level or higher. But that job required managers to be in near-constant communication with people working on multiple projects. This sounds like it’s a meeting of the manager’s work team.

    2. Elle D*

      Totally with you on the eating thing. I wouldn’t go as far as calling mine a phobia, but I really hate eating in front of strangers and would feel horribly uncomfortable. I also tend to be pretty clumsy, and would spend most of the lunch fearing that I’d spill or drop something.

      Regarding #2 though – I really think this is a workplace norms thing, and not a generational thing. At my first job, everyone brought their phones to meetings and checked emails/texts, regardless of the importance of the conversation or size of the meeting, so I did the same. I’m in my mid 20s, but I don’t even bring my phone to meetings at my current job – it’s the type of company described by the OP, where no one checks their phone during meetings. Senior management will occasionally pick up a call if it’s urgent, but that’s it.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Clumsiness and eating: I am smiling- I read a great article once that ran through this whole problem. The main idea was to watch what you order. There are just some foods you have to fight with in order to eat them. Spaghetti is one. I can tell you with absolute certainty, I could not order spaghetti for an interview meal. I will not win. Until I read that article, I never gave it a second thought about choosing foods wisely. But sadly, I can still get coffee down the front of me. It usually only happens when others are watching.

        1. Cat*

          I don’t think most interviewers are analyzing what the interviewee orders though. More just generally assessing them in a more social/less formal situation. The only thig that strikes me as an ordering problem usually is ordering way more food than anyone else or nothing. (On the first, that would be if a candidate ordered an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert when everyone else got a salad or sandwich).

          1. De Minimis*

            It’s not that the interviewee is worried about having their food choices evaluated, it’s that you generally should not order food that has the potential to be messy for an interview or other business meal. Spaghetti or similar pasta is a prime example of what not to order. It’s best to order something simple that can be eaten easily with little potential for spillage/splattering.

            We did have a co-worker once who just could not seem to get a lot of the workplace norms–he held everyone up once because he was the only one who ordered dessert in a large group, so we all just had to sit there and wait for him to finish [and he was a junior employee.] This was the same guy who would wander around and bother everyone at their desks to the point where people would try to leave the area if they saw him coming.

            1. Lizzy*

              There are actually tons of business etiquette articles out there that give tips on what not to eat during client meeting, lunch interviews, networking dinners, etc. Something that came up often was messy foods you tend to eat with your hands, like ribs, BBQ sandwiches, crab legs with butter, etc. They mentioned that sandwiches and burgers are okay, but to remember that not all sandwiches/burgers are created equally (like a burger with guacamole or BBQ sauce on it). I believe red sauce pasta dishes were also mentioned as a dish to avoid as well.

        2. Ruffingit*

          I do OK with spaghetti because my strategy against that great beast is to cut the pasta into very small pieces. I don’t even bother trying to do the wrap around the fork thing or whatever. However, I will not order spaghetti as an interview meal simply because of the high probability of getting the sauce on my clothes. No thanks.

          1. Kelly L.*

            That’s when I order the one that comes with shells instead of long noodles. :D

          2. Bea W*

            Spaghetti is one of my safe foods. My grandmother trained me well. If I cut it up it would be all over the place. If I see someone cutting spaghetti or using anything on it other than a fork it triggers some kind of instinctive reflex look of horror though. So while I won’t nake a slob of myself eating it, I may inadvertantly insult someone else at the table eating it without ever saying a word.

      2. Harper*

        Yeah, a friend of mine who is in his early 50s actually got feedback from his manager that he checks his phone too often in meetings. He is my friend, but I am betting this comment was not unwarranted. :)

        I also have a coworker in the same age range who will rudely start reading on his phone when someone else is talking at lunch. So, I agree with others that excusing it based on age is silly.

      3. Bwmn*

        I’m also someone who is prone to nerves when eating in that kind of situation. And definitely taking the time ahead to think of what “eating issues” particularly concern you and how to order to avoid that. For a while my ‘go to’ especially for work dinners was risotto because it was a dish I could eat without paying a lot of attention to my plate and also was really filling so if it was a meal that included alcohol, I could be confident of not getting light headed.

        Basically, think about what eating specifically gets your nerves up and then think about dishes that would make you more/less relaxed.

      4. Bea W*

        I’m naturally a sloppy eater. When I have to eat with people I son’t know very well I deliberarely pick items that I won’t dropn, dribble, or crumble all over myself. Tacos, meatball subs, any other wet or overly stuffed sandwich – completely off limits. Even with safe foods I am always nervous about looking like I was raised by pigs.

        1. Kelly L.*

          What I absolutely can’t eat in an elegant way is anything that involves a large piece of food that you bite directly into (like a sub or other large sandwich). I have a small mouth and crooked teeth–it’s just a mess all around. I like to order something that i can cut up into manageable pieces, like a chicken filet.

        2. Mints*

          Me too! I remember when my internship boss took all the interns out for lunch, I ended up eating like 1/4 of the meal because I was trying so hard to be careful not to spill on myself.

          Add to that cultural food differences that make me nervous, I’m just hoping I never get asked for a lunch interview

      5. Felicia*

        For me, when I’m really nervous I’m never hungry, and even kind of nauseous. So at a lunch interview I really wouldn’t want to eat at all and if I tried would be distracted by the nausea. Apparently I don’t look nervous or show it outwardly, so it’s not really a problem unless I try to force myself to eat.

      6. Lizzy*

        That is true that different companies can create these technology-dependent environments. I did some contract work at an investment bank last year, and everyone from the 20-year-old intern to the oldest employee (75) used laptops/tablets at meetings. They were allowed to do so because a lot of the meetings often required logging into software together, or using the Internet in some capacity, but I am pretty sure people would occasionally screw around.

        But the reality is their clients were very high-maintenance and constantly communicating with the private capital managers, so the need to be close to a smartphone, tablet or laptop was understood. Even if the CEO was giving some important news, he would still not bat an eye if one of the loan managers or private capital managers was glued to an iPad. I am curious if the new manager in number 3 came from a similiar environment.

    3. CTO*

      Yes to #3. I have a regular group meeting where there’s only one person doing a lot of unnecessary texting/browsing/device-fiddling… and he’s the oldest guy on the team, about 65. We under-30s on the team don’t touch our devices unless we’re actually taking notes or looking things up for the meeting.

      It’s not a generational thing.

      1. Submitted Texting Question*

        I agree with you and I’m not sure what is more bothersome, the actual texting in meetings or the comment “that’s how they are”. This has a “kids will be kids” air to it that is inappropriate to me. My thought is that if I (a 42 year old) randomly started texting in a meeting, I would be seen as disengaged. I’m going to try it and see what happens!

  4. Audrey*

    I once had a lunch interview. It was with two high-powered, fast talking men in the small restaurant in the lobby of their building.

    They obviously ate there all the time and didn’t even glance at the menu.

    I was feeling compelled to keep looking at them while they were talking to me so when the server came to take our order I glanced down at the menu and spotted something I could eat and ordered that.

    Then they started asking me questions and the food arrived. In order not to talk with my mouth full I only ate a few bites while they polished off whatever they had ordered.

    Anyway it was ghastly, I hated the whole process and when they offered me the job I declined. And all this time later I’m not sorry about that.

    1. FiveNine*

      I had a dining interview in my early 20s where the two managers took me to a restaurant and without letting me even look at the menu or asking me about any preferences or eating habits ordered for me. A whole roasted bird — it seemed huge, I want to say it was a whole roasted chicken but is that even possible? (I was vegetarian at the time.)

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I once went to a restaurant where the chicken was spatchcocked and so everyone received 1 per serving. The entire plate was covered by this flattened out chicken!

      2. Diet Coke Addict*

        Could it have been a Cornish game hen? They’re usually single-serving.

      3. Leah*

        I’m so happy that I’ve never had a dining interview for just this reason. I’m a vegetarian and had work evens at venues where even the salad is half meat. I had a snack beforehand and the one vegetarian appetizer when I got there as did the many other vegetarian employees. The owner loved the venue and was rather oblivious so this happened every year. Since it was with people who already know me and a required event, it wasn’t a big deal.

        My worry about a dining interview is that I’ll be stuck either looking like an oddball because my meal will be steak fries and creamed spinach because that’s all I can eat OR having to ask them to change the location of the interview. Neither of which ought to cut me out of consideration but could give the impression that I’m fussy or won’t fit into the office culture.

        1. Lynn Whitehat*

          Some people can get weird and hostile about the very idea of being vegetarian. Either they feel judged and defensive or they act like a nutrition counselor (“but what about PROTEIN??? what about IRON???”) or something. I don’t know why, but it’s pretty common, and I really don’t want this weirdness working against me in an interview situation.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If that happens again, please speak up. “I’m vegetarian, actually, so it would be better for me to have the pasta.” You’re allowed to interject in these situations. (And most people would appreciate it, so that they haven’t inadvertently stuck you with something you can’t eat.)

      5. Mike B.*

        I suppose that’s the same kind of attitude that leads men to order for their dates, a clumsy attempt to impress by taking away your ability to choose for yourself. It’s bizarre to see it in the context of a job interview, though.

    2. Celeste*

      I had a lunch interview once, and hated it. The interviewer wolfed his food, I was answering questions and didn’t get to eat, then he wanted to race back to the office. I much prefer an office appointment. In this situation, it didn’t really feel like hospitality.

      1. AB*

        Yes! I had a lunch interview for my last job. I didn’t get a chance to look at the menu because we were too busy talking so I just ordered what one of the interviewers ordered. Then, it was impossible to eat because they were firing off questions, which meant I spent all of the time talking and none of it eating. The few times I did get in a bite or two, it caused that awkward moment where someone is waiting for you to respond while you’re sitting there chewing.

        I did get the job and accepted, but came into the office and found out I already had a reputation for eating like a bird. They all thought I hated the restaurant as well.

      2. Vicki*

        My most recent interview day included a lunch interview. Unfortunately, the interviewer mis-read the schedule and thought “Oh, I must grab lunch early because my interview time is 12:30”.

        So, she took me to the cafeteria, said “I’ll meet you out front” (sensible; it’s a large cafeteria with many options) but never said “I’ve already eaten.”

        I had had breakfast so really didn’t want lunch, but it’s “what you do” so I found something for myself. When I met her out front, she had a scoop of ice cream.

        She finished the ice cream fairly quickly. I felt uncomfortable eating when she wasn’t (and it’s difficult to talk and eat at the same time), so I just pushed food around on my plate and finally said “Let’s take a walk…”

        Lunch interviews can be awkward.

    3. Bwmn*

      I used to have a job where lunches/dinners/cocktail parties were a fairly common part of the job – and the balance of how much I got to eat versus talk could vary greatly based on the situation. Particularly when it was a case of one donor inviting a number of their partners to one meal – no one wanted to be caught with their mouth full if there was a good time to speak up.

      It definitely requires having a certain temperament that has nothing to do with food.

    4. Elizabeth West*

      Oh God, that’s the worst. I hate lunch interviews because how are you supposed to eat and answer questions too? If you talk then your food gets cold.

      1. Cautionary tail*

        And that’s why at lunch interviews I’ll order a small caesar salad. It’s already cold, since I’m talking I won’t eat much anyway, and if I drop something cleanup is a quick inconspicuous wipe. When the interview is over I can then go somewhere to actually eat.

        1. Cautionary tail*

          I should add that the reason its a caesar salad is so that a piece of wilted lettuce won’t get stuck on my teeth.

  5. Anonymous*

    Re: coworkers who bad mouth other people:
    My response is always along the lines of, “That hasn’t been my experience with Person I appreciate you pointing out things to keep an eye out for, but I base my opinions on what I see for myself.”

    This assuming the person doing the bad mouthing isn’t someone you trust to reliable insight into the situation.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Also, silently pointing to my own ear and then pointing to the boss’ doorway gets the point across. (A gesture meaning “The boss can hear you.”)

      Stand your ground, OP. The differences in people. You may have a totally different experience with this boss because of the unique qualities you bring to the table. The boss may react differently to you than the previous person. These Negative Nancys are not helping you to acclimate to your job.
      Nothing wrong with saying “Yes, you told me about this earlier. I am just trying to do a good job and be the best employee I can be. I hope you understand that I want to stay positive for these reasons.”
      Don’t worry about the boss overhearing what they say- that is on THEM. Only worry about your response to their words. We cannot control what other people do- don’t get caught in the trap of trying.
      (It is hard to watch other people shoot themselves in the foot, though. So I agree on that point.)

      1. Harper*

        That’s true, but I can see why the OP is worried about it being overheard. The boss could very well assume OP is complicit in the gossip.

        1. Lynn*

          Yes, I’ve been in a situation where I listened to someone passively about some complaint they had about the “boss”, not contributing or offering any type of agreement. Later, it came up that the person who complained to me went to the “boss” in question, and voiced her complaints and saying, “Ya, and Lynn agrees with me.” I wished I had said something at the time to shut them down on the spot, because it caused some very awkward conversations and hurt my own reputation!

      2. MM*

        I am the writer of the letter (bad mouthing my boss). Appreciate and agree with both of your statements. I want to base my opinion on my experience with the individual. I like the idea of pointing to my ear; and looking at the door. I do not know these particular individual; but something happened earlier today that lowered my opinion of her. She had gotten in trouble with her supervisor for a particular behavior instead of recognizing she was doing something that outside the guidelines; she has the attitude of they are looking for reasons to write me up. Sometimes you have a supervisor that is like that; but my past experience is when managers are looking to write a particular employee up; they are not happy with someone’s performance and are putting together a documentation trail in case they do decide to terminate them. I have picked up that 3 of them individuals that did some of the bad mouthing are “Negative Nancies”. I had forgotten that the university setting had a tendency to breed a few of those.

  6. Anx*

    Agreed on #3. I’m in my late 20s and I can’t imagine doing that. I am perhaps too concientious of that. Despite never talking or texting on my phone at my last job, I was afraid to even pull it out during a shift when I was expecting a visitor from out of state. He had boarded the wrong train at the airport. I wish I had just texted him, but I was afraid it’s look like I was ‘always on my phone’ even if it was just that once. I think it’s more about individuals than their age.

    1. Koko*

      Yeah, it’s cultural. At my job any given meeting 50% of the people brought their laptops and are working through the meeting. As long as you are listening and speaking up with your input it’s not jut acceptable but laudable. I routinely receive in-depth emails from people I’m in a meeting with, all the people on the thread are participating in the meeting, but we’re all also replying back and forth when we’re not speaking, which allows us to get more done. (These are typically large meetings where a core group is the essential decision-makers and the rest of us are there to speak to their narrow specialty area, offer insights, and generally be present to understand what decisions were made that will end up impacting them, and why, and speak up if it’s going to be a problem.)

      1. Anx*

        I was working an ‘on your feet’ job. A lot of other people would text every time they had a down moment, but I was just too scared to do that. A few were fired on the spot for it, while others did it constantly without even a comment.

        I was a server. If I was texting, I wouldn’t be paying as much attention to my tables or other servers, even for a few seconds. But in that case, I was more distracted thinking about everything than I would have by just looking down for a few seconds.

  7. UK Anon*

    #5 – unless your thinking ‘reasonable adjustment’? There are all sorts of reasons that a person may not be able to do maths without a calculator (dyscalculia, for eg) and ultimately the hiring process would potentially be discriminating against them.

  8. Adam*

    I find the concept of lunch interviews strange. Presumably you’ve never met each other and now you have to figure out how to give a great interview while having impeccable table manners (in most cases) at the same time. I think it’s different from a business lunch since you’d probably already have some semblance of relationship.

    Oh now I get it. A lunch interview in a lot of ways rather closely resembles a blind date, and by definition most everybody hates those.

    1. k.*

      At a place where I interned once, they actually told me they do lunch interviews (as part of a longer process) to make sure people have decent table manners! Apparently they’ve had employees go to meals with clients before and hideously embarrass the company, so they added a lunch component. Besides, they can chat with you casually to get a feel for your personality. Nothing substantial was discussed during the lunch portion, but it was still a test of sorts.

      I thought this was kind of funny.

      1. Lili*

        When I have a job interview I am so nervous that even a glass of water may represent a challenge to me. A LUNCH WITH THE INTERVIEWERS would be pure agony.

        Of course I understand table manners need to be tested for specific positions.

      2. FiveNine*

        I found this practice of lunch interviews to be especially true in NYC — but then again, with all the dining options in the city and the nature of how people move and operate there, it’s just so very, very common for people from all sorts of professions to have some sort of working lunch once a week (even in fields where in any other city maybe you go out to a working lunch with coworkers or clients once a quarter, if that).

      3. Elysian*

        Big law firm are famous for their lunch interviews, and supposedly this is the reason – they want to see if you’d be an embarrassment if you had to take a client out for a meal.

        1. Cat*

          Yeah, client lunches can be waaaaaaay more awkward than interview lunches. Seriously, ghastly. By here are some jobs where you need to cope with that.

      4. Rat Racer*

        There is an apocryphal story about a man who was flown out for a final round interview for an executive position at a large corporation. The final interview was conducted over dinner. Prior to tasting his food, the candidate poured salt all over it. He was passed over the position because the CEO did not want someone who was prone to pre-judgment.

        I don’t know: does dousing your food with salt indicate prejudice or just clumsy table manners?

        1. Camellia*

          Clumsy table manners. The original idea is that you not “insult your hostess” by implying that she doesn’t know how to cook. The polite thing is to taste the food first, then add salt, etc., as needed.

          Of course, in this case, the person already knew that they liked their food much saltier than the average person and knew how much salt they generally always needed to add. Either way it’s a stupid criteria unless, as commented previously, they are really checking for strict adherence to etiquette.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            The guy dodged a bullet. He probably would have chosen the blue pen over the black pen at work the first day and gotten fired for that. He should have known to use the green pen only.

    2. Anon scientist*

      I often had lunch during interviews. Nothing nefarious; more like, “you’ve been here for three hours and you still haven’t met the other half of the interview group. eat!” If the interview is just over lunch, maybe they’re trying to be respectful of your time at the job you have now.

    3. Sunflower*

      I think they’re strange for a first interview. I think it’s to test your manners and how you would handle lunch with a client but for that reason, they should only do them for the 2nd or 3rd interview once you’re reasonably comfortable with the interviewers

      1. De Minimis*

        We never had actual lunch interviews for prospective hires, although they were always taken for lunch with a group of employees that were more on a peer level. It was supposed to be more informal and an opportunity for the candidates to ask questions about day-to-day stuff that they would not want to ask upper-level people about, although all the employees at the lunch would be asked for feedback about the candidates [how often anything negative was said I don’t really know.]

        1. Frances*

          My company does something similar – lunch with people on the peer level. This once yielded very valuable information. After a very successful interview (we probably would have made an offer), a candidate made a racist comment at lunch! We were thankful in a weird way that he had the opportunity to do so, because we knew not to hire him. Not only was he racist, but he also had very poor judgement!

          1. Adam*

            He made a racist comment during a lunch interview? Of course it would never have been ok in any context, but it seems especially foolish of him to do that during the interview process (I figure if you haven’t been made an offer yet, you’re still being interviewed regardless of what stage you’re at). Were you at a bar or some place where he thought (wrongly) that he could get away with it?

            1. De Minimis*

              I’m guessing he thought he was “off the record” since he was with peers and not the ones who were officially interviewing him. Sounds like a real bullet dodged for that workplace.

              1. I Love Books*

                We interviewed for a position to work with Deaf people, and one person (who was hearing) at the end of the interview, while we were chatting, said to me, “So you’re the token deaf person in this agency?” Needless to say, no offer was made.

            2. Lynn Whitehat*

              Some people are silly like that! Somehow they think anything other than sitting in the interview room with the official decision-makers “doesn’t count”. Nope, it all counts. Keep your game face on everywhere you go in the building. The admin, junior people, coffee, lunch, don’t say anything you wouldn’t say in the “real interviews”.

        2. MM*

          There another take on eating a meal when being interviewed. When working for a horrible woman years ago, screamer, one of these if you do not have a Ph.D. you are nothing. They had a meal with a candidate, and something she said during the interview made him pull his application from consideration. The committee wanted him, she wanted him, but when he realized what she would be like he had no interest. She had a tendency to corner people and talk down to them or scream at them. I suspect she got mad at someone on the committee and let fly.

          One thing you need to consider when you are doing the meal interview; yes it’s part of the interview. You are in fear of spilling food or saying something you shouldn’t. You can always hope … if they are unacceptable managers .. that they slip up during the meal. You are interviewing them in some aspects. Watch and listen …. some people have ingrained behaviors that they cannot hide in a informal situation.

  9. nep*

    Hear, hear on #3. Whatever the technology of the day and what it allows us to do, professionalism and courtesy are professionalism and courtesy. ‘That’s how they are’ — uh, no.

  10. KayDay*

    I’m a little confused about what the exact problem was for #5 (phone). Was it that the company didn’t warn you that long multiplication/division without a calculator was part of the test? Did they say you could use a calculator but failed to mention that phones were not allowed as calculators (this was an issue back when I was in high school even before smart phones.)? Were you concerned about the security of your phone while you were taking the test? Were you expecting an urgent call or worried that you might receive a potential emergency call?

    1. Bryan*

      I think it was they didn’t like someone holding their personal property, especially since phones hold so many things like pictures, email, and social media. Not to mention phones are expensive and the person who took it could have dropped it (sorry for side-baring on a hypothetical).

      1. some1*

        Yeah, ideally they would have notified her ahead of time that she wasn’t allowed to have her phone in the testing room and she could have turned it off beforehand or left it in her car.

        1. MM*

          Instead of taking her cell phone; they should have asked her to take the phone back to her car.

          Many places do not like you taking cell and/or computers into their office space unless you are an employee. Especially if it’s a company dealing with sensitive research and intelligent property in development.

          When I worked for a defense contractor they issued cell phones for work purposes without camera capacity. You would be terminated if you were caught using your cell.

  11. Feed Fido, Feed Fluffy*

    #2 Badmouthing co-workers? Be careful, they are also gossips. Saying what AAM said will disperse them. That said, watch for the behavior they warned about and be prepared to cope with it if it comes.

    1. some1*

      It’s worth watching out for, but IME most managers who are high-level enough to have a dedicated secretary or assistant treat their assistant well even if they don’t if they are aloof or even rude to other staff. Of course, the LW may not want to work for someone who isn’t respectful to all of the staff (understandably), but it may not make much of a difference to her own job satisfaction.

      1. Tina*

        Sometimes, but not always. I worked at a high-end finance firm for a while, and while some of the managers were great to their assistants, others were downright nasty.

      2. Sunflower*

        I think LW is more concerned about her boss hearing the coworkers badmouthing her and the boss thinking LW agrees or is taking part in it therefore putting her job in jeopardy as opposed to general hearing coworkers badmouth a department head

      3. Mallory*

        . . . most managers who are high-level enough to have a dedicated secretary or assistant treat their assistant well even if they don’t if they are aloof or even rude to other staff

        When I read OP 2’s letter, I almost thought I had written it is some sort of fugue state. Just a couple days ago I was contemplating writing to Alison for the first time over a similar situation with my boss and all the other staff.

        I think the above from Some1 probably explains their behavior, though. My previous boss was loved by everybody because he was gregarious and would chat with them. My current boss is aloof and distant with everybody else, but he treats me very well because we work closely together all the time. It’s not that he dislikes the rest of the staff; he just doesn’t do personal interaction without a work reason.

        So my experience of current boss is that he’s just as kind and good to me as previous boss was. He’s more demanding and expects more of me, but I don’t mind that; I just adapt to his requirements.

        The big drawback for me is that I now have a boss who is seen as aloof and somewhat unapproachable/intimidating by the rest of the staff, and they all want to complain to me about him. This has been going on for about four years, and it didn’t bother me at first, but now I’m kind of fed up with it.

        It is especially irritating because these people are at a higher level than I am, and it seems that they should have more professional courage. In the four years that they have been complaining about him, not one of them has asked me to put them on his calendar for a face-to-face meeting.

        I told my husband the other day that what I’m going to start doing when they try to complain to me is offer to put them on his calendar. Then we’ll see who wants to have a productive discussion and who just wants to perpetually complain.

        1. MM*

          I had a boss like that. He was great to me. I had other admin asst’s say they were scared of him. He was dressed very professionally, more so than some of the other faculty.

          He was quite tall, his size was intimating. I think that threw a few of them off. He was quite reserved, it takes awhile for him to warm up to you. Plus he didn’t have much patience for people that wasted time or were constant complainers.

          He became a good friend after working with him for a few years; and has been an excellent professional reference.

          1. Cassie*

            One of my bosses is similar to this – he tends to be moody so even with me he’s not all sunshine and roses but he at least treats me with respect. He can be overbearing, though, and I know many staff dislike him with a passion. I cringe when I hear him berating others – but I don’t know if I should speak up and put a stop to it or not.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I had a boss that was a super, super boss. But he was very smart and everyone knew it. It didn’t bother me, but it bothered others. I would look for opportunities to get others into conversation with the boss. I would try to find something in common- such as a hobby or an odd event that happened at work the other day. “Oh did you know that Jane saw that car hit our sign out front yesterday?” Instant conversation.
          It did help some of the people. Others chose to remain intimidated.

      4. Lily in NYC*

        Wow, I have to disagree with you there! I have had the exact opposite in a few cases. I inherited a boss who treated me like crap but was nice to everyone else. He thought I was less than human because of my job title. He somehow found out where I went to college and acted all shocked in front of everyone because it’s top-ranked. What a d*ck. My coworker is working for a big wig here, and he treats her very rudely and is purposely nice to me in front of her (we are both EAs). It’s so transparent that we just laugh about it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          A friend had a coworker in another department that was on my friend’s case, constantly. Turns out the antagonizer was an elitist about which school a person graduated from. My friend’s boss told the antagonizer that my friend graduated from Big Name School. End of problem. It was very funny.

    2. MM*

      MM . I agree with you. Silence can be taken as agreeing with one’s views. Have learned a long time when someone is buddy, buddy with you at work when are you new; they are fishing for gossip.

      I think I got rid of a couple of the gossipers when I said I liked working with her. I also suspect my dept head learned from her own mistakes because she lost a secretary that she truly liked.

      This job is my fresh start back at a place that I was happy at before. This may be her fresh start also. We get along quite well. There are a few behaviors I see that I do not care for, but they are not big issues.

  12. tesyaa*

    Even if you have dietary restrictions, you can probably find something to order at a lunch interview. I keep kosher and I find that the kitchen staff can almost always make a fruit plate or a plate of raw vegetables, even if it’s not on the menu. Or a bowl of yogurt or cottage cheese. I understand why you might just want to order coffee, but it’s probably better to order something, even if you don’t eat much.

    1. AHK*

      I was just going to write something about this, because I also keep kosher and find myself in situations like this pretty often. I think that when people have dietary restrictions, they feel uncomfortable ordering something different or looking like they stand out. But really, if you just treat like it’s normal and don’t make a big deal of it, other people will as well.

      1. Elysian*

        I’ve actually heard the opposite advice, though I strongly disagree with it. When my career services department was holding prep sessions for potential lunch interview situations, they always suggested that you order off the menu and don’t make any substitutions, because you don’t want to seem high maintenance. People with allergies of dietary restrictions who questioned this advice were told to quietly approach the waitstaff away from the table to discuss their “issues” after ordering.

        I think that’s hogwash, but it is how I was advised.

        1. Colette*

          I don’t think you should act high maintenance while ordering, but I don’t think asking a question or informing the staff of an allergy or restriction is necessarily high maintenance. I don’t eat peppers, so I will often ask if a particular dish has peppers or what the side vegetables are – but if the answer is that there are peppers, I’m ready with an alternative.

          If, on the other hand, I dithered around or got into a long monologue about why I don’t eat peppers, that would be inappropriate.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yeah, there’s a difference between asking for accommodations and being high maintenance, and it’s hard to describe, but like many other things–I know it when I see it. I know people who will expound at length about how gluten is evil (and last week it was HCFS, and red meat the week before that) when all they had to say was “without the bun, please.”

        2. TNTT*

          This pretty much confirms for me that career services is the worst at every single school..

          1. Elysian*

            Yeah I was pretty annoyed with them. The vibe I got was “Just order something NORMAL. You can be a vegetarian or have celiac disease tomorrow. Geez.” They didn’t say that, of course, but that’s how I heard it.

        3. AVP*

          I think by now everyone’s allergies and various dietary restrictions and preferences are so culturally normal that no one would think twice if you ordered something simple but off-the-menu in a lunch situation.

          That said, I once worked with a freelancer who had extreme dietary issues and I chose not to hire for a job that would take place in rural Alabama. Due to the nature of that project, it would have been my responsibility to ensure that there was food she could eat, and I didn’t have an assistant and was already overwhelmed and was terrified about spending all of my time hunting down gluten-free dairy-free vegetarian food in, again, rural Alabama.

          1. Elysian*

            I once worked backstage at a performance hall in a really rural area. We got a few big-name celebrity types and I was in charge of dealing with their hospitality stuff. Sometimes they would request things be put in their dressing room and I would be running all over the (literal, cow-covered) countryside looking for “Specific Brand Organic Noni Juice” or something else. I always thought to myself “Seriously? Do you know where you are? I think I can find you Diet Snapple if I look hard enough.”

    2. Observer*

      There are good reasons why people might not be able to order anything. This is especially true if the eatery was chosen with no feedback from interviewee. I think that in such a situation, a better response is to quietly, politely and unequivocally mention that you have diet issues, and will stick to a coffee rather than make the kitchen staff nuts.

      And, just for the record, there are good reasons why many people who keep kosher won’t eat anything in a restaurant that is not kosher – even a plate of raw vegetables. I don’t want to get into the laws of Kosher, as they can get pretty complex quite quickly, but you don’t have to be overly picky or intolerant to have an issue with this.

    3. De Minimis*

      I think unless someone is just starting out in following a special diet that they’d be well-accustomed to making special orders in a restaurant situation.

  13. MaryMary*

    #3 The worst phone/gadget offenders in our office are in their 50s. It’s definitely more an issue of cultural norms or obliviousness than age.

    1. Sharm*

      I agree. I would venture to say the worst offenders are higher level management. The younger staff I’ve worked with (including myself) don’t want to bring negative attention to ourselves or seem disengaged. But the higher ups are so important (I’m being sarcastic and not really sarcastic with that), they’re constantly looking at their phones.

      It always drove me nuts that they were only ever giving us half their attention, but who was I to say anything? They’re bigwigs and we’re peons. I imagine in some respects, they’ve “earned” it.

  14. Piper*

    3. New manager is constantly texting and emailing during meetings

    This has nothing to do with age. It has to do with a lack of common courtesy. I had a manager once, who was in his 40s at the time, who did this constantly. Every meeting we were in, he was on his phone. At my current job, I have a coworker who’s in their 30s who is constantly bouncing back and forth between his phone and his laptop (imessage/gchat) during all meetings. He never pays attention at all.

    Definitely not an age thing and it shouldn’t be excused as such.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I would love for the meeting head to say something to these people like “So then MarciaMcPhone, you’ll go ahead and take care of that piece of the project that I just explained in detail. Please get back to me by the end of the day with a preliminary outline…”

      I bet it would freak out the phone user who wasn’t paying attention at all and would have to admit it in order to do the “project” or would have to bug co-workers to tell her about the project. The co-workers could then say “He went over all the details at the meeting, I don’t have time to go over them again…”

      But then I have a huge issue with people using cell phones inappropriately, it bothers me A LOT.

      1. MM*

        Love that suggestion. I think the individual leading the meetings should ask pointed questions of the people on the cell and computer to see if they are following the conversation. It’s rare but there are people that can do both.

        I find it rude, and I do not see how you can perform your job if you can participate in meetings. If not participating; at least be an active listening. You can miss a key point.

    2. Trillian*

      It seems to me to be neither generation nor technology dependent. These are the people who in the era before cellphones would be having their own private side conversations whenever they didn’t think the speaker was someone worth listening to – which both as a speaker and as an audience-member with sharp hearing, I found very aggravating. At least the texters make no noise.

    3. Anonsie*

      It’s funny to me that this has become a thing people associate with youth, considering how extremely common it is in people of all ages. Hell, the overwhelming majority people I know who will play on their phones at the table during dinner or bald face read their email while you’re talking to them in a meeting are my parent’s age. Have most people reeeaaally never seen someone older than their mid 30’s do this, or is it that they only notice it when it’s a younger person and/or assume that an older person on their phone is doing something important?

  15. some1*

    As an admin who directly supports a dept head, I find #2 especially bizarre. Normally most of my coworkers don’t discuss my boss with me at all and even don’t make much of an effort to chit chat with me at all (especially when I was new) because they are afraid I will report any complaints about the company back to my boss.

    1. Mallory*

      I directly support a department head, too, and everybody (faculty and staff) tells me what they think of him (and of one another) all the time. I’m like Gretchen Weiner — my hair is full of secrets.

      1. Mallory*

        I always hope that I’m never in the hospital on drugs and have my coworkers come visit me. I’m afraid I would spill what everyone says about everyone else and then everyone would hate me.

        One of my coworkers had a big crush on her boss (he was really, really handsome and friendly) which she managed to keep under wraps until she had surgery. He came to visit her in the hospital right after she came out of surgery while the drugs were still in effect. She saw him walk in and very dramatically threw her arms up over her head and yelled, “OH GOD! MY HAIR!!”

        1. Nanc*

          That reminds me, I need to let the hospital know that the only visitors I want after my knee surgery are my mother and brother. No coworkers (like them all, but I don’t want them to see me in my jammies and with unwashed hair!)

          1. Mallory*

            And besides the jammies and the hair, there’s no telling what you’re liable to say when your inhibitions are down. My two irrational worries in life: 1. Being in the hospital and with my inhibitions lowered by the drugs, I spill my guts to people I don’t want to do that with; 2. Getting too old to cut my own toenails and having a person who cuts the quick while trying to do it; my kids are ordered that they have to see to it that my toenails are FILED when I’m an old lady, never cut!!

        2. MM*

          LOL. I can keep the secrets but I think people should keep their ugly comments to themselves until I get to know them.

          I went through hell and back with a manager a couple of years ago. She was one of those that I truly expect to hear on the news that someone shot her. I was a temp; so I quit. It was not worth it. One of my coworkers got fed up and shoved her; but she would corner you in your work cubicle so you couldn’t walk away when she got on her rages.
          Another one threw something at her. They kept her, but made her step down as manager. Walking into a job after that experience; was anxiety provoking.

          1. Mallory*

            Wow, that manager! Cornering people in cubicles — WTF! I think I would start keeping a glass of water in case I needed to save myself by dousing her in the face! It is a wonder to me that people like that get kept instead of fired with extreme prejudice.

  16. BB*

    #3- I’m willing to bet she came from an office where this is the norm. In my office, people are on their phones and checking emails all the time- I also don’t work anywhere that emails are that urgent. Not only is it expected in my office but it’s somewhat applauded- you’re seen as overachieving since you’re doing multiple parts of your job at one time. I would have someone on the same level as her say something to her about it- she might not know.

    1. De Minimis*

      Yeah I think a lot depends on if the phone usage is work-related or not, and on how the office culture is regarding meetings. In some workplaces [especially bigger companies] meetings can often get in the way of productive work. And I agree with others who have said a lot of workplaces more or less expect people to accomplish work tasks during meetings, especially if that person is a manager.

      1. Lynn Whitehat*

        Yeah, I used to work at a place where it was kind of a vicious circle. There were a lot of time-wasting meetings, so people brought their laptops and got real work done, and therefore there wasn’t the motivation to push back against the waste of time. Think a meeting of 20 people whose jobs don’t overlap, and everyone gives a 2-3 minute status update for the meeting organizer (who is the only one who needs to know all 20). Give your update and open up your laptop for the next 57 minutes.

    2. Anonsie*

      Same. I love Outlook email notifications because they’ll out even the sneakiest people (not that anyone cares). You’ll be in a meeting looking at the projector and suddenly a new email notification will come up in the corner… From someone attending the same meeting. Then another, then another.

      Some people you have to watch pretty much constantly to catch them in the act, too, they’re so good at doing it unobtrusively.

  17. Ruffingit*

    #1 – Ordering just coffee when invited to lunch interview

    My question is why you would want to do that? Do you have some sort of dietary restrictions or phobia that make it difficult to eat in front of others? I’m curious as to the reasoning here.

    1. Cara*

      I’d be interested to know this too. Other posters have mentioned phobias about eating in front of strangers. Well, what about the interviewer who has to eat lunch in front of someone who’s just having coffee? Talk about an awkward position to put that person in! I’m a slow eater and when at a table with others, I usually stop when everyone else has finished–it’s awkward to keep eating while everyone else is just sitting there.

  18. Mike C.*

    #3 – This is a norm for people of all ages where I work, especially for folks who are working multiple projects. As long as you’re keeping up in the meeting you’re in, I just don’t see the big deal.

    Not every minute of a meeting is for me so during those times I’m on standby what’s wrong with occupying my mind in some other way?

    1. Kelly L.*

      And at this point, there’s so much overlap between what phones do and what computers do, I wouldn’t necessarily assume I knew what someone was doing on their phone. For all I know, they’re taking notes.

      1. TK*

        Yeah, I work in a place where being on your phone during meetings is not the norm, but my boss takes notes on hers during meetings all the time. Everyone knows she’s a techno-phile (compared to most folks around here, we’re not a very tech-intensive office), so nothing is thought of it.

        Also, if she doesn’t have to take notes during a meeting she usually knits, and no one bats an eye at that– take that for what it’s worth with regard to our office culture!

    2. Joey*

      Yeah, I’m not getting how its rude to take care of some work while someone talks about a piece of the business that doesn’t affect you as long as you’re not causing interruptions.

  19. Gobrightbrand*

    At my office it’s completely expected that you continue to check emails and texts during meetings. Our meetings can last hours so if you don’t, work isn’t getting done.

    My office is a little dysfunctional though.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I absolutely abhor the use of cell phones when you’re supposed to be giving your attention to something else such as a meeting, a class or dinner. However, I did once work in a place similar to what you describe. The meetings literally went on for hours because the company owner loved to hear herself talk. She could talk for 20 to 30 minutes at a time with no one else getting a word in edgewise. It got to the point that in order to survive those meetings, people would text each other under the table or check their email and answer them. It was the only way to be productive when meetings with her would take 4 or more hours of the work day.

      1. AVP*

        Argh, those are the same managers who then wonder why nothing is getting done and everyone is so unproductive! And when it’s your boss, it’s hard to say “Well, I would have finished X Report and Y Proposal this afternoon as requested except I was stuck listening to you for 3 hours.”

        1. Ruffingit*

          Yup, that’s what it was like. She would wonder why people weren’t doing more, but it was impossible to get anything done because of her meetings. I am not joking when I say they were 4 hours or more. Not an exaggeration. It was totally exhausting in so many ways and it happened a lot – two to three times A WEEK. There was just no way to get anything done there. That was just the tip of the iceberg of this woman’s problems though. I’m glad I don’t work there anymore.

  20. LV*

    #3 – I vaguely remember a post similar to this one, where the answer was that it’s okay for management/upper-level staff to check their phones during meetings because there can be a legitimate business need for them to reply promptly to texts or emails, while the same would not be true of a junior-level employee. So why is it rude in this scenario?

    1. MaryMary*

      That’s why it’s a corporate culture issue. If the person on their phone in a meeting is the CEO, then she likely has a business need to check email and texts (and even if she doesn’t, it’s one of the perks of being in charge). Some companies deal in time sensitive issues, so responding to email immediately is important, and as someone mentioned upthread, some places value multitasking and it is customary to check emails in meetings. In other offices, checking email constantly is seen as rude.

      Generally, if you are not the senior person in the room and this isn’t a special time sensitive situation, you should not be the only person in the room checking your phone. If it’s a special situation, it would be a good idea to let the group know you’re working on an urgent matter to explain your behavior.

  21. Katie the Fed*

    3. Usually when people do that I just pause until they’re done and look back at me and then I continue.

    I did have a subordinate who did this all the time. She liked to challenge me in other ways and I think it was just one of the many ways she was telling me that she didn’t think I merited her attention. I counseled her on it, and then I just started walking away when she did it (even if I had to stop mid-sentence). It was actually the only thing that worked to stop it.

  22. Sophia*

    #3 – are you sure she’s texting and checking emails? I still think it’s rude but I’ve encountered people who now take notes on their phone…

  23. Hiring Mgr*

    On #1, maybe I’m just socially clueless but I don’t see the big deal with just getting coffee if that’s truly all you want. As an interviewer, there have been times when I’ve met a candidate for lunch because it was convenient and I didn’t pay much attention to what they ordered. The point is to have a conversation.

    1. De Minimis*

      I think a big part of interviewing is about not seeming out of place or making anyone else feel that way, that’s probably the main motivation behind everyone ordering something at lunch.

      Now if it’s a place like Starbucks and one person is having food and the other is just having coffee that would not seem as awkward to me.

    2. D*

      I think not paying attention to what the interviewee is ordering is different from eating a meal while the interviewee is sipping a drink.

      I would feel incredibly awkward as an interviewer if I ordered a meal (since that’s probably the only time of the day for me to eat…) while the other person didn’t eat anything. And, like people said above, part of a lunch interview is assessing how well you fit in the culture or during a meal with clients. I would be really embarrassed to take a new employee out with a client and have that person not order anything other than coffee.

      But! It’s good to know that not every interviewer feels that way. I do think it’s safer to order some food, even if the interviewer just pushes it around her plate, because I’d think that most people feel awkward to be the only one eating a meal.

      1. Cat*

        Yeah, to me this is one of those “non-optional social convention” situations. Logically, it doesn’t make sense that someone should have to order food when they’re not hungry or don’t want to eat. But for arbitrary human culture reasons, sharing a meal is one of our most fundamental social bonding rituals, and because of that, leaving one person eating at an expected meal time while the other person doesn’t is inherently an awkward situation.

    3. Del*

      What everyone else has said about following social conventions, basically. It’s also about not putting the interviewer in an uncomfortable position — at least when I was learning my manners, I was taught that it’s quite impolite to eat when others at the table don’t have food. Eating in front of someone is rude, but eating together is a connecting experience.

  24. Lily in NYC*

    #5 – You’d be surprised how many people cheat on these tests. We have caught more than a few and now we do the same exact thing and require people to hand over their phone (if they are interviewing in our IT dept). I am endlessly entertained by what people think should be illegal.

  25. Question #1*

    I asked #1.

    This happened to someone I know and he was at interview #3 for the position. Not sure why he ordered just the coffee (guess he considered it as an opportunity to talk and didn’t want the task of eating to come in his way). Well anyway, the latest is that he got the rejection letter following this.

    1. Us, Too*

      I doubt that the coffee order was the reason he was rejected, though. I probably wouldn’t invest in three interviews with someone only to dismiss them for ordering coffee at a lunch interview unless he was SUPER awkward about it.

      1. Question #1*

        Definitely client facing, I would think. Probably a management consultant position or the like . He was considered for it due to an MBA from Stern, NYU.

      2. Fabulously Anonymous*

        Obviously we don’t know why he was rejected or what the job entails, but I do think that understanding social norms could be a factor (among many) that was considered.

  26. BCW*

    #3 I think really is more about the person/culture than the age. At this point in my career, it doesn’t bother me one bit. The amount of meetings where people have lap tops, ipads, or phones out is so high that it doesn’t really matter. I think the OP should just deal, especially since it seems she is the only one who is bothered by this behavior. Is this manager participating in the meeting otherwise? Is her texting affecting you in any way (Aside from your annoyance)? If not, just worry about yourself and not others.

    1. Joey*

      Yep, I think this is a culture shift that everyone should be expecting if it hasn’t already happened. With companies cutting all kinds of costs its reasonable to assume that most workers will continually take on more and more. Coupled with companies trying to take advantage of technology (aka mobile devices) it’s going to result in a lot of professionals that are never going to be able to get away from the work that comes via mobile devices even while they’re at work.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It really depends on the type of meeting though. There are some where it’s reasonable to expect everyone there to be actively engaged with the discussion.

        1. Submitted Texting Question*

          Yes, because they aren’t checking email while THEY are trying to speak.

          1. BCW*

            I still don’t get why this bothers you so much. It just seems that you want people to be bothered by it as much as you are. Is it really causing any problems, or is it just not your preference for how the meeting should go.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I don’t think that’s fair, without knowing way more context. I’ve certainly been in meetings where everyone’s active engagement/participation was truly required, and if someone had been texting (beyond just an occasional emergency), it would have really changed the overall feel of the meeting.

              1. BCW*

                I’m trying to get more context though. As I said, I’ve been in meetings where everyone had a lap top out, and being in the back, I could tell half of the people weren’t actually paying attention. Now, in the context of a lot of these meetings, it was kind of just us being talked at as opposed to actively participating. But for me, if they missed something, that was on them, its not my place to make sure others are paying attention. We don’t know the context of these meetings, nor what is really going on. I’ve been in many meetings where sales people check emails when they come in to see if a big account came in, and no one had a problem.

              2. Joey*

                Hard to say without knowing the nature of the meeting and the nature of the texts. I know when I’m in big meetings I will sometimes respond to texts or emails when say IT is talking about something that doesn’t pertain to me. In circumstances like those I think its a little bit unrealistic to expect everyone to sit there pretending to be engaged when there’s no business reason for it.

    2. Submitted Texting Question*

      BCW-I think that’s good advice…to worry about myself and not others. This way, when the texting person misses out on important information from the meeting because their attention was diverted, they can independently worry about finding a way to recapture the details. I’ll be too busy worrying about myself the fill in the blanks when they come around asking questions.

      1. BCW*

        I can’t really tell if this is supposed to be sarcasm or not… But unless you are the manager, I usually subscribe to the notion that its not my job to make sure others are doing there jobs. Is there a reason that they come to you with questions after all the time?

        1. Submitted Texting Question*

          It’s a team atmosphere so we work together (with lots of moving parts) and we are all managers. The more I think about it, my issue has less to do with the actual mobile device, and more with an obvious and intentional lack of engagement. The effects of this will surface over time, one would assume. I’m referring to small meetings of around 4 people, not a large seminar. The message about “that’s what they do” segregates employees by age, which is wrong. Thanks for your input!

      2. Joey*

        This comment is making me think that the texting probably grates on your nerves more than it actually impacts anyone.

  27. BadPlanning*

    On OP#2, when I was hired at one job and got assigned an office, people would ask who I was sitting with and I would tell them. On more than one occasion people would apologize or make some comment that clearly meant my officemate was difficult and they felt bad I had to sit with him. I was quite confused because my new officemate seemed quite nice, if a little on the hyper side.

    Eventually, I realized that he could rub people the wrong way (he had some pretty strong political views) and had a bit of “squirrel!” personality which sometimes made it hard to work on a problem. However, he wasn’t a “You hurt my feelings” kind of guy — you could just say, “Well, I just don’t agree with you and I have to get back to work now.” Or “Yeah, that’s a good idea, but let’s get back to this bug.” He didn’t take offence (unlike so many letter writers here are concerned with saying anything slightly negative to their annoying coworkers) and I think a lot of people didn’t realize they could just disagree or be more on the blunt side with him.

    I guess what I’m saying is — good for the OP to not let everyone color their opinion and working on forming their own.

    I did recently have the opposite situation — where a warning was helpful. I was working with some new people and wasn’t having the best time. I talked with the person previously working with these new (to me) people and she volunteered that they could be hard to work with and I shouldn’t let them run over me. I was much relieved at this intel (that it wasn’t just me).

  28. mess*

    #3 – this is a little bit part of our cultural norms (everyone has their phone on the table and checks if it buzzes) but one guy is always on his laptop actually working during meetings. It can be frustrating when you ask him a question and have to wait for him to finish his email. Meanwhile I got nudged because I doodle too much and seem “unengaged” during meeting… maybe I need to start doodling on a tablet instead!

  29. SallyForth*

    #2. I work in a newly created position in a lovely office with a door but thin walls. In addition, there are some politics I need to be careful of. My worry is that if I even nod my head, the complainer will tell others I agree. Until now I have sort of grimaced and said, “I never discuss office politics until I’ve been in a position for 6 months.” That recently got a glare and “This isn’t office POLITICS! This is REALITY!”
    Now I just say, “Won’t go there.”

    1. Ruffingit*

      Well they are right in that it is reality and they can either choose to deal with the reality of that workplace or go elsewhere. Continually complaining about people, things, whatever makes no sense and brings everyone down.

  30. TychaBrahe*

    I must be the only one who likes doing the office dishes. I work in IT, too, and when I wash my own dishes at the end of the day, I wash the others as well. It helps me get my brain off work and lets me leave the office without the day’s tasks still circling in my brain.

    Now, putting them away in the morning, that I hate.

  31. KH*

    For #3 – My boss does that sometimes. If I am saying something during the meeting that I think he should hear, I’ll just stop talking until he notices the awkward silence and looks back up. He’ll usually apologize and start paying attention… and then get back to the emails when it’s not so critical.

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