I was asked to pick up someone’s lunch when I arrived for a job interview

A reader writes:

I had an interview today at a busy doctors’ office. I started out filling out questions and references, all normal job interview things. Then a woman from the office called me up, told me the doctor would still be a few minutes yet, and asked if I would run to Panera and pick up lunch for someone. I was given money and a very fussy salad order. I picked up the lunch and brought it back to the office.

Then I had my interview…with the marketing director I met at the first group interview.

I’m confused about why an interviewee was asked to run a lunch errand to supposedly kill time until the doctor was done with an appointment and then never ended up meeting with him. The other person waiting for an interview seemingly was asked the same thing because she came back after me with a Panera bag as well. Is this normal?

No. It’s not normal to be sent out to pick up someone else’s lunch while you’re waiting for a job interview.

I would bet money that they were doing it as a misguided test of your attention to detail — that’s why the order was fussy, and that’s why the person after you was asked to do the same thing.

While I’m all for testing job candidates’ abilities and seeing them in action, this was a bad way to do it — because on your side, all you knew was that you were asked to run someone’s personal errand when you were there for a business appointment. That’s rude to you, and it gives a bad impression of them. They risk losing candidates over it, because some candidates are going to take it as a sign of a disorganized, boundary-crossing culture that they wouldn’t want to work in.

Furthermore, it’s not like this was the only option available to them to assess your attention to detail. There are all kinds of exercises they could have given you that would have been related to the job itself and which wouldn’t have rubbed you the wrong way like this one did.

(Alternately, my theory is wrong, and they just have a pressing Panera addiction in that office, but I don’t think that’s the case.)

{ 237 comments… read them below }

  1. Adam*

    Unless you’re applying to be a meal deliverer the seems just a tad demeaning in my opinion. Did you at least get a tip out of the deal?

    1. KarenT*

      I don’t think the act of getting someone lunch is demeaning. I think it’s actually pretty common in doctors offices for the admins to get the doctor lunch. If the doctor is seeing back to back patients, even if she schedules an hour for lunch it is often taken up by emergencies, falling behind schedule with appointments, reading lab results, etc.

      But during a job interview (especially without warning)? That’s effed up.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I don’t think it’s inherently demeaning. But in this case, it’s not their job and there’s a power dynamic — they’re being asked to wait on a stranger and they’re in a position where they can’t easily say no. It feels like the office is taking advantage of someone with lower power in order to get personal needs met, which I think is the demeaning part.

        1. Adam*

          That’s what I meant, yes. Once you’re in a workplace assistants or even fellow coworkers will pick up lunch for each other as a favor or general camaraderie all the time. But as an interviewee where you may be more jittery than a bag of cats, desperate for a job, and may not have even met your interviewer yet? All of that just makes my eye twitch.

          1. KarenT*

            That I agree with! (It’s what I meant with my in eloquent, “that’s effed up”.)

            1. Eudora Wealthy*

              Yes, this is so monumentally f**ked-up. It’s amazing how people abuse their power sometimes.

        2. Felicia*

          I think as a normal part of a job it’s fairly common to do and not demeaning, but asking someone you’re interviewing to do it when they don’t currently work there is a bit demeaning.

          Also if it wasn’t their actual lunch that they were going to eat , and if they really were asking everyone being interviewed to do it, it seems like a waste of money just to test something that could be tested other ways.

    2. Lillie Lane*

      Totally off-topic, but if you’ve never heard of a dabbawala, please Google it. Fascinating.

      1. Rose*

        I lived in India, it’s common there, but I think it is making it’s way West. People would get their lunches delivered to them everyday for like 200 rupees (about $4). That includes the lunch AND the delivery. It actually might even be less $ in some places.

      2. B*

        There is an Indian restaurant in my town called Dabawaal and the food there is delicious :)

  2. BadPlanning*

    My other bet is that they came up with this idea after a previously particularly frustrating employee. For example, normally the office rotates a “pick up lunch” person and they had someone who was seriously awful at it (“I know you guys wanted salad, but I just got a sack of hamburgers from McDonald’s”). And now they are obsessed with it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I totally think that too. I think it’s likely that they had someone who was bad at attention to detail, and this was one of many ways that it manifested, and they’re not thinking about it clearly enough to realize that this isn’t an appropriate test.

      1. Chloe*

        I can so imagine this conversation: “We HAVE to get someone who can get the lunch orders right”. “I know, lets get all the interviewees to go and pick up a lunch order!” And no-one stops to think, um, really? Especially for an events co-ordinator role, that is really odd.

      2. hayling*

        I agree. Getting lunch orders does require attention to detail but that’s a transferable skill that could be tested another way.

  3. Emily (OP)*

    Author here! This was an event coordinator job. I would understand this kind of task if I was applying for an assistant job where I would be given lunch errands.
    I haven’t hear back from the job yet and this happened on Wednesday…

    1. Sascha*

      Even if it was for an assistant type position, I still think it’s weird to have people pick up food. I think there are far more tasks out there actually related to the work that the employer could use. Like proofreading documents, or maybe handling intake forms, or something like that. I don’t consider picking up food to be that good of an indicator of someone’s ability to do a job. Unless you’re applying for a job as a food delivery person, like Adam said.

      1. CanadianWriter*

        Yeah. What if the interviewee ordered the salad properly, but the restaurant made it wrong? It’s a bad test.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          I disagree with you. Restaurants commonly get a take out order wrong. That’s why you check the order before leaving the restaurant. It’s taking someone’s word that something was performed Vs a quick check to see if it was done correctly. “Second set of eyes”, “Trust but verify” and all that. That kind of rigor is common in industries where a mistake has high consequences.

          1. Nikki T*

            True, as an employee, I might double-check the order, but I don’t work there and I don’t know these people. It’s already a strange situation and I would be less inclined to open someone else’s food and might not think to do so under the circumstances.

            1. Robin*

              And who really trusts a complete stranger to pick up and deliver their food? It’s not like ordering delivery food when the employer has (presumably) interviewed their employees first.

          2. Anonsie*

            It’s not always easy to check someone else’s food, especially a salad where the type/quantity of dressing or whathaveyou are not going to be easy to determine by looking at it without really rifling through it or even eating it. The degree of attention to detail necessary for the job doesn’t directly correlate to things that don’t need your hands in them.

            I mean, I work in a surgical department, but we don’t go peeling back the bread on people’s sandwiches to make sure there’s no mayo or whatever.

            1. Kobayashi*

              I’d feel weird opening up someone else’s salad to inspect it then getting the container closed again.

          3. A Teacher*

            Except we went to Panera today and I got a turkey sandwich in the “pick 2” and asked to not have the avacado on it. Its like they realized after they started to not put it on but sure enough, it was on half of a slice of bread. If I had picked that up for someone, I would have had to open the wrapper, touch the sandwich, and comb through the stuff on the sandwich to find it. I’m also a huge food germaphobe–don’t touch my food please–so that wouldn’t be happening. Its a bad test.

      2. TheSnarkyB*

        I think OP/Emily’s point was that it would be related to the job because that’s something that an assistant would be asked to do.

        1. Emily (OP)*

          There was also a personal assistant job opening at the office which would make more sense for this kind of test. This is a chiropractor in charge of a very busy practice and probably doesn’t have time to get lunch himself so an assistant could do it but it’s not close to what I applied for.
          It makes me concerned that if I got the job that I would be made into the “gopher” for running errands like this instead if my actual position since I would be the newbie.

          1. Mimmy*

            This is probably a stupid question, but why would a doctor’s office need an event coordinator?

            1. Mimmy*

              *sigh* I really do need to learn to read the entire thread!! Already answered by the OP.

          2. Anna*

            Yeah, but during a job interview it’s not appropriate in any way for any job. Even if it’s for an assistant job, it’s one of the things they may tell you you’d end up doing, but to actually have you do that as part of the interview is ridiculous. You wouldn’t be asked to fax patient paperwork to the insurance company, schedule four appointments, and also make a pot of coffee as part of the interview.

            1. Angora*

              I applied for a job as an office manager for Veterinary Practice and they wanted to do a tryout day …. I was doing temp work seeking a permanent job … they wanted me to come in that Monday; work that day without pay; as a tryout. I told them I would do it; than never showed up.

              He had made a comment about me going to a no name college. He made a huge deal about having other businesses on the side where I had the opportunity to make lots of extra money. His office staff were not friendly at all. Sour expressions.

              He offended me during the interview; than wanted 8 horus free labor … so I left them hanging. I bet they got lot of desperate people to work for free; just to be told they didn’t fit in, etc. I wasn’t going be taken advantage of. I got the impression that he did this a lot; and they got stuck dealing with a new person once or twice a month if not more.

              1. D*

                That also sounds illegal–not paying someone for a full day’s work. (I could be wrong.) At the very least, it’s highly unethical. It sounds like a place to run away from.

                1. Angora*

                  It’s an issue for the labor board. He came across as sleazy and cheap. Learned a long time about when someone feels the need to sell you on all this money you can make working for them; in additional to your other duties … they are full of *&^%,

                  I just walked away; but I bet a few people worked for them. I kept seeing that job advertisement POP UP every few weeks for a few months.

              2. Anx*

                This sounds incredibly common.

                I admit that at my last job, I spent about a day doing pre-work. Part of it ended being paid but I didn’t want to blow my chances by asking about the pay situation (and I would have worked for free for a chance).

                I don’t feel like I’ve been exploited much yet, but I do hear of companies that do this routinely. I do think it crosses into shady territory.

              3. Sara*

                I have a similar story. I was desperate for work so I applied for a cashier position at a pharmacy; work a full day for free….only for them to say I was “too smart” to be a cashier (bc I spoke English and had a BA) and wanted to train me for pharmacy tech. I was upset, but figured, I’d do the tech training. I had reservations but the manager said “no way in hell I’m putting anything in writing.” They said that paid training doesn’t exist, and I should be grateful they’re training me because others have to PAY to train. The pharmacist said he’d put me on payroll 3 weeks in. Towards the last week, he kept going back on his word and said that it was a test–to see how my work would change if I knew I would get paid one day. Finally, the day I was supposed to come in for my first “real” day of work (aka paid), they said their tech returned from vacation and they don’t need me but if I want additional training, I’m welcome to come.

                All in all, they were sleazeballs; I wish I had reported them to the labor board, but more so I wish I hadn’t been so desperate and let myself be treated like such shit.

                1. bob*

                  Oh my gawdddddd! So they basically wanted 3 weeks of free help while the other tech was on vacation???!?!?!

                  If it’s not too late please report them!

                2. Stephanie*

                  This is also disturbing as they were having a novice temp do something that could have life-threatening impacts.

                3. Sara*

                  Bob–this was close to 2 years ago. I’m not sure if it’s too late.

                  Stephanie–true. but there was someone who always checked. I had absolutely zero background in pharmacy/medical/science related.

          3. Episkey*

            I don’t know if this is a coincidence or not, but I have personally had and have heard of others also having some bizarre interview experiences specifically at chiropractor offices.

            I mean that I’ve heard this so often that it makes me wonder if most chiropractors are kooky and/or don’t really know how to conduct hiring!

            1. mirror*

              Chiming in–I worked for a chiroporactor for 2.5 years and my interview was relatively normal (although they did make me do basic math worksheets (yes plural!) like 58×27 or divide 3 into 5678, using no calculator…)

              When I left, I interviewed my replacement and I didnt do any weird stuff ;)

          4. Elizabeth West*

            It’s still a dumb test for the job. Getting lunch is NOT that complicated and if they had someone who routinely messed it up, I’m betting they messed up other tasks as well.

        2. Stephanie*

          Even then, still seems like there are more pertinent things you could test a potential admin for–I’d guess lunch pickup would be a pretty minor job duty.

      3. Stephanie*

        Plus, the money aspect. You’re either asking a candidate to spot you for lunch (with reimbursement, presumably) or handing money to an almost stranger.

        1. Tiff*

          This. In that situation, I would be tempted to just take the lunch money and see myself home to teach them a lesson about being ridiculous. I wouldn’t do it because, well…that’s stealing. But I would surely think it. And I’d have to be mighty desperate to take a job at this place.

          1. Daisy*

            I thought it might be an honesty test; see if candidates walk with the lunch money.

            1. Rose*

              Funny idea… but who would give up a job interview for 10 bucks?

              The whole thing is just weird.

            2. Stephanie*

              Eh. These are adults, not elementary school kids in need of a morality lesson.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      For an event coordinator position I can think of several other tests they could’ve used to test skills related to the position. Mock planning an event or writing out an event plan of how the organization would host an event for 500- yes. Sending candidates out to pick up lunch- no.

      This is very odd to say the least.

      1. CanadianWriter*

        One that isn’t actually hiring anybody, but wants to get their lunches delivered for free. :)

      2. Emily (OP)*

        The drs office had events like expos and community events, spots on our local news station talk show…stuff like that.

      3. Sunflower*

        Well in small offices, positions often blend together. Of course, it doesn’t sound like any of the skills that an assistant would need were mentioned in the job description….

      4. AnotherAlison*

        I feel like this must be a plastic surgeon with a rejuvenation spa. . .or a lasik eye surgeon.

        1. Emily (OP)*

          It’s actually a chiropractor. The event coordinator makes calls to get the dr in to meet with doctors offices for referrals, expo events, new patient events, mailings, community events and other marketing opportunities.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            That would have been my third guess. : )
            They’re always set up at the local 5ks and wellness fairs.

          2. Anonsie*

            I’m trying to imagine how much extra money that practice must have to be able to do this but that’s making me sad so I think I’ll just stop now.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              Well, it was not a chiro, but I took my son to a naturopath a few weeks back for a food allergy/sensitivity visit*, and it cost just over $1000 for about an hour long visit. They aren’t covered by insurance, so they get the $1000 out of your pocket. Not bad rates if you can get them.

              *OT, but just got the results back today, and the only two things he is “Reactive” to are mustard and salmon, which he doesn’t eat anyway. . .SO $1000 out for nothing. Guess I’ll go back to feeding him all the food dyes and sugar, because he’s not sensitive to those at all & loves them the most. Looks like his ADHD is from dropping him on his head (j/k), not food.

              1. Anonsie*

                Even small practice overhead is astoundingly high, which is why so many providers are moving en masse away from their own practice or small group-owned practice to big medical homes where they are employees.

                Keeping those wee clinics above water is a tough job… Unless you’re a Lasik clinic or med spa or some such, like you guessed before. I’m now wondering if naturopathic clinics are similar or if they have more overhead than I’d imagine.

                1. TL*

                  No. Naturopaths don’t have nearly the same overhead – they don’t carry insurance, they don’t have to be certified with the AMA, they don’t start with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, and they don’t have to stay current on modern medical procedures.
                  Also, they’re not medical professionals, so there’s that.

              2. Alter_ego*

                I don’t know how bad the mustard allergy is, but mustard powder is actually in EVERYTHING. My grandfather had a pretty severe mustard allergy, and eating out was always a nightmare because many cooks use it as a seasoning without even thinking about it, then say “no” if asked about mustard in the dish, because they’re thinking of yellow mustard, not mustard powder.

                I don’t mean to step on your toes if you’ve already thought about all this, and mustard powder doesn’t trigger it. I just know no one had really heard of it when my grandpa would bring it up, so the things that have mustard in them would always come as a surprise.

      5. Stephanie*

        We’ve got kind of a glut of doctor’s offices in my neck of the woods so putting on community events is a good form of advertising. Also, a lot of plastic surgeons and dermatologists will go on the local morning talk shows to advertise elective procedures.

    3. nyxalinth*

      I’m curious about that salad! I’m thinking “Dressing on the side, unless it’s Tuesday. then make it half vinaigrette and half blue cheese, and no croutons unless Bob is making it, otherwise I want shredded tofu.” Probably not that silly, but when people are picky about salads I think of stuff like this :D

      1. Emily (OP)*

        Chicken cobb salad. extra chicken. blue cheese on the side. no bread. mac and cheese. avocado not sliced.
        the people at Panera had to go in the back cooler and cut an avocado just for this order because at the prep line the avocado is there sliced.

        1. ZSD*

          Good heavens. I hope you apologized all over yourself and explained that it wasn’t for you.
          And yeah, this had to be a test. I can’t imagine any sane human being insisting that their avocado not be sliced.

          1. Emily (OP)*

            Seriously. How can you take anyone seriously with a salad order like this. Just eat the damn avocado the way it comes. Make your own freaking salad if you’re that fussy!!
            For reference, I work for a sample demonstration company so in my time as a sample girl I’ve come across a lot of fussy customers (even for free, 2 bite size samples) so I can’t deal with that kind of customization.

            1. FiveNine*

              Wow, it just keeps getting worse! Yes, that is a truly bizarre request and flat-out inappropriate and rude as it’s probably a made up request. I mean, how many degrees of inconsiderate behavior does this go? If they truly believed a takeout order was the only and best way to test attention to detail then they could have picked something like a Starbucks drink order. But really. What jackasses.

  4. TheOriginalVagabond*

    Wow… I have nothing to add except that stories like this make me wonder if I’m living in some bizarro world.

  5. Emily (OP)*

    And I got no tip or money for the gas for driving there. Just a thanks and a quick interview.

    1. Kelly L.*

      I imagine this test would weed out anyone who took public transport there, too.

      1. Amy B.*

        +1. As someone who regularly takes the bus, I was thinking, “Depending on the route and schedule, this may take a while!” Although public transportation may not be an option for an event planner.

      2. Anx*

        That was my first hunch!

        Because it’s not difficult enough trying to look put together when taking public transit when you live in an area where most office professionals drive….

    2. KarenT*

      That’s appalling! They should definitely have offered you had money. Or to buy you lunch! Or to at least let you keep the fussy salad you got for them.

    3. TheSnarkyB*

      Can you explain what you mean here? Do you mean the gas to drive to Panera? (I don’t live somewhere where that would be necessary, so I’m just asking.)
      Also, in my opinion a tip would be much more insulting than no tip. You asked me to do you a favor, I did it. I’m not a delivery person though, that’s not my job.

      1. JBeane*

        I agree with you, but I think she meant, she wasn’t given money to tip the Panera employees, as people usually do. OP, can you clarify?

        1. Jamie*

          If that were the case I would have been furious.

          I wouldn’t stiff someone for a tip ever – so now I’m out of pocket?

          Assuming I wasn’t in a desperate situation I would have taken it as a red flag which can’t be overcome and removed myself from the process at that point.

          And I had no problem getting lunch when I was in the position where it was part of the deal – at all – it’s not a demeaning thing it’s a crazy interview thing and I’d be afraid if they hired me I’d end up shampooing someone’s carpets at home on my days off.

          1. Anon for this*

            I was a Field Representative for a member of the State Senate, and I had to go to the rep’s house early in the morning once and wait several hours for a repair person to arrive. I just wore jeans and brought my office clothes and ironed them while I waited. What a waste of taxpayer money! But that wasn’t the least of it. They had us working for the rep’s campaign (for a different elected position) during the work day (on state time), which is illegal. I also took the rep’s car to the car wash several times (at least I got to drive the nice car). I had forgotten about a lot of this stuff until just now.

          2. Lindsay the Temp*

            I’ve worked in food service, and pride myself on tipping well, but I have to admit, I’ve never even considered tipping at Panera! I feel like such a goob! Who do you even tip? The cashier, or the people making the food? I wouldn’t want to hand it to people touching everyone’s food, and I’ve never seen a tip jar!

            1. Nerdling*

              Panera employees aren’t allowed to accept tips, so don’t feel badly! (Or at least we weren’t when I worked there… although that was about a decade ago at this point. Holy crap, I feel old all of a sudden.)

              1. A*

                This is still correct- Panera employees are not allowed to accept tips unless they are the catering cooridinator.

            2. The Cosmic Avenger*

              Yeah, I waited tables years ago, so I tip generously, but I rarely tip for counter service. Sometimes I’ll tip at coffee shops, because the person taking my order also often makes it, and if they’re pleasant and efficient I like to recognize that, but places like Panera or Subway, who gets the tip? And they’re all subject to *untipped* minimum wage requirements, I would think, unlike wait staff.

        2. Emily (OP)*

          I wasn’t given gas money or really anything…I gave them the change back and the receipt so they would know if I kept anything. Panera wasn’t far from the office but I still spent 2 hours filling out questions and my job history, running the errand and meeting with the marketing director.

          1. fractal*

            This has got to be one of the most bizarre job interview situations. Did anything else come up during your meeting with the marketing director that would raise a red flag?

            1. Tiff*

              Sure does, if you’re asking someone who doesn’t even work there to do it. Although the best tip in this situation is to run and don’t look back.

          2. Anonsie*

            Somehow I think it would have been *even weirder* if they did give you gas money. It more heavily implies it was a totally unrelated personal favor, for one, but also if it was nearby I’m guessing you used under a dollar’s worth of gas anyway. “Here’s 75 cents, kid, thanks a bunch.”

            1. Angora*

              You know, after thinking about it. You would think they would be afraid that someone would get offended and would spit into the salad.

        3. AmyNYC*

          Panera won’t let employees collect tips. They have “Dough-nation” jars instead.
          (Not saying the tipping comments wouldn’t be applicable at other places)

          1. A Dispatcher*

            Phew, I was 99.9% sure on this, as someone who practically lives at Panera (I have a bad frozen mocha addiction) but the: ” tip the Panera employees, as people usually do” comment had me worried I was somehow stiffing my beloved frap makers and they secretly hate me.

            1. AmyNYC*

              No, we secretly hated the ownership that wouldn’t let us take tips (unless it was forcibly put in my hand, at which point I’m not going to be rude)

              1. samantha*

                No tip policy is great. Tipping culture sucks. Let’s get rid of tips everywhere

                1. Melissa*

                  As long as we also raise the minimum wage of servers about $2.13 an hour or whatever it is now to a decent regular minimum wage…

                2. Saturn9*

                  If you think tipping culture sucks, please do something to change the culture (and loudly justifying your refusal to tip in an ersatz display of righteous indignation a la Reservoir Dogs doesn’t count).

            2. JBeane*

              Sorry about that! I didn’t know Panera had a no-tip policy. I’d assumed they accepted tips, and that’s why I jumped to that conclusion when I read about the OP not getting a tip.

              Like Jamie, I would have been mad if I had to pay a tip out of pocket on this job interview errand. Didn’t mean to worry you :)

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I occasionally pick up lunch for my boss if I’m out and about. I offer, he tells me I don’t have to, I offer again, he hands me a $20 and tells me to get myself lunch too. That’s a good system :)

    4. OhNo*

      Wait, you had to drive there? Wow, I was thinking it was right next door or something. If you actually had to drive there, that seems to take it from “annoying and weird, but whatever” to “uh, no” for me.

      I wonder what they would have done if they had someone (like me!) who was disabled and legitimatelly couldn’t do it. Or, as someone else mentioned, if they had someone who took public transportation or otherwise didn’t have a car with them at the time. If this was a test, someone did NOT think it through.

      1. The Bookworm*

        Or what would have happened if the interviewee had been in a car accident while getting the order.

      2. Emily (OP)*

        It was a solid 15 minute drive away in lunchtime traffic on the roads and in the restaurant. Nuts.

    5. holly*

      ugh, i wasn’t even thinking you’d have to drive to go get it, but maybe walk across the street. super weird.

    6. hayling*

      Oh wait you had to drive there? I was assuming this was like down the street in a city center. This just keeps getting weirder.

    7. Vicki*

      “…or money for the gas for driving there.”

      Ok. This is weirder than I first thought. I was expecting the Panera to be, at most, a block away by foot.

  6. Lamington*

    They ahould have just been honest with you and tell you that was a test. Did at keast they offer to get you a drink?

  7. Gilby*


    Yeah, it is a really really bad idea to test a candidate like that.

    But, do you decline and risk not getting the job at all? Do you care if you get the job as it looks like a bad place to work? Do you say no, go to the interview knowing there is already one mark against you?

    How does one navigate this sitution?

    P.S. My husband had a job interiew where the boss ask him to give him a ride back into the town ( not out of hubby’s way). Hubby said no problem… didn’t get the job. I am sure there was no corralation but still… the nerve to as an applicant to give him a ride?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, at a minimum you take it as data about this employer. You now know something not great about them, so you go into it with your eyes open if you decide to accept that job.

      But if you’re in a position with options and you decide you’re not interested in playing along, then you can certainly decline. It comes down to how much you need the job.

      The ride thing bothers me less, because it doesn’t have the demeaning feel to it that “fetch me lunch” has.

      1. Gilby*

        Yeah, the ride was no big deal. Just reminded me of it with this post. We really just laughed about it.

        OK thanks for your input. I am looking as well because of a layoff and just want to make sure where my deal breakersmight be in general.

        1. Julie*

          I know! Sometimes when I’m reading posts on AAM, I can’t decide whether something would or wouldn’t be a deal breaker.

          1. Vicki*

            So often I think something should be a deal breaker, but in the moment? Having to think and make a fast decision like that in real time under the stress of an interview? I just don’t know what I’d do.

            I had an interview once where, in retrospect, I should have said “thank you” and gotten up and walked out, but at the time, didn’t. I still regret not leaving; I hope if the situation ever replays I’d leave. But it’s hard to know for sure.

            I also hope that in a situation like this one, I’d have the ability to do what Miss Manners so often recommends Look the person in the eye and say “Excuse me??”

    2. kac*

      I posted down-thread about how I would be very uninterested in working at a place that asked me to do something like this. That being said, in the moment I would probably play along, making mental notes to evaluate after the fact.

    3. BRR*

      I read an article on LinkdIn that a CEO preferred to interview people while they drove him some place because to the CEO it showed how the candidates handled taking directions while at the same time being able to handle other tasks (answer questions about how well they would perform the job).

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        That seems ridiculous. If I spent the time and energy preparing for an interview, I want to focus on the INTERVIEW. Not driving somewhere (possibly somewhere unfamiliar!), in addition to answering lucidly and engaging fully in the conversation. Good grief.

        1. kac*

          Yeah, this is super bizarre to me. I have a good friend who is smart and a great writer and really knows her industry–but she’s a terrible driver. She knows this and often let’s other people do the driving or takes public transportation. If asked to give an interview-while-driving she would prob be abysmal–which is why she is not a *driver* for her career.

      2. MaryMary*

        What if I don’t have the most presentable car? I put extra care into my appearance for interviews, but I don’t clean up my car.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I actually do clean up my car. I’m pretty picky normally anyway, but you just never know. At a lunchtime interview, you could easily run into your interviewer or staff in the parking lot. I don’t think I’d judge someone else that way, but I don’t want someone to think I’m a slob.

          1. Stephanie*

            Same. When I parked on the street and was paranoid about break-ins, I got in the habit of keeping my car pretty empty and clean. But I don’t get what that would show to an interviewer aside from a desire to not have my window smashed.

        2. Tiff*

          This. I don’t think I’d ever be employed if folks took a look in my car. The stale french fries alone are enough to take me out of the running.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Stale french fries are nothing compared to the mortar-like accretion of Zwiebeck, melba toast, and Cheerios that encrusts many child car seats. I once pulled the car seat out (back when we needed one) and vigorously shook it out, and actually generated a pile of food debris. An actual pile!

        3. fposte*

          I think we had somebody report in about a hiring manager that specifically asked to look in people’s cars to judge applicants based on vehicle cleanliness.

          I would be so unemployed.

            1. BeenThere*

              It’s not the interior that worries me it’s the exterior. I have a very nice German black sedan, which is usually covered in dust, rain spots and bird poop. Having said that I started a new job today so the car did not impact their assessment of me.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                All any interviewer should be able to tell from a car covered in bird poop is that the candidate probably has a tree on or near where they live. Other than that, it’s not really any of their business.

                I was asked several times if I had reliable transportation. Until I got my current car, I had to fudge a little. “Sure it’s reliable!” (At this moment in time…)

      3. Sunflower*

        Once again, I am 98% sure there is another way to test this beside getting in a car with someone you don’t know. Also, I get really nervous during interviews so if I was driving at the same time, I’d probably crash the car!

        1. Tina*

          Personally, I’m not about to get into a car alone with a complete stranger. Hardly seems worth the risk, I may as well go hitchhiking!

      4. Sascha*

        That seems risky. It would be hard for me to pay attention to driving if there’s a CEO in my car giving me directions AND asking me questions.

      5. Stephanie*

        Wha? I’m not always the most talkative in the car, especially if there’s a lot of traffic, the road has a lot of construction (or other obstacles), or I’m going somewhere unfamiliar. I’d tank that interview.

        1. Sascha*

          I’m not either, and I want to keep my eyes on the road, so I don’t look at the person who is talking. I’ve had some passengers that got frustrated with me for not looking at them when they were talking to me. Seriously?…do you want me to look at you, or at the ROAD AND OTHER CARS?

          1. TL*

            Wait seriously?! People get mad about that? I would totally wait until I got to an empty road that I knew really well and then stare at them intently while veering slowly off the road.

      6. OhNo*

        Wow, distracted driving much? That just sounds like a recipe for a car accident, especially becuase it is with interview candidates who are probably nervous and distracted anyway. Let’s make it worse by asking them complicated question while they drive!

        1. Julie*

          I like to think I would ask the interviewer to please wait until we get to the destination so I can focus. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to focus on one thing at a time (unless it’s a crazy job with one thing after the other needing to be done RIGHT NOW, and I wouldn’t be taking that job anyway).

      7. Anx*

        I’m a nervous driver. I can multitask in many settings. Behind the wheel is not one of them.

        I suppose this CEO wouldn’t be too keen on risk-averse applicants, anyway.

      8. Vicki*

        And if they’re bad at that sort of multitasking while handling a multi-ton piece of machinery, you can enjoy… an accident on the road?? What fun!

    4. Cruciatus*

      I want to know this too. What does a candidate do as the situation is happening? Maybe it’s a test, maybe not–maybe the candidate isn’t even thinking that way at the time. Could the candidates have said “I’m sorry, I was just hoping to collect my thoughts before the interview?” I’m pretty sure I would have (politely) asked why I needed to go do this. It’s just too weird. And is not doing it an automatic deal breaker for those people?

    5. NYCRedhead*

      After an interview, I was asked to help move a grazing pen for sheep, but in their defense, it was for a job on with a farmer’s market. They told me later it was a test, as to general willingness to go above & beyond.

      1. Julie*

        This sort of thing really irks me. I’m always going above and beyond, but I do that for a place that I already work at. I think if I was in your situation, I would have helped out as well, but I don’t like the idea of being tested like that. What if your back was sore or you had to be someplace right after the interview?

        1. Vicki*

          There’s a difference between committed and _paid_ “above and beyond” and voluntary unpaid (and not on their insurance plan) “improv theatre”.

      2. smilingswan*

        What if you hurt yourself doing it? These employers are not thinking it through.

    6. Joe*

      Or maybe the whole thing was really a test of assertiveness and prioritization! They’re looking for a candidate willing to take the risk of saying “no” because it’s not their responsibility.

  8. Celeste*

    Maybe they were trying to see how you behave when things don’t go as you expect them to? All of these tactics sound like they are trying to be difficult to you, on purpose.

    I don’t think provoking someone is fair play.

    1. KarenT*

      I’m picturing some fussy doctor who sends his assistant out to get his lunch everyday, and gets really mad when the order is wrong. Said doctor is testing applicants to make sure they can get his Panera order right.

      1. Arjay*

        Oh, this triggered a memory for me. I used to work with a pharmacist whose lunch I would pick up for him when he wasn’t allowed to leave the store. He’d order chicken and rice soup from a Chinese place, and then complain about how little chicken was in it. “Make sure this time they put some more chicken in it!” No way I was going to order around the restaurant staff. I told him if he didn’t like the way I picked up his lunch, he should get someone else to do it.

        1. Tiff*

          I had a co-worker who would do that. She wasn’t even in my chain of command, but if the others were making an order that I picked up she was sure to ask for something different and “special” in some way. If it was incorrect she’d criticize. Or try to send me back to some other place to get her a fountain soda, since she was so crazy about fountain sodas.

          I had to remind myself daily that she was miserable and deserved pity, not contempt.

        2. KarenT*

          That reminds me of Sheldon Cooper learning Chinese to confront his local takeout place, whom he is convinced is using regular oranges in their tangerine chicken.

          1. Mallory*

            Sheldon to Leonard, “Yes, I do like tangerine chicken. But I’m not getting tangerine chicken.”

          2. Vicki*

            Anecdote –

            We ordered Kung Pao chicken at a Chinese restaurant.
            It arrived. No peanuts.
            Called the waitress. “No peanuts”.
            She pointed to a piece of diced scallion.
            “That’s not a peanut.”
            The waitress thought for a moment and then said, decisively “No peanuts in Kung Pao!”

  9. kac*

    Eek! This would be a major red flag in my book. I’m always one to chip in and be helpful around the office, but something about this is so disrespectful that I would be hard pressed to want to accept an offer from a place like that.

  10. louise*

    At least they provided the money for the errand–for this, I’d rank them as “cluelessly dysfunctional” as opposed to “highly dysfunctional” with the caveat that I don’t want to work for an employer in either category.

  11. Emily (OP)*

    I got no offer to pick myself up anything. No warning that there would be a test of anything. Just was asked if I would run an errand for someone until the doctor was ready or done with his appointment. She started saying the salad order and asked me if I needed to write it down. Maybe that was another test? Who needs to write it down and who can memorize it and still get it correct?
    But what if Panera had gotten it wrong? I didn’t check the bag…just grabbed it and ran back because it had been a while after waiting and I wanted to get back.
    The whole process took 2 hours! Way to one for an interview, IMO.

    1. Sydney Bristow*

      That is what I kept thinking! I used to work at Subway and at least you could watch the person making the sandwich to make sure they did it correctly. Checking the ingredients in a fussy salad order would be a total pain too. Even if you ordered it completely correctly at Panera, there is no guarantee that they made it exactly as you ordered it. Hopefully they did, but I’d hate to be punished for their mistake.

    1. Mimmy*

      It is through this site that I have seen the craziest interview stories!! Didn’t we have one of those semi-open threads where we were to describe strange interviews? If not, I suggest we have one! (Not that I have any crazy stories, but I’m sure plenty of other readers do!)

  12. AndersonDarling*

    Geez, what would happen if the candidate was hit by a car while trying to pick up lunch. That silly interview task just turned into an expensive lawsuit!!

    Oh… and I wonder how many people just take the money and run?

      1. Windchime*

        It made me start singing the old Steve Miller Band song in my head……”ooooooh, take the money and run!”

    1. AnotherAlison*

      take the money and run

      Good point. This is weird enough to me that I might start wondering if I was on Dateline or a game show.

    2. Emily (OP)*

      I thought of doing that later that day but they have my phone number, address and SSN so who know what they would have done to get the $20 back. I don’t even want to know…

      1. fractal*

        Yeah, I was thinking the same thing since they would presumably have the applicant’s personal info, how would they react to that situation? Would they bombard you with multiple phone calls? Come directly to your house? Would they file a police report? Wouldn’t put anything past them at this point.

    3. Lisa Cross*

      Thank you for bringing that up. If the OP had been injured running this errand, there would be no work comp coverage and no medical or other insurance to help her out. The clinic is taking a huge risking sending people on errands like that.

  13. Interviewer*

    Oh, wow. Pretty sure I would lose my job if my boss found out I was sending applicants on lunch runs – in their CARS, no less.

    I would have said that I don’t ever mind running errands for my employer, but in this particular instance, it might not be a good idea. Mileage reimbursement is just the tip of the iceberg. What if I caused an accident on the way back with lunch? Am I insured to drive for work, when I’m not even employed by them?

    If it’s a test, it’s a weird one. Aside from details, are they testing an applicant’s boundaries by stepping right over theirs?

    1. Mallory*

      I wonder if the doctor even knows that his staff are using this interview technique. Maybe the staff are just trying to see which applicants are nice and pliable for a “mean girls”-type office dynamic once they’re hired — like, they want someone they can push around and send on errands for themselves.

    2. Suz*

      Exactly. At last job, if you were asked to run errands for someone, you were supposed to borrow a car from one of employees who had company vehicles so you’d be covered under the companies insurance if there was an accident.

  14. MT*

    When I interviewed, my boss took me out to lunch. He spent the last 10 minutes of the meal on the phone getting everyone in the offices lunch orders. He brought back 15 different lunches. It was a sit down mexican joint.

  15. Lisa*

    I gave two packages to a woman for her to deliver as part of her interview for becoming a delivery driver. I paid her upfront per package, and knowing that she may not come back and the packages may not be delivered. I wanted to do this cause too many people left after day 1, cause they thought driving would be easy. Well she calls me 1 hour later, crying cause she hit a utility pole and totaled her car. Never again did I do a test like that. I told her to call 911 immediately, and just throw away the packages. She was driving while looking at a map, but I felt bad cause I put her to work that day. I wasn’t going to pay for a new car or anything, but I expected to have to do a workers comp claim even though she hadn’t even accepted the job. She never called back though, we sent flowers to her house a few days later.

    1. WFBP*

      This brought up the main thing I got stuck on: what would have happened if the OP got in a wreck or hurt otherwise?

      Alison, any thoughts on what kind of recourse the OP would have had? This seems awfully risky to me from the interviewer’s perspective…

      1. AnotherAlison*

        IANAL or an insurance agent, but I think they could sue the employer (well, they could always sue, but I think they’d have a case). Your personal insurance doesn’t cover your vehicle being used for commercial business. A small business owner can carry non-owned vehicle coverage on their own commercial policy, but most don’t.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          I was wondering about this too. I don’t know if picking up lunch in the OP’s story counts as commercial purposes, but making deliveries as part of a job interview might. It’s an interesting question.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I’m not sure if Exjob had that or not. I used my own car to pick up break room supplies. Luckily, nothing ever happened, but my old boss got into a horrible wreck doing exactly that.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Ha, I was JUST posting the same thing below but got interrupted before I saw your post. Glad I’m not the only legalistic pedant. :)

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      This is significantly more reasonable than the OP’s situation, though, because

      * your job and your test were for the same thing
      * you paid her for the work
      * it was probably pretty clear to the interviewee that what you were doing was part of the interview, rather than you telling her a story like “the interviewer is running late”

      I don’t know what the legal implications are regarding workers’ comp in your situation, but I don’t think you did anything wrong. In fact, it does sound like you got some pertinent information about her skills as a delivery driver…

        1. hayling*

          I agree. Although obviously it didn’t turn out well, it seems like a reasonable test.

      1. Felicia*

        I agree that it makes sense to include driving as a test for a delivery driver, because you’re actually testing skills needed for the job and being relatively upfront about it. Not sure about the liability issues, but since you were paying for the time it sounded like a good idea to me

    3. James M*

      So you didn’t ask your boss or your company’s legal department about the risks of doing this trial by tire*? What would you have told an applicant who asked about liability in the case of an accident or injury while doing the test? I doubt you could brush aside such questions without raising a Huge Red Flag.

      (*) trial by tire: off-premises errands as (part of) a test.

      1. Lisa*

        I expected to treat her like any employee at the office that got into an accident at our company (warehouse and drivers alike) even though she wasn’t technically an employee at that point. Workers comp and paying for medical bills out-of-pocket, which is what we used to do if people went to the hospital. I didn’t mean to imply I was trying to get out of any responsibility if there was an accident just that I didn’t think we would be responsible for buying her a new car, because it was her reckless driving that caused the accident. We all expected to file a claim for her as if that was her first day, but she wouldn’t return our calls. I was actually expecting to go through the workers comp paperwork and paying medical bills even though I didn’t expect her to want to work for us at all after the accident. We had drivers that used their own vehicles all the time, and had special insurance for it since we were delivering alcohol and needed to have it.

  16. Emily (OP)*

    Just need to say I appreciate all the comments. I was so taken aback and confused when I was leaving the office after the interview that I started telling all my friends to make sure I wasn’t crazy. This can’t be a normal interview! Glad to see people all over the interwebs agree as well!

      1. Emily (OP)*

        Haven’t gotten an offer yet. The interview was on Wednesday…no call back for another interview or a follow up. They did offer today as an interview time so I’m assuming they scheduled some interviews this afternoon as well. If it was offered…..I would consider it because I do want to get out of my part time job into something full time.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          If they offer you the job and you accept it, you’re spiritually obligated to ask them about this once you start and then come back and report it to us!

          1. Emily (OP)*

            You know I will! I’ve got like 50 people commenting on it so I do feel obligated to give a follow up :) but if they call and do not offer the job I will call them out on it. “Hope the one you offered the job to got your Panera order right!”

            1. Angora*

              If you don’t get it … I would ask them .. “Just curious about you asking me to pick-up the lunch. Is that a common request of applicants? If it is; aren’t you afraid someone might spit into the salad? Than laugh hysterically.

              Don’t laugh you if you wish to reapply for that job; if it opens up again. But if you decide to not go that route … do the laugh for the rest of us.

              I wish you luck with the job search. The process is quite frustrating.

              1. Artemesia*

                I have worked in food service and it did teach me never to mess with the people who prepare your food. Underpaid abused employees do in fact mess with food of people rude to them. I would have been very tempted to do more than spit in the salad in this rather outrageous situation.

                1. RestRant*

                  I have a relative who told me that s/he spits in the food of people that are especially rude and then serves the food with the biggest genuine smile.

  17. Katie the Fed*

    Out of curiosity (and because I know way too many lawyers) what would be the company’s liability if, say, OP got into an accident on the way to pick up a sandwich? For the errand she’s more or less an employee of the company, so would they be liable for any damages she committed?

    1. Andy*

      I worked for a PI atty for a good long time and I think my former (awesome) boss would at the very least ask the company’s carrier for a declarations sheet to see policy limits etc. If they don’t have an auto policy (and why would they) it might come to a claim on the property ins. But first stop is the at-fault party, then individual coverage (if the person isn’t at fault), then the company.
      But asking for a dec sheet might garner an offer of settlement unless they know for sure they’re either covered or immune.

  18. Andy*

    no, friend, not normal. Really good reading, tho. (applause)
    I’m in love with reading this site because they give my horizons a nudge outward. I always think “there’s no way that something could ‘out-wierd’ that last letter to AAM”…and then my mind is expanded by the new and exciting ways that people have tortured their co-workers and potentials.
    There but for the Grace of Providence go I.

  19. Katie the Fed*

    I feel like this is the kind of situation where you have all kinds of great responses and retorts after the fact, but in the moment you’re so damned gobsmacked you can’t help but go along with it.

    I’m thinking of all kinds of great responses, but the reality is I would have been all “ummmm…ok….” and then later fumed about it.

    1. Anx*

      So true.

      I’d be so confused. Is this a test? Are they testing my flexibility? Are they testing my assertiveness? If I go do something that could get the company in trouble if I were late/in an accident, am I being negligent? What do they waaaaaaaaaaaant from me?!?!?

  20. Poohbear McGriddles*

    Sure, picking up lunch for a coworker is something an employee might be asked to do. So is cleaning up the restroom after someone has suffered Montezuma’s Revenge. Neither is something one should ask an applicant to perform.

  21. Anonsie*

    On Skull Island, all interview candidates will be asked to pick up complicated orders from a distant takeout pho restaurant. Instructions will be provided only in Vietnamese.

    1. Stephanie*

      And then they’ll receive lashings and/or be removed from consideration if the pho has cooled and started to jellify and the basil leaves have wilted? (Takeout pho seems good in theory, it just never quite comes together like it does in the restaurant.)

      I was at a Vietnamese restaurant with a Vietnamese friend. He asks the proprietor something in Vietnamese and the proprietor returns with some different fish sauce. I ask my friend what he said and he’s like “I asked for a different fish sauce. The Americanized stuff is too sweet and has sugar in it.” I didn’t even know Americanized fish sauce was a thing.

      1. Anonsie*

        “(Takeout pho seems good in theory, it just never quite comes together like it does in the restaurant.)”


        There’s American versions of most of the condiments and seasoning ingredients you’re familiar with, actually. A lot of my friends that grew up abroad religiously read labels to make sure the Jugo Magi or specific brand chicken stock or whatever they’re buying isn’t the American version before they buy it. They know which stores regularly stock the foreign vs American versions, too.

        1. Kelly L.*

          My former roommate married a Vietnamese woman and introduced me to Vietnamese fish sauce. It’s…powerful, if you’re not used to it. I grew to like the taste of it in moderation, though I never did get to like the smell of it by itself.

  22. Anonsie*

    Plot twist: The second applicant wasn’t sent out for Panera, they just brought a lunch because they were hungry and are a little bit insane.

    1. Sascha*

      I can totally see this one woman I used to know do this. She was in my dance classes. She would regularly bring breakfast to class – not just like a granola bar or something, but actually pull out a jug of milk and a bowl of cereal from her backpack, make the cereal, and eat it before joining class. She would often show up late to places because she was getting entire meals to bring (and for other reasons, just not a punctual person). I would not be surprised at all if she showed up to a job interview with a bag of Panera and asked if it was okay to eat it during the interview, as she starts eating it during the interview.

      1. TL*

        I had a coworker who used to pull out Ziploc bags with cereal and milk and eat it. It was the most amusing thing!

  23. Miss Betty*

    Check out Lifehacker today – one of the links in the Popular Stories sidebar is “Look Out for a Hidden Test at Your Next Job Interview”.

    1. Crow T. Robot*

      Oh my word. That disposable cup thing is so stupid. I would probably never think to throw away a cup that I didn’t know the origin of (I mean, you never know if someone is coming back for it). I think there are better ways to keep an eye out for things like “character”. One big thing I can think of is how the applicant treats the receptionist. Also, do they mind their P’s and Q’s and do they push their chair in at the end of the interview.

      1. Anonsie*

        I remember in high school one of my teachers would grill us about all the tricks employers would use on us to try to size us up. One of the big ones is that if anyone ever asks you if you had trouble finding the place, always say no and it was easy. Always. Because having trouble means you’re either dumb or weren’t enough of a go-getter to know it might be complicated and check it out in advance of your appointment. He swore this was a common trap.

        1. stellanor*

          We always ask our applicants that where I work because we’re in this weird back corner building 3 blocks away from the entire rest of the company and Google Maps thinks it’s on a freeway entrance, so 75% of everyone gets lost. It’s not a test, we’re just mildly concerned.

      2. Loose Seal*

        The person who did the cup trick says in the comments in the original article that it’s the cup of water (or whatever beverage) given to the applicant. So they know it was their own disposable cup when they leave. The article itself is not clear on that point.

        Still a stupid test.

  24. short'n'stout*

    I was wondering if it was a test of how diplomatically the applicant could tell the lunch requester to go to hell :D

  25. One of the Annes*

    Before I read Alison’s response, I was actually thinking, “Yeah, that’s something my last boss might have asked job candidates to do.” It was a privately owned business, and the owner sometimes seemed to have the attitude that it was his/her fiefdom, and also that a person wasn’t willing to “pitch in” if (s)he questioned doing something vastly outside his or her job description.

  26. snuck*

    (caveat – I haven’t read all the comments)

    I agree with Alison – it was probably a ‘test’… but I disagree a little in that I don’t think it was a ‘bad way to do it’. It wasn’t elegant or even ‘nice’… but it does show you the sorts of work culture you’ll be encountering – one where you are going to bow to the doctor’s (non)availability, where you won’t get to talk to the people you think you will when you want and where they will ask you to do non-work related activities and expect you to carry those tasks out in a very detailed and specific way still.

    I think it gives the OP an EXCELLENT opportunity to see who she will be working for/what it will be like, and for that reason it was a very good ’employment test’… better than any data entry or proof reading task.

  27. Saucy Minx*

    If I were sitting there filling in app forms & waiting for my interview, I’d be pretty surprised to find that the people who work there are unwilling or unable to provide themselves w/ lunches & thought that I would do it. Possibly I would go the gobsmacked route of just staring, but I like to think I would follow it up w/ the boundary-setting route of responding, probably w/ a laugh: “I don’t actually work here, you know; I have come for an interview. I trust you all are well enough organized to supply your own lunches.” If that was not well-received, my response would be that it seemed a poor idea to expect chance-met strangers to run errands, especially when the stranger was there to do business rather than offer favors.

    If then told that I might as well use my time while waiting for an unpunctual interviewer in running this errand, I’d politely ask whether we should reschedule the appointment, fully prepared to rise up & calmly depart, & resolved that I did not want to work for such a place. If people lack common sense or logic, indulge themselves in a failure of businesslike demeanor, & don’t recognize when they have crossed a boundary, I certainly don’t want to work there.

Comments are closed.