bad bosses, inappropriate interview questions, and more

Three articles of possible interest —

* an interview with me at Idealist, where I answer questions they frequently get from job-seekers

* a Consumerist article on what to do if you’re asked inappropriate personal questions at a job interview — and it’s one of the few to get it right about most of these questions not being illegal (I’m interviewed)

* a Forbes article on why bad bosses might be good for your career (I’m quoted here too)

{ 57 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelly O*

    Just wanted to say congratulations on the media mentions. You’ve developed this wonderful community and it all eventually comes back around to the kind of insight you offer – it’s reasonable, common-sense, and laced with just enough humor to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.

    It’s really nice to see you getting around “the internets.” (Insert virtual pat on the back here.)

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          I’m always talking up this blog to other people, and tell them it’s great for job hunters, people who have no intention of leaving their jobs, and people who aren’t even working alike!

    1. Nervous Accountant*

      You have no idea how much this blog has helped me since I started reading/posting about 2 years ago. Just reading enough of it has helped me absorbed some. Work has been crazy for me the last couple of years but I finally feel like I’m getting that solid foundation of what’s right and wrong if that makes any sense…

      1. Lisa*

        This blog is great for help in finding a job, but for me it has been a great source of knowing that its not always me. It’s my crazy managers too. Having someone point out what ‘normal’ work behavior should be in situations posted on here has been a tremendous help. Sometimes managers just suck.

  2. Gallerina*

    Regarding #2: I was asked what my husband did in not one, but two interviews a couple of months ago. They also both asked me if he worked on Wall Street/in finance (he doesn’t), so I suppose I must have some kind of hedge fund wife air to me. What that has to do with what kind of employee I would be, I don’t know…

  3. Jamie*

    I’ve been asked what my husband did in more interviews than not.

    Including one memorable one where, after I answered, they said, “so you don’t really need to work if you didn’t want to?”

    Why yes, that is correct, cops wives are known for being ladies who lunch and having more money than we can possibly spend and our biggest problem is boredom with our fancy, fancy lives!

    I was applying for a job, not a hobby.

    1. KJR*

      Whaaaa? In what world are cops rich? What a ridiculous thing to say.

      I ran into a friend of my in-laws’ in the grocery store once. She asked if I was “still working.” I replied that I was, and her response was, “Oh good, it’s nice to have a little extra money!” A little extra money?? Yeah, if a little extra money is half the family’s income then yes, a little extra money is nice! The things people say…

    2. the gold digger*

      Before I was married and someone to share the financial burden, I overheard some women at my gym talking about how bored they were. They had cleaning ladies and money and didn’t work. I wanted to tell them, “Do you think I work as a hobby? I work so I can eat! If I didn’t have to work, I promise I would not be bored staying at home!”

  4. Elizabeth West*

    I’ve been asked if I was married, if I had kids, and what religion I am. The last one was an employer whose posting I found at the Career Center. He said they had a lot of Christian employees, prayed at work, and really believed their work came from God. (It was a title company.) I answered the question just to see what would happen (I was raised Catholic). He said, “OH! We have a Catholic lady who works here and she’s fine with it.”

    Well I’m not okay with that much religion in my workplace. If my job were like that, I’d nope the hell right on out of here. I don’t even go to church anymore. So I thanked him and said it didn’t sound like it would be a good fit for me. Then I called the Career Center, and they referred me to the Mayor’s Commission on Human Rights and Community Relations office, and I told them about it. The lady there said, “Oh yes, we’ve had numerous complaints about that company!”

    I wonder what the employer would have done if I had said I belonged to the Church of Satan. If I ever end up job hunting and I get that question again, it would be so tempting. Or to say I’m a Druid and I must be excused from work every solstice and equinox so I can fly to England and worship at Stonehenge.

    1. ArtsNerd*

      I’m atheist. I’d like to think I’d answer as such, with an appropriately arched eyebrow.

    2. Puddin*

      I was asked if I was ‘liberally minded in a you know sexual way, like a bi-sexual.’ I was young and took the job even though I knew that was a bad omen. That person was sued for sexual harassment, embezzled from the company (with one of the people who claimed they were harassed), and ran a coke business from his office on the side.

      I tell you what, I never ran out of work stories from that place.

    3. James M*

      Druish princesses are often attracted to money, and power, and I have both, and you know it!

  5. ArtsNerd*

    There’s a really interesting anecdote by mzmoose in the Consumerist comments – she didn’t speak up when she had a condescending interviewer, and it turned out he had a pattern of dinging female applicants that took the company a while to unearth. I doubt I would have raised the issue, either.

  6. E.R*

    #2 I was asked once what my parents did for a living, by a Director who asked that to everybody she hired. She believed that children of successful people are more likely to be successful themselves, so it gave her valuable insight. It was really offensive and threw me off. I think I still feel icky about it, and that was at least 4 years ago.

    1. CAF*

      Yuck. My mother is a very smart person who has done standard office for years, and has for various reasons (mostly because she raised me on her own) never be able to progress beyond that. She put me through private school as a waitress. My father had a traumatic life growing up and though he was brilliant, never made much of himself for various reasons relating to his horrible upbringing. Yet I have a doctorate after being the first person on either side to get more than an Associate’s Degree. I don’t think my family history would exactly be predictive….

      1. The Other Dawn*

        Exactly. Neither one of my parents graduated high school. Dad worked at a steel company for 40 years and Mom worked part time off and on through the years, usually as a companion to the elderly. And out of five kids, I was the third to graduate high school and the only one to go to college. And I’m actually persuing a “career,” not a “job” just to get by.

        1. CAF*

          Your reply makes me think more about just how offensive that question is. It doesn’t take different socioeconomic circumstances into account. And how is success measured? My mom’s goal was to put me through schools and give me a better life. I have a great life now, so by that measure, she succeeded.

          1. Sadsack*

            “My mom’s goal was to put me through schools and give me a better life. I have a great life now, so by that measure, she succeeded.”

            Brilliant point you made!

      2. Ruffingit*

        Mine isn’t either. I’m the only person in my family to attend college at all and I have two graduate degrees. Both of my parents are incredibly smart themselves, they just don’t have a college diploma to “prove” it to the small-minded idiots who think you need one to show you have a brain.

  7. Obvious questions*

    If an employer is allowed to ask questions about marital status and the like, how are we supposed to know we’re being discriminated against? What are we supposed to do, read peoples’ minds?

    And who’s going to hire us if the first thing that pops up during a Google search for our names is a link to information about our discrimination complaints?

    1. Elysian*

      This is why I cry inside when people complain about “all those frivolous discrimination lawsuits!” Yes, some that are filed are frivolous, but so so many aren’t even filed because the barriers to even having a case are so hard to break through.

    2. James M*

      Anti-descrimination discrimination… I’d love to know if any hiring managers do check public legal records (lawsuit records) when picking final candidates, especially for jobs outside civil/legal services.

    3. fposte*

      I think you’re pretty much right that discrimination is tough to prove in an individual case. In general, hiring discrimination cases seem to go forward because there’s a documentable pattern (right now there’s a lot of attention to disparate effect in things like arrest records) or because the discrimination is egregiously and stupidly on the record in a high-value situation. The thing is, even if the question actually *is* illegal, that doesn’t immediately translate to discrimination as the reason for a non-hire, and the EEOC wouldn’t be likely to take on a “his word against mine” case with no documentation anyway.

  8. Sadsack*

    Would there be anything wrong with responding to family-related questions with, “Nope, no kids for me. How ’bout yourself,” or “My significant other is an attorney. Are you married? What does your SO do for a living?”

    Because hey I’d like to know if you are going to be bringing your kids into the office all the time and letting them run wild, forcing your employees to supervise them, or if you’ll be asking me to do side projects for your SO on company time.

    1. Sadsack*

      The posed questions above are not necessarily directly related to my minor rant that followed, but the point is I wonder how an interviewer would feel if I ask intrusive questions that seem to him or her to have nothing to do with my employment. Probably icky and not very interested in hiring me.

    2. JC*

      In all seriousness, I feel like asking the questions right back to the interviewer can be appropriate a lot of the time—especially since most of the time they are asking them just to make friendly conversation. And if they weren’t, you’ll get a better sense of that.

      On a side note, I interviewed someone once who asked ME if I had kids, when I didn’t ask them first! I’m a woman of childbearing age and have a wedding picture on my desk, and she was a woman with children, so I think she wanted to ask me about kid-related things in the area; my interview with her was supposed to be more of a chance for her to talk to someone new to the company rather than a purely evaluative one. But it was still hella awkward to me that she asked.

  9. Legal mindset*

    Re Forbes article on bad bosses

    1. If nothing else, I have indeed found that working with two subsequent bad bosses has radically improved my management and communication skills. I don’t take either sets of skills for granted.

    2. However, on the negative side, there really is the challenge of avoiding the belief that the bad behavior is a norm. There is a lot of social and work pressure to believe it is.

    Overall I liked the article.

    1. Nervous accountant*

      Swriosily there is. I’ve posted about my boss at a job I’ve been at for a month now. He’s just so volatile and verbally abusive and part of me is wondering if all of them will be like this. Rationally I know it’s not.

    2. ThursdaysGeek*

      Meh. In spite of Alison’s quote to the contrary, it sounds like they’re looking for some sort of evidence that a bad boss can be good for you. I think that some people can overcome having a bad boss, but perhaps they would have done even better with a good boss.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, I think they are figuring people will sharpen each other. But fighting to survive is not a real approach to bring out the best in people. And just to list off the good things that happen with a bad boss fails to add in the bad things to ascertain the net gain or net loss.

        I would bet my last chocolate donut that if they were able to take the good and bad factors into consideration it would still show a huge, huge net loss.

    3. Anonna Miss*

      I’ve had great bosses and horrible bosses. My best boss ever taught me how wonderful it was to have someone protect me from jerk clients or my grand-boss having a bad day.

      My worst boss taught me that it was important to let employees have a life, and to weigh what’s important versus what’s not. I’m just glad those lessons are from 10+ years ago, and I’m not still dealing with that crap.

      Now that I’m in management, I try to remember to be the boss I wanted when I was earlier in my career.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s sometimes hard to remember our own definition of a good boss especially when you have to wade through the memories of those bad bosses.

  10. I really have to be anonymous for this*

    I am wondering if my former employer and I actually did break a non-discrimination law when we were hiring an exempt employee to do an administrative job. One of the candidates proactively told us that she would have to leave at 5:00 pm every day to pick up her child from daycare. This was a 90% a 9-5 job, but my boss and I did run into situations where we got into a crunch and had to ask the person in this role to work late. Or come in early. Someone who did not have any flexibility or back-up childcare options wasn’t going to work out. I can’t remember whether she was otherwise a star candidate, but we didn’t make her an offer. I wonder now if that was illegal.

    1. Graciosa*

      Would it have made any difference in your decision if she was unable to stay after 5 when needed for some other unrelated reason (studying a foreign language, delivering meals to the poor, training for the Olympics, whatever)?

      If the job duties required someone who was available to work late when needed and she couldn’t do that, I’m not seeing the discrimination.

      1. I really have to be anonymous for this*

        I get what you are saying, but there’s a distinct difference between an outside commitment to a cause or a hobby and a commitment to a dependent. If we had gone further down the road with this candidate and had been prepared to offer her a job before she brought this up, it might have been a different story.

        The fact that she raised childcare concerns in her first interview – and that this was the question she asked when I asked her “Do you have any questions about this job that I can answer for you?” made it seem like this flexibility was the most important aspect of the job to her. I suppose that could be true of someone training for the Olympics as well, but somehow turning that person down would not have left me feeling so conflicted.

        1. fposte*

          Remember also that at least federally, having children (as opposed to being pregnant) is not a protected status. As long as it wasn’t done in a way that disparately impacted women and you weren’t somewhere with tighter local protections, it would be legal not to hire people with kids.

          I doubt I’d have hired this candidate. She doesn’t sound like she was a very strong candidate in general (that’s a poor place to go on your first question in your first interview), and it sounds like she couldn’t meet a need this position had.

          And no, from a job and discrimination standpoint, there doesn’t have to be any difference between a commitment to a dependent and a commitment to a hobby. If I’m hiring for a job that requires a lot of travel on the weekends, I don’t have to accept an employee who can’t leave home on the weekends, whether it’s because of her golf career or her octuplets. Even if you’re talking about people in existing jobs, it’s a lot better if you cut people slack because it’s human to need it, and not because kids are worthy of slack but cousins/golf/pets/stamina limitations aren’t.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I don’t see discrimination here, either. This is what the job calls for, the candidate must be able to work random nights after 5 pm. She can’t. Therefore, she is not the person for the job.

    2. Meg Murry*

      Parenthood is not a protected class (at least at the federal level or in most states, it might be another “except in California” exemption.)
      I heard an NPR story a few years back about a woman suing a company in Pennsylvania when she interviewed and was told by the owner “I don’t hire women with young kids, they take too much time off work.” I dont think the case had been through court yet, but the legal experts on the show said they were going at it as a gender-discrimination claim, since the owner said “women with young kids” and he did employ men with young children. Apparently having a policy not to hire “people with young kids” would technically not be an EEOC violation, although it would be a pretty ridiculous blanket policy that could cost a company otherwise good employees.

  11. Another Teacher*

    The worst boss I had helped me (because I made an effort to learn) in a few ways:

    She was lazy and incompetent, as well as totally unmotivated in the area of professional development — I had to be proactive and ask for or create projects and professional development opportunities, giving me more responsibility and experience than I would have gained if I had a “good” boss.

    Her communications with staff and interdepartmental colleagues was unprofessional and inappropriate. She reminded me of Michael Scott from The Office without the heart and genuine love for her team — How did that help? It’s always useful to learn from bad behavior.

    She allowed our team to be plagued by gossip and passive-aggressive actions and communication — In my next job, which was unfortunately under the same kind of management, I avoided gossip and spun complaints into requests for help. For example, long-time staff members asked me, rather than our manager, for help with a new database. Gossip and pettiness are traps that perpetuate themselves, and it was freeing to know I could work within such a system without letting myself get dragged down (again) by it.

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