my interviewer was a distant cousin, telling my staff I’m job-searching, and more

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

1. My interviewer turned out to be a distant cousin

I recently went for an interview and spent half the time trying to figure out why one of my interviewers looked so familiar. It didn’t dawn on me until on the way home it was a distant cousin of mine. I see that side of the family once, maybe twice per year. I’m not sure at this point if he recognized me, either by my name or when I came in. However, we did call another relative to ask where he works to rule out the possibility of an eerie look alike, and they confirmed that was him.

I wouldn’t think twice if he was just on the interview panel, and considering it’s a family owned and operated business, I don’t think they would mind two cousins in the same office. However, he would be my boss. We aren’t close, so I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t want him to feel awkward. I was asked in for a second interview with someone else in the organization (all my correspondence has been with his coworker, so I haven’t talked to him directly aside from sending a post-interview thank you email). Should I disclose it? Should I contact him somehow and ask if he’s comfortable with this? I still don’t know at this point if he knows it’s me since we see each other so little.

Yes, you should disclose it. If the company is smart, they won’t want a relative directly managing another relative because of the possibility of bias or the appearance of favoritism. And you’re far better off disclosing it now and finding out whether it’s an issue, rather than finding out after you’re on the job that they consider it prohibitive.

Start with your relative. I’d send an email saying something like, “I can’t believe I didn’t connect the dots until after I left, but I just realized you’re Percival Montblanc’s son! My mother, Clarissa Plufferton, is his cousin. In fact, I think we might have spoken briefly at last year’s family luau! I’m not sure if this complicates my candidacy for the __ role, which I remain highly interested in, but I’d certainly understand if it does.”

2. When an employer requests references up-front

I came across a job listing that looks promising, but in addition to requesting a cover letter and resume, the employer is also requesting a list of three references. This appears to be standard HR procedure for outside applicants. Because I’m currently the only person on my team who does what I do, pretty much the only people who can speak to my skills are my current boss and boss’s boss. For obvious reasons, I don’t want to let them know that I’m job searching at such an early point in the process. But I don’t want to look like I can’t follow directions. Is there a graceful way to put off providing references?

You can write “to be provided after mutual interest,” which is a perfectly reasonable thing to say — but if you’re dealing with a company that’s rigid about its hiring processes, you risk them pulling you out of the running over it. This is a good time to figure out if anyone in your network has any connection to this company, because if you have a personal in, you can usually get this kind of thing waived. But if not, then yeah, you need to decide if you’re willing to risk them being misguidedly rigid on this.

3. Am I obligated to tell my staff members I’m job-searching?

I’m seriously thinking about leaving my company for a myriad of reasons, including bad work environment and better pay. I’ve developed a close relationship with my direct report and also share frustrations about the company. He confided that he’d like me to tell him if ever planned on leaving since that would affect him. Now that I’ve started interviewing and applying, am I betraying him by not sharing this with him? I want to keep my job search secret but value our friendship and don’t want to seem like I’m stabbing him in the back. Are director-level employees obligated to tell their direct reports under them if they are actively job searching?

No, there’s no obligation to do that and people don’t generally do it. On the other hand, if you promised him that you would, then you’re in a bit of a bind (so hopefully you didn’t promise that).

For what it’s worth, sharing frustrations about your company with the people who work for you is generally not a good idea. You’re leading by example whether you want to or not, and that’s a pretty quick way of compromising the role you have with your company.

4. After an interview, a company asked if I’d be interested in a different position

I interviewed with a company recently and they got back to me via email a few days later, asking me if I would be interested in a different position without referencing the position we discussed in my first interview. I am not sure if I would consider this new position and I was really excited about the first position.

Does this mean I am no longer being considered about opportunity #1? Should I mention it when responding to the email or would this make me appear uninterested in position #2?

It might mean you’re no longer being considered for job #1, but it might just mean that they’re considering you for both. It’s reasonable to say something like, “I’d certainly be interested in learning more about (#2), but I’m especially interested in (#1). Are you still considering me for that one as well?”

5. We’re required to use PTO for our days off

I work three 12-hour shifts a week and get paid for 40 hours. So for example, if one week I work Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I have already satisfied my 40 hours to my company so Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are my days off. My company, however, requires that if we are unavailable to our company on our days off (to pick up extra shifts if needed) then we need to take those days off as PTO days. This is ridiculous to me. If I’ve already worked three days (my 40 hours) and then want to go out of town for the following four days, why do I have to use PTO? That’s like saying for those who work M-F and want to go away for the weekend, they would need to take the Saturday and Sunday as PTO days. I would appreciate your thoughts.

Yes, that’s absolutely ridiculous. Your employer sucks.

It’s possible that this would violate labor law in a state like California, which treats PTO as earned compensation. You could check with your state department of labor (or an employment attorney in your state) to find out for sure.

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. Graciosa*

    The employer in #5 is ridiculous, unless they provide an absurd amount of PTO (like 920 hours a year = 365×8-2000).

    What happens if you don’t take the PTO?

    I ask, because if you are required to be available and on-call, you may need to be compensated for it.

    Personally, I would just not be available.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      The employer is absurd.

      However, the way I read it is that the employee only has to take PTO if they declare themselves unavailable for extra shifts on that day off. So, theoretically, the employee would never have to take PTO days unless they were to go out of town and really not be available to pick up work.

      I’ve never done or managed shift work. Maybe it’s not crazy to do something to encourage availability but that’s just nuts. I’d think the availability of over time would be incentive enough to have some staff willing to work when needed + what about a positive incentive of extra rewards to people who meet x% availability throughout the year.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But doesn’t it mean that they never have a real weekend — can’t make plans with any confidence, even to just see a movie or whatever — unless they take PTO?

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          So, if they’re obligated not only to be within commuting distance to the office but also to be reachable by phone, doesn’t that make them on-call? Otherwise I might just go out of town and not answer my cell phone. And I know people who can easily nap for 2-3 hours in the afternoon, so turning off your ringer if you’re going to the movies could be explained like that.

          Normally I wouldn’t advocate lying, but when an employer is taking advantage of the power they have over employees like that, I’d consider it only a little morally ambiguous to tell a plausible lie, one that might well have happened on any given day. Actually, it’s easier to just tell them you went to the movies and “didn’t hear the ringer”…you don’t have to tell them that it wasn’t that the movie was loud, it was that the ringer or phone was off!

        2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Sure, and I don’t mean to minimize the crappiness. Whether or not they can see a movie, I guess depends on how being called in actually works. Is it “need you for a 12 hour, show up in one hour” or is it “we’re going to need you an extra day this week, wait, you can’t do it? Okay well you’ll have to take a PTO day for that extra day we need you, that we’re telling you about somewhat in advance, that you can’t accommodate us on”

          The second scenario is slightly less ridiculous.

          My son #1 does restaurant work and doesn’t get any PTO but his life is mostly like the second scenario. He can only say he’s not available for certain days occasionally, and he does need to be open for call ins, but he can mostly plan around the schedule he’s given at the beginning of the week and count on when he is off.

      2. Bea W*

        Between my experience and the experience of everyone else I have ever known who done shift work, and including my own employer (certain divisions like manufacturing are operational 24/7) – NO ONE DOES THIS. You are either off or you are on call, and for the life of me I have never heard of someone having to use PTO to get out of an on call day. They do have to find coverage for the on call day if they really don’t want to be on call while on a trip or something, but you don’t use PTO for that. That’s insanity. #5 employer is doing it wrong.

    2. BRR*

      That’s an interesting point if they are saying you need to use PTO then it might cross a certain threshold for being on call (I’m thinking specifically of the case earlier this year about Lady Gaga’s assistant about being compensated for being on call).

      Also do people get regularly called for other shifts? Everywhere I worked the company doesn’t seem to have it in their budget for OT (unless they just want you to work 4 hours). If you get a ridiculous (and I mean ridiculous and there’s probably no way they give you that much) amount of PTO just take it.

    3. Noelle*

      Yes, this is really bizarre. My sister is a nurse and works a similar schedule, but on days she doesn’t work she is either on call (and paid for it) or actually having a day off (and no need to use PTO).

    4. JMegan*

      My ex-husband is a an army reservist, and he has to use PTO if he wants a guaranteed day off. So while normally he could assume that he would have (for example) next Saturday off, there’s always a chance that he could be called in for something. So if he actually *needs* to have that particular Saturday off, he does have to book it off and use annual leave.

      I assume that #5 is talking about a civilian job, but it sounds like the principle is the same. Is this the type of job where you’re likely to be called in at a moments notice, to cover a shift, handle an emergency, etc? I’m thinking something like hydro workers or snow plow operators, where you don’t always know when it’s going to get super busy all of a sudden.

    5. The IT Manager*

      The military has these rules (pretty much exactly*), but I have never heard of them being applied in a civilian company. This doesn’t sound right/legal. Legally, it sounds a lot like being on call which **could legally** require some pay depending on where you are, but the company may have worked out a way that it is legal. In addition to the military there may be some jobs where this could make sense (snow-plow operator), but at most civilian jobs this seems unfair and very likely to burn through PTO very quickly unless there’s a very large bucket of it. Frankly a huge perk of a job like this is the long weekends and I would think that for a lot of people the ability to travel on those long weekends would be a big draw which offsets the difficulty of 12 hour work days.

      * Christmas and the Day after Christmas is a holiday – don’t come to work, but if you are planning on leaving town you must take leave even if you expect to not miss any work. Which BTW completely favors married military members whose immediate family lives with them versus single members whose immedaite family likely lives very far away, and must take leave for a family Thanksgiving or Christmas. But of course the military pays married members more money than single members BY LAW so this is minor in comparison.

      1. Anonylicious*

        Well, if married servicemembers leave town for the holidays, they have to take leave, too. It’s a personnel accountability issue, and also, if you stay local and don’t take leave, there’s nothing preventing them from calling you in if something comes up. A good command won’t do that on a federal or training holiday unless it’s truly urgent, though.

        The whole compensation of single versus servicemembers with dependents is an entirely different issue, and a very complicated one. It’s obviously important that people be able to support their families, but it does tend to create an incentive for young joes to get married when they aren’t really ready to. That + the stress of the military lifestyle on families does a lot to explain why almost everyone I know has at least one divorce in their past. Also, it sucked being an E-5 living in the barracks because my unit didn’t authorize BAH for single soldiers until you hit E-6. Plus my BAS automatically went to a DFAC I never ate at. It rankles, I know, but “fair” doesn’t always factor in.

        Back to the original point, I don’t think you can compare military availability requirements with civilian ones. A fundamental part of military service is giving up a lot of control of how you spend your time.

    6. LoFlo*

      I would think that sooner or later your employer would recognize the extra cost of paying above employees’ FTE if you were in a use it or lose it shop.

  2. Mike C.*


    Something similar happened to me, though a bit more drastic. I was told halfway through the interview that the lab monkey job I was interviewing for was filled, but asked if I would be ok calibrating equipment instead. It was the start of the recession, and it was a lateral move so I took it.

    And that’s how you get into a niche field like Quality Assurance. So if the jobs are pretty much the same to you, go for it.

      1. Julie*

        My dad somehow did but we have to watch him. He’s now a serial business owner. He owned a car shop, then an ebay business he sold to a supplier, then his old QA job offered him a place back. He fell back into QA for about a year but he’s been clean and sober after quitting QA (for good he says) and went back to owning a car shop/used car lot and working as a real estate owner/broker. I think he has to own so many businesses to fill the QA hole in his life. I’m worried he will be drawn back into the life before retirement. I’ll stage an intervention if it gets bad.

      2. Mike C.*

        Well that’s good to hear, because I really enjoy the work! If nothing else, you can go between lots of different industries. I started in food safety and am now in aerospace.

        1. Cherry Scary*

          Can I ask how you got into QA? (this may be too off topic) I interviewed for a QA position while in college. I had originally applied for a writing position, but what I learned about the QA role really interested me (this was in software.) What skills do you need? Is there some background that is preferred?

          1. Jen RO*

            Two answers in one: I work in a company that makes financial software; all our QA analysts need a financial background (major in finance, usually), and many of them do move out of QA and other positions (mostly business analyst at other software companies or in banks, or professional services).

          2. Mike C.*

            It was exactly as I described it above – calibrating equipment leads to dealing with the certification paperwork and audits and so on. I don’t know the software world all that much but for me it was really all about working in an regulated (cGMP/ISO 17025/etc) environment. I also think having a background in math helped as well. I’ve moved into more of a research/metrics/process improvement role.

          3. Clever Name*

            One QA guy I know is a mech engineer working for a construction company. One project needed a QA guy, so he filled in. Turns out he was pretty good, and now they put him on QA when new projects come up.

          4. Bea W*

            I think the background you need depends on the industry. So as Jen says, their QA people need a financial background. For Mike, I suspect he had to have some experience with lab equipment to get that job. The head of the QA dept at my last job had a legal (JD) and experience in the industry. A friend of mine does network QA, and although for some reason they are part of the finance department in the company, the people doing that work need to have sysadmin type experience.

        2. QualityControlFreak*

          It can be addictive…. I started in military logistics/supply chain and ended up in workforce training. And yes, I’ve tried to quit, but I’m afraid our board and management are a bad influence. They wouldn’t let me. Enablers!

  3. Mike*

    Sometimes I complain about the employment laws in California and then I see things like #5 and am really glad for them.

    1. Graciosa*

      My personal one-reason-to-wish-I-worked-in-California is vacation accrual. All the large companies decided to get this liability off their books by implementing use-it-or-lose-it-in-the-same-year policies (except in California).

      Would it really be so terrible to let employees roll over some vacation? I would like to travel in January to one particular destination but will never have enough banked unless I move.

      At more than one large employer, we’ve lost defined benefit pension plans, post-retirement health insurance, and all or part of 401k matching, while adding health insurance fines if your measurements or behavior don’t meet the company’s standards.

      With all that has been taken away, I would like to advocate for a corporate policy to follow California’s vacation accrual law throughout the United States.

      I hope that wasn’t too off topic, but I completely agree with your comment that the issue in #5 is a reason to appreciate California employment law.

      1. Mike*

        While CA doesn’t have a use-it-or-lose-it policy you can have a max accrual. You don’t lose anything you’ve accrued but you do stop accruing more. Thought that was some crafty rule wrangling.

        1. Clerica*

          When I hear about stuff like that, I always think of our students playing their exact-words games. “Well, you said three pages…you didn’t say they had to be 8.5×11 or that the margins couldn’t be 3 inches!” “You said all the even problems, but every problem had odd numbers in it!” “You said no talking! I’m just humming!” Well, wow, you got me. I…I’ve been gotten. You’re so smart. You’re also an ass, and no teacher here will never give you the same 120% they’ll give the student who doesn’t try to pull a Gotcha! at every turn. And you won’t know it, because they’re following the rules exactly as written!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The reasoning in California is that if you promise someone a benefit, it’s like compensation and must be paid to them; you can’t put an expiration date on it and say “too late, you didn’t claim it so we’re taking it back!” However, beyond that, employers can have whatever vacation accrual policies they want. If they want to say “you accrue at X rate, but you can’t have more than Y accrued at any one time because we want you to use the time and we don’t want the liability on the books,” that’s not crazy.

            Also, California law requires that accrued vacation time be paid out at your salary rate when you’re leaving the company, so even if it’s old vacation that you accrued two years ago at a lower salary, it’s getting paid out at at the higher rate you have now.

          2. AcademiaNut*

            I used to work in California, and the limit at my employer was pretty high – something like 80 days. And we did have a few people capping out and needing to use up their time. I can understand employers not wanting a sudden expense of half a year or more of salary for someone who is leaving the job and has never taken vacation.

        2. C Average*

          I’m in Oregon and we have that policy at my company, too. The cap is insanely high, though. It took me two years of NEVER taking PTO to reach it, and I’ve pretty much been there ever since. So have a lot of folks. We get paid six-week sabbaticals at the 10-year mark and then again every five years after that, and it’s pretty typical for people to tack on their full allotment of PTO and be gone for three months or more.

          To stay under the cap, a person would need to take about three weeks of vacation a year, and most of us take a day here or a long weekend there but don’t make a serious dent in our accrual.

          1. Mike*

            Most of the places I’ve been have had a 2 year accrual cap. Which in reality takes 3 or more years to reach. I did get close at one place which triggered the “you need to take some vacation” talks. But then I changed jobs and got almost a month’s salary.

          2. Chuchundra*

            We don’t have a cap, but if you have over 20 days on the cutoff date, which used to be mid-January and now is Mid-March, the excess goes away unless you get special dispensation. The idea here is that you’re supposed to take your vacation, not just bank it up.

            This didn’t used to be such a big deal because we used to stop operations from Thanksgiving until New Year’s, so that was a perfect time to burn up PTO without having to arrange coverage for your shifts. Now we’re pretty much constantly on shift, so 0ff days are more difficult to arrange. On top of that, policy here is if a shift workers scheduled off day falls on a paid holiday, the shift worker gets an extra V-Day.

            I have one co-worker who hasn’t taken any PTO in a couple years in expectation of cashing them out at retirement. If he doesn’t go by March 20th he’s going to lose 20+ days of vacation time.

          3. Wren*

            I think I know where you work. Do you have random statues that look like people were hit with a bronzing ray?

            1. C Average*

              Heh. Yes, we do. It’s a wacky but mostly fun place to work. Took forever to get a foot in the door here, but well worth the effort.

        3. Graciosa*

          True, but I think it’s 1.5x your annual vacation earned which is a huge improvement over nothing!

        4. gold digger*

          And they can get rid of earned PTO completely and just give you “unlimited” vacation. All the stress with none of the advantages (for the employee).

        5. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I agree that 100% use it or lose it is awful, but I don’t see a need to allow for indefinite accrual. Accrued vacation is a liability on your books, and it can be huge. Also, as I frequently remind our staff, we give generous PRO because we want you to be fresh, energetic, and balanced. When my staff don’t take vacation, they are grumpier, have short fuses, and are less productive. We have both a carry over limit and a max accrual, but are clear that the intention isn’t to take your time away, but to encourage you to take vacation (which works if you make it easy to take time off). Also, vacation accrual isn’t meant as a savings account for when you leave….I’m investing in your wellbeing now, not after your last day of work.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Also, vacation accrual isn’t meant as a savings account for when you leave….I’m investing in your wellbeing now, not after your last day of work.

            Yep, this is the way good employers look at it.

            (Good = actually let you use that vacation time.)

          2. Windchime*

            My company encourages people to take their PTO also (well, at least the IT department does; I hear that the people doing the work on the front lines have trouble getting coverage so it’s harder for them). We can carry over a year’s allotment plus 40 hours. Any hours over that limit must be cashed out at the end of the year. We have several people who have family in far-away places, so they like to take a small vacation one year and then use a ton of PTO the next year to go home and visit family. The PTO policy works really well for them.

          3. Mike*

            Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the caps. I just find the logic kinda funny “You aren’t losing anything you just don’t gain any more”

            1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

              Yes. The key is to help employees avoid this situation by encouraging them to plan adequate leave, and alerting them if they are approaching the limit.

      2. ThursdaysGeek*

        I think the best time to visit New Zealand is in February, the longest month in the frigid northlands. I would talk to your company — often if you can’t carry vacation over they will allow you to go into the hole as long as you’ll earn it by the end of the year. (If you leave the job before then, you’ll probably have to pay that back.) But if they know you want to take a vacation like that, it’s worth talking to management to see if there is a way to make it happen.

      3. Bea W*

        I missing being able to roll over. We do get access to all of our allotment for the next year on Jan 1 though, so that solved that problem. I use up all my vacation by Dec 31, and on Jan 1 I start fresh with 3 weeks (+some personal days and floating holidays).

    2. hayling*

      It is great to have this in California! I wrote in to Alison last year because my California employer had a use it or lose it policy, and I wanted to make a strong argument as to why it should change. Turns out that it was actually illegal! (Small business without an HR department, I don’t think he was deliberately violating the law.)

      Then again I worked in another state for a very established medium-sized business and our PTO rolled over. However you didn’t accrue any until you’d worked there 6 months, which was annoying – you had to hope you didn’t get sick in your first 6 months!

  4. Preston*

    #1. Every job I have applied for has asked if any family is employed there. Better disclose it.
    #2 Who asks for references?!?!
    #3 No, and if you are a good manager, your employees may jump ship too because they will be scared of who you get replaced with. Also they may beg you to take them with you… Of course if you suck then they might throw a party. So if you empty pizza boxes on your last day, think of it as a 360 feedback session.
    #4 Ask about job number two for sure.
    #5 Are you on call? I am guessing no, but thought to ask anyway.

    1. LQ*

      #3 Best boss I ever had I was incredibly sad to see her go, but I managed to get the day declared in her honor from the mayor and a great party was had. Party =/= suckage. Party can in fact mean that your staff are happy for you to move on to new opportunities.

    2. kozinskey*

      On #2, every attorney-level posting I’ve ever applied to has required references. Maybe that’s one of those things that varies by field?

    3. Mouse of Evil*

      #2: Asking for three references upfront is standard in higher ed these days. I don’t know whether it comes from HR or whether it’s the default in Taleo (ugh) or PeopleAdmin (double ugh) and they just don’t know how to change it. In my highly unscientific survey of higher-ed jobs, I’ve noticed that the institutions that don’t use a commercial online application system are less likely to ask for references at the time of application.

  5. Sourire*

    #5. So do you have to notify them ahead of time if you’ll be unavailable and put in for the time off at that point, or do you only have to use the pto if they call that day and you are unavailable? Either way it’s ridiculous unless you are getting some type of on call pay or other compensation.

  6. OP #1*

    This was my question! My second interview happened before Alison got to my question, but it turns out he disclosed it before I had the chance to! He recognized my name on my resume, and they still decided to interview me. Right when I was about to mention something in my second interview, my interviewer asked me directly. I said yes, and said I was still interested but understood if they took me out of the running, because I wouldn’t want to make things uncomfortable for him. They had talked about it previously and he was comfortable with it so long as I was okay. It also helps that I wouldn’t solely be reporting to him, but a few people. They offered me the job on the spot, I accepted, and I start later this month!

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Congratulations! I can totally see something like that happen to me– I have a ton of distant cousins scattered all over the place, so I loved your question. Glad it worked out!

    2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I work directly with my first cousin– in fact, it was she who got me the job by letting me know about the open position and bringing me on as a temp in the meantime. In fact, she’s one of the specialists that I support. They’ve always made sure that she’s not my direct supervisor (so she doesn’t approve my time card or submit my performance evaluation, although she does provide input as I am her support staff), but it’s never been a problem. She does good work, I do good work, and everything is fine.

  7. Reburkle*

    #5 – My workplace has the same policy but…. I’m in Kazakhstan, so it’s not as wacky here, since everything is wacky. We’re also required to take all of our vacation days at once, otherwise I’d try to take vacations under a week long, for the most part, to avoid PTO spanning over a weekend.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      So, if you get 15 days of leave, then your vacation could be a Monday through a Monday 2 weeks following, and including 2 weekends? 4 days of your 15 are days you would have had off anyway?

  8. Eric*

    The one place I know with a policy like #5 is ths U.S. Military. If you are on leave Friday to Monday, that equals four days of leave.

    1. Jess*

      Sort of. If you already have the time off, like I’m this case, you can take a pass which isn’t charged as leave. However, yes, without the pass (or leave) you are required to be available.

      OP#5: Out of curiosity, how would your company handle it if they tried to call you in and you were unable to due to alcohol consumption? Does your company mandate that you remain sober on your days off?

    2. De Minimis*

      It’s that way for the Public Health Commissioned Corps employees where I work, but they are *technically* military so I guess that’s why.

          1. De Minimis*

            What I’ve seen is that they get people to volunteer to go when a health emergency is declared, and there is rarely a shortage of volunteers because working these assignments is a big part of determining raises and promotions. This past year we had some people go to the border to help out with the children from Central America, and I believe one of our pharmacists went to Africa to help out with Ebola response.

            There’s a big divide between the civilian and USPHS employees for my agency, I think it’s an ongoing tension that will never be resolved. The Corps people get way better pay and benefits [often getting raises when civilian salaries remain flat], but do the exact same jobs–they get more because in theory they could be deployed for an emergency or forced to relocate, but in practice it just doesn’t happen that way. At least in our agency it’s an outdated thing and I think they will gradually be phased out.

  9. Andrew*

    Is this the only job #2 has had? It’s not unusual to ask for references up front, but unless he’s new to the workforce, he should have other potential references he can use.

    1. Tenley*

      I’ve never had a potential employer ask for references upfront — I’m not sure it’s common at all (unless it would be for service jobs, maybe, or other jobs where they ask on the application itself and generally don’t require resumes etc.).

      1. Clerica*

        I was employed during most of the transition time when applying for jobs changed from mail/fax to pretty much exclusively online. I noticed when I had to start applying that it was rare to see a legitimate-looking (i.e. the kind you don’t immediately hit the Back button on) job listing that didn’t want both a resume and an application. I know my current employer does this so they can automatically reject based on certain responses and also so they can track applicants at all stages for compliance issues, which they couldn’t do if it was resume-only. We’re something like the third largest employer in the state, though, so if someone is mainly applying at small employers their experience might be different. I know people have brought that up here a lot as one of the royal pitas of job-searching, all the work you have to put in before even finding out whether the position would be good for you.

      2. Helena*

        In my field – libraries – this is often a requirement, and seems to be something asked for a lot in higher ed, too.

      3. TheLazyB*

        It’s standard in the UK, for anyone who’s here (at least in the public sector -maybe not the private sector?).

    2. Apollo Warbucks*

      That’s a good point, he might be able to offer an alternative set of references but the company might want to speak to the ops current manager for the most recent information and also depending on the op’s job history it might not be possible to use someone else, despite a having decent work history I’ve only had two jobs in the same industry so it would have be hard to provide a meaning reference without using my boss at the time.

    3. LBK*

      Really? I’ve been job hunting lately and haven’t seen a single listing that asked for them up front before you’ve even made it to the interview stage.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Eh, we do it sometimes if we are planning on a quick hiring process so that we don’t have to wait to hear back from candidates later. Sometimes a candidate will say in their interview that they provided x references initially, but that at this point they want to change or add to their list. That is fine. But OP, you really do need to have some references that aren’t with your current employer if at all possible, even if they are from unrelated jobs. There is still useful info to be gained from talking with past supervisors. Unless you really trust your boss, you may never want references called until you have an offer in hand, and some companies won’t make an offer without references (we usually check references for our final two or three, and we aren’t going to make three offers). Unless this is the first job you’ve ever had, it would be best to expand your list. I always try to get candidates to give me references from a minimum of two different employers, and I’ve been glad I did this more than once.

    4. OP 2*


      Nope, I’ve been in the professional workforce for eight years and have applied for many jobs over that time. Some ask for references up front, some wait. The main issue is that I’m in a bit of a unique spot at the moment. I’ve always used senior coworkers as references, but none of my coworkers is senior to me now except my bosses, and only one of them can really speak to the quality of my work. It’s more an issue of struggling to find three awesome references than having a problem with the policy.

    5. Ella*

      I starting seeing this a few years ago which always made me uncomfortable. Some listings didn’t even mention the company the job was for but yet you are asking me to give you other people’s contact information? I was wondering if this was becoming the new norm but I do see it less now. Maybe employers were really taking advantage of the job market and getting this upfront to streamline in some way? I haven’t sent them, I’m sure my references wouldn’t want their info out there like that. I wondered if this was a way for headhunters to get info as well.

      I’m so glad I found this blog. It’s tough looking for work with these kind of crazy ass requests and I feel good seeing others have the same WTF reactions I do :)

      1. mh_ccl*

        Re: #2… When I was job hunting for Current Job, I found a company that wanted three LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION with your application. Not just references, but they wanted me to ask three people to write generic letters for me. It wasn’t an entry-level position, and it wasn’t a shiny new company created by people who don’t know how to manage hiring. It was just a bizarre requirement. I applied without the letters, and they called to remind me to have them sent. I managed to dodge the request since I was out of state on a business trip at the time, and successfully got to the interview stage. I took myself out of the running when I got my offer from Current Job. IIRC, they ended up just hiring one of their interns (not the 5-10 years experience they were looking for).

    6. Audiophile*

      I’ve seen many jobs lately ask for references up front. I have a ready made document to attach. I’ve never had any called without being interviewed and without being notified by the potential employer up front. It doesn’t come off as that odd to me. I just assume they want a list in case they’re moving quickly.

    7. Dulcinea*

      I have seen the request for references up front several times in law, particary for fed jobs. I honestly think in some cases it is not because they are going to actually call the references, but because they want to see if the people vouching for you are prestigious/well- known. So basically it’s a name dropping competition.

  10. Clerica*

    For OP #5, how much PTO do you have to use? Say you work M-W and they try to call you in literally every other day that week–would you theoretically have to use 48 hrs of PTO? Also, if you worked M-W and they called you in Thursday for a 12-hour shift, do you get paid for 48 hours that week or 40? If so, is the extra 8 hours overtime or are you exempt?

    Just curious. The only way I could see the policy making sense is if we were talking about one extra 4-hour shift that they expected you to do now and again. I could see where if everyone gets paid for 40 hours to only work 36, occasionally they’d want you to work the extra 4 hours.

    I have to wonder what happens when someone exhausts their PTO. Say you get 10 days a year. You take a (God forbid) vacation and have a couple illnesses. If you’re in the medical field you’re not allowed to come to work sick, so that could add up faster than other jobs. So, you’re out of PTO. Next time they call you in, there’s nothing to take. So if the policy was meant to be an incentive to be available, it failed.

  11. Anon Accountant*

    OP3- our receptionist and 1 of the partners are friends and from their actions it appears their friendship is more important than company interests. Not saying that’s true in your case but please be wary of how these situations can appear or come back to bite you later.

    1. Natalie*

      Eh, distant cousins and friends are a different animal, I think. I have met some of my second and third cousins, and my relationship with them isn’t any more biased than my relationship with people I went to elementary school with or worked with at Best Buy 15 years ago.

  12. Helen*

    #2: For what it’s worth, I’ve never heard of an employer actually checking references until the very latest stage, after at least one interview. Nonetheless, I don’t provide them up front, because I’m not comfortable sharing my references’ contact information with people I haven’t met. (If I gave their info to every employer I’ve applied to in the past year….yikes.) If it’s asked, I say something like, out of consideration to my references, their contact information will be shared at a later stage.

  13. AnotherHRPro*

    #3: I would add that just because you are actively looking does not mean you are leaving. You do not know what is going to happen and it is possible that you may still be at your employer for some time. I would not tell your direct report until you are definitely leaving (i.e., received and accepted an offer).

    I would also recommend that you take Alison’s advice to heart regarding not venting to your direct reports. If and when you leave this position and start over with a new team, remember that as a leader your role is more than just “getting the work done”. You are representative of your company and should be leading by example. I understand the temptation to vent to someone, but it should never be your direct reports. You should be working to help make their work environment as good as possible and no one wants to hear that their boss is miserable. It could make you lose faith in leadership and question your position with the company.

  14. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP #3 is very much a know-your-relationship-WELL type of thing. I’ve been on both sides of it. I once told a boss that if he ever left, he better take me with him, and he confided once that he’d been headhunted and he was thinking about it. He even asked me and a co-worker for our advice. He ended up not taking the job even though we encouraged him to do it, and it didn’t affect our relationship. On the other side, I had an “unofficial” direct report (the unofficial thing was one of the reasons I left) who would discuss her issues with me, as was appropriate, and when my job search got serious, I told her that if I left, I would lobby hard for her to take over some projects I know she wanted. I trusted her and she trusted me, and it didn’t backfire on us– I did lobby for her and it didn’t have much impact, but she absolutely knew that I did everything I could for her. She is finally (FINALLY) looking to get out of that company and asked me to be her reference.

    I don’t think OP #3’s promise can be considered iron-clad; in her place, I wouldn’t say anything until there’s a pretty solid chance she’ll get an offer, but I would tread very carefully.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have seen this type of thing, also.

      No, I don’t think that your promise is set in stone, either, OP. But I do think that you are wondering how to settle your feelings on the inside.

      You can go back and say to the person that you should not have said that and you are retracting the statement. A little awkward, but you can say, you want to be fair and be truthful therefore you realized that you should not have said that. Probably this person will understand. I have seen people do this and it landed in an okay place- not great but not awful.

      Or you can just forget about it. When you hand in your notice just tell her that it came up suddenly and you did not have a chance to say anything. (Which might be true, we don’t know how this will play out.)

      My go-to in difficult work situations is to make general comments that are pretty obvious, such as “It’s in anyone’s best interest to keep an eye on what is going on with employment and job openings. It’s always a good idea to know what is out there. I read the ads from time to time just to be familiar with companies, openings and rates of pay. I think everyone should do that.”

      And I have had people really complain up a storm about the work place. It took a bit, but I finally landed on, “We are all in the same boat, working under the same rules. It is what it is. We have to find a way to work with it.” I used this when there is no sense in denying a certain thing is stupid, because it is far-out stupid, above and beyond normal levels of stupid. Some things you cannot paste a happy face on it- it’s just too far-fetched.

    2. the_scientist*

      I don’t know; I don’t find the OP talking about this to his direct report to be as problematic as others seem to. My former manager told me that she was looking for a job (actually, at the time she told me, it was more than looking- she was on to a second interview). The reason she mentioned it is because she witnessed our boss sort of awkwardly corner me and try to get me to promise that I wasn’t going to leave. At least, I think that was the intent; the whole thing was extremely awkward especially as I’d already had two (ultimately unsuccessful) interviews. It’s an extremely small place; our mutual frustrations with the program were very clear and had been discussed in the context of trying to problem-solve. This manager is someone who has been and I’m sure will continue to be a fantastic mentor to me, so maybe this disclosure was a calculated risk on her part but I didn’t see it as being problematic at all (and she obviously trusted me to be discreet about it). Probably a know your relationship thing, as you said.

  15. AnonieGirli*

    #4 – this happened to me. However, the position I applied for was entry level and the company felt my skills actually were better suited for a mid level opening (which was a huge surprise since I’m fairly new to the professional work world). I’d definitely find out more about job #2 – is it a lateral position or is it a higher level? Let them know of your continued interest of job #1, but explore the possibility of job #2.

  16. Katie the Fed*

    #3 – you can either be friends with your direct reports or you can be their boss. You can’t effectively be both. It’s hard, especially when you have great people on your team, but that’s reality. The two can’t mix. You can be friendly, but not friends.
    I virtually guarantee you that if your direct report ever found his livelihood threatened, he wouldn’t hestitate to throw you under the bus and use anything you’ve told him to bolster his case. It happens all the time. Things you’ve said or written can be taken out of context and used against you. And fundamentally, it makes it harder for you to do your job – you can’t effectively manage someone your friends with. They might be a good worker but what about the day you have to enforce a terrible policy? Your loyalty is with the company, not your friend.
    Please put some healthy distance in there.

  17. Fabulously Anonymous*

    #5 – my mother once had a position that did something similar. I can’t remember the details, but it was something like, they scheduled her for every day and if she wanted a day off, even a weekend, she had to request it.

    It’s not as crazy as it sounds though. It was a work from home job and some of the days she was scheduled to be an alternate, so they paid her to sit at home and be available, but often the phone never rang. I think the accrual was 1:1, so for every day she worked she accrued a day of PTO. She often worked two weeks straight, no weekends, then took one whole week off. Or she’d bank it and take a month off (which was allowed).

    And of course, she knew all this before she accepted, so it wasn’t sprung on her.

    1. Artemesia*

      The difference from the OP is that they were paying her for the time i.e. she was actually working or actually on paid ‘on call’. In this case, the company is trying to own every day of the employees life but not paying for that time.

  18. AnonEMoose*

    Related to OP #1 (congratulations on the new job!), I’m wondering at what point do you consider someone a relative, or not? If it’s parent-child, sibling, first cousins or something like that, it’s pretty obvious. But in the OP’s situation, where the relationship was described as a “distant cousin,” is it at all different?

    I’m not at all close to some of my first cousins, for example – I honestly might not recognize them if I passed them on the street. And then my late grandparents had siblings who also had children and grandchildren, etc. We’re technically related, but again not at all close. I’m not sure I’d even recognize all of the names if I saw them on a resume.

    So what would be some reasonable guidelines for this situation? If it’s someone you know is a relative and may see semi-regularly at family events, does that matter more than the exact degree of biological or familial (in the case of step-families or similar) relationship? Does it ever not matter at all?

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I was curious, so I checked our policy manual. Disappointed to see that it only says “relatives” and does not actually define relatives. However, it only specifies that one relative cannot directly supervise another relative, so there are still plenty of opportunities to work together. Personally, I would not want to supervise any relative, even my husband’s second cousins once removed that I’ve never met. Too much weirdness with having to discipline or fire them, or even knowing what they make.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        I don’t think I’d have a problem supervising someone like that, because I’d know them as a co-worker and probably would never know they were my husband’s second cousin once removed. If I’ve never met a relative, then aren’t they just another person?

        1. AnotherAlison*

          Eh, it probably depends on the family. While my own first cousins aren’t even much to me personally, it seems the oldest generation (my mom, my dad’s mom, husband’s mom) maintains all those distant relationships. *I* wouldn’t care about firing cousin Susie, but Aunt Thelma might, and if Aunt Thelma cares, then my MIL cares. . .I am one who has spent a great deal of effort trying to fix ‘boundary issues’ with my immediate family though, so maybe I care more than a normal person does. : )

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I was wondering the same thing. It seems like there should be a common sense limit on who is “family”. I’ve got tons of friends I’d be terribly uncomfortable supervising, but many distant family members I hardly have any connection to.

      1. Natalie*

        Of course, everyone’s family is a little different as far as how well you know people that are distantly related to you. I have a close relationship with one of my father’s first cousins (first cousin once removed to me), but on my mom’s side I have first cousins that are 25 years younger than me and I’ve essentially never met.

        1. De Minimis*

          I checked our manual too…we give a pretty clear definition, and it does include first cousins. Basically all immediate family, stepfamily, half-siblings, first cousins, nieces/nephews, and in-laws….

          Selecting officials in general can’t hire or promote their relatives, with a few exceptions, though in many cases they can just get someone higher up who is a non-relative to approve it, at least for promotions.
          In theory, they should also avoid having a large group of relatives all working together, but the manual recognizes that this might not always be possible due to so many of our facilities being in isolated areas.

      2. Elsajeni*

        My organization’s policy does explicitly define “family members” as: the employee’s or their spouse’s parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings and half-siblings, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, aunts/uncles, nieces/nephews, first and second cousins, and anyone married to any of those people. Which I think is probably right at the outer limit of reasonable, or maybe even a little bit past the limit — I actually do know all of those people on one side of my family and would feel weird about supervising or being supervised by them, but my second cousins on my dad’s side, or anyone related to my husband? I wouldn’t recognize them if they came up and bit me.

        I think it’s an interesting policy question — “family” is the category that’s easiest to define, but like you said, a lot of people would be at least as uncomfortable supervising friends (or college roommates, ex-boyfriends, their mom’s best friend’s children, and other people with less quantifiable relationships than family members) as they would be supervising a cousin. How much of that can we define and specify in policy, and how much of it do we have to trust employees to use their own judgment on?

        1. Natalie*

          Or the reality of families given divorce. It sounds like my stepfather wouldn’t be considered a relative under your org’s policy (we have no legal relationship and he and my mother are divorced) but he has been a father figure in my life since I was born.

    3. Student*

      I think that there’s an employer side and an employee side to this.

      Employers need to set policies that will work for many people most of the time. They don’t have to cover everything – they can always make special exemptions or additional rules to address problems that fall outside the general policies. If only one employee in 1000 has a situation crop up where employee Sue is working for Second Cousin Fred , and it’s causing problems, it makes more sense to shuffle Fred and Sue’s duties/jobs than to make up a Second-Cousin Company Policy.

      Employees should make a best-faith effort to themselves, their family, and their employer to not put themselves in a bad situation. As an employee, if you consider a person to be your relative, then you ought to self-report that. In my personal opinion, you owe it to yourself, your relative, and your employer to not put yourself in a difficult position where you might have a conflict of interests. You may think that you could work with Second Cousin Fred just fine because you barely know the guy and only see him at the 5-year reunion. However, family dynamics can be surprising – if Grandma Mary suddenly starts pestering you to promote Fred because it would make a huge difference to Grandma Mary’s favorite grandchildren, you’re suddenly waist-deep in family and job politics.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      If I know I am even distantly related to someone, I would disclose that. Let TPTB decide if that is a big deal. I would rather front that news, than drop a surprise later on. Some places don’t care, in other places it’s a big deal, even if you don’t know the person well enough to spell their unusual name correctly.

  19. soitgoes*

    It sounds like the employer in #5 thinks that being generous with “salary” (giving 40 hours’ worth of pay for 36 hours of work) means that he can call on employees whenever he wants. Basically, he’s cherry-picking the aspects of exempt employment that work for his company, knowing that if the employees complain, their salaries will also be knocked down by 4 hours. I had a boss who did that. He thought that by being a little generous with money meant that we should be available to work our set office hours as well as “an extra 15 minutes” (ie two hours) here and there. It’s definitely sketchy, but OP needs to realize that by pursuing this, he might end up only being paid for 36 hours a week.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      That’s the impression I had, too. This employer thinks he is buying much more than what he is paying for.

  20. Biff*

    I’m actually rather wary of situation #4. I think it is becoming more common to write job descriptions that are better paid positions, with better sounding responsibilities and perks to loop in better-quality candidates when the actual job available is significantly less glamorous or appealing or well-paid. I base this on what I’m hearing on job forums and places like Ask A Manger. I think that there is probably a bait-and-switch post on Reddit’s r/jobs every day.

    It works like this — Wakeen’s Teapots need a Teapot Tester. They know that Teapot Testers have many of the same skills as teapot designers and that most of their Teapot Testers have stated an interest to be a Teapot Designer. So they write an ad for a Junior Designer that ‘nests’ the testing skills in with the design skills. The job ad looks mostly kosher, but there are a few out-of-place job requirements. People apply because they assume that it’s either boilerplate that didn’t get cleaned up as well as it should have, or that the company has designers oversee some of the testing — at any rate, candidates come up with a reasonable explanation and go on.

    The company gets candidates, tells them “oh, the Jr. Designer job is filled (because it was never open to begin with)” and then say that they are looking for Teapot Testers….

    It’s really dishonest and if I were ever in a position where I was getting this bait and switch (and it’s always from a more interesting, better paid, more flexible job to one with less flexibility, less interesting work with lower pay) I would probably turn it down on account of HATING this practice and wanting the practice itself to go away.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      This is a really good way of describing what happens.

      Years ago, I applied for a job. I could not tell from the job title what-all it entailed. So I asked. Well, the job required a person to do X. (Where X was a task that I cannot live with.) Trying to remain open-minded, I asked “On average of how much of my time per day would be tied up doing X?” Seventy five percent. No way. I apologized for tying up their time. As I headed toward the door, the lady was saying, “Aww, come back, we like you!” No way.

      It’s too bad, because they seemed nice. But if I had to do X all day long, part of me would wilt and die.

    2. soitgoes*

      My favorite (read: not my favorite!) is when the pay is listed as something like $10-13 per hour but everyone always starts at $10.

      1. Biff*

        Ooh, I don’t know if this is popular where you are looking, but I also often see DOE — this is code, unfortunately, for comically low pay. 10-13 DOE means you’ll start at 9.25. They’ll make up a reason you don’t even get to start at the BOTTOM of the range.

      2. Jennifer*

        I always assume it’s the bottom pay ranking and will always stay that way, since we don’t get raises any more.

  21. DavidYYZ*

    4. Recently started a new job in an industry that is brand new to me. I originally applied for an entry level position that didn’t require a degree (even though I have one) to simply get my foot in the door. The recruiter then contacted me and basically rejected me for the entry level position and told me to apply for a higher position that does require a degree and was the position I was hoping to work my way up to. So ended up getting the position I wanted from the get go.

    Although, another colleague that got hired at the same time originally applied for a different position within the company. They told her after the first interview that the position was filled but she could submit her candidacy to the position that we’re both working in now. She was open minded and needed a job so she did.

    So from my experience, this could mean that they’ve found a position that is a better match for your skill set, or that they found a stronger candidate for the position you applied for, but they like you as a person :)

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