my interviewer made me trudge for blocks in the snow with my luggage so she could get lunch

A reader writes:

I am hoping you can weigh in something that happened during a job interview.

I traveled out of state for an interview and incurred all the costs, like hotel and plane tickets, because the hiring manager told me that she really wanted me in the role and it seemed like a really great opportunity. The night before the interview, the manager told me I would be meeting with her and one other manager, so based on that information, I anticipated an interview with two people. I showed up to the interview with my luggage (since I was going to the airport right afterwards) and in professional clothes, only to find out that we were going to get lunch. The manager wanted a lunch item from a very specific place that was a few blocks away and wanted us both to walk over there together.

We walked in the snow for several blocks, with me carrying a rolling suitcase and two tote bags. Once we were there, I tried to find something on the menu for myself, but opted for water because of dietary restrictions. The rest of the interview consisted of me walking around with her, carrying my luggage, to various buildings on various blocks with no real information about the position, like where my office would be located, and no real information about the people I was meeting ahead of time.

I have replayed this over and over in my mind wondering what I could have done differently in this situation. I feel like I was not able to present the best version of myself because I felt dishelved walking around with luggage and fumbling around at the diner trying to find something to eat. At the same time, I wonder if my expectations of a job interview are in the wrong here. I wasn’t expecting someone to buy me a steak dinner, but shouldn’t a hiring manager at least offer a more neutral lunch option or take into consideration that someone has luggage with them before having them carrying it around the city? How much information should a hiring manager give about the interview? Should they alter the interview based on someone bringing luggage/traveling?

Yes, your interviewer was in the wrong here.

Sometimes plans do change. For example, they might have intended for you to have an in-office interview with two people but schedules changed, the other person was out or pulled into a different meeting, and the remaining interviewer had no other time in her day to get lunch. Ideally they would have explained the change to you, but it’s not a huge deal if they didn’t; in general, being able to roll with changes is a good thing, and lunch interviews aren’t inherently problematic.

But there are a few things that your interviewer did wrong here:
– Asking a job candidate to walk several blocks in the snow isn’t generally cool, especially when the person is in nice clothes.
– Upon seeing your luggage, she should have either immediately changed plans or suggested that you leave it in the office and return for it afterwards.
– She should have asked you whether the restaurant she had selected worked for you — and failing that, once she realized that you were stuck only able to order water, she should have apologized profusely and offered up a different plan.
– It sounds like she flubbed the interview conversation itself too, if you were left with no more information about the position than you had before the interview.

That said, once the situation started unfolding, there were a few things you could have done differently too:
– Once you realized your interviewer was going to drag you out for lunch, you could have asked to leave your luggage in her office so you weren’t having to carry it around. That’s a totally reasonable request to make.
– You could have spoken up with your own questions about the job. In an interview where you’re not getting time to ask your own questions, it’s absolutely okay to say, “I’d be really interested in learning more about X — can you tell me more about that?” Or “I have a few questions about the role and the company. Is now a good time for that?”

To be clear, I’m not blaming you for not doing these things — it’s hard to get this stuff right in the moment, and the power dynamics that many job candidates feel in interviews can really mess with your ability to know how to speak up.

As for what to do from here, well, you’ve got some interesting information about the person who would be your boss if you took this job: She’s not particularly considerate and she seems like she might be self-interested to the point that she’s willing to actively inconvenience others when she’s in a position of power. Don’t take that lightly in thinking about what it would be like to work for her.

{ 206 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick

    Aaaaaand it’s Wednesday!

    OP, my sympathies. Especially since you shelled out money for this mess.

    1. Just Another Techie

      I love Wednesdays around here.

      OP, this was just bizarre behavior and there’s no need for you to feel bad about it. Allison is spot on in saying this is useful information about how your would-be manager behaves.

    2. TeapotCounsel

      +1 on the WTF Wednesdays. The 5 answers to 5 questions posted earlier didn’t satisfy the WTF requirement, but it’s satisfied now. Thanks, OP.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I know WTF Wednesdays were not going to be a thing, but apparently they’ve taken on a life of their own. And there are so many WTFs out there to choose from, apparently!

  2. JoJo

    I got nuttin’. I just find it completely bizarre that they expected you to tramp through the slush in good clothes while dragging your luggage with you, I can’t even think of a snarky remark.

    1. dejavu2

      That’s where I’m at, too. If OP doesn’t get the job, just as well. If OP gets an offer, she should enjoy turning it down. There’s no way I would work for these clowns.

  3. The Strand

    This is actually great news, think of it this way. After this interview, you know you don’t want to work for this company or this person in particular, and that you have one more way of identifying a jerk in the wild.

    1. kozinskey

      I feel bad for OP that they had to shell out for all the travel expenses, though. I would be bitter about the experience.

      1. AdAgencyChick

        +1.

        Especially especially because the hiring manager was eager to bring OP in, but not eager enough to shell out for travel expenses. Something tells me this hiring manager was thoughtless enough not to have Skype-interviewed first, so as not to waste OP’s time and money if there were early indications it wasn’t a good match.

      2. Celeste

        +1 After all that, it doesn’t even sound like much of an interview, unless the position was for winter pack mule.

      3. The Strand

        I would too, please don’t mistake me. But to rebuild my self-esteem after dealing with a crappy person like that I’d look for ways I could make the most of what was a horrible experience – like thinking about all the people I will entertain or even help with that crazy story of the worst job interview I ever had.

        And believe me, OP, sharing your story, you will help people – people who have never dealt face on with such inconsideration, and wouldn’t know how to react to it. Now they’ll know. Just like I learned so much from that crazy story about the multiple contestants I mean job candidates for the teeth charity who had to cook dinner and entertain the board of directors.

    2. Anonymous Educator

      OP definitely dodged a bullet. Sometimes you have a really slick-talking interviewer who “connects” with you, and you get all excited, and then you find out the position or the company is all messed up. It’s definitely better to know all this up front.

      I fully agree with Alison on it not being the interviewee’s fault, but there are definitely ways to avoid/mitigate this situation in the future. I don’t know if this was feasible in terms of travel convenience/pricing, but (given a choice, which may not exist here) I probably wouldn’t time my interview to be right before my flight leaves.

      I’ve done out-of-town, cross-country interviews before and, for my sanity (snow/luggage or not) I like to have the interview day just be the interview day. I don’t want to worry about it running over and potentially missing my flight or, in the case of the OP, having to lug luggage around during the interview. For example, if my interview is on a Monday, I’ll fly in Saturday or Sunday and then plan to fly out either a red-eye Monday night (if I really have to be back Tuesday for work) or fly out Tuesday morning. That way, I can check out of my hotel early, leave the luggage at the hotel (they usually let you do this, even after you’ve checked out), go to my interview, relax there (as much as possible), and then go back to the hotel later, grab some dinner, and then take my time getting to the airport.

      1. MK

        Your solution, though, drives up the costs considerably. No matter if the candidate or the company is paying, they probably don’t want to pay for possibly two extra nights at the hotel. And flight times are rarely all that convenient, especially if you are not close to a major airport.

        I agree, though, that the departing flight shouldn’t be right after the interview, if at all possible.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            That’s certainly true, but it’s worth pointing out the option for people who can afford it.

            I think we sometimes tend to fall into discouraging solutions that won’t work across the board, but just because something won’t work for 100% of people doesn’t mean it’s not worth suggesting for others.

        1. LBK

          This is addressed twice in the comment though:

          I don’t know if this was feasible in terms of travel convenience/pricing, but (given a choice, which may not exist here) I probably wouldn’t time my interview to be right before my flight leaves.

          No, it’s not possible for everyone, but if it is it’s something to consider – or to consider if it’s worth trimming your budget in other places in order to preserve your sanity while job hunting, even if you wouldn’t normally be able to swing it.

        2. PlainJane

          True, but it also gives you a chance to check out the area and be sure it’s somewhere you would want to live. An extra night or two of lodging is a bargain compared to the cost of relocating, only to find out you can’t stand it and want to move again.

      2. Person of Interest

        When staying multiple nights is not an option financially, I do try to build enough time between interview and flights to either drop off or pick up my luggage at the hotel and avoid bringing it with me – hotels are always happy to accommodate storing luggage for the day even before/after you have checked in/out.

    3. Magda

      Yes – the waste of OP’s time and money is a real jerk move on the hiring manager’s part. But this is definitely a bullet dodged.

  4. Snarkus Aurelius

    Ugh. Don’t take the job. None if this is your fault.

    I wish interviewers would recognize there’s extreme power differential. There’s so little to judge a candidate on that every minute thing can be a big deal. (I remember once getting automatically disqualified from a job because I said I was “willing” to do admin tasks even though that’s not what the job was. I was 23 and new to interviewing, but I still don’t see why my phrasing was a big, pearl clutching deal. Interviewer had a fit!)) Candidates are usually reluctant to ask for things lest they come off as a prima donna.

    That coupled with the fact she was so unprepared, insensitive, and clueless makes me think this is a bad fit. Seriously who doesn’t talk about a job in the interview and where all did she take you?! Did she do her errands or something? What did she talk about?

    1. INTP

      Out of curiosity, what was the problem with what you said? Should you have been unwilling to do the admin tasks or should you have been thrilled rather than just willing? You know it’s WTF when other people can’t even figure out the problem, lol.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        I think they thought I thought those tasks were beneath me. The job was for an entry-level policy assistant at a think tank.

        A temp agency hooked me up with an interview so when the interview was done, I returned to the temp agency. By the time I got there, everyone was so serious and my recruiter’s boss was there. It was all, WHAT DID YOU SAY TO THEM?! Truthfully I’d forgotten at first and then I didn’t understand what was wrong with the word “willing.” I don’t even remember the explanation if there was one. I never hid the fact I was ambitious and I feel like they were expecting someone to be jumping for joy over collating.

        Ever since then, I’ve always watched my word choice. Being on the other side of things, I realize the less someone knows about you, the more the small things matter. I could totally see myself not wanting to ask if I can leave my luggage at their office.

        Of note: this think tank was the polar opposite of my political preference and intern experience, but I didn’t know who they were at the time. This was before the internet and Google. I wonder if they were just trying to get rid of me.

        1. The Strand

          Another suggestion – are you perhaps female? Because that kind of overreaction over a single word, I still think happens more to women than to men. You can have your hand slapped for being too passive and not asking for what you want; but if you’re too uppity and direct, you’re viewed as too hungry (for power, maybe small island nations).

          And I’m also wondering if this was a very extreme think tank, either one where the culture was super authoritarian – we’ll not only tell you what to do but to Like It… or more of a dysfunctional collective where everyone is supposed to be egalitarian and devoted to the movement, where any lack of excitement over scut work indicates you think you’re one of the elite. I am thinking of a non-profit a friend of mine worked for for several miserable years where they were expected to work on holidays and called at all hours of morning or night (for no reason: it wasn’t a crisis center or anything like that) and any attempt to set boundaries by staff members was a “Who do you think you are? You’re not sufficiently committed to the movement!” moment.

          1. Snarkus Aurelius

            You are correct.  I am female.  I’m normally sensitive to gender issues in the workplace, but I never considered it in that incident.  I think you might have a point.  Two women interviewed me and maybe one of them was an admin?  I can’t remember their job titles.

            Without giving too much away, it could be considered an extreme think tank that’s backed by two pretty well-known individuals.  In DC, some think tanks disguise their extreme partisanship, and this one was no different.  When I got the background information (remember no Internet back then!) their mission sounded totally normal to me.  Now that I know who they are, I feel like a doofus.

            Although I don’t remember much, I do remember that my big faux pas was with the word “willing.”  That’s what they kept harping on to the temp agency, and the temp agency was on their side too because they were a big client I suppose.  I blamed myself for years after.  I hadn’t thought about it for at least a decade until today’s letter because I know how that OP feels!  Like you can’t say anything even though circumstances keep getting weirder and weirder.

            If AAM had been around, I wonder what the response would have been!

            Doing my part for wtf Wednesday!

        2. Vicki

          The problem here is that you can’t watch your word choice. If the interviewer is going to misread and misunderstand, it doesn’t matter how carefully you plan your words. You will be misread and misunderstood.

    2. Revanche

      That’s bizarre. Your being willing to do stuff whether it’s required or not is a problem how? Unless you were pressing a point that had already been indicated isn’t something you’re going to have hands in and that sounds nothing like what you did, what the heck?

      1. Snarkus Aurelius

        Right. Willing means you be ready or eager or prepared to do something.

        That’s why I have do much sympathy for this op.

    3. Macedon

      It kind of reminds me of how faintly Stepford Wives-y our cover letter & interview vocab tends to be: we are always “happy”, “excited,” “enthusiastic” and “highly interested” in X, and very much “at home,” “at ease,” or “closely involved” with Y. There is never one role duty that we are “willing” to undertake, because the rest of the work appeals to us – no, that blah task is ever the “learning opportunity that we look forward to exploring.”

      1. C Average

        And we’re passionate. So very passionate.

        This whole conversation reminds me of the letter I wrote that helped me get a summer job in college. “I enjoy mindless menial tasks,” I wrote. The man who hired me to help cook at Boy Scout camp in the summer specifically cited that line when he offered me the job.

    4. Not So NewReader

      Oh I am cringing. I had a boss that thought if you were asked to do a task you should not say “I will do that” you should say “I want to do that” because “want” indicates that the task will be completed.

      All I could think of is the difference between these two statements:

      I want to win a million dollars.
      OR
      I will win a million dollars.

      I thought, which statement is stronger here?

      I do things I don’t WANT to do all the time, I do them well and I follow through to completion. grrrr.

      1. Soharaz

        My dad used to say stuff like that when I was a teenager and it drove me and my mom crazy. He’d ask me to do the dishes or something and I would grumble about it, but do it. He’d get mad because he wanted me to WANT to wash the dishes. My mother had to explain that teenagers rarely WANT to do anything that isn’t fun or about them.

  5. Anonnn

    While it truly does suck that you had to carry around all that luggage, I’m curious about why an overnight trip even required that much? A big rolly bag AND two totes?

    To me that scans as slightly unprofessional, and I’d be tempted to think that handling it is on you, rather than them.

    1. kozinskey

      I don’t think it’s an unreasonable amount of luggage. I could imagine myself bringing a rolling bag for interview clothes, a carry-on with backup clothes, and a purse. I don’t see how it’s unprofessional to make sure you have what you need to be prepared.

    2. Paloma Pigeon

      Um, what does the amount of luggage have to do with the OP’s qualifications for the job? I think this is irrelevant.

    3. Colette

      Who said the rolling bag was big? It easily could have been a carry-on. This sounds like more bags than I’d take for an overnight trip, but … so what? I can’t imagine taking an overnight trip requiring professional dress where I’d be happy carrying my luggage to go get lunch, especially during an interview.

      I think the part of this that is on the OP is not saying “Is there somewhere I can store my luggage while we get lunch?”, but the manager should have offered.

      1. M-C

        I agree – while the manager should have offered, the OP would have been totally justified in asking to leave the luggage during lunch. At worst, if pressed for time at the end, an airport taxi could swing by there to pick it up. No matter that the power imbalance, a reasonable request is just that. In fact, in snow-bound interviewing, I’d leave my coat and boots at the front desk as a matter of fact, which everyone would expect. Maybe the OP isn’t so experienced with snow :-)? Especially -that- much snow.

      1. Chinook

        I agree – packing for slushy weather does involve bulkier packing. Not only is cold weather clothing thicker, but you often have to pack a 2nd set of footwear (indoor shoes) and layers or clothign alternatives depending on the the forecast (Ex: in the last 48 hours in Calgary, we went from +15 C and melting slush to -15 C with snow and wind). In the summer I can pack for a week in a carry-on bag whereas in winter I need twice as much space.

        1. Noelle

          I once had to pack all the essentials for a 9-day work trip in one carry-on. Not only was I going to be travelling to multiple countries (all with very different climates), but I also had to pack for activities that included everything from meetings with heads of state to flying around in helicopters. I somehow managed to pack 4 suits, a formal dress, a rain coat, boots, dress shoes, and hiking gear in one carry-on. I am very very proud of this.

          1. NewishAnon

            Impressive!

            Not quite as small of a space but I did a 4 month study abroad in college and was only allowed 1 suitcase. That was tough.

            1. Noelle

              That would definitely be difficult. Although I recently moved, and I was able to get almost all of my clothes into a single duffle bag!

          2. Chinook

            “I somehow managed to pack 4 suits, a formal dress, a rain coat, boots, dress shoes, and hiking gear in one carry-on. I am very very proud of this.”

            Quite impressive I will say. But, did you have to include anything for below freezing weather? Sweaters, thick socks and lined pants are the bane of my existence when it comes to packing in winter. Short of putting them in a bag where I can suck out the air, I have yet to figure out how to get them to fit into a small bag (and then get them back in there afterwards)

            1. NewishAnon

              Have you tried wearing pantyhose underneath your pants? I have found that on really cold days that can be just enough to keep me extra warm. And they take up virtually no space.

              You may be a man so this might not work for you…not that anyone would know, lol.

    4. GigglyPuff

      Eh, depending on what was really in them, I could see having that much. Maybe the OP brought work/schoolwork to do at night, they might have had the interview clothes in a suit bag, and rolled it up, so it took up room in another bag. They might have brought more than one interview outfit cause they couldn’t decide/dependent upon weather (I’d probably totally do this).

      I tend to have a lot of stuff, and not necessarily because I bring more, but I’m big, i.e. my clothes are bigger, they take up more room. (and no, it’s not BS, I have literally showed my mom this when she scoffed). Plus if I go out of town, even one night, my medical stuff takes up an entire doc kit, so I have to have another for actual bathroom stuff. One rolling bag, probably a messenger bag/laptop bag, and a purse, really not that much.

      1. TL -

        Oh yeah on the clothes thing. The longer I’m travelling, the more revealing my clothes, because tank tops and shorty-shorts take up a lot less room than full t-shirts/long sleeves and pants. I’m not big, but I have a friend who’s nearly a foot taller than I am, and her jeans take up a lot more room, though she’s only a size larger than I am.

        Winter clothing also requires more room in general, so if you’re tall/big and dressing for the cold, you’re looking at quite a bit of luggage compared to short/small and summer.

    5. JB

      But that’s bringing your own ideas about what a person needs for travel. How is that *unprofessional*? You don’t know anything about the OP’s professionalism by how much she packed. When traveling for business, I like to keep things like shoes and moisturizers, shampoo, and other potentially messy items away from nice clothes like what I’d wear to a business meeting or interview. So that’s two bags. And as someone with severe dietary restrictions, I usually have to take with me most if not all of the food I’ll be eating on the trip, and that’s a whole separate bag right there. Plus, I might need to take my laptop and, if I’m interviewing, copies of my resume, a notepad, and something to carry my notes with me for the interview. So someone looking at what I’m carrying might think it’s excessive, but that’s without knowing anything about why I packed the way I did.

      1. CrazyCatLady

        Yes, same here with the dietary restrictions and the OP says they do have dietary restrictions. Bringing food they can actually eat can definitely take up a chunk of space, even if it’s just for an overnight trip.

        1. JB

          I’m so glad I’m not the only person who does this. I wonder sometimes what the people x-raying the luggage must think, but I’m know they’ve seen stranger things!

        2. Case of the Mondays

          Me too. I also have a CPAP which is its own bag. I try to keep it down to rolling carry on with clothes and some food, carry on tote w/ stuff to do on plane, meds, more food, and the CPAP. Still 3 bags though.

      2. M-C

        JB, I really don’t understand the requirement for 2 bags in order to protect your clothes. Sometimes you have to transfer liquids to more secure containers. In all cases, you should double-bag (and not chintz out on the quality of the bags, Ziplock is worth the extra dollar). But I’ve taken falls at high altitude with this method and never had to sleep in a bag smeared with sunscreen or peanut butter.

        1. Alma

          Maybe one tote was for her boots, once she changed into her dress shoes. This is not the issue here. The unfocused behavior of the interviewer and the interviewer not being more considerate are the issues.

    6. Laufey

      There’s nothing that said it was a “big rolly bag”. It could have been a roll-aboard small suitcase that fit in the overhead bin. As for the two totes, it could have been a suit bag and a laptop case, or a laptop case and an oversize purse, or a purse and another carry on item with books, etc. I mean, I can travel to my grandparents in a backpack, but for an interview, I’d probably (and have) err on the side of overpacking, especially with the weather we’ve been having lately – who knows how long you might get stuck in some city if there’s more snow or ice?

      I would imagine that common courtesy when interviewing out of town applicants, especially ones that are flying in, would be to provide a space to put bags temporarily. They’re not paying for any of her costs, that’s the least they can do.

        1. Merry and Bright

          Exactly – and wheely cases for business trips can be pretty small. I guess we aren’t talking about a large case for a two week holiday.

      1. AnotherAlison

        The OP may have also had to bring or wear boots, pack heels, and may like to pack shoes/gear for working out. I have to take steel toe boots on many of my work trips and that always bumps me up a suitcase size.

    7. Mike C.

      This is really insignificant, and feels like you’re trying to find some form of blame in the OP in some effort to appear unbiased or see both sides of the issue.

    8. Observer

      Why on earth is this unprofessional? As it happens, the OP didn’t say a “big” rolly. The small ones don’t hold THAT much stuff. But, even if it WERE a “big” one, it’s not so enormous.

      And besides, what relevance does it have to how professional she might be? Even if she were carrying her teddy bear collection in there to make her motel room more homey, what difference does it make? That luggage was carrying her PERSONAL stuff, which is really no one’s business.

      1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)

        And dragging any rolly bag in snow and slush is going to be a pain in the neck, no matter what the size.

        1. Hous

          Yeah, I recently left the snow-bound horror of Boston for a weekend trip and chose not to bring my favorite rolly bag just because I didn’t want to try to drag it down the street. Walking is bad enough.

    9. Rayner

      That’s actually not that much – a bag for all your clothes, a laptop case, and a handbag. Boom, there you go.

      Also, it might not have been an overnight visit. I can easily envision someone flying on a Saturday, staying over Sunday, and flying back Monday after meeting with my interviewers.

    10. Just Another Techie

      What scans as unprofessional to me is being nosy and judgmental about something as private as what clothing, toiletries, food, homework, or other items someone needs when they are alone in their room.

    11. Rebecca Too

      To be fair to the OP, she also doesn’t say it was an overnight trip, just that she was going to the airport straight after the interview. Considering she was paying for it all herself, she might have decided to add a few days on to the trip as a holiday, which I think any reasonable employer would have understood. Unless they brought enough supplies for a month, I can’t imagine any employer judging someone for the amount of luggage they had.

    12. Magda

      I’m sorry, I really have to be blunt: Who cares?

      I’m all for getting LWs to examine what they bring to a situation, but is it so wrong to assume this person is a grown adult who presumably knows what he or she needs to take on an overnight trip?

    13. voluptuousfire

      Some people just overpack. I know I do! When I went to Florida this past summer, it was a miracle I got two days worth of clothes into a backpack.

      1. LBK

        Look up the Jenna Marbles video about packing on YouTube – that’s basically how I prepare for a trip.

          1. LBK

            Jealous! My one semi-famous Twitter follower is The Bloggess. I was pretty floored when I got that notification.

    14. Sadsack

      I agree with you that OP should have spoken up about storing his bags, but Alison explained why it is understandable that he didn’t. OP brought what he brought, the number and size of his luggage has nothing to do with anything. If the employer questioned OP’s need for so much luggage, I’d question the employer’s judgment. There is nothing unprofessional about having luggage.

    15. Meg

      I think the amount of luggage a person carries with them on a trip is completely irrelevant to their professionalism, tbh.

    16. INTP

      While I’d never carry that much because my parents were weird about overpacking and it made me weird about it, I can easily see how someone might bring that much stuff. Interview suit, backup interview suit in case of a spill, casual outfit and shoes, weather gear like snowboots and hat, clothes and shoes for a run or workout, laptop, toiletries, hair dryer, pjs, extra food…all of that stuff could take up a lot of space. I have a tendency to judge over packers but I try to remember that it’s me who is the weirdo, lol.

    17. Jessica

      I always travel with a rolling suitcase for clothes and toiletries, a larger tote so I can always keep my tech stuff on my person in the airport, and a purse. 3 bags.

    18. Allison

      How is it unprofessional? Traveling light is tough, especially when one’s going somewhere where they need to look their very best – like a job interview!

  6. Seal

    Depending on how far your hotel was from the interview site, another option would have been to check your luggage at the hotel and go back afterwards to pick it up. I do that regularly for conferences and have never stayed at a hotel that doesn’t offer that service. Bonus – the hotel would also be able to arrange for a cab or shuttle to take you to the airport. While that doesn’t address the interviewer’s rudeness, at least you wouldn’t have had to haul your luggage all over creation in the snow.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I want to be careful, though, not to discourage people from just saying, “Is there somewhere I could store my luggage while we talk?” Because that’s a normal and reasonable thing, and candidates do it all the time. We had a letter recently from someone who was unsure if it was okay to ask that, and I want to underscore that there’s nothing weird about it, not even 1%.

      1. Anonymous Educator

        To most employers’ credit, I’ve never been in an interview with my stuff (usually a backpack or a folder) and not been asked if I would like to keep it in an office or somewhere else while we walk around. But, yes, if the interviewer somehow overlooks offering, you can definitely ask “May I…?”

    2. Observer

      Depending on the distance to the hotel, the time of the flight, and the hotel itself. Some places don’t really lend themselves to that kind service. And, of course, given that the situation was unexpected, the OP really couldn’t have planned for it.

  7. Anonathon

    I don’t know. I’m a super-light packer myself, but I can see how you’d have two totes (one functioning as a laptop bag and another as a purse), plus a regular suitcase. This is a fairly reasonable amount of luggage for an out-of-state venture; it’s not like the OP went on a shopping spree while in town. And maybe he/she was stopping at another city en route to see family, handle other work business, who knows. But no reasonable person is going to think, “I should only bring one small bag in case my interviewer makes me hike around the city in the snow.”

    1. Colette

      And even if she did go on a shopping spree before the interview (or the night before), that really doesn’t have anything to do with the issue, which is that her interviewer was fine with her carrying her luggage to lunch.

  8. Observer

    Allison is spot on in saying that this says a lot about your interviewer. I would say that if this is the person you would be working for, I would stay very far away from the job if you can afford to.

  9. Olive Hornby

    This is insane, but I do wonder a little bit about the dietary restriction piece of this. It sounds like the OP’s restriction is pretty severe if she couldn’t find something to eat at a diner, which tend to have very extensive menus–which makes me think there’s a severe food allergy or perhaps a religious requirement in play. The interviewer absolutely should have asked her if the restaurant would work, but I don’t think it’s a huge red flag that she didn’t. It often doesn’t occur to people without dietary restrictions that someone with celiac disease or who keeps strictly kosher might not be able to find something, and if the OP didn’t speak up, the interviewer might easily have misinterpreted her silence as assent (not that that makes it remotely ok!)

    1. Anonymous Educator

      Yeah, not being able to find something to eat at a diner is pretty rare, but it’s still a good idea for the interviewer to check in. I had an interview once where the interviewer said the interview would include lunch and asked “Is it okay if we go to _______ diner?” I liked that way of phrasing it, because it doesn’t say “You pick a place” or “We are definitely going here.” It just signals a direction. Most people will say “Sure. Sounds good.” But it leaves a good opening for an interviewee to say, “That sounds delicious but, I’m ____________. If we’re looking in that neighborhood, how about ______ restaurant instead?”

      1. Revanche

        Speaking to the power dynamic that Allison mentioned, I have also seen where the “is this place ok?” question might still not work great for more tentative candidates, even if they’re experienced. After all there are quite a few strange interviewers who might use that as an absurd test of some sort. Hiring in SF where dietary choices and restrictions are rife, I liked to suggest two places with a super quick “x is Italian, y is a diner, both are close by, do either of those sound good to you?” This let me signal I truly was OK with them having some choice without feeling weird about telling me about dietary things if they didn’t want to mention it or try to pick a place in an area they might be unfamiliar with.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          I think the only reasonable “test of some sort” in this case would be whether a candidate is willing to speak up for herself. There is definitely a power imbalance, and the interview process can be extremely intimidating to candidates, but I’m more apt to hire a candidate who says “I have X, Y, and Z dietary restrictions. Can we eat at ____ or ____ instead, which are nearby?” than to hire someone who says nothing for fear of being judged.

          If you’re extremely considerate as a hiring manager, you can even go a step one further and just say “As part of the interview process, we’re going to take you out to lunch. We have a lot of great options in the area. Do you have any dietary restrictions/preferences I should keep in mind before picking a place?”

          1. Kelly L.

            But if the candidate is from out of town, how would they know what’s even there, or what’s good?

          2. Mephyle

            Yes, this. How can you tell if a restaurant in a city you don’t know, that‘s just been suggested this minute and you haven’t had a chance to look up any information about it, will meet your needs?

      2. TL -

        Eh, I don’t think it’s that rare. I have fairly severe restrictions and generally all I can get at a diner is salad or veggies – and even then I’ve had to send salads back multiple times because “gluten-free/no bread” somehow doesn’t always translate to “no croutons” when they’re not listed as part of the salad on the menu – I don’t always remember to specifically say no croutons unless they’re listed on the salad. Which is to say unless the diner has a good reputation or a lot of writing on the menu indicating they’re good about food allergies, I wouldn’t necessarily trust eating there, especially if I’d be risking a really bad reaction.

        Even if it’s just gluten free – no fried foods, maybe no meat (coated with flour or made by mixing with sauces for flavors), no gravy, nothing with bread, salads can be a hassle and if you’re not certain they won’t remake the salad if they put croutons on it, you shouldn’t eat it – that’s most of a diner menu right there.

        1. Mander

          Salads can be treacherous. Back in my vegetarian days it was amazing how many times I would order a salad that had an extensive ingredient list on the menu of stuff I would eat, and then it would arrive topped with bacon or ham or some other meat-based garnish that was not in the description on the menu.

          I once went to lunch in Spain (Alicante, on the coast) with a colleague who was very allergic to fish. We explained at length that he couldn’t eat any fish at all, and the waiter was careful to go through everything on the menu and explain which things had fish in them (neither of us were very fluent in Spanish and we didn’t know the names of all the species of fish on the menu). Yet we discovered, after he’d had several bites, that one of the things they brought him actually had canned tuna in it. For whatever reason he didn’t react, perhaps because it was canned and not fresh, but as a precaution we stayed in town for several hours later than we planned so that if he went into anaphylactic shock we would be near the hospital and not in a tiny mountain town.

    2. ac

      Coming here to write the same thing. I’d add “be upfront about dietary restrictions once a meal was suggested” as a possible #3 to Allison’s list of potential alternatives. If the restrictions are as severe to limit OP to only water, it seems likely that she has to deal with them at many restaurants? Maybe not and this restaurant had a smaller menu that was unexpected, in which case disregard my advice.

      In any event, as someone with dietary restrictions, I’ve found that responding to a lunch/dinner invitation with: “sounds great, but I should mention that I don’t eat ___. Do you think there will be something for me to eat on the menu?” Most interviewers will offer an alternative if needed.

    3. long time reader first time poster

      I was wondering about this as well. If the OP couldn’t find ANYTHING beyond water to eat/drink, I’m guessing that the OP must come face to face with dietary restrictions every single day of his/her life. I’m very surprised that the OP didn’t speak up at the time lunch was suggested — “That sounds great — do you think they will have anything on the menu for someone with x restrictions?”

      FWIW — and I say this as someone that has lived with some pretty strict dietary restraints in the past — as an interviewer, I’d be kind of put off by an interviewee that just ordered a water with no explanation at all when I’d offered to take them out to lunch. I’d take that person as having less-than-stellar interpersonal skills — I’d expect someone with dietary restrictions to mention them, and in the absence of such restrictions I’d expect them to be able to find SOMETHING that worked for them on the menu. Think outside the box and all that.

      1. JB

        It could be that the OP doesn’t usually have any problem with finding something to eat at restaurants, but this place has a really restrictive menu? Before my food allergies got really bad, there was usually something on a menu that I could eat, but every once in a while my boss would want to go to a restaurant with a small, specialized menu that had no options for me.

        1. INTP

          This too. Pretty much any chain restaurant or other place where a business lunch might be held can accommodate vegetarianism but there are some little bbq places or burger joints that don’t. And it could be a regional difference that the OP wasn’t prepared for, too. Any burger restaurant I have ever been to in California has a veggie patty option. When I first moved to the Midwest I had no idea that wasn’t a universal thing and I needed to check menus first. The OP didn’t say what her restriction is but I imagine many work the same way.

          1. Snork Maiden

            Yes, I was also thinking if the OP had flew in from a coastal city to a midwestern one – I know some places here for example that do not realize that they have to clean off the grill or cook the vegetarian/vegan items first, before tossing down the meat chunks. If you go even further afield, items like soy milk are met with a “Huh?”

            I used to know someone who had a severe egg and onion allergy. I imagine that would have been quite difficult to work around. She didn’t go out for meals often.

      2. INTP

        It can be risky to mention food restrictions, though, because so many people are weird about them. I’ve seen mockery about the idiocy of gluten free people, discussions of the universal unhealthiness of vegans and vegetarians, etc. If you choose an apparently pretty restricted eatery you can’t hold it against someone for thinking you might be one of those people. Plus, no one should be put in a position where they have to disclose their religion or health issues during a job interview. A polite “I already ate” should be accepted graciously by the interviewer IMO.

        1. Nerd Girl

          And there’s the whole part about not wanting to explain about an allergy. I am allergic to soy and I often get questioned why I don’t just get a burger or something because meat doesn’t have soy in it. Okay…but the bun might because soy shows up in everything these days. It’s a dialogue I’m not always willing or eager to start. You’re right…the polite “I’ve already eaten, but thank you” works nearly every time.

          1. INTP

            Yup. And then you look “difficult” because you have to ask the server a bunch of detailed questions and possibly still come out with the gut feeling that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about or the kitchen isn’t taking you seriously. Whereas if the interviewer chose a more mainstream restaurant you could slip into the restroom with your phone and check the allergen page on the website. Bottom line, be aware of the power differential and don’t choose a restaurant without input from your interviewee and then fault them for not handling the resulting awkwardness in the way you seem ideal.

          2. AnotherAlison

            Does it ever! My son had a food sensitivity test done when we were looking for alternative ADHD treatments, and soy was one of his sensitive foods. Even most of the Whole Foods packaged foods have it. (Soy was one of the main reasons I failed at ADHD management-by-diet.)

        2. long time reader first time poster

          Very good points. I’m just thinking that I’d be a little put off by an interviewee that couldn’t come up with a socially smooth way to address the issue. I’m looking for people with good interpersonal skills. “I already ate, but I’m happy to chat over your lunch” is perfect. As a hiring manager I’d be cool with that, I’d eat my lunch and not think another thing about it. But if somebody doesn’t say a word until the waiter comes, and then they just ask for a water, no food? That’s… awkward. Now I’m stuck eating in front of someone that isn’t eating, and it’s weird. Some people (not me, but some) might even find it a little insulting that the interviewee “turned down” the offer — you know how people can be about refusing hospitality. At any rate, the last thing you want to do at an interview is make your interviewer uncomfortable…

          1. Observer

            Yes, but when it’s pretty clear that the person did NOT eat, that’s going to look weird. The reality is that no matter how good someone’s social skills are, some situations are awkward. And, if you decide to go to a restaurant without warning the person you took, and choose a very specific restaurant that has a very particular (ie non-typical) menu, allowing no input from the other person, then any resulting awkwardness is on you.

            1. Mander

              This. If the interviewer in question wasn’t clued up enough to offer the LW a place to stash luggage, rather than having her cart it all over the place in the snow (and presumably while wearing nice interview shoes and not snow boots), then they aren’t going to notice that the LW ordered nothing but water.

              Plus I don’t know if it is stated but I get the feeling that the interviewer was not paying for lunch, either, since they didn’t pay for anything else.

      3. Laurel Gray

        I would need a bit more context about the particular diner or restaurant or wherever the interviewer took the OP before drawing any conclusions about the order of just a water. At any lunch place with menu items with fresh ingredients in them, you can always get something made to order with specifics added or left out. However, when that is not the case, just placing an order, can seem tedious. A person is then asking questions about what is in specific sauces or ingredients and I’ve seen the eye rolls and puffs by waiting customers when people do this so I can only imagine the possibility of an interviewer feeling the same way, or an interviewee assuming they will.

        1. TL -

          Yup. And if you make something wrong and put bread in it for me, you have to remake it. Not take it to the back and pull the bun off – recook the meat or remake the salad. And that always makes me feel like a giant diva, even if the servers are nice (and they usually are) about it.

          1. anonintheuk

            I have an allergy to peanuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts (I have not eaten other kinds of nuts, just in case)
            If, for instance, I was taken to a Thai restaurant, I would not eat anything. I am sure there are dishes without cashews or peanuts in, but I would fear cross-contamination. Nobody’s day would be improved by my becoming violently unwell.

            1. Not So NewReader

              This. With some restrictions there are places where a person should not even bother trying to eat something off the menu.

      4. TL -

        Yes, but the OP may also not have been comfortable ordering just sides (my go-to).

        Or – and this has happened to me – she mentioned she was Celiac’s or gluten free, and they took her to a bakery with gluten free options. I can’t eat anything prepped in a bakery; it’s all contaminated, whether or not it has flour as an ingredient. But then life gets awkward because often people make a fuss about having found you a place with gluten free options and you’re like, uh, yes, but…

      5. Bunny

        It could also be a restaurant with a limited menu. It sounds like the interviewer was quite specific about where they wanted to eat, which automatically makes me think they went somewhere particularly *nice*. I’ve been to a lot of smaller places that only ever had 4-5 available menu items each day – they’d rotate the menus for variety. Like the French one down the road from us who, the time we decided to try them for lunch, our choices were onion soup with the bread and cheese on top, moules mariniere, languistines in a garlic cream sauce or fillet steak in a brandy cream sauce. Someone with a dairy intolerance or gluten allergy would’ve been shit out of luck.

    4. nona

      Yeah, that’s true. I pay attention to dietary restrictions because I’ve had friends and relatives with severe allergies, but you can’t plan for this if you don’t know how. Or if you don’t know that you need to. Although the interviewer really screwed up everything else.

    5. INTP

      I got the impression that the diner had a pretty limited menu because the OP said that a neutral restaurant would have sufficed, not one specifically catering to restrictive diets. Also it may not have been that there was literally nothing to possibly eat so much as no professional, adult-befitting options or nothing that was clearly labeled as meeting her diet requirements. I can see how one might find it more professional to say “I’ve already eaten” than order a grilled cheese off the kid’s menu (often the only vegetarian meal at a burger place) or ask the server if things are vegan or vegetarian or gluten free (which often requires some grilling to get a real answer to and might seem difficult to someone unfamiliar with restrictions).

      There’s a reason that business lunches tend to happen at chain restaurants-they tend to have a token menu item for most diets and information about animal products, allergens, etc spelled out on a website if not the menu. That is what I thought the OP meant by neutral.

      1. Elizabeth West

        For future reference, you can almost always ask if they can make you a grilled cheese without looking at the kid’s menu. I’ve done it before when I’m not super hungry and just mentioned that. Most places will do it–it’s easy and fast and doesn’t require them to hunt down any specialized ingredients.

    6. Observer

      Actually, it’s far from rare to have restrictions that keep you from finding something you can eat. This is especially true if you are going to what sounds like a “specialist” type of place. Whether it’s a vegetarian, someone who is allergic to one or two common foods, or can’t handle some common type of food prep, such as frying these kinds of things can really get in the way.

      It’s not surprising that the interviewer didn’t realize up front that it might present a problem, but once the person ordered only water, that SHOULD have caused some sort of reaction.

    7. Kelly L.

      We may be thinking of something different by the word “diner.” Most things I’ve seen called “diner” are really simple menus, almost everything greasy.

    8. Anonaconda

      But the OP said the hiring manager “wanted a lunch item from a very specific place.” It sounds to me like the hiring manager was not open to negotiation on the restaurant, not to mention that the OP wasn’t even warned ahead of time that this would be a lunch interview. To me, this interview was centered all around the hiring manager’s needs.

      1. Laurel Gray

        I think it is so ridiculous that something as serious as interviewing was centered around an employee’s craving. And I am saying craving because this person could have totally went to lunch at this place on their own time on a different day. This person was supposed to be using this time asking the OP the right questions, checking out her professionalism, attentiveness, background, fit, etc…not walking around aimlessly for a food item to feed her belly. A part of me thinks this interviewer wanted this particular restaurant with this particular menu item during the interview so it could be picked up as a work expense and paid for by the company.The interviewer was just all around selfish and it is hard to tell if it is a reflection of the company or just one ridiculous idiot reflecting bad on the whole organization.

    9. OP

      I mentioned this in my comment below, but the diner was a really small place that was more of a takeout/ very limited menu kind of establishment, not a sit down and be waited on situation. I asked about a couple of side items I thought would be fine, but they cooked their vegetables and beans in pork and I wasn’t really in the right space of mind to come up with other alternatives.

      I didn’t feel like I could speak up because the interviewer really wanted to eat a specific food item and I felt like it would look bad if I asked to go to Au Bon Pain.

  10. JC

    I cringe reading this because I could totally see myself being the socially awkward interviewer in this situation. I met a contact for the first time at a conference that was local for me but not them in January, and managed to drag them on foot several blocks out of the way in the cold rain because I couldn’t find the restaurant I had in mind. Yep. People do stupid/rude things, and the stupid/rude things were definitely on your interviewer in this case. But I wouldn’t take any of this as a red flag. I’d take it more as a sign that this particular interviewer did not have it together. I bet that she knows that she doesn’t have it together and feels bad about it (I do things like this more often than I’d like to admit, and I always feel stupid replaying it in my head afterwards); take solace in that!

    1. JC

      I’m also remembering a time that someone from out of town came to meet with me. My office is a floor down from the reception desk, and you need to swipe a card to take the elevator between floors. It turned out that they had a suitcase, but I didn’t bring my card with me to come greet them, so we couldn’t take the elevator. I let them carry their bag themselves down the stairs to my office. It didn’t even occur to me to offer to carry the bag (granted, I am female and they were male, so that may have played a roll in bag-carrying dynamics), or to offer to run down to my office to get my card so they could take the elevator. I still cringe about this whenever I see this person. I can be so rude an awkward!

      1. Leah

        I think a key difference here is that you felt badly about it and apologized. From the letter, it seems like the interviewer didn’t notice or care that the OP was having trouble, or only having water, and didn’t care.

      2. ThursdaysGeek

        That’s a really good point, because many of us have been guilty of being thoughtless. Yes, it is rude, but if the interviewer had something catastrophic going on in their private life, lack of sleep, disordered meds, or any of other reasons, it may be a temporary thoughtlessness.

        As an interviewee, we cringe when we mess up because we know that one data point counts so much in a situation where there are few data points. And when it really isn’t the way we normally are, it’s hard to know it will count so highly against us. The same concept works on interviewers too: one data point that might not be representative, but we don’t know.

      3. AnotherAlison

        I was thinking of similar scenarios. The interviewer never shows up to work and needs to stash a suitcase, so it’s not a thought that crosses one’s mind.

        I have been the first one on panel interviews that go from office-to-office instead of in a conference room. It would seem weird to have put someone’s suitcase in my cube or office, when I was not going to see them again after my 30 minutes. They may or may not be comfortable leaving it at reception, depending on how big the building is. There’s no protocol on where to leave luggage!

        (I am pretty awkward too, so I sympathize.)

    2. Bio-Pharma

      Yes, but does the interviewer say “Omigosh, I’m so sorry, I thought the restaurant was here!” or does the interviewer quietly feel bad and not say anything?

    3. Laurel Gray

      Out of curiosity, have you ever reached out to a victim of your occasional social awkwardness and apologized?

      1. JC

        You know, since you mention it, I usually do apologize in the moment or at the end of our interaction when these kinds of things happen. I guess that’s a difference between what I’ve experienced and what the OP is describing. I bet the OP would have felt differently if the interviewer acted mortified or at least apologetic, even if the outcomes of dragging bags through the snow and not being able to eat lunch remained the same.

  11. bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang

    I think the OP dodged a bullet – this person sounds like they’d be hell to work with – but still: I would feel insulted to be treated this way, especially after paying my own way to the interview.

    It is definitely okay for an interviewee to ask about leaving luggage in someone’s office, but it’s also alright for the interviewer to suggest to the interviewee that they might want to leave their bags in the office.

    I wonder if the person who didn’t show up was the one who was really supposed to be doing the interview, and if this rude person was somehow trying to wing it? Or maybe the rude person had overstepped their boundaries in even setting up this interview, and wanted to get the OP out of the office before people started asking questions?

    1. Anonymous Educator

      I don’t know if this is too off-topic (Alison, please shut me down if it is), but I did see also that the OP incurred call the costs of the travel. I’m just curious—is this typical for most industries?

      I’ve mainly worked in independent (private) schools, and most (not all) private schools will pay to fly out candidates they’re interested in interviewing… or at least split the cost with another school in the area, if the candidate is interviewing at two schools. Don’t know if any other types of orgs work that way…

        1. Leah

          I was wondering this too – it feels like paying for candidates to travel to you (beyond a regular train/bus) should be a part of the expense of hiring. Unless MAYBE it’s a non-profit org, travel expenses should not be on the candidate, and being asked to pay would have been a red flag for me.

          1. Anonymous Educator

            I can’t speak outside my experience, but I’ve worked with/in a lot of independent schools, and the ones in the U.S. are non-profits and many are truly non-profits (not just in the legal/tax sense) that are in the red or just barely in the black, and yet they still manage to usually pay some kind of travel expense for out-of-town candidates.

            Again, maybe this doesn’t apply to other industries, but typically independent schools will either foot the whole bill (pretty typical for schools with a huge endowment that want to show off how financially comfortable they are) or try to split the bill with other schools the candidate is interviewing with… or just cover airfare but not hotel or just hotel but not airfare.

            1. Anonymous Educator

              Sorry. I should qualify—almost all of the independent schools in the U.S. are non-profits. Not all of them are.

          2. MK

            I don’t think it’s necessarily a red flag that there is something dodgy about the company; but I think it might an indication of how interested they are in you: interested enough to want to interview, but not enough to be willing to pay for it to happen. On the other hand, maybe there just isn’t a budget for this.

  12. puddin

    Unless I was already planning to move to the area I was interviewing in, I make it a general rule to not pay my own travel for interviews. If the company is willing to re-locate me for a position, then my expectation is that they are willing to spend the money to bring me in for an interview. For me, this would have been a red flag. I know it is done, but it is not my preference.

    I feel that by agreeing to pay my own travel I create a larger power distance than necessary and the fact that they are unwilling to contribute to their own job search does not sit will with me. The prospective employer needs to have some skin in the game if they are serious about hiring me from a distance.

    For similar reasons I would not consider a job that comprises more than 15% travel where I have to front the travel funds and get personally reimbursed. Again, I know it is done and it can be ‘normal’, but I do not care for the politics that this method implies.

    OP I think this is one time when you do not want the job. Based on the hiring manager’s lack of professional grace and just basic courteousness, she would be continue to be cumbersome as a manager. Not to mention it sounds like you did not even get a clear(er) idea of what the role actually is. So how can you make a decision? Your expectations were not out of line. This job is a big fat NOPE.

    1. Allison

      Agreed! If the company doesn’t pay for my travel expenses, I’d be highly suspicious of how they treat employees, and wonder where else they might be stingy. I’d wonder if they pay well or offer decent benefits. And then, if I did shell out for those expenses and got treated the way the OP treated, I would’ve been very cranky and I definitely wouldn’t want the job, even if it did initially seem like great opportunity.

    2. Joey

      This only makes sense if the company is recruiting for out of town candidates. If they’re not and you applied anyway then really it makes more sense for you to shoulder the expenses, no?

  13. HR Generalist

    I went wide-eyed upon reading that OP shelled out for the travel expenses, including a flight. That is absolutely unheard of in my life. Wow. I’ve had friends/coworkers who were flown out for an interview but it was always covered by the company. In my organization, even if someone lives an hour away we offer to do a video or phone interview instead to determine their fit. This all sounds wild to me, I’d say the OP dodged a bullet in working for what appears to be a cheap/inconsiderate manager.

    1. Anonymous Ninja

      Not all companies have funding to pay for travel. That doesn’t make them cheap. It just means they don’t have it in the budget. I’ve seen this often with small businesses, non-profits, libraries, etc.

        1. Colette

          That may not be in the potential employee’s best interest, though. If the candidate is interested in moving, they may be willing to pay the expenses required. If not (and the company can’t cover it), they would be out of the running.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Yep — I hear constantly from people who desperately want to move to a particular city and are willing to pay all their travel expenses for interviews, and wish that employers would consider them. Telling employers not to consider those people isn’t reasonable.

            Employers without the budget to bring in out of town candidates can explain that and give them the option. No one is forcing candidates to fly themselves in if they don’t want to.

            1. De Minimis

              Exactly right, you can’t have it both ways. I don’t think anyone here is in favor of the ads that say “Local Candidates Only…”

              My current employer will pay travel costs for people interviewing for the higher positions that are harder to fill, but not for others. But they will do phone interviews for people from outside the area.

              I paid out of pocket for a job interview once—they offered to do a phone interview later but I thought it was best that I at least see the place first, since it was a city I’d never been to. I didn’t get the job and was a little annoyed at being out that money, but while I was there I saw that the location probably wasn’t right for me anyway so it was probably better that I went.

              1. Iro

                Especially when you advertise “Local Only” or “Local strongly preferred” and then you hire outside of whatever you deemed local.

        2. Anonymous Ninja

          “Then they should be hiring locally. Employees or potential employees aren’t charities.”

          And employers aren’t mind readers. How do they know if a candidate has family in the area to stay with? Is planning to be in the area any way? Is independently wealthy? The employer needs to be up front, “we can’t pay travel” but that doesn’t mean they should filter out resumes that don’t have the desired zip code.

        1. Anonymous Educator

          This may sound a bit strange, but one time I took a cross-country job offer having only Skype- or phone-interviewed with people at the company. The hiring manager took me on a Skype tour of the offices. I Skype-interviewed with almost everyone in the office. But I never set physical foot in the office until my first day of work. In hindsight, that was weird and not my wisest moment… but it ended up being a great place to work… I just lucked out.

          1. De Minimis

            I didn’t see my workplace until my first day on the job, but I think that is somewhat common for government jobs when people are coming in from out of the area.

            I do see a lot of bad reviews on Glassdoor for my agency from people who took jobs in the more remote areas, and those do sound like a bad situation.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          I’d be very wary about hiring without ever meeting in person or accepting a job without visiting in person. There’s just too much potential for unforeseen issues.

          If a candidate prefers not to pay interview travel expenses, they can decline the interview. But it’s not reasonable to say that employers shouldn’t even give them the option.

          1. Anonymous Educator

            Yeah, in hindsight… not the smartest move in theory. As I said before, in this case, I lucked out, and it was a great company to work for.

          2. Frustrated Job Seeker

            This happens a lot in the electoral/political campaign world though, being hired over the phone/Skype (not that it’s something I completely agree with, but it’s the nature of the work – you go where the campaigns are) I did something like this in the last year, and it didn’t work out well at all.

    2. Joey

      Well, when there is local talent available it doesn’t make a whole lot of business sense to pay for travel expenses.

      Lots of companies I know only do it when they can’t find local talent.

      You really would hire someone without meeting them face to face? Personally I think that’s a bit weird.

      1. HR Generalist

        We do, but we’re a federal employer so our hiring process is extremely standardized and based on principles of merit (fair, transparent). Meeting face-to-face isn’t high on the priority list as we have assessment tools that tell us if the candidate is a good fit or not.

  14. Van Wilder

    Great advice Alison!

    My interview for my last job was also a snowy day in the city. After my first two interviews, I was told to go interview with someone in another department in a building about 7 blocks away. I went down to the lobby, changed into my snow boots, trekked 7 blocks carefully through the snow, changed back into my shoes, and went up to my interview.

    When I got there, the interviewer said “I just called them looking for you. They said they didn’t know what happened to you!” The way he said it and the fact that he said it were both so weird. It had been maybe 15 minutes. I just thought it was bizarre but didn’t bother to read into it.

    I should have taken this as a sign because it turned out to be the kind of job where every minute of my time was monitored and I was given no trust. Latch onto any signal you can find during interview time.

    1. nerfmobile

      I was a hiring manager for a while on a large college campus – I would never have sent someone to trek by themselves to a different building for an interview! I did have people who needed to interview with faculty in different buildings, and I always walked them over myself or had someone else to shepherd them around.

      1. NickelandDime

        Yes, I’ve always been escorted personally to different locations during interviews, and I’ve done the same. It doesn’t seem polite to have someone fending for themselves like this.

  15. Joey

    I don’t understand you didn’t speak up in the moment about the luggage “do you mind if I leave my luggage here?” Granted the interviewer should have offered too.

    I really don’t fault the interviewer for not clearing a diner with you. If your dietary restrictions are so severe that you can’t find something to eat at a diner I think that’s more on you. Granted, the polite thing to do would have been to ask if you were okay with a diner, but I can see many managers just assuming it’s a safe choice.
    And frankly, if you’re not comfortable speaking up I bet you would be much better off finding a boss where you don’t have to.

    1. bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang

      It’s always easy to tell someone what they should have done.

      I’ve heard of people paying for their own to travel to an interview, but I think this letter is a good example of how someone should be cautious about it. I’ll never know, but I wonder if this hiring manager even had the authority to be interviewing? She and her company had exactly zero investment in the candidate. In the distant past I’ve had a bad experience or two doing work for someone who didn’t lay down any money in advance – this seems like a similar situation. I’d like to think that most people would be empathic enough to not jerk people around, but I’m sure there is no shortage of persons who will agree to anything if they don’t have to pay for it or do any paperwork. “You want to fly out and see us, and pay for it yourself? Sure!” I wonder if the OP *had* ordered something for lunch – would the interviewer have even paid for it?

      1. Laurel Gray

        I agree that it is always easier to tell someone what they should have done after the fact. I think the treatment of the OP by this representative of the company was so ridiculous that it makes the fact that the employee paid for all travel expenses seem so ridiculous when it really isn’t. Had the employee arrived to the interview, left their luggage with the receptionist or in a hallway closet, interviewed in a conference room with ordered out lunch, or somewhere close in the area and went to the airport this wouldn’t have even been a letter to AAM.

    2. Ann Furthermore

      As I was reading the letter, I was thinking that would be the only thing I would have had the presence of mind to ask. But sometimes when a situation is just weird or awkward, you’re thrown off and end up doing or not doing things that you kick yourself for later.

    3. OP

      My interviewer was leaving to go out of town and we were not going back to her office. I tried leaving some specific details out of my letter, but after lunch she left me with other people so there was no reason for me to ask because it wasn’t possible.

  16. tabby

    You paid for your own airfare and hotel for a company to interview you? Is this really a thing? I would never do that. If someone wants tonmeet me in person bwfore offering me a job and real travel is required, it’s their trip to pay for. Wow. And rhen you never spoke up for yourself after that. Why do people behave like doormats to get jobs?

    1. long time reader first time poster

      I think a lot of people have this inherent fear of doing ANYTHING to turn the interviewer off. Even if it means speaking up about something — anything, really.

      I would rather hire someone that brings up an issue in the moment and asks how we can solve it than someone who quietly suffers through for fear of saying the wrong thing.

      1. Joey

        I think a lot of managers feel this way. That if you didn’t speak up then about something relatively benign what does that say about your ability to speak up about something tough.

        1. CatDog

          The thing is, she had prepared for an interview to be held in an office environment. To have that suddenly turn into walking to get lunch can be pretty stressful considering interviews are stressful enough. If she had known she was having lunch at least she could have mentally prepared for potential awkwardness.

          The worse thing to me, baggage or not, is having the interview whilst walking in snow. It raises a few health and safety issues. What if she had fallen during the ‘interview’? Snow can be slippy and many people wouldn’t use their phone whilst walking in it, so why should she be expected to displaying top-notch interpersonal skills when she’s mostly focussing on not failing?

          The problem with this walking interview is that it shifts the power balance even further away, as the interviewer has spelled out that they don’t think OP deserves their full attention – or even a chair. Speaks volumes about this person.

          that She had prepared to have her interview in an office environment, only to end up with this
          She wasn’t expecting this lunch debacle or even to have part of the conversation whilst walking in snow. As a candidate, interviewing can be stressful enough when you’re in a room. If

          1. I'm a Little Teapot

            Somehow I imagine that if she’d fallen this inconsiderate jerk would just have kept on walking and expected her to catch up.

    2. Joey

      If there are plenty of similarly qualified local candidates spending money on an out of town candidate doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

  17. Merry and Bright

    After all the effort the OP put in, and the way she was treated, I hope they aren’t one of those employers that won’t follow up.

  18. yasmara

    As others have mentioned, it’s also very industry-specific. My husband’s cousin is in med school & she told us that med students are expected to pay expenses for any cross-country residency interviews they want to do as part of the match process. I’m sure it varies by speciality (and if a hospital is courting a specific student for some reason), but in general the student foots the bill. She said there are even travel loan programs specifically targeted to med students!

  19. anonima in tejas

    Alison,

    I just wanted to say that I appreciate this answer and the addition of what the LW could/should have done. It’s not what she asked, but I do think that it’s relevant to consider.

  20. OP

    Hey everyone, thank you for the feedback you have provided. I have read most of the comments (AAM moves fast!) and wanted to respond to some general questions:

    a.) Paying for travel to an interview: I have been job searching for a really long time and really wanted this job. This was the first time I ever paid for a job interview because I thought the opportunity was too good to pass up and could really give my resume a boost. This organization is at the top of my field and has a prestigious reputation, so it could really help a lot for future opportunities and staying competitive. The hiring manager was always very positive in the interactions I had with her via phone and email, was always telling me how much she wanted me in this role, etc., so I was really hopeful about the situation. I completely understand not everyone would incur the cost of travel and I’m not sure if I’m going to do it in the future.

    b.) Dietary restrictions: At my previous position which is in the same field and the same type of organization, whenever we had guests we took them to neutral sandwich cafe type places on campus. There was also an Au Bon Pain across there street. The person overseeing my department was diabetic and really promoted healthy food options whenever food was part of a meeting or conference. I know that it looks really looks really bad to not eat something in a professional situation.

    The diner the interviewer took me to did not have an extensive menu and was more similar to a takeaway/to go food truck type of place with limited items. I hate to call it a hole in the wall because I’ve eaten at some delicious hole in the wall places, but it was a really small place that only had two or three tables for sitting. I tried putting together a meal based on some side items they had, like vegetables and beans only to find out they were cooked in pork fat. I will honestly admit I was not in the greatest mental space because I was feeling really nervous and disheveled and maybe someone more savvy and less nervous than me could have figured something out. I don’t think my dietary restrictions are impossible (I don’t eat pork or beef and avoid simple carbs of my blood sugar) but there was an Au Bon Pain right next to my interviewer’s office where I could have ordered a vegetable wrap and moved on with life.This is also the first time where I went out to eat with someone and could not find anything on the menu, but like I said, not the greatest headspace here.

    c.) Luggage: I had a small rolling suitcase that had clothes/toiletries and two totes. One tote had my computer and chargers and the other bag had my wallet, snacks, water, floss. I don’t like to keep water/food near my computer or work items in case something spills.

    Snarkus Aurelius, you said something that I think captured how I felt about the situation. I was so nervous and aware that every single thing I did would be judged that I felt myself hyper focused on not falling in the snow or dropping my suitcase or trying to find something to eat on the menu quickly so I didn’t draw attention to myself. I just know it messed so much with my ability to speak up for myself, even if it was something as basic as where can I put my luggage? There isn’t much more I can do except learn from it for the future.

  21. Caroline K

    Sorry if this was brought up already. From what I gathered from OP’s letter- she flew in, went directly to her interview with luggage in tow and was going right back to the airport after the interview. Why in the world did she have a roll on suitcase and not one but 2 tote bags with her!? If the OP had packed for the day she was spending there she would have needed a tote bag only. All this walking around is nuts for a interview, but she wouldn’t have had such an issue with it if she had packed appropriately.

      1. Kelly L.

        Yup. She got in the day or night before, stayed over somewhere, and then the interview was the following day. Her flight wasn’t long after that, and quite possibly she’d already had to check out of the hotel by then too (since usually they want you out by 11ish).

        1. OP

          Yes, checkout was 11 and they were very firm that if I wanted to stay later, it was going to be 50 dollars an hour. I looked into late check out to avoid bringing my luggage with me.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            Just in case it’s useful in the future, most hotels will let you leave your bags with them after you check out if you need to store them somewhere for a few hours (they’ll keep them behind the check-in counter or in an office); you can do that without extending your stay or getting a late check-out.

            But again, don’t worry about doing that for an interview. Take the bags and ask to store them there while you interview.

  22. Not telling

    Would the job involve travel or carrying materials to client meetings (like sales)? Maybe this was a test to see how you would handle it. Because if the job would routinely involve flying to a job site, walking from a hotel or parking garage to a meeting carrying your luggage and samples or materials, then this is the same scenario you would face every day–rain, snow, 110-degree heat, etc. Maybe the interviewer just wanted to see how you would handle that situation.

    Probably the interviewer was just short-sighted and wasn’t thinking of you at all. And I’m sorry that you invested so much (financially and emotionally) to be treated that way.

  23. Job Applicant

    It sounds like a bit of a cluster-cuss, but I fail to see why the interviewer in this case is being seen as Egregious Ogre Numero Uno. Here’s how I look at the list of perceived slights:

    Having to pay for her own travel expenses
    -Perfectly normal in some professions/circumstances, absolutely Not Done in others. Anyway, the OP accepted the interview under those circumstances of her own free will.

    Had to haul luggage
    -If the OP is unable to utter words as simple and straightforward as “Where should I leave this while we’re out,” that sounds like a social phobia that is so far outside the norm that the interviewer should not be expected to anticipate or control for such a reaction. Sure it would have been nice of her to proactively offer a solution, but she isn’t the OP’s personal valet and the OP didn’t ask

    Had to walk to the restaurant in snow
    -This sounds like a completely normal daily occurrence in a location that experiences all 4 seasons. It’s not as though the restaurant was 5 miles away; who on earth would get a taxi or wait for public transportation just to go a few blocks?

    Nothing to eat at the diner
    -Two things here. (1) This wasn’t billed as a lunch meeting anyway, so there was no expectation of eating during the interview in the first place and (2) The OP said there were actually things she could have eaten, she just didn’t care to determine what they were in the moment.

    Lack of typical interview discussion/information
    -It sounds to me like the hiring manager was going for an informal getting-to-know-you kind of interview, perhaps after having already decided that the OP’s qualifications were exactly what they were looking for. (“…she really wanted me in the role.”) If there is information that you would find useful–like where your office would be located or who you will be meeting with next–it is really incumbent upon you to ask.

    I think both the OP and the hiring manager could have handled things better, but I don’t see any horrendous behavior that should make the interviewee run screaming from this opportunity. The manager may not be the hand-holding type, but I don’t believe it is fair to paint her as a selfish and unfeeling monster.

    1. MissDisplaced

      My take on this is that if you are the hiring manager and you know an applicant is coming from out of town (on their own dime no less!) and likely going to the airport after, you should try to be a good host and make them feel comfortable (or at the very least professional). If the meeting was for lunch, for goodness sake pick something close by and convenient! As the host for this interview, it really did fall on the interviewer to set things up to go smoothly.

  24. Lightly Salted

    I can’t imagine why the interviewer didn’t offer to let you store your suitcase in the coat room while you went to lunch. Would they treat a visiting client that way? I’ve been in this situation before and I asked the receptionist if there was a spot I could store my luggage. She said they did this all the time with visitors and job candidates. But even if I hadn’t asked, I think she would have offered to store it if I wanted to do so. Seems like your potential employer missed an easy opportunity to welcome you and in the process made your first impression of them a negative one. To me, this whole scenario demonstrates a lack of awareness and courtesy on their part. But it’s a good reminder that we need to be our best advocates in these situations and speak up for ourselves. I probably would have pressed for more information when they announced it would be a lunch interview. They should have specified that in advance. Also, I think it’s ok to ask via email what the format of the interview will be if they haven’t otherwise told you the basics of what to expect.

  25. Another Steve G

    I would never be afraid to speak up if you have general needs at an interview like leaving some luggage in an office to go out to lunch, but I understand nerves coming into play being in a situation like this. Plus you never know how the pace and tone of the conversation could make a request like this seem prohibitive to ask.

    I personally don’t think paying your own way to interview out of town is a big deal in many situations. Even for high-level positions, many large cities (Boston/NY/Chicago/DC/SF/LA etc) will yield a substantial applicant pool so that a company (especially a non-profit) would have no incentive to pay to fly candidates in to meet them. If a company IS willing to fly a candidate in for an interview, they’ve hopefully vetted said candidate’s motivations for relocating to their city before making that decision. If a candidate told me he or she was relocating to be closer to his/her boy/girlfriend, for instance, I would not consider that candidate further, especially if I had other qualified applicants. Again, every situation, job and company are different and interviewers and interviewees have their own preferences.

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