my interviewer tried to sell me luxury suits, asking an employee if she has kids, and more

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

1. My interviewer rejected me for a job and then tried to sell me luxury suits

I recently applied to an office assistant position at a local insurance agency. The posting was very simple and straightforward (looking for an assistant to file, fax, answer the phones, order office supplies, etc.). The ad also stated that this was an entry-level position and no knowledge of insurance was necessary. I sent off my resume and cover letter, expressing my interest.

I received an email stating that my “qualifications seemed to be a good fit” and was asked to please call the agency later that morning. I called and had a pleasant phone interview with the agency’s owner. She invited me to come in for an interview the following Monday.

The interview went well. The woman was very friendly and seemed to be impressed with my previous experience. As in the posting, she kept stressing that insurance knowledge wasn’t necessary, as my job would just be making sure that the office ran smoothly. As we were shaking hands at the interview’s end, she explained that she had several other candidates to interview, but she would let me know either way by Friday. Friday came and went and I continued to apply to other jobs.

I woke up this morning to an email from this woman. She started off by saying that I did not get the position because she decided to go with someone who had previously worked in “a company like mine.” I was perplexed, because both the online ad and she herself stated that insurance knowledge wasn’t necessary.

The second paragraph mentioned “but I have another opportunity that I think you would be perfect for!” Great, I thought. All hope is not lost. Then she launched into this big spiel about how in addition to running an insurance agency, she is also an independent consultant for a men’s luxury suits and clothing company and if I “or any of your friends are interested,” I could click on one of the links below. It doesn’t seem like she wasn’t looking for an office assistant. She was looking for a commission.

I think I might have already answered the question, but this office assistant position was a scam, right? Is this insurance agency just a cover for this nonsense? The insurance agency’s website and the office looked legitimate (as does her LinkedIn profile), but now I am second-guessing everything. I just feel very used and humiliated and that my time was wasted. I even spent money (money that I really didn’t have) on a nice outfit for the interview.

I suppose it’s possible that the entire thing was a scam, but I wouldn’t assume that. It’s more likely that she did indeed have a job opening to fill, filled it, and now is inappropriately trying to pitch the remaining candidates on her side business. That would be a lot of work to go through for pretty weak sales leads.

But it’s really, really not okay for employers to try to sell things to people who interview for jobs with them.

2. Was I wrong to ask my new employee if she has kids?

I had a meeting today with a small group of employees I do not know–I am new to the organization and these employees work for me. We went around the table introducing ourselves and providing personal and professional information. I asked one of the employees if she had children. (I would never ask that in an interview, of course.) Was this wrong?

It’s not the biggest offense in the world, but wasn’t ideal. First, why ask one person and not the others? That raises questions about whether you were basing the question on her sex or age or maybe something else. Second, you never know if someone is dealing with infertility or some other difficult topic related to having kids. Third, when you’re the new boss trying to get to know your employees, it’s good to let people decide on their own what info about their personal lives they share with you.

But again, it’s not unforgivable. And hell, it might not have even bothered her, who knows.

3. Asking for a raise as a contractor

I’ve been maintaining a web store on an hourly contractor basis for about six months, averaging about 10-20 hours a week. I’m doing a great job, sales are up, and I’ve gained empowerment and have been using it. I knew this would be a long project, but I didn’t know I’d still have work six months later. Would it be hella uncouth to ask for a raise?

Independent contractors don’t really ask for raises; they raise their rates (and potentially negotiate with the client from there).

But in this context, it would be reasonable to say something like, “When we set up our agreement, I didn’t realize this would end up being long-term work. Since it is, I’d like to revisit our payment agreement. I think X would be reasonable for the work I’m doing now.”

4. Running into an interviewer at a professional conference

I had my second interview just over a month ago and I am still waiting to hear back. However, last week I was at a professional conference where, over the course of a few days, I repeatedly crossed paths with one of the search committee members who interviewed me. I was prepared to make a friendly gesture in passing, but this person either purposely avoided eye contact with me or honestly did not realize I was there before moving on. Multiple times.

It was an awkward position to be in, for sure. I wasn’t going to confront this person about the job, of course, but it would have been nice to have at least recognized each other to address the elephant in the room. Our interview was several hours long followed by a lunch together, so I don’t think I would be completely forgotten so soon.

Given that I will likely continue job searching within my field and seeing these potential employers at this annual conference, is there a correct way to interact with someone who has interviewed you, either recently or in the past? Or do we just pretend we have never met?

I’d treat an interviewer in this context just like any other business contact who you know but don’t know well: Smile, nod, say “good to see you,” and keep moving. If you put the person into the “business contact” mental category rather than “interviewer,” it will probably help you do that both automatically and more naturally.

5. Hiring someone who can’t start until two months after the advertised start date

I would like an outsider’s opinion on a recent hiring decision that took place at our company. Our current director is leaving, and I was the only internal candidate who applied for his position. I interviewed and was told I was qualified and was a strong candidate. Only one other person, an outsider, was interviewed, but this person was friends with members of the board of directors on the hiring committee. The outsider was hired. They then informed the board they cannot start until two months after the position’s advertised start date — and the board of directors is allowing that.

My question is — is that proper? The previous director was supposed to train the new hire for a month, but now this person will be stepping into our company cold. The other staff members and I feel something shady took place, but I would like an another perspective.

Sure, employers adjust start dates for the person they want to hire all the time. Not every position allows for it, but when it does, there’s no reason not to be flexible on something like that. In lots of positions, waiting an extra two months would be a non-issue. That’s especially true the more senior the position is. For a director position, it would be very normal.

It’s not ideal that the person won’t overlap with the outgoing director, certainly, but that isn’t always going to trump other considerations.

It sounds like you’re concerned that the person may have gotten special treatment because of the relationship with a board member. It’s certainly possible — but it’s also possible that they were actually the strongest candidate.

{ 264 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia

    In #5 I am catching an odd sense of how business and hiring works — as if it is a game with firm rules and flexibility is not possible and it is ‘no fair’ that things did not go as the OP would like. As any mid level or low level employee knows, it is not at all rare that highly sought after upper level hirees are given the moon and the stars and the starting date of their dreams while the rest of us mere morals are told ‘there is no money in the budget’ for this trivial thing that would make your life better. It sucks,but it is neither ‘shady’ nor illegal.

    1. Jeanne

      I got the same “it’s unfair” feeling. We all know things are unfair but it’s frustrating when it hits you like this. The only thing you can really do is pretend it didn’t upset you.

      1. Artemesia

        It isn’t ‘unfair’ to hire someone you think is more qualified than the OP and to give them a convenient starting date. It might be unwise but it is not unfair. If the preferred hiree had not accepted, it would also not be ‘unfair’ to list the job again and not just give it to the OP because s/he was next best in this round and the listing said for start on X date. Fair doesn’t come into it other than perhaps the application having been actually looked at.

        1. fposte

          The problem is that there are different kinds of fair. This is absolutely job fair–they hired the person they thought best suited, whom they happened to know, and arranged a useful start date.

          What it isn’t is queue fair–in queue terms, this person jumped the line and wasn’t even ready to be waited on. That’s the kind of thing that does indeed raise hackles at the grocery store. But that doesn’t make it unfair in *this* situation.

    2. Jen S. 2.0

      What they said. This situation was inconvenient for you, but that’s different from wrong or “not proper.” Companies don’t have to be 100% even or equal or fair in hiring. To be sure, there are laws they can’t violate, but they don’t have to treat every candidate equally.

      Also, companies are looking to hire the very best candidate…sometimes at all costs. If giving the very best candidate a few concessions, or bending a few arbitrary rules, is what gets them in, well, so be it. Again, that’s not ideal for the candidates that aren’t the favored ones, but …that’s different from wrong.

    3. UKAnon

      +1

      Also, OP, I notice that you say other employees are feeling the same. I would caution against getting involved in any of that chatter – it’s very easy for someone higher up to jump from ‘didn’t get hired’ to ‘stirring up trouble’.

    4. Snowglobe

      I agree, but I also don’t see anything about this that is “not fair”. They chose to make an offer to another candidate. Once they decided that the other candidate was the one they wanted, they decided it was worth it to delay the start date. How is that not “fair” to the OP?

    5. Tuba

      I need to give 60 days’ notice at my current job, which is common for my position/industry.

    6. Armchair Analyst

      I negotiated my start date, and my employment status, from full-time to part-time.
      Why? Because I interviewed when I was 8 months pregnant, and was the best candidate for the job.

      You want to have a baby while being unemployed for looking for work? #notfair

    7. themmases

      Also, I think adjusting a start date is just the biggest non-issue in many cases. Mine was adjusted for me at my previous job, and I’m a lowly research assistant. A lot of start dates are very optimistic (mine was “immediately”, in theory). The later it gets in the process, the more employers are seeing that first hand and weighing a month of training vs. getting their first choice.

      A director is a really important hire, and in non-profits rapport with the board can be a big part of it. It’s hard for me to believe someone qualified to be one would suddenly not be feasible as a candidate because they wouldn’t get a month of training.

    8. KD

      If I can play devil’s advocate — yes its easy to say #5 is whining about “unfair” practices (technically though they never asked if it was fair – the said “proper” and “shady”). But what caught me about #5 was how the person hired was friends with those on the hiring committee. That makes me wonder — why didn’t the friends excuse themselves from the hiring process due to conflict of interest? This was something I was always asked to do when I was hiring and a friend applied. It makes me wonder if the hiring committee was biased to the friend and hired them regardless of whether they were the best candidate for the job. Perhaps that’s is what is at the heart of their question. Just MHO.

      1. Spiky Plant

        It’s also entirely possible that what OP thinks is “friends” really means “contact,” like that it’s a person that a few people on the board know, perhaps even from professional settings. Perhaps it’s someone the board has had their eye on for that role for years, and now the position is suddenly available and/or the magical candidate is suddenly available. In which case, you might still argue that there should have been some recusing, but there are still lots of reasons why they wouldn’t.

  2. Lillie Lane

    #1: This reminds me of the interviewer that tried to sell the job applicant some make-up. How can anyone think this is appropriate?

    1. Jeanne

      Who buys “luxury men’s suits” from a home business like Avon? Reminds me of that old Cheers episode where Cliff was selling shoes.

    2. Jane

      Yes. OP dodged a bullet. The interviewer may or may not have had a position to fill, but she is definitely strange and probably not someone OP would want to work with. I think she was probably just looking for people for her weird pyramid suit-selling scheme all along. (I do agree with Alison that she probably did really have an insurance company, but I don’t get the feeling there was ever a real position to fill.)

      1. Cheesecake

        Ehm, i am so not sure anyone would set up a fake interview to pitch their side-gig. A local insurance agency doesn’t sound like a company with one employee and promoting anything non-business related, using business resources like that, is a case for immediate dismissal.

        1. Elizabeth

          A lot of the insurance agencies where I am are single-proprietor. They may or may not have employees beyond the insurance agent, and the agent is in charge.

          1. Pennalynn Lott

            Yep, I once worked for a property restoration company and my whole job was driving around to dozens of different insurance agency offices every single day. Some had the agent-owner and a small staff, but most were just the agent themselves and *maybe* one other person. Even the ones working solo still had offices with multiple desks and at least one separate office, though, to make it look like they were a “real” business. Offices with more than 2-3 people in them were a rarity. And I can count on one hand the number of offices with 10 people or more (out of the several hundred that were part of my territory).

            1. Spiky Plant

              Yep! I applied at an insurance agent’s office, and I would have been the fourth employee (including the agent).

    3. INTP

      People that participate in multilevel marketing schemes quickly lose their awareness of what’s socially appropriate (or maybe they just lose their sense of caring what is appropriate). I get that they were probably sucked into a situation where they must be wildly inappropriate to break even on the buy in costs but it sure is annoying.

    4. Traveler

      If this is the insurance side of sales, I think its possible to lose sight. Like anything sales based there are ebbs and tides in the market. The people I’ve known that work on the insurance side of things tended to have other sales based side jobs to try to shore up finances when insurance wasn’t doing well.

      It’s inappropriate in the wider context, and this woman certainly made things awkward for OP, but IME sales people tend to have a pretty different frame of reference of when sales are appropriate. To them, pretty much any time is. So says the postings about fatal car crashes on social media followed by “And this is why you should have insurance….” commentary. I find it really gauche, but they seem to think its normal. I’ve assumed its an inside-sales cultural thing.

  3. neverjaunty

    OP #2, if you were all providing personal information, why not simply share information about yourself, and then your direct reports can do the same, so that nobody is volunteering anything they think is too personal or private? It seems really weird to me to have an introductory session where ‘introducing ourselves’ means ‘the boss asking questions about employees’ personal lives’, since the employees aren’t really in a good position to say that the question is intrusive or personal. And as AAM said, children are one of those areas where you can step on a landmine; imagine if you’d asked that of an employee who just had a miscarriage.

    1. TheLazyB

      Yeah, 6years ago that question would have made me cry. Possibly in the meeting :(

      1. TeapotCounsel

        This.
        I avoid asking women if they have children. If they want to talk about it, they’ll let me know. My experience is that childless women are either 1) disappointed that they haven’t/can’t have children or 2) don’t want children and are sick of people assuming that they do.
        Instead, I ask about pets, and then I show them a picture of mine.

        1. Jane

          I find the pets question sometimes gets me information about kids anyway. “Nope, no pets, but I do have a 1-year-old who drools like a St. Bernard.”

          1. The Office Admin

            Haha! I get the “do you have kids?” question a lot, I always say, “No, but I have an English Bull Terrier who acts like a toddler”
            Most people laugh, one woman told me: a dog isn’t like having a child at all.
            And I thought, clearly you don’t know my dog, she throws tantrums

            1. Koko

              If you really want to escalate the cat fight, reply, “You’re right. It’s better than having a child.”

              1. AnonEMoose

                Or: “True, I can leave the dog/cat alone in the house while I’m at work, and it’s totally fine.”

                1. TheLazyB

                  I have a child and no pets. I am jealous as hell about this part of that equation and if one of my friends said that to me i would laugh. I would love to be able to walk to the post box while my DS is asleep and my DH is out!

                  Maybe not in work, though….

              2. M. S.

                Where’s the Thumb Up for that !

                *My wife and I are currently owned by 6 cats – and no children*

            2. Traveler

              Most people laugh, one woman told me: a dog isn’t like having a child at all.

              I really can’t stand when people get this up in arms about the child/pet comparison. Even if it wasn’t anything like having a child, if the person is childless, it’s the closest thing they have to understanding it. So if for them its like a child? Who cares?

              1. Rana

                Speaking as both a cat owner and the mother of a toddler, I suspect it’s because the comparison can come across as minimizing (to both parties, actually). Parenthood, for good or ill, is a lot more encompassing than pet ownership, and if you’re struggling, for someone who’s not struggling in the same way to claim that their situation is “the same” can be aggravating.

                1. Retail Lifer

                  I know I have it far easier than a parent does. Child protective services tends to frown upon leaving your kids home alone for 9 hours a day.

              2. Brandy

                Agreed. I cant stand people who are so serious like the woman you mention. Just laugh and move on.
                My pets are my babies and do not make the mistake of asking about them as I can talk your head off about them.

                1. Michele

                  Oh yeah. Last fall we adopted a rescue dog, and I will prattle on about her for hours.

            3. jenn

              Yup, I came here to say the same thing. As a woman who can’t have children, I am always amazed how people reference it all the time offering blanket statements about it being the only way to ever experience love/meaning/worth (take your pick). Even the simple assumption that it’s okay to ask the woman of child bearing age if she has kids is close minded.

        2. AnonEMoose

          I’m childfree; it’s not the “do you have kids” question I mind. I’ll just cheerfully answer “nope, just two very spoiled cats.” The one that does bother me is the follow-up “Why don’t you have kids?”

          Just…don’t ask that. It’s awkward for the childfree, and can be devastatingly painful for someone who wants children and isn’t able to have them.

          In general, I think it’s better to let someone volunteer any information they choose about whether or not they have children, a spouse or partner, whatever.

          1. Faith

            As someone who entered medically induced menopause at the age of 15 (chemo and radiation back in the early 80s), I don’t have kids. No one has ever asked me why, but I would just make something up that was a polite statement.

            I’ve always been surprised at people who get overly upset / emotionally about this question. It’s just social chitchat and really meaningless unless you let it be. Was I ever upset? Sure, but even in the midst of depressed feelings, I’m an adult and can handle a variety of topics. I would give a pass to recent miscarriages being upset, but to not ask because there might be a woman who suffered one within the vicinity? Seems a bit overkill to me.

            1. AnonEMoose

              I’m totally willing to give a pass to the “Do you have kids?” question.

              The one I don’t like is “Why not?”

              Because it’s intrusive, and in my experience, when I reply “by choice” or something similar, that’s when the “Oh, but kids are wonderful” “You’ll change your mind” “Doesn’t your husband mind” stuff starts. Which does make me want to punch people in the throat.

              I’m fine with being pretty direct with people in purely social situations about just how much not their business it is. But when it’s at work, especially when it’s your boss, it makes things trickier. Plus, when it’s the boss, I’ll inevitably have the “great, now he/she knows I don’t have kids…am I going to get all the requests to stay late/cover for the parents/have a harder time getting the vacation time I want” questions lurking in the back of my mind. At least until the boss has demonstrated otherwise.

              1. Marcela

                Ugh. My own mother warned me about no wanting to have children, telling me my husband was going to change his opinion one of these days and either leave me or cheat on me with a woman who does want to have them.

          2. nonegiven

            Don’t people who want kids usually say they are childless rather than childfree? I take childfree as code for choosing to not have them.

        3. limenotapple

          I really like the pets question. That’s a great idea.

          I think the thing that bothers me about the kids question is that I don’t see people asking men in the workplace this as much as women (probably not always, I recognize that). I would rather try to engage people with the same questions I’d ask to anyone.

        4. Manders

          Yes! It’s an especially risky question to ask if you’re someone’s boss, because the real answer may be “I want kids, but can’t have them while I’m working these long hours” or “I don’t think I could afford kids on my salary” or “I really want to wait until I can be a stay-at-home parent before I start trying for kids.” There’s a very good chance that someone’s reasons for not having kids could be something related to work or income, and that’s not something you want to divulge to your boss.

          1. Buffay the Vampire Layer

            This is a really good point.

            It’s especially awkward getting the kids question at work when my truthful answer is that I can’t think about kids until my career is off the ground which means getting out of my current job and into something I actually want to do.

        5. Michele

          Whenever people ask me about kids, I pull out my phone and show them pictures of my dogs.

        6. INTP

          And it’s not just childless women who might be bothered by the question. Maybe there’s a mom who had a previous workplace where women with kids were passed over for responsibilities or who is working on keeping a less maternal image in the workplace who just wants a chance to prove herself before talking about her family. Maybe she’s in a nontraditional family dynamic that she doesn’t want to disclose until she knows her new boss is accepting and knows questions about kids will lead to talk about families and make it difficult not to share the whole picture. Maybe she doesn’t have custody of her kids and doesn’t want to be judged for that. Like Alison said, when the question is asked in this context it eliminates someone’s choice not to share that information and there are all kinds of reasons someone might not want to share their family status right away with a new team. (I do agree with some commenters that if the woman said something that basically implied she had kids then it’s less egregious.)

      2. MsChanandlerBong

        It would make me cry right now. I’m not infertile, but I have serious health problems, and a) I’d probably die during pregnancy/childbirth and b) I don’t think it’s fair to bring a child into the world if you don’t have the stamina for it (I have lupus, heart disease, and kidney disease; I tire very easily, and I don’t have the strength to haul a baby around). It doesn’t help that practically everyone I know is pregnant or recently gave birth. I find myself crying at Carter’s commercials and tearing up at the thought of having to be buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave because my husband preceded me in death and I don’t have any children to make sure I’m given a decent burial. Pathetic, huh?

        1. Rana

          That’s not pathetic! You’re in a really difficult and disappointing situation; no wonder you’re feeling emotional about it.

        2. Muriel Heslop

          It’s not pathetic at all. You are human and acknowledging your feelings – that takes a lot of courage. I can only imagine how hard that must be.

        3. sunny-dee

          It’s not going to be that bad! I know it doesn’t feel like it … but you won’t hit your worst case.

          I know *exactly* how you feel. I had a miscarriage*** a little over a month ago, and it’s iffy — not impossible, but iffy — that I’ll be able to have kids. I’ve had those questions myself — am I going to die alone? Who will take care or me or my husband if I’m a million years old and sick? Will anyone even care? And I have three church friends who are due within two months of when I was, so I have all sorts of reminders.

          Please grieve now — don’t feel like I’m rushing you. But on the other side you (and I) will be okay. It may not be what you (or I) envisioned, but it’ll be good and you’ll be okay.

          So many hugs.

          *** A couple of you guys asked how I was when I mentioned that on another thread. I am okay, and thank you for caring. It means a lot.

      3. saro

        YUp, I’ve been there too. I had a former co-worker start an email by asking if I was pregnant yet (after losing my first born a few hours after he was born too early the previous year). I was in the middle of a miscarriage when I received her email. She was actually emailing to say she was job searching! I normally respond to every email I get but that was deleted with no response.

        1. Windchime

          Ouch. I’m guessing she meant well, but that must have been so hurtful. I’m guessing she didn’t mean to be hurtful, but still. I’m so sorry for your losses.

    2. Lanya

      I do not hate the “Do you have any kids?” question unless it is immediately followed by the presumptuous “When are you going to have them?” which, when answered with a negatory, almost always induces a patronizing “You’ll change your mind.”

      1. Nashira

        Is it ever not followed by that question? Then again, I am sensitized now when I wasn’t always. It will happen after having some acquaintances outright say, and others imply, that you shouldn’t have kids because you’re disabled.

        1. Armchair Analyst

          As a parent, I now tell people that they’re making a good choice.
          I trust them to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.

          1. fposte

            Unless it’s a laughing comment when you’ve had a bad morning wrestling with Junior, I’d be a little startled at getting my choice weighed in on even positively, though. It’s kind of like unsolicitedly approving of somebody’s eating choice.

            1. Traveler

              Yes. And I’ve had the approving commentary followed by more patronizing commentary. “Well thats good that you’re not having children. That’s the best decision, if you’re even a little bit unsure. Children deserved to be adored cherished and loved, and parenting is the hardest job on earth. Children don’t deserve someone who questions being a parent even a little bit.”

              1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

                Ugh! If you’re not even a little unsure about the enormity of parenthood I question whether you’re being realistic about the task ahead of you.

                1. Traveler

                  Right? Its the hardest job on earth – you should be really questioning if you’re up for that. And it makes me think about my friends who are exhausted after consecutive nights of being up caring for sick children who I am sure question whether or not they were really up for it, and should be allowed that moment of “holy crap what did i get myself into!” without being deemed poor parents.

                2. Holly Olly Oxen Free

                  If anyone ever told me that they never had that “holy crap” moment, I wouldn’t believe them. There are a lot of things that can make someone a poor parent. That is not one of them.

              2. Windchime

                Oh my gosh, do people actually say things like this!?? What is *wrong* with people!

          2. LBK

            That’s still pretty inappropriate to me, honestly. Judging their choice either way isn’t really your place (and if I were someone that didn’t want children who was in earshot of that conversation I’d be rather insulted).

          3. nona

            I’m sorry, I don’t want to be “that person,” but that choice isn’t an easy or happy one for everyone.

            Like fposte said, though, depends on context and tone.

          4. Oryx

            But it’s not always a decision. Sometimes it’s the reality of the situation so while I know you mean well in saying that, assuming it was a choice can be hurtful to those who struggle with infertility.

        2. Mike C.

          What in the hell? I didn’t realize the question could get any more offensive until now.

          1. Michele

            I think women get the offensive stuff more than men, but my husband has had people tell him that he will never know true love unless he has kids (because apparently our marriage is a sham) or that I will leave him if he doesn’t “let” me have kids. Bwaaahaaaahaaaa.

            1. Windchime

              Women totally get more offensive stuff than men. You should have heard the crap I got when my now-ex husband and I decided on 50/50 shared custody back in the ’90’s. You’d have thought I was selling my kids off to work in the shoe factory for all the shocked comments I got. For wanting my kids to be equally parented by their own father. It was bizarre. “How can you give your kids up!???” (It’s hard to be without them half the time, but their Dad loves them too and they need him.) “If you give him shared custody, he will take them from you!” Or the best one, people wanting to know what happened that I “lost” my kids in the divorce. He got nothing but congratulations for wanting to share custody, but I was a bad mom because I was willing to allow him to parent. (At the time, shared custody wasn’t the default).

            2. KS

              Hubby doesn’t care about his parents either, I guess? >_< Grandparents, siblings, big ol meh to losing any of them? Oy.

      2. AnonEMoose

        Totally with you on this one. I’m not getting the “you’ll change your mind” so much any more, fortunately, because I always had to stifle responses that would have been very inappropriate for the workplace.

      3. Michele

        I am not a violent person, but everyone who has ever said, “you’ll change your mind” deserves to be punched in the throat.

        1. Lanya

          I’ve been getting that comment since I was 14. I’m 31 now. Still haven’t changed my mind!

          1. SerfinUSA

            When I was 31 I had to ‘fight’ my doctor to get my tubes tied. Yeah, this was back in 97, but having to bring my then-husband in to sign off on my choice??
            I’m almost 49 now, and regrets? I have NONE!

            1. Lanya

              Ah, I am about to enter into that battle myself. I am hoping there is a doctor near me who will let me do it without a fight. Wish me luck!

        2. Rana

          Yeah, I figure once a person has reached legal adulthood there should be a moratorium on that question.

          (And even when you’re talking to a kid, it’s more productive to frame it as “Don’t close off the possibility; you might change your mind. Or you might not, but it’s too early to say yet.”)

          1. AnonEMoose

            When I was a kid, that would have made me see red. I hated that “you’ll see it differently when you’re older/it’s too early to decide that” stuff with a white-hot passion, and adults who said that to me lost credibility immediately.

            Maybe something like, “Whatever you decide is ok; some people really want to have kids, and some don’t” might be better.

            1. Rana

              It’s so hard to tell with kids, though. There were things I swore I’d never do when I was a kid… because I knew nothing about them, but ended up liking. And then there were some things that, nope, I never changed my mind on. That’s why I framed it as “don’t decide yet; you have time.” Because, well, kids do.

              1. AnonEMoose

                It’s true that kids do change their minds about some things as they get older; adults change their minds about some things, too. But as a kid, it felt dismissive to be told “well, you might change your mind.” Framing it as “whatever you decide is ok” would have felt much more respectful.

      4. Book Person

        Ugh, nth-ing the loathing for that follow-up question. Why yes, perfect stranger; you know me and my goals/finances/health soooooooooo much better than I do. It is almost as condescending as the smug “you don’t know /real/ love until you have a kid” comments.

      5. jenn

        To which I always answer, well, if I do change my mind, let’s hope my folded over fallopian tubes do too.

    3. Frances

      I think there’s a good chance this could have come up in casual conversation, though, rather than something like an interrogation. I can see it going something like this:

      Boss: What did you do this weekend?
      Employee: I went to the zoo. It was great!
      Boss: Oh fun! Do you have any kids? I love taking my son there

      Or something like that.

      1. neverjaunty

        This wasn’t casual conversation, though, this was “new boss introduction session.”

        I could certainly see it coming up in conversation, in which case it’s just kinda clueless (leave out the “do you have kids” and the discussion flows the same way), but this is a bit more fraught.

        1. Sunflower

          Yeah but the session could have been casual. Like someone could have said ‘I like going to the zoo’ and boss replied with that comment.

          1. neverjaunty

            Sure, but it’s still awkward. “Oh fun! I love taking my son there” leaves an opening for an employee to volunteer information if they want.

        2. Kai

          It could have been a pretty casual meeting, though–those types of introduction things often are. Not that that makes it okay, but I could see the OP asking the question on the fly and cringing about it later.

          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            See, even that I don’t think is a great question. I’d think it was a pretty odd thing for a boss to ask, especially one who I was just meeting.

          2. Sadsack

            Yeah, this is assuming that everyone has a nice happy family, or any family at all. This question is no better at all, really.

          3. Human Remorses

            I was once asked in an interview (by a childless, female, CEO in her 60s), “Do you have a family?” I immediately just thought of my parents, grandparents, sister…and said “yes, (laughed a little) of course.” Then it hit me, what she really meant. I’m not married, no kids…so I sighed and said “no, I don’t have kids.”

      2. INTP

        Even then, it’s a tone deaf and inappropriate question from a new boss. There are legit work image reasons someone might not want to share their family status far beyond just feeling sad or annoyed at the question and asking takes the option not to disclose that away. While it’s more socially acceptable, it can be as problematic for the askee as casually asking them about their religion or if they are pregnant or have any chronic illnesses.

      3. Michele

        It can definitely come up in casual conversation. It can also come up if you see a picture on someone’s desk. It is just presumptuous and boring to default to it as an introduction question.

    4. Allison

      When I was a young kid, my mom told me that if I saw a couple without children, I should never ask them why they didn’t have any kids because the question could make them very sad. I didn’t know about infertility or miscarriage at the time, but I did understand that if two people wanted kids but couldn’t have them, it must make them sad to be reminded.

      Then when I grew up I was acutely aware that some people simply don’t want kids, and people who choose not to have them do not appreciate being constantly asked why they don’t have kids, or told they’ll change their minds. I also became aware of people who did want kids someday, but aren’t “there” yet, and really don’t like being nagged to “get going” so they can get themselves married and start popping out tiny humans.

      AND let’s not forget the people who got pregnant at a young age, or simply before they planned on it, and either decided to have the child and be a single parent (which they may not want to disclose for fear of slut shaming), or they gave the child up for adoption or had an abortion, which they may have mixed feelings about.

      Basically, whether someone has kids can be intensely personal, and it’s not in good taste to ask about it, especially if you don’t know them well, and especially in a meeting at work where they’ll likely feel put on the spot. It’s really important to remember that while most people do get married and have kids somewhere between their mid 20’s and mid 30’s, that’s not the path everyone ends up taking.

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

        You must have had a great mom. I really hate being asked about kids – it’s just an exercise in dodging a question and trying hold myself together. I also dislike the follow-up comments that assume childless people are childless by choice.

        At the same time, I think that manypeople who have kids really like being asked about their kids and getting to share something special about them. I get that – they are proud of their kids and it’s a big part of their life. Since so many people react positively to this question, it doesn’t occur to some people that it’s a really hard questions for others.

        The other thing I could do without is people (especially new parents) who like to explain to me how special it is to be a parent and how I’ll understand someday. Even thought it’s not intended this way, I can’t help but feel like it’s similar to someone saying “It is so amazing to be wealthy! Someday maybe you will understand how fun and fulfilling it is to have tons and tons of money! But for now, I just wanted to make sure you realize how good I have it.” (I realize I’m taking something personally that I shouldn’t – just being honest).

        1. Allison

          Or maybe more similar: “it feels so good to be married, one day you’ll meet that one special person and you’ll know how wonderful it is; you’ll feel so whole and your life will be complete.” Great sentiment, but if you say that to someone whose fiancee left them, or they’re going through a divorce, or someone really special to them died, or maybe they’re gay in a state where gay marriage is okay and homophobia is a cultural norm, or they’re in any other situation where marriage just doesn’t feel like a thing that’ll happen for them, it might make them feel really sad.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

            Absolutely. It’s so easy to make the assumption that the “traditional” path is everyone’s path. Even people who want that path might not be able to have it. There’s also a weird assumption that everyone who has kids is better off for having them, that everyone who is married is happier than they would otherwise be, etc.

              1. Editor

                Be nice to other people about their choices. You never know when you’ll need their perspective.

                I have even more respect for the single people I know these days, who when my husband died unexpectedly years ago stuck by me and listened to me moan about how much I missed him and gave me excellent advice about how to live alone. I was unusually fortunate to have a lot of friends who weren’t married, and they were incredibly patient with me.

    5. JC

      I am a married woman who doesn’t have kids by choice. I totally, totally get that 95% of the time that someone asks me if I have kids, they are doing it to make friendly conversation on a topic that the majority of married adults have in common. But I still don’t love being asked it, even if it’s not followed by questions on why I don’t have/want them, because answering “no” to that question is a real conversation-stopper. I’m not going to elaborate on the topic of my lack of children to someone I do not know well (and especially not to a new boss), and so there is nothing else to say without completely shifting the conversation.

      I guess the bottom line is, when asking that question, think about how the person might feel if the answer is no. Even though I am content that my answer is “no,” I still feel like I am outing myself when I say it to a stranger since so many people have negative reactions to people (and women especially) who do not have or want children.

      1. Retail Lifer

        This is so true. I’m childless by choice and about the only thing I’m looking forward to as I inch towards being 40 is that at some point I’ll finally be too old for people to insist that I’ll change my mind.

        My friends and family know this is my choice and my mind won’t change, but it’s incredibly annoying to keep having the “you’ll change your mind” conversation with new people. It’s not the norm, so people want an explanation and that’s not something I’m going to talk about at work.

        1. Michele

          I noticed that when I crossed 40, people FINALLY stopped pressuring me to have kids or assuming that they knew more about what I wanted out of my life than I do.

          By the way, turning 40 isn’t a big deal. Don’t dread it. My life is great.

          1. Spring Sunshine

            Agree so much. Except I have had a few people ask me instead if I regret not having children!

            1. Michele

              Do you reply, “No. It was the best decision ever! I love my life and feel so fulfilled!” I do and I mean it sincerely. All it takes is one brief conversation comparing our weekends for them to realize that I am not sitting at home mourning my neglected uterus.

            2. Cath in Canada

              The best response to that is “do you regret having yours?”, just like the best response to “you’ll change your mind” is “yeah, you might, too”. Reflecting the sentiment back like that seems to bring it home that it’s not an appropriate thing to say, in either direction.

              1. SerfinUSA

                Oh so much yes!

                I’m the oldest of six, and helped one of my sisters with the birth of one of her kids. When people tell me I don’t know what I’m missing I reply that I’ve done it all but bear them and breastfeed them, and I’ve seen enough to be ok with missing out on that.

              2. Windchime

                I love this, Cath. I know it would feel rude to me to reverse it on someone like that, but still–it really does illustrate how these are not sentiments that are appropriate to share.

        2. periwinkle

          I just turned 50. No, the question doesn’t automatically go away. “You could adopt!”

        3. Person of Interest

          +1. I just turned 40, have no children (or pets), and have been married for 10 years. The most common response I get when I tell someone I don’t have children is “Well, you still have time.” Not cool.

        4. Loose Seal

          After I turned 40, instead of people asking if I had kids, they now ask if I have grandkids. Now, I live in an area where people will marry and start raising families immediately after high school so it’s not unusual for a grandparent to be in their early 40s but I had looked forward to being old enough where I wasn’t asked about my child status every time I met someone but this isn’t what I thought would happen instead!!

      2. Jipsy's Mom

        +1
        I’m fine with my choice not to have kids, and like JC, I know that most folks who ask are just trying to be nice. But the silence after someone asks if I have kids and I just say “Nope” can be hard to overcome. (Also, in case it’s not obvious… the “Jipsy’s Mom” user name refers to my awesome dog.)

        1. SerfinUSA

          And now a study is making the rounds about the oxytocin connection between dogs and their people, so being childfree doesn’t mean missing out on that kind of bond either (as if we pet people didn’t already know that!)

      3. Michele

        I think that a lot of people default to conversations about kids because they don’t know what else to talk about. Their lives revolve around their children, and they can’t imagine that someone else isn’t the same way. I feel sad for people who can only have conversations about children.

        One of the better “get to know each other” around-the-table discussions I had asked what we did last weekend. Of course, anything could be fraught with drama (no one said they went to a funeral) but for the most part, it was good. It provided an opportunity for people to talk about what was important to them without assuming that they fit into a societal niche.

        1. Mabel

          I’m out pretty much everywhere now, but when I wasn’t, I had to make up things I did on the weekend & people I did them with. I dreaded being asked about personal stuff. I do all kinds of really interesting things, but I must have seemed like the most boring person on earth because I didn’t want to get into the details.

          1. Michele

            I know what you are saying. I am a fairly private person. Plus, I do things that are interesting to me but not other people. For example, I had an adventure triathlon last weekend. It was a blast, but to someone who doesn’t do that sort of thing, it is boring. People want to talk about things that they can relate to, and most people can’t relate to racing a kayak down a river in the pouring rain. They CAN relate to talking about potty training a toddler, though, so they default to that for conversation.

    6. Juli G.

      Can I devil’s advocate that any question has land mines? If you ask someone if they’re married, they could be widowed or have had a terrible divorce or be unable to legally marry or have found out the day before their spouse is having an affair.

      If you ask if they have pets, they may just have put their dog down.

      If you ask about their parents, maybe they recently died or have Alzeheimer’s or cancer.

      I think we need to be sensitive to how others respond and learn to pick up cues to drop a topic but it’s hard to have a moratorium on all questions that would make a person sad.

      1. Juli G.

        And I’ll tack on that the question that bothers me is “how far apart are your kids?” I had a miscarriage/D&C after kid 1 so the age difference is longer than I planned. It always make me uncomfortable when people tell me waited the right amount of time or that we waited too long.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

          Yes. There’s no need to comment on this kind of thing.

          Juli, I see your point, but I think that what Alison was saying was that, at least in an employment situation, it’s best to wait for people to share personal things with you. You can open the door, if you like, by sharing personal things about yourself.

          1. KarenT

            I think too, though, that people who are questioning around kids often imply some sort of value judgement that you don’t get with a pet or a parent. Like when people ask me and I say that I don’t have kids, I get this look of pity (that I swear is increasing with my age) or disapproval (also worsening with age).

      2. Lanya

        I see your point, and I agree that there is always a chance that a personal question will hit on a raw nerve. But I think the major difference with the “kids” question is that it is frequently contested or commented on in a really thoughtless way.

        People do not generally try to convince someone to be come un-divorced, or tell them they will change their mind about being divorced in a few years. If they find out someone’s parent has died, the conversation usually ends there with an “I’m sorry” – they don’t keep asking painful questions about what the person is doing about it like they might do when they hear about a miscarriage.

        1. TheVet

          People do tend to probe after I say my mother is dead. I think it’s because I look young, so they (rightly) assume that she must have been young when she died. The don’t pick up on my cues that I don’t really want to talk about it. They’ll ask how old I was (young) or how old she was (young) or how she died/what happened (she’d been sick since she was a child). None of these things are untrue save for the last one. She had been sick since she was a child, but it had nothing to do with her death.

          OR they’ll exclaim that they don’t know what they’d do with themselves if their mother died and that makes me feel like I didn’t love my mother enough to not feel the same way when she died. I mourned and still mourn almost 15 years later, but I never felt like I couldn’t go on.

          I don’t want to discuss my dead mother with anyone and I’m extra prickly about it because it’s almost Mother’s Day, which is a few days after her birthday which is a few weeks after she died, and the questions are always ramped up during this time.

          1. gingersnap

            Ditto, on all counts. (19 years since my mom died, and I’m now the same age she was when I was born, which is all weird and emotional too. No, I don’t have kids). And heck, you don’t have a choice *except* to keep going after someone dies. It has nothing to do with how much you loved them or not. I do the same things in my life as anyone else, just with a lot less love and support than I would have had otherwise. Solidarity!

            My approach when I’m talking to others is to not ask questions, unless they make it clear it’s something they want to talk about (if you’re telling me out of the blue that you’ve had multiple miscarriages and working through giving up your dreams of parenthood, I’ll ask followup questions and do my best to help you talk through whatever you need to, but I’m NOT going to start that conversation)

          2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

            +1 to this.

            I’ve never lost anyone I was particularly close to. What advice do you have for how to respond to someone who tells you they’ve lost someone? I don’t usually say much (or ask questions!), but I’d love to hear from someone who has been there.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              “I’m so sorry — that must be tough.”

              I like it when people then go on to ask me questions about my dad, but not everyone does.

              1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

                Thanks –
                That’s an important distinction, I think – to ask about the person’s life, not their death.

        2. jag

          So if I understand correctly, it’s inappropriate for me to ask someone about children because other people follow-up to that question in an offensive way. Interesting.

          1. Just Another Techie

            When people ask me when I’m going to have children or, as one person did last week, “So, you’re embracing the smug childfree lifestyle, aren’t you” I reply with all the gory details of ten years of trying to conceive, infertility treatments, miscarriages, almost bleeding to death because my doctor didn’t believe I was miscarrying, what a 13w fetus looks like, and how old my children would be now if I hadn’t miscarried.

            Ask a horrible, intrusive, inappropriate, invasive, intimate question, and get a horrible answer in return.

            1. Judy

              My mom told me once that she used to answer the question with “Not everyone gets what they want”. (Most of my father’s siblings got married right out of high school, and started having kids. Mom was done with college, and they were married 6 years before I was born.)

              Let people work out what it means.

          2. lowercase holly

            actually i usually wonder why the person is asking. why do they want to know if i’m married or have kids? it isn’t the question itself, it is my interpretation of why they want to know. are they doing to use that info against me either consciously or unconsciously? best to just not ask. usually i’m not bothered because most people who’ve asked haven’t had bad intentions. but you never know how another person is going to interpret why you are asking.

          3. Rana

            No, it’s inappropriate because you don’t know whether it’s a neutral question or not, and it’s not kind to trigger an emotional response in a setting that’s not appropriate for such emotions.

      3. LBK

        I think certain questions like children are more painful because they’re more frequently loaded – you generally don’t get judged for having a deceased parent or not having pets, but there tends to be more judgment that accompanies not having children. You also rarely get uncomfortable follow up questions. No one tends to grill you about your choice of not getting a dog or tell you you’ll change your mind about wanting one.

        1. Allison

          Unless you run with a nerdy crowd and you don’t have a cat. “You don’t have a cat? how can you not have a cat? I’m sure you can have a cat. You’re not a cat person? How can you say such a thing? You’ll want a cat someday.”

              1. Windchime

                Finally, something in this thread I can agree with!

                I kid. But seriously, that who “You won’t know what love is until you have a child!” Unless you are one of those mothers who doesn’t get that rush of Total Unconditional Love ™ that a mother is “supposed” to get right away. So now you have a baby and are tired and not sure why this little screaming person doesn’t seem to like you, but you have to pretend that you have all the love. Because you’re a mom and that’s what moms are supposed to feel.

                1. Rana

                  Yup. I deeply and fiercely love my child, but I don’t “do” rushes. I need to form a relationship first. Parenting is enough of a mindf*ck as it is without adding those sorts of expectations to it.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

            A complete stranger in my (very dog-focused) neighborhood actually stopped me on the street while I was walking for exercise and said, “What? Where is your dog? You live in X and you don’t have a dog?!?”. No, I really do like cats best.

        2. Muriel Heslop

          We don’t have any pets and people are ALWAYS asking me when I am going to get a dog. “Don’t you love your kids? All kids should have a dog. Your kids need a dog. Your kids will resent you if you don’t get them a dog.”

          Hey, let’s get everyone toilet-trained and then maybe, after my special-needs child stops having animal-related panic attacks, you can come over and take care of my dog.

          1. Jen S. 2.0

            Not that you need me to put your mind at ease, but…I have never had a dog. I do not resent my parents. I asked for one at some point, after passing a pet store and seeing a very very cute collie, and was told no. My life went on just fine. (I did adopt a cat when I was in my 20s and long since out of the house.)

            Those people you are talking about? Are bizarre and need to have several seats.

          2. VintageLydia USA

            My son is VERY allergic to dogs. My SIL, who is planning on becoming a vet and could not imagine a life without animals, and dogs specifically, does not understand why I don’t want to get my VERY ALLERGIC SON a dog. It’s frustrating.

            1. Editor

              My allergies to animals are mild, but they exist and are like my mom’s. Hers got worse with exposure and made for very painful skin conditions, so early on I decided not to ever have pets so my hands wouldn’t look like raw hamburger.

              More than one person has seen me smile at their dog but not touch it — on the umpteenth visit after I’ve explained the problem repeatedly — and said, “oh, I forget, you hate dogs” or “why do you hate dogs so much?” I used to have one germophobic acquaintance who used a bleach solution to wash down the tiled walls, shower doors, and all the fixtures in her bathroom every time her kids threw up in the toilet (sometimes two or three times in one day), but who was offended when I turned my head away from her dog so I wouldn’t get licked in the face. Sigh.

          3. Windchime

            No kidding. Because life can’t be perfect unless you spend your afternoons picking up dog shit out of the yard.

          4. Rana

            Yup, no dogs are going to happen in this household either. I like them well enough when they’re someone else’s, but I have no interest in all the training, walking, and shit-picking-up that goes with keeping one, let alone the emotional work needed to have a happy dog as well as a healthy one. Pets are commitments, and I take them seriously. I have enough on my plate with a cat and a toddler without adding another dependent mammal to the mix.

      4. Allison

        This is true, technically, but some questions carry a higher risk than others. “What did you do this weekend” could end up triggering an emotional reaction if someone had a bad weekend (breakup, car accident, car got run over, etc.) but we still ask it because the response is usually positive and a negative response is unlikely to carry a lot of weight.

        Topics like marriage and kids can also be really intrusive, especially if asked awkwardly or in a weird context.

        The good approach is to just not ask someone specific questions about whether they have kids, or if they’re married. Those two topics can be especially risky, moreso than others. Also, most people don’t think to ask complete strangers “do you have parents? are they alive? how are they, generally?”

        1. JB (not in Houston)

          Exactly. There are plenty of questions or comments that you can’t reasonably expect to cause problems. “Nice weather we’re having” is a neutral comment, and you can’t be expected to know that the person you are talking to has a weather-related phobia. But questions like religion, politics, whether someone is married or has kids, you have to not be paying attention to not be aware that these are questions that can cause bad reactions.

          It’s not uncommon to hear people say they hate small talk, but it actually serves a useful purpose. By talking about safe, sometimes boring topics that are usually not triggers for people, you open doors to other, more interesting conversation topics that is mutually agreeable, and you can find out what you want to know about people without prying. People sometimes use the term “the art of conversation,” but it is really a skill that’s useful to learn.

          1. Michele

            A lot of people consider children to be small talk. They assume that it is something everyone has in common. I am not defending them–I think they have poor conversation skills and a narrow view of life, but they really are just making small talk. That is why I show them pictures of my dogs.

        2. kristinyc

          Yeah, but there are so many ways to answer “What did you do this weekend?,” and it’s easy to choose what level of information you want to disclose. Like, to my boss, I might say, “Oh, I just relaxed with my husband. We both had busy weeks last week and needed to recharge.” But to a friend, I might say “We binge watched Orange is the New Black and ordered takeout for every single meal and stayed in pajamas all weekend. It was glorious.” If something horrible happened that I didn’t want to talk about, I’d probably just leave it out and go with, “I relaxed” or “I was feeling a bit under the weather and may need to go home right now” (depending on what happened…).

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

            Also, you can lie (without consequence) about stuff like your weekend. If I had a really terrible weekend and I don’t want to talk about it, I can say “fine thanks, how was yours?”. If someone asks about kids, I really can’t just lie.

            1. NutellaNutterson

              Though it would be kind of epic to confabulate a new back story every time someone asked.

              I was just listening to an interview where someone said that prior to becoming famous, on airplanes he’d make up the grandest (or most mundane) identity he could get away with.

              1. Michele

                Oh, now I want to do that the next time a stranger makes conversation on a plane. I wish I had a better spur of the moment imagination.

              2. SerfinUSA

                I enjoy explaining some of my more visible scars (from just random active life events) as the result of prison knife fights.

            2. Pennalynn Lott

              I have *always* wanted to lie at work about having kids. I want to be able to leave early for imaginary soccer games, call in sick because my faux child has an ear ache, get out of working late and weekends because children, and not be penalized for it.

              1. Windchime

                I have lots of leftover school pictures of my kids when they were young. Let me know if you want me to send you a couple for your desk.

                1. Pennalynn Lott

                  Thanks, Windchime! But I doubt I could pull it off. I’d get invited to a random happy hour and just head out the door without bothering to arrange a sitter for my faux children, or someone would want to talk about colic or potty training or diaper rash brands, and the jig would be up. :-)

            3. Cassie

              I have a coworker who won’t accept “oh, nothing” when she asks what I did over the weekend. “Really, nothing? You did absolutely nothing? You sat there in a dark room for two days and did nothing?”. Sheesh. I’ve thought about making something up so she’ll stop hounding me, but I don’t want to. And I shouldn’t have to.

              And even when I do something kind of interesting (like buy a pasta maker and try to make some pasta), I’m not inclined to share it with her because she’s just so pushy about it.

      5. Colette

        I don’t really think that any of those questions are needed in a work environment, though. People will share what they want to share. If you want to get to know someone better, you can ask things like “what do you like to do in your free time?”

      6. nona

        +1, Generally, but I don’t see a need to ask most of those questions. People who will be happy to talk about their family will bring it up on their own.

      7. Fuzzy

        I think a general “tell me about your life outside of work” can help avoid these types of specifics. You can get answers like “I spend time with my 16 dogs” or “I spend all of my free time quilting.” Questions should be vague enough to not assume anything–except that that the employee goes somewhere after leaving the office.

        1. Cassie

          I don’t even like these kinds of questions (but I’m probably more private than most people). I always feel like I’m being judged for just sitting at home and watching tv or surfing the ‘net.

      8. Sunflower

        I was trying to find a way to say something like this so thank you so much for putting it into words. I know some questions are more emotionally loaded than others but think of the intent behind the question. I highly doubt this person is trying to uncover information so they can judge you. If someone asks the question, they are not an a-hole. If someone asks then starts making comments, then they are an a-hole.

      9. neverjaunty

        Can I anti-devil’s advocate that some land mines are bigger and spikier than others?

        Plus, as has been noted elsewhere, questions about kids and family are often especial landmines in the workplace for women.

        1. JC

          Yes, this. I commented upthread about how I’m childless by choice and don’t love the “do you have kids” question. I find it a totally normal thing to be asked in social situations, even if I don’t love the question; it’s a basic small talk question about my personal life, and I expect it.

          But being asked that at work feels different. I don’t expect personal small talk questions like that at work because there are so many work-related things to talk about to break the ice. I have no problem talking about my family with colleagues I know well, but it just seems strange to use personal small talk as an icebreaker at work. Along the same vein, if I am meeting a new colleague for the first time, I am not going to delve in to asking if they’re married or about their parents or their pets or any of the other devil’s advocate topics brought up here. I don’t need to, because I can ask about their new office, their last job, etc.

        2. fposte

          Agreed. The fact that any question you ask will likely upset someone somewhere is not a reason to remain silent forever. This is one of those situations where it would be easier to enact a nice concrete rule step-by-step rule, but that’s not how conversation works: the rule is be thoughtful and attentive to your co-conversants, which means using your brain and moving on when a topic seems to be displeasing.

      10. Traveler

        This is true, but there is a massive culture war going on currently over the “to be a parent or not to be a parent” question, and what it means to be a mom.

      11. INTP

        Or we could just agree that a boss asking personal questions of people she barely knows in a group setting is a horrible idea whatever the question. She could easily have just shared some personal information and then gone around the table inviting everyone to say something about themselves (which I would also hate but at least no one has to share anything they’re uncomfortable with). Save the questions for when you know people better and know what they speak about openly at work.

      12. AvonLady Barksdale

        I agree with this. I also think it’s the follow-up questions that are the worst, not the initial ones. I was asked last week if I have kids, I said no, but I have a doggy, and we went on to the next topic of conversation. Not offensive. Had she asked, “Why not?” or said something like, “Oh, then you can’t POSSIBLY understand my life,” it would have been problematic.

      13. Retail Lifer

        You know, I always dreaded the generic icebreaker question “Tell me a little bit about yourself.” I never know what to say, but it makes perfect sense why everyone always asks that. It’s noninvasive and you only have to talk about what you choose to.

    7. Opinionated

      We don’t know the context but going by the #2’s letter. He/she thinks they may have crossed a line in hindsight. As a female employee I would have been annoyed if I were the only person in the room asked that question and especially if I was the only woman in the room. If the other employees were male and the letter writer only asked the female employee that question, then I would find that offensive/suspicious.

      When you are getting to know people it is best not to ask such direct questions, especially on someone’s personal life. You really don’t give the other person a choice other than to answer the question which can be uncomfortable if the person doesn’t yet know you or the intention behind asking the question.

    1. Jader

      I just came here to say the same. Gold star using “hella” and “uncouth” in the same sentence.

  4. Fish Microwaver

    It’s a shame when things like #5 happen because it really leaves a bad taste. I think most candidates would say “Fair enough” if another candidate is stronger or a better fit or whatever, as long as they feel they were beaten fair and square. To see candidates chosen because they are friends of the board or some other “priveleged ” position muddies the waters and makes one resentful. I think something like this might be happening in a position I recently applied for and it rankles.

    1. Zillah

      So I get what you mean, but I think there are a couple things in play here.

      1) We have no idea whether the candidate got the job because they have friends on the board. Even the OP doesn’t seem to think that that was definitely the case – they just have suspicions. While it’s irritating when you miss out on a job because someone else has friends on the board, it would be absolutely ridiculous for the board to rule someone out just because they know them.

      2) Existing relationships with people in the organization are far from irrelevant. If the candidate has friends on the board, it’s entirely possible that some of them have worked with them before or are very familiar with their work. That matters, and whether or not they know it because the candidate is in a “privileged” position (which, aren’t internal candidates in, too, by nature?), they’re looking for the surer bet, not for being 100% fair.

      1. Koko

        Exactly – and there’s a good chance that someone who moves in the same circles as the board is indeed a highly-skilled, sought-after candidate. It’s typical for the members of a board to earn their seat by having expertise in areas relevant to the organization’s work (and thus probably network with people with similar skillsets and experience levels) or by making very large donations (which is also often because they themselves have C-level or similarly high-skill/experience jobs and thus probably network with other highly-skilled/experienced people). It’s very likely that when hiring for a high-level post, the board members would have strong and trusted candidates in their personal networks.

        1. TCO

          I was thinking about this, too. Talented people often know other talented people. I have a lot of friends/colleagues that I’d hire in a minute given the chance. Yes, they might have an advantage over unknown candidates because I’ve actually witnessed their work first-hand, but that’s not unfair. That’s choosing someone who I know will be really good for the organization. We usually want those kinds of people as colleagues, right?

          OP, you also had the advantage of being a “known entity” to the hiring team–presumably they’ve seen at least a little bit of your work. Had you been hired as an insider, an outsider would have probably accused the board of favoritism, too. The knife cuts both ways. Since the hiring team already knew both of you, it’s probably a safe bet that they made an informed decision and chose who will truly be the best fit.

    2. MK

      I understand that, but I also think rejected candidates need to be more realistic about the validity of their opinions about the hiring decision. The fact of the matter is, they are hardly the best person to judge whether it was the right one, not only because they don’t have all the information, but because they can’t be impartial about it. Yes, sometimes people get jobs because of their connections. But much more often, it’s a case of not being able to believe you were beaten ” fair and square”, even if the selected candidate is objectively more qualified. In any case, it’s not worth wasting energy on.

      1. snuck

        I’m sorry the OP has found themselves in this situation, it’s never a good one to have to contemplate.

        From my experience sometimes getting jobs because of connections is actually almost understandable… for someone in a frontline people schmoozing role those connections might provide confidence as to ability, and provide appropriate contacts – a bit like a hair dresser coming in to somewhere and bringing half their clients with them, some of the benefits of a person already known to the board could include the contact book they bring with them.

        And sometimes you can be the well qualified person, with a strong candidacy, and then someone else comes along and blows that all away with some other skill or quality that’s unexpected.

        And sometimes it’s less quantitative skills (like degrees or years of experience or software knowledge) and more qualitative skills (like team work and soft people skills) that are hard to put your finger on. Both candidates might be good at this but when you look at the over arching picture one person might fit better for some reason.

        Sadly sometimes the internal person might also miss out because the loss of them from that role would be considered too hard to replace and that can be part of the decision.

          1. MK

            As a strategy, it’s pure idiocy, unless you find other ways to compensate the “indispensable” employee (significant raise, better title, etc). Otherwise they will find another job and your loss will be double.

            1. Cheesecake

              This x 500. And if that message was communicated directly to the employee, i doubt better title for same position or even more money (i doubt that would be much as employee stays in old salary range) would help.

              1. MK

                That would depend. Many people aren’t really interested in “climbing the ladder”, but they also want/need more money and are concerned about career stagnation. And unless the company has rigid salary ranges for each position, I don’t see why the raise couldn’t be significant. But it probably needs to have a time limit and, yes, you would have to communicate with the directly, as in “we really need you to stay in this job for the time period X and we are willing to offer Z salary, so that you won’t lose financially, and Y title, so that your resume won’t look as if your career was stalled”. There are people who would take this offer.

                On the other side, it’s possible that, while you are brilliant at your job, your boss doesn’t think you will be equally good at another, so they are willing to take the chance of losing you.

                1. Fish Microwaver

                  Unfortunately my field has rigid salary ranges AND titles so the only hope of career progress and more money is to climb. Unfortunately the climbing seems to be very restricted as to who TPTB deem worthy of climbing.

            2. snuck

              I find the whole “irreplaceable” thing odd.

              Some people go out of their way to make themselves irreplaceable – they don’t document their information, train others or whatever and create this big hole for themselves. It means when it’s time to replace them (either with a promotion or removal) it becomes this huge deal – you are less likely to be promoted because a) not a team player/not showing the behaviours a company needs, and b) too hard to back fill. It also means that if you aren’t 100% what the company wants they will resent you and gradually the tension will mount and then it’s usually a swift removal without notice so you don’t do damage on your way out.

              Some companies actively keep people in roles – specialise them in ways that make it hard for them to transition out. It means that the employees resent their role if they want a change and can’t and often leave … leaving the company in the lurch.

              All round it’s a cruddy idea for such specialisation to occur, unless you are genuinely one of only a few people who can program graphics engines for PS4s or whatever, and then it’s your market to go wherever and demand whatever consultancy rate you want anyway.

  5. MK

    Op 1, I get the feeling you were too invested in their saying insurance knowledge isn’t necessary and a lot of your suspicions stem from that. The fact of the matter is, “not necessary” doesn’t mean “completely irrelevant, not a consideration at all in the hiring decision”. It just means not having it doesn’t immediately disqualify you and they would be willing to hire you without it, if they felt you were best candidate overall, but it could still be a strong point in favor of a candidate who has it.

    1. Tau

      +1

      I’m trying to get into chocolate teapot design right now, where I have no formal background and would need some training. Unless they really *explicitly* say otherwise I interpret “knowledge of teapot design not needed” in advertisements as “knowledge of teapot design is a nice perk, but we don’t require it”. If Wonderboy McExpert who drafted his first chocolate teapot at age five and won first prize in his university’s teapot design competition applies for the job, they’re not going to turn him down!

      …I may be easing the sting from rejections by telling myself that Wonderboy McExpert must have applied and of course they’d prefer him to me. No judging.

      1. So Very Anonymous

        I’m in a similar position and I keep hoping that Wonderboy gets one of the jobs I’ve applied for so that he’ll be off the darn job market :)

    2. BRR

      That’s what I was coming to post. Thankfully you already said it and much better than I would have.

    3. Allison

      Came here to say this. Even when industry experience isn’t a requirement, it’s almost always considered a “plus” among qualified candidates, and in the case of #1 was probably a tie breaker between OP and another really strong candidate.

    4. some1

      Totally. And, LW, as an admin in a related industry, I can tell you from experience that had you been hired, you would have needed to learn as much as you can about insurance and specifically about that org’s products and services in order to be good at your job, which is doesn’t really sound like you were aware of (“I will only be faxing and filing and answering emails.”)

      1. Allison

        Truth, if you’re in an admin role where you’re even occasionally interfacing with people outside the office – answering e-mails, or phones, or getting visitors – you’ll be expected to know about the industry and about the products. You can never say “I don’t know” in a role like that.

    5. neverjaunty

      Yes. OP’s reference to the candidate as an “outsider” also, to me, makes this come across very strongly as OP believing they were owed or deserved that opening, and that the company unfairly gave it to somebody else, an “outsider”.

    6. Artemesia

      Exactly. If I run a business then of course I will prefer someone who has experience in that line of work. I may not require it because sometimes a great candidate has compensating skills and characteristics, but all things being equal the more experienced person is a better bet. My daughter was one of two finalists for a position and that is what it boiled down to; the other guy was more experienced — she had potential, he had experience. They ended up hiring her later and the other guy is gone now so they would have been better off with her from the start probably, but it was not an irrational decision or an unfair decision on their part.

    7. INTP

      This is very true. Also, in my experience with hiring managers for junior level positions, often they start out very open and wanting to see anyone that might have potential – but ultimately they usually hire someone who will require the least training. I don’t think it’s intentional deception. I think they would be open to a less experienced person who was just mind-blowingly perfect in every other way but it’s rare for someone to stand that much. Or they start off excited about the thought of looking for potential, but as the hire moves closer towards becoming a reality they start thinking about how busy they’ll be training someone on top of everything else they do and they start to value that previous experience a lot more. I would say that 90% of the time a hiring manager has said no experience is necessary, at the end of the day no one without experience really had a shot at the job (though maybe they would have gotten calls back or even an interview).

  6. Apollo Warbucks

    #5 Two months really isn’t that long to push back a start date. For professional jobs in the UK one month is standard and some senior people will be on three months notice.

    1. TheLazyB

      I am currently unemployed and a company is still waiting 6 wks for me to start work with them. (I am finishing a distance learning university course.) It happens.

    2. Cheesecake

      Indeed, for such level i’d say two months is quite standard if not short. In the rest of Europe it can be much longer; where i live director level employees must give 6 months notice.

      I think this whole thing left a very bitter aftertaste for OP. So OP got caught up in “new hire is a board’s friend” and tries to add more to build a case”…and new hire is only coming in two months!”….”and other people find it strange too!” I totally get how much this sucks, but i hope OP moves on asap and does not participate in kitchen talks about the new hire, because at this point there is nothing shady going on.

  7. Blurgle

    #2, it’s really easy to assume that everyone has a perfect, happy, healthy family, but there are so many (oh so many) ways that this question can go wrong. In fact, I’ve never worked in a place where at least one employee hadn’t suffered either a) the death of a child; b) a difficult custody battle; c) infertility; or d) pregnancy loss. Now a professional employee can deflect such a question – as long as the wound isn’t fresh – but you can’t know that right off the bat, can you?

  8. Erica

    #2 — if this is the first time you’re meeting people who work for you — it was an interview, of sorts. Sure, you’re not making a hiring decision, but you’re sussing them out, they’re trying to impress you or put their best foot forward. I’d be pretty upset if one of the first few questions my new boss asked of me is whether I had kids, and 100% more upset if I was the only one asked. And if I was the only “child bearing age” woman in the room? I’d be somewhat furious.

    1. UKAnon

      I think it depends a lot on the context. It could range from something innocuous – if this person said something like “my main priority is my family” it’s a natural if clumsy reply – to rude and tonedeaf. I don’t think that without further context we can do more than point out to OP why it might be best not to ask.

    2. EB

      Ditto. I’d wonder why my new boss had singled me out to ask about family. Then I would be concerned that this was the start of the boss treating me differently. It’s probably harmless, but your new staff have to form an opinion of you based on very little information- only the few actions they have seen you take and perhaps your reputation.

    3. Zillah

      I mean, I think this depends, though. If the OP asked it out of the blue, sure, although even then, though it’s very awkward, I don’t think it’s an unforgivable misstep (and to be honest, it would seem weird to me for the OP to apologize after). But it’s not clear to me whether it was related to the flow of the conversation – e.g., “Oh, yeah, I love kids, I volunteer with X.” “Oh, really? Do you have kids?” or just out of the blue, and while it’s such an emotionally charged issue that it’s more advisable to let people disclose it regardless, I can see how it could come up in a way that made the OP think to ask.

      1. JMegan

        Exactly. Or the previous person could have been nattering on for five minutes about their Special Snowflake and how cute they were when they were picking dandelions when they were supposed to be playing t-ball the other day, and this was OP’s attempt to move the conversation along. “Thanks very much Mary, Special Snowflake sounds adorable. Let’s hear from someone else now. Susan, how about you, do you have kids?”

        I agree with Alison that it’s awkward, but not unforgivable. And given that the OP wrote to Alison for advice, I’m guessing that she did get the feeling she had made a mistake at the time, and probably won’t make that mistake again.

      2. neverjaunty

        Nobody at all has said it’s an “unforgivable misstep”, only that it’s a bad idea.

    4. snuck

      We don’t know how this came up though…

      Often in these (rather awful) round tables everybody says their name, that they are married, have X kids and like to play cricket on the weekend (or whatever other inane facts they want to include). It might be that the person who was asked had said their name, and that was it… so the manager said “tell me a little more – what do you do on weekends? And do you have any kids?” and that might have been almost fine… Or they might have been a Scout leader and the manager asks then….

      Asking about kids is really risky though… the whole fertility issue and work life balance stuff.. yeah. Ugh.

      And not to go off on a tangent too far… but I was sick and tired of being assumed to be pregnant (because I was female, of age, in a male dominated workforce) just because I had nausea. Damn coeliac…. not pregnant.

      1. Sarahnova

        Oh God, yes. As a married-but-childless, late-twenties/early thirties woman, I quickly learned never to mention being tired or feeling nauseous at work, because I’d get the ol’ knowing eyeball or even direct questions. Sometimes even women just FEEL SICK, y’know.

      2. Michele

        And heaven forbid you gain 5 pounds for the speculation it will start. Men can gain 40 lbs in their gut, but if a woman has a big meal, she must be pregnant.

      3. simonthegrey

        I work as a tutor and a couple of students who come to see me are obsessed with the idea that I might get pregnant. I quit drinking coffee a few months ago because it was aggravating my stomach and causing heartburn – instantly they asked if I’m pregnant. If I come to work tired (because I was playing video games all night), pregnant. If I mention not feeling well because of allergies, pregnant. It’s funny, but it isn’t. I’d like to have children, I’m in my mid-30s, but my husband is having some health issues and now is not the time.

    5. Lunar

      Yes, I think aside from the fact that having children is a sensitive topic for many people, asking about someone’s family life (especially kids) is just not something you really do at work. I’m young and so I don’t get the kids question, but I have had people ask if I have a boyfriend or am dating anyone. It always makes me uncomfortable that they are thinking about me in that context when I am working (not to mention the assumptions they are making about my sexual orientation). Work is definitely social and this stuff comes up, but it is just all around better for everyone if we let people decide what information to share.

  9. BRR

    #4 This happened right after I started in my current position. I saw many people who had gotten the jobs I had applied for and was introduced by my boss to some of the hiring managers (thankfully it was for positions where I didn’t get past an HR phone screen). At the end I pointed it out to my boss and she asked me for the list of attendees because she was curious if there was anybody who had applied to my job who had been there. I’m an an industry with one big conference so it’s going to be normal for this to happen.

  10. Allison

    I’m curious why #2 asked that one employee whether she had kids. Was it because everyone else in the group had said they had kids? Was she not giving a lot of information, and OP was trying to ask questions to get her to share more about herself? Did she not mention any hobbies or something?

  11. LizNYC

    #1 — Sorry you didn’t get the position, but this interviewer sounds like she may not have the best judgment, if she’s sending sales pitches to rejected interviewees. And think of your new interview outfit as one you can get use of again (and again) as you continue your search!

    #4 — More likely than purposely avoiding you, this person may not have recognized you out of context. It happens. Or, they recognized you, couldn’t place you and didn’t want to approach, as that can also be awkward.

    1. Judy

      Identifying someone out of context can be a big issue for me.

      I mentioned last week, I ran into a former coworker, someone I maybe talked to monthly if not weekly for 5 or 6 years, who had retrained as an RN and now works at a doctor’s office I go to. She did have the advantage, she did have my full name while I only had her first name.

      I go to several exercise classes at our Y weekly, and have for 10+ years. When I run into someone at the store or elsewhere, it takes some time to recognize them “with clothes on”.

      1. MK

        Usually, when I meet people I am aquainted with, but only see in one context, I do recognise that I know this person, but have great trouble remembering where I know them from. It can be awkward.

        1. really

          Saw someone at the grocery store I knew I knew but not from where. It was driving me crazy so I asked her. It was by backyard neighbor. She was new at that was the only place I had ever seen her.

          1. Lore

            I ran into one of the librarians from my branch library on the subway. I knew she looked familiar but couldn’t place her–plus she was wearing a hat, which obviously I’d never seen her wear before. She said, “It’s me, the library lady!” My SO still teases me about it–both that I spend so much time there and didn’t recognize her, and that I spend so much time there, the librarians recognize *me* out of context.

            1. Lizard

              This happens to me all the time (I work in a hospital, and sometimes I just don’t recognize patients with real clothes on instead of a hospital gown or PJs). But sometimes it backfires, especially when I lived in NYC and there were a lot of minor celebrities around who also looked vaguely familiar.

              My favorite story happened to a friend who was a physician at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and was riding the elevator with this guy who looked so familiar. He assumed it must have been one of his patients wearing street clothes for once. He must have been staring a bit because the guy stuck out his hand and said “I’m Henry Kissinger, nice to meet you.”

              1. Judy

                I was in the waiting area at an airport, the flight was going to where I live. One of the guys looked a little familiar, and I couldn’t place him. Once we were seated on the plane, he was 2 rows behind me, and talking to the person next to him. He was the weather guy on one of the local news stations.

              2. fposte

                There’s that famous old story of somebody running into Princess Margaret at a party and trying to place the familiar face and vaguely remembering some family stuff: “And how is your sister?” “Still Queen,” says Margaret.

      2. Alter_ego

        I saw my next door neighbor of 2 years at the train station in the major city I live in a suburb of, and didn’t recognize him At. All. He started talking to me, and I still didn’t recognize him. I feel so so bad, he had to sort of awkwardly remind me of where I knew him from. He didn’t even look familiar to me in his work uniform.

    2. Anon21

      Or possibly if OP is already employed, the interviewer was deliberately not making an approach because they didn’t want OP’s job search to be tipped off to their current employer.

    3. Michele

      I am awful at recognizing people out of context. I also tend to think that everyone looks alike. For example, in about a week, we hired 3 men in their mid to late 20s. They were all close to the same height and had dark hair and beards and monosyllabic names. It took me over a month to be certain who I was talking to. It gets awkward, and I find myself doing a lot of polite, non-commital nods and such.

      1. Tau

        A few years back, I started at a place where the small department included two tall lanky guys with red hair, beards and dark-rimmed glasses, which is one of those things that makes me go “but how is this legal??”. I may have thought they were actually the same person until my error was made obvious (thankfully not with either of them present).

        It also gets annoying with movies, for me. Most of the actors are tall clean-shaven white guys with short dark hair = expect me to be *very* confused for most of the film.

        1. Michele

          I stopped watching The X-Files when they kept introducing those wrinkly old white men for that reason.

    4. Jen S. 2.0

      Ha! I teach group exercise in addition to my full time job, and I often see participants out and about who either “didn’t recognize me with clothes on,” or who come up to me and call me by name and behave like my best friend, and I have no bleeping clue who they are, because they were in the back of a packed class a couple of times 6 months ago. It’s SOOOOO awkward.

  12. TootsNYC

    On question #1, I was struck by this:

    “She started off by saying that I did not get the position because she decided to go with someone who had previously worked in “a company like mine.” I was perplexed, because both the online ad and she herself stated that insurance knowledge wasn’t necessary.”

    Sure, insurance knowledge isn’t necessary. But I would think it’s desirable; if most other things are equal, and I don’t have to teach Person B what the insurance terms mean, or which forms are which and whom they’re sent to, that’s a huge advantage1

    Also: “like mine” can mean anything. Size, industry, run by the same sort of person, family owned vs shareholders, anything.

    1. Fish Microwaver

      “A company like mine ” could also mean a network marketing company.

      1. Daniella

        That is what I am thinking, too. “A company like mine” sounds oddly vague and oddly suspicious, in my opinion. If the company is indeed an insurance agency, why not just write “I have decided to go with a candidate who has previosly worked in an insurance agency”?

  13. TootsNYC

    For #3: instead of asking “do you have children,” say “tell me a bit about your family.”

    Then they get to choose what they reveal. If they have kids, they’ll say; if they consider their dog to be their child, it’ll come out.

    Open-ended “tell me about” questions are much more powerful for both sides.

    1. Allison

      They can be tough to answer though, if they’re *too* open-ended, so you might want to ask something a teensy bit specific, like “what do you do on the weekends?” or “what’s the first thing you do when you get home?” or something about hobbies, or ask people about movies or TV shows they like to watch. “Just trying to break the ice” doesn’t really give someone license to ask super personal questions.

      1. Alma

        I’ve also heard – asked of the whole group – “is there an interesting skill or experience you have had that you would care to share with the group? “

      2. Arjay

        I can hear the awkward silence following “what’s the first thing you do when you get home?” while I try not to blurt out, “Take off my bra.”

        1. Jen S. 2.0

          **snortlaugh!** (Especially funny because your handle would not have automatically made me assume you are female.)

      3. Mints

        When I worked with kids, there were moments when I needed the kids to be distracted while I went over something really quickly with staff, and I would ask super specific questions. Those usually got really excited answers
        “Turn to the person next to you and tell them your favorite ice cream”
        “Turn to the person next to you and tell them your favorite musical instrument”
        “Turn to the person next to you and guess what their middle name is”

    2. INTP

      Or “Tell me a bit about yourself.” Most of the time, people will begin by talking about their kids and spouse if applicable. If someone doesn’t feel comfortable talking about their family, they can talk about hobbies or interests or experiences.

      The open-endedness can be awkward, but ideally the conversation leader here would have started with herself, sharing info in a variety of categories (family, hobbies, where they’re from, etc) to give people ideas. I know every question can be a landmine, but “Tell me about your family” could be quite awkward for the single, childless person who has lost or is estranged from their close family members, or someone in a same-sex marriage who doesn’t want to come out to the new team until they know it’s a welcoming environment, or any number of situations. You don’t want to ask anything in a meeting like this that might bring up a sensitive emotional issue OR force someone to disclose something they don’t wish to disclose.

    3. Mints

      I appreciate the broadening, but I don’t think that’s at all better. I think it still implies kids and spouses. Honestly, I don’t know how I would answer “Tell me about your family” without context. Like as an ice breaker I would be super awkward “…what do you mean?” And as an immigrant, I’d be questioning whether they’re asking “Where are you from?” in the way people of color get. (Which is “Where are you from?” “California” “No where are you really from?” aka “You don’t look white”)

      I really like “What’d you do this weekend?” (the proper answer is always a cheerful exclamation)
      Or if you’re trying to do something a little broader, I also like “Are you looking forward to anything fun this summer?” Because swimming at the lake, family reunion, motorcycle race, comic con, are all acceptable answers that tell you a little more about the person

  14. Retail Lifer

    OP #1, please tell me she did not try to solicit other business using company email. How inappropriate can you get?

    1. Pennalynn Lott

      If she’s the owner of the agency, then she’s using her own business’s email, which would be OK. Weird, but OK.

  15. B

    #2 – As others have said, if you are going to ask one person ask all. But overall don’t ask this question because for some it is not loaded for others it may be very loaded. You also do not know yet who likes to share personal information about themselves at work and who would rather keep everything professional. That is something which will take time and shouldn’t be forced. One on one meetings are also a good place to learn about people rather than a big group.

  16. In Defense of # 2

    Hi, I am seeing a lot of comments instructing number 2 how she could have asked different questions in the new employee meeting. I re-read the letter and it came across to me that she wasn’t actually looking for ways to find out this info from people, she is relating what happened in a meeting and for some reason (employee reaction, other people’s reaction, hindsight etc.) wonders if she crossed a line.

    T0 put it out of your mind, you could just approach her and say ‘In hindsight I realize that question may have been inappropriate, I am sorry. I am really looking forward to working with you and this team. (move into work topic.)

  17. Anonymous Educator

    I have to agree with others on #5 that there’s nothing in the information the OP has given us to know that anything unfair or unethical has happened. People often get considered for positions because they know someone (that’s why common advice for job-seeking includes “networking”).

    And start dates can be pushed back for a lot of reasons. A job I got a few years back I applied for and let them know right away that I had to start about three months later than they wanted. They thanked for me for my time and decided to pursue other candidates. Then they came back a month later and realized I was the best candidate and said my start date of (then) two months later would be fine.

    So unless you know this new person is terrible, there’s honestly probably nothing sketchy about the situation.

  18. Alma

    To expand a bit on the “do you have children ” question, an alternative method to get to know the staff is to stop by their desks/cubes and have a brief chat. Notice what is important to them: “you have an amazing green thumb!” to the person with a flourishing plant; “who are those little cuties?” to the person with pictures of children – they may be nieces and nephews, grandchildren, or kids from a volunteer project they love. Or, “you’re a fan of The Doctor? Which one is your favorite? ”

    And please, don’t celebrate Mothers Day in the workplace. If people celebrate the day, it is a personal thing. There are people still mourning their mother, or the child(ren) they don’t have for whatever reason. There are mothers struggling with children in crisis or who are pained at having to exercise Tough Love. There are people who have had negative or abusive family experiences. And there are men who have mothered more children than anyone else.

    1. INTP

      When people stop by my desk and look at my things, the reaction I usually get is “You haven’t decorated! You need to bring in some pictures!” I guess what it shares about me is that I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care about seeing everyone’s family or décor in the office or need to look at pictures of people all day. (I’m not dissing your method, btw. I’m just amused because in retrospect, I bet the people who gave me crap about not having pictures were trying to do just that – I always wondered why they cared or even noticed.)

      I do have many flavors of tea and a vial of stevia on display if someone is interested in chatting about tea flavors and types of sweeteners, haha.

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