should I let a rejected candidate know that her references aren’t great, dinner interviews, and more

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

1. Should I let a rejected candidate know that her references aren’t great?

We’re in the process of hiring summer interns for my project, and we’re at a loss over how to handle a request for feedback from an applicant we rejected. The person we rejected is about to graduate from college and one the references (an advisor on the student’s thesis) told us flat out we shouldn’t hire the candidate (and gave enough critical details that we thought this reference wasn’t just someone with a personal grudge against the applicant but had legitimate, specific criticisms). The second reference was much more glowing, but when pressed, admitted the candidate was a good person but “not a shining star.” That’s enough red flags for us so we rejected the candidate. Unsurprisingly, this candidate immediately requested feedback and was very disappointed in the outcome.

I know we’re not obligated to give a rejected candidate feedback, but part of me really wants to give this person the heads up a reference is so completely negative, especially since this is a young college student with limited experience. But the employer side of me is really grateful this reference helped us dodge a problem candidate. How would you handle this?

No, don’t do it! You’d be abusing the confidentiality of the reference process. Those references assumed they were talking to you in confidence and gave you their candid assessments in good faith, figuring that it would be helpful to you. It’s really up to them to decide whether to talk to the candidate about what kind of a reference they’re able to give; it’s not your place to “out” them. And after all, you want references to be candid with you, even when it doesn’t reflect well on the candidate. If people have to worry that their comments won’t be handled confidentially, you’re far less likely to get useful references in the future.

2. Bringing a portfolio to a dinner interview

Whenever I go to interviews, I bring along a leather portfolio with clean resumes and references in case I am asked for them on the spot. I am going on a second interview tomorrow evening at a restaurant of the employer’s choice. Given that space could be tight at the table and I don’t want to bring a bag of any kind, is it safe to leave the portfolio behind?

A portfolio might be tough to have with you (it would be hard to put it on the floor but not something you’ll want on the table), but I’d bring a bag or briefcase with you. You may not end up needing a copy of your resume or something to take notes with, but it’s more important that you have both of those things in case you do need them than it is to cater to tight spaces. And it’s unlikely that you wouldn’t be able to tuck a small briefcase or similar bag beneath your chair if there’s no other room for it.

3. I don’t want to give out my name when I answer the phone

For the first time in my 17-year career with the county, I am being asked to give out my name when I answer the phone. I really, really hate it – to me, it feels like an invasion of privacy. I’m not management, I’m not a department head. It really is irritating when people use my name back. I don’t know them, I don’t want them coming in asking for me – I’m the receptionist, for heaven’s sake. Can they make me give my name out?

Yes. It’s a pretty common way for businesses to like their phones answered. I don’t particularly understand why, but it’s their prerogative, and it’s going to seem like you’re making a mountain out of a molehill if you make a big deal about it.

If people come in asking for you, well, you’re the receptionist so you’re probably going to be the first person they talk to anyway, right?

4. Should I confront an employer who interviewed me even though they’d already hired someone else?

I just interviewed yesterday for a position, they seemed interested, and they said they also have a few more people to interview in the upcoming week. But when I got home, a colleague had told some friends that they got the job I just interviewed for earlier that morning. ​​

Is it unprofessional to confront them about that, or should I just wait it out until they let me know in a week like they said, even if I know it’s filled? I’m angry that professionals do that to anyone, it just doesn’t seem right.

Confront them? No, you shouldn’t confront them; that sounds awfully adversarial and isn’t warranted. It’s possible that they’re hiring for more than one slot for the job you spoke with them about. It’s possible that your friend’s friend didn’t accept the offer until after your interview. It’s possible that it was already a done deal, but they wanted to talk to you anyway because they know they have a similar slot opening up soon. Confronting them would be a good way to torpedo your chances of being hired by them in the future.

5. Required to donate time or money to a nonprofit

As part of our goals for our yearly raise, my employer is making us either donate our time or donate money to a nonprofit in the amount of at least $120. If we don’t do this, our raise will be impacted by not meeting our goals. Is this legal?

It is. They’re basically saying that some sort of community involvement is a requirement of the job. You can debate the wisdom of that, but it’s their prerogative.

{ 367 comments… read them below }

  1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    #5, are they requiring you to donate to a specific nonprofit, or any nonprofit? I don’t love this either way, but that does matter.

    1. JayDee*

      As long as you can choose the nonprofit you contribute to, I don’t really see this as a hill worth dying on. I’m not a fan of forced community service/charitable giving. I would much rather see employers encourage it in other ways (matching charitable donations, having a separate category of paid leave for volunteering, paying high enough wages and having reasonable work hours so that employees have sufficient disposable income and free time to donate, etc.). Because a committed volunteer or donor who really cares about the organization they are contributing to is a wonderful and valuable thing. Conversely, a volunteer or donor who is doing it because they have to may end up being a drain on the organization’s resources.

      But this really doesn’t seem massively onerous. If you donate cash, it’s $10 a month. If you donate time, you’re probably looking at an hour or two a month. (I’m guessing what they really want is for you to donate time – both because it’s good for the community and because it’s good publicity for your employer.) And there are seriously non-profit organizations that can make use of just about any skill set or interest, whether you want to work directly serving people or do physical labor or do office/clerical work or serve on a board or event-planning committee or whatever.

      I get that it’s annoying to *have* to do this to “meet your goals” but as long as your raise is more than $120, it seems like it would be financially worth it to go along with it. If it bothers you enough, look for another job where this isn’t a requirement.

      1. Vicki*

        Why don’t they just say “Here’s your raise and we took out $120 of it for charity”?
        Or, “we’re donating X to charity and raises will be Y”.

        Why tie people’s raises to charitable contributions. It sounds like extortion.

        OP#5 what kind of company do you work for?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not extortion, not any more than saying “we want you to network in your field in order to advance here” or “you’ll need to participate in team-building events.” This company has decided that part of working there is demonstrable community involvement, at a relatively low level. It’s not the way I’d do it, but it’s their prerogative and I don’t think it’s really much of an outrage.

          1. UKAnon*

            I think it depends on the job. If OP’s having to work a second job to make ends meet because pay’s so low, that’s different to working in a high flying firm earning a six figure salary.

            1. Ani*

              Volunteering in the community the equivalent of $120 worth of work time? That’s less than 1 day per year volunteering in the community for many people (2 days max at federal minimum wage).

              1. UKAnon*

                If you’re working two jobs and raising a family, that’s probably a substantial chunk of your ‘holidays’. It’s a much bigger sacrifice for some than others was my point.

                1. V.V.*

                  Thank you. This is a pretty big deal where I am, many people here are working 2nd and 3rd jobs, living with extended family, and barely scraping by. For the company to put this imposition on it’s workers like this, it did not go over well.

                2. anonymous daisy*

                  I work for a university and they do not give out raises on a regular basis – perhaps once every five years or so. When the raises come, they are only 1 to 2 percent, if that. Each year we are asked to donate money to the university to ‘share’ in their mission. I work there full time and have two separate part time jobs in order to make it. I do not have internet or cable at home because I cannot afford it. This year, with their campaign, we all had to sign a form if we donated or sign a form with an explanation if we didn’t. Then people from Admin came to talk to you about your decision to not donate. It might be legal but it is a crappy thing to do.

                3. Hlyssande*

                  Wow, anonymous daisy, that’s a really terrible thing for them to do.

                  You shouldn’t have to explain yourself as to why you’re not donating. They don’t get to audit and tell you that your reason isn’t good enough. Totally not okay.

                4. ITPuffNStuff*

                  anonymous daisy — i would research what your skill set is worth in the employment market where you live, then frame the explanation to your university as “in this market my skills are typically sold for $X; i have agreed to provide them to you for $Y, and the difference $(X – Y) is my donation to the university’s mission.”

                  if the university still doesn’t take the hint, time to update your resume and go take the $X from another employer.

              2. Retail Lifer*

                I would actually like to volunteer but because of all the time I waste on my daily commute (almost 3 hours round trip per day because I take the bus) I don’t have hardly any extra time during the week. Any nonprofits I’d be interested in volunteering my time at on the weekends would also involve another 2 hours round trip, and that’s just too much time. It would be one thing if the OP *wanted* to, but it’s another thing to *have* to when there are other considerations like transit time.

                1. Amethyst*

                  Thank you for this. I take public transit and the main reason I’m not volunteering anywhere right now is because I can’t find a place that needs volunteers on the weekends that doesn’t require a car to get to in under 2 hours. Depending on how many hours they wanted, this could be a big problem for me.

                2. Emily*

                  I volunteer in my community and the work I do is almost entirely from home.We spend about six months of the year inactive. The six months of the year there is work to be done, we have 4 in-person meetings which are not mandatory to attend (if I have to miss one I just email my notes to be shared at the meeting). I’m our point-of-contact to the general public so I spend 5-10 minutes a day (on average – during personally busy weeks I may not do anything for several days and then catch up on a Sunday evening with an hour of time) responding to emails, making phone calls, entering information from the calls and emails into a Google Doc, printing and mailing letters, etc.

                  I’m not saying this to suggest that anyone could find a volunteer gig that would be this flexible and therefore it’s reasonable to expect everyone to do so. Just to let you know that if volunteering *IS* something that interests you, you could look for options like the one I found!

          2. Henrietta Gondorf*

            I work for the federal government and this would be an outrage, not to mention illegal. It’s so emphatically not done that I would be incredibly skeptical of any employer who required it.

            1. AnotherFed*

              Sounds like you’ve never seen CFC campaigns go wrong. They don’t write it down, but I call BS on no pressure and not considering things like that at performance evaluation time. When agencies are not meeting the CFC goals, it can get very ugly!

          3. V.V.*

            Unfortunately I am failing to see much of a distinction between this and the situation in the recently posted:

            ” 1. My employer is trying to guilt me into volunteering extra hours for free ”

            Would you kindly clarify the difference?

            Advancement in both jobs seem to be hinged on the employee “volunteering,” so why is one illegal and an “outrage” and the other not?

            Where is the line between “volunteering” and working for free (serious question)?

            To be clear I understand that you are not debating the merits of company policy in this instance, I am just wondering why the two have very different answers.

            1. Chocolate lover*

              I can’t explain the legalities, but I suspect it’s because there are specific labor laws prohibiting an employer making you work for *them* for free, as your employer. Alison has said in the past that unless there is a law explicitly prohibiting a certain behavior, employers can do it, as opposed to most people thinking there needs to be an explicit law *allowing* something, which seems to be the case here with requiring the community participation/donation.

            2. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

              Well, in the other post the employee was being asked to volunteer their time at the place they worked, not at an outside organization. That’s what makes it illegal. In that case the employee was basically being told “we are paying you X, but in reality we really expect you to work for Y because you have to work some hours for free, and if you don’t do that, you won’t do well here.”

              In this case OP can choose not to work for free and can donate money. It’s tied to their raise but they aren’t being asked to work for free. They are actually being offered more money for fulfilling this requirement rather than less money like in the other situation. I still don’t think it’s a great policy, but the two aren’t really the same.

            3. Elysian*

              Right – there’s a legal difference between being asked to “volunteer” to do your own job (it violates wage provisions) and being asked to volunteer in the community generally. There are legal rules about volunteering and when you can work without pay, but assuming that the OP could choice to volunteer at a legitimate volunteer position, the important distinction between this letter and the one you mentioned is that she isn’t being asked to do her own job for free.

              1. V.V.*

                So I am being nit picky here, but once “volunteering” becomes a measurable goal in one’s performance review upon which future salary is dependent, isn’t the company then making it the job?

                1. MK*

                  No, because they are not saying you have to do it, nor are they paying you to do it. They are stating that “employees who do X are more valueable to us and we are willing to compensate them more”; it’s not the same.

                2. A Definite Beta Guy*

                  In my opinion, if it’s a measurable goal, it’s part of the job description. Otherwise why the hell are you measuring it? At least it’s easy points on your year-end review, though.

                3. A Teacher*

                  Until you have a boss that says “volunteering there doesn’t really count, its not ‘worthwhile’ enough.” (Foster mom for dogs and does most of the social media for the rescue)

                4. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  The issue is being told to volunteer at your own job versus being told to volunteer at an outside charity. The first is illegal, and the second is legal.

                5. lawsuited*

                  Charitable organizations are allowed to accept unpaid work from people. An employer is not allowed to accept unpaid work from it’s employees.

                  Your employer is asking you to volunteer for a charitable organization (legal) not to volunteer for them (illegal). It seems pretty clear to me that in the letter earlier in the week the employer was trying to accrue an undue benefit from asking it’s employee to do unpaid work for the employer, and the employer in today’s letter is encouraging it’s employees to give back to the community.

                6. Bwmn*

                  As Alison has heavily covered the legal/illegal, but I think the build on what MK said – I think perhaps a better way to mentally think of this is along the lines of jobs that emphasize more expensive styles of dress. Where I work, men are not expected to be in pressed shirts expect for a very limited number of events/meetings. However, regardless of pay – in other fields men having pressed shirts is far more of a requirements. Potentially with very little regard to how much your paid. There is the choice of paying for it to be done professionally or investing time/energy in ironing – or perhaps looking for a job in a different organization/industry where that’s not a priority.

                  This image and culture this company wants clearly involves community involvement.

            4. NJ anon*

              There is a huge difference. You cannot “volunteer” to do your job. That is illegal. Also, the company cannot deduct $120 out of your pay without your permission. Requiring you to volunteer or donate to a charity of your choice is something else all together.

              1. V.V.*

                Thank you for responding NJ anon.

                I’d like your opinion on a hypothetical situation. Getting away from the letter, let’s say I am non-exempt employee and am told by my boss that I need to “volunteer” at a specific charity fundraiser, where I will be held accountable for performing what constitutes my regular job duties.

                Is this really “volunteering” if they penalize me in my review for declining to do what they would, under every other circumstance, pay me to do? What if I volunteer as required, but in the end the company isn’t satisfied with how I did it? What if I am also the only non-exempt employee of whom “volunteering” ever is expected?

                I am being sincere when I ask, what *legally* defines the line. When is this actual volunteering and when does “volunteering” constitute doing an extra shift without pay?

                1. RG*

                  IANAL, but I think at least part of the answer depends on the relationship between the charity and your employer. Is the charity your employer? Does it hire companies like yours to do certain tasks? Have other employees been asked to do this? Will they, in the future? Is this during work hours? It really does depend on the details of the situation. The only obviously illegal situation I could think of is if this was just your manager’s favorite charity, you had to come in outside of work, and your performance review (read job safety) depended on it. It’s like someone said above, people don’t interpret the law as looking for a law that allows your to do something, but rather by looking at laws that prohibit you from doing certain things.

                2. fposte*

                  Remember, the issue isn’t whether it’s really volunteering or being “voluntold”; it’s if you’re required to work for your employer for no pay.

                  IANAL either, but I think I can tackle the easy ones: it’s legal to single you out as long as it’s not for reasons prohibited by law (race, gender, faith, etc.). It’s legal to penalize you for off hours behavior. It’s legal to penalize you for the volunteer organization not being satisfied with your work (which is pretty unlikely unless you got stoned in front of the donors or something). It’s not automatically illegal for your volunteering to be using the same skills as your work (another poster has noted, for instance, the requirement that lawyers do pro bono work).

                  Where I think it could get sticky is if the line between the employer and the volunteering recipient is blurred. Is the volunteering nonprofit a sister of your org (like one UN agency donating volunteering to another)? Does the boss who required this sit on the board of the nonprofit benefiting? Is there some weird reciprocity between the nonprofits that’s essentially a wage-paying dodge?

                  That’s where things are likely to get illegal.

                3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

                  IANAL either but generally, if you are non-exempt and your employer is requiring you to be at a specific place at a specific time as part of your work duties, they *probably* have to pay you for it. It would be like an off-site meeting. There are some exceptions, but if you’re required to be there, you’re probably supposed to be paid.

                  If they are telling you you need to volunteer at the organization of your choice on your own time, it’s probably legal, but I could honestly see an enterprising lawyer getting a precedent set for this being illegal for non-exempt employees.

                4. fposte*

                  @Kimberlee, Esq.–Ooh, interesting notion. And also a good reminder that practices often inherently aren’t illegal until somebody says they are.

                  Plus, your suffix is pretty funny with the IANAL disclaimer :-).

                5. Koko*

                  The DOL actually has written a statement on this matter!


                  The short answer is that if the volunteering or donation is the only way to get a raise – as opposed to one of several options, it is illegal.

                  “As long as the plan complies with the standards described herein, the volunteer activities are not compensable.

                  You represent an energy utility that has a pay plan that includes “results pay awards” or bonuses that are based on a work group’s performance. One of these categories, “Community Participation via Volunteer Efforts” (such as working with Habitat for Humanity or the United Way), accounts for approximately 10% of the total points the group could achieve under the plan. [b]The rewards matrices are designed so that an employee group can reach the highest award level without performing any volunteer activities.[/b]

                  You present several scenarios involving work group employees volunteering and ask whether under the FLSA these activities may be performed without compensation, or whether the employer must pay the non-exempt employees for these activities. [b]The employer never requires the employees to volunteer but does actively promote participation in the volunteer activities. The right or expectation of continued employment is not affected by an employee’s decision to participate or not participate in any such civic or charitable activities.[/b]”

                  “However, when an employer directs an employee to volunteer, that time is compensable. The regulations state:
                  [b]Time spent in work for public or charitable purposes at the employer’s request, or under his direction or control, or while the employee is required to be on the premises, is working time.[/b]”
                  “The employer is merely trying to encourage employees to donate their time to others in this scenario and is not obligated to treat the volunteer hours as compensable time worked under the FLSA. See WH Opinion Letter April 20, 1984(copy enclosed). Consideration of volunteer service, such as Habitat for Humanity, in the determination of a group bonus does not change this conclusion, [b]provided no employees are denied any part of the bonus for failure to participate in volunteer activity or led to believe that their work conditions or employment prospects would be affected by non-participation, such as would occur if the group could not qualify for the full bonus without performing volunteer work[/b].”

            5. The Cosmic Avenger*

              Just like in an interview they can ask you to do work as a type of tryout or audition as long as they don’t profit from it (they can’t use the work), they can ask you to volunteer for other causes, as long as they’re not benefiting from it. Both are basically the same principle: your employer must pay hourly employees for all hours worked for them.

              1. Monodon monoceros*

                At my last non-profit, though, we were told we could still volunteer for that organization, as long as it wasn’t doing something that was part of our normal job. For example, I could volunteer to do janitorial work, but not to do teapot research.

                Anyone know if this is actually true? I wouldn’t be surprised if that place either didn’t understand the actual rules, or was even blatantly lying, unfortunately.

                1. Judy*

                  I’m pretty sure that is mostly true. For example, many if not most of the employees of my Girl Scout Council have troops of their own. They are not paid for running those troops, just like the hundreds of other troop leaders who do not work for the council aren’t paid. Troop leader is a volunteer role for the organization.

                  I think you can do a job that is a volunteer job for your organization. But if your job was teapot research and Jane’s job was janitorial work, you couldn’t volunteer doing her job. If there was a volunteer day of “spring cleaning” or something, you could volunteer. (I’m thinking of our local nature center that has a weekend in the spring to spruce up the building, to get ready for the summer activities.)

                2. AndersonDarling*

                  I agree with Judy, you can’t volunteer to do a job that someone is being paid for.
                  I’m at a nonprofit and we are required to “volunteer” our time as part of our goals, but we are paid for our time. We are just being asked to do some work a few hours in the community we are serving.

                3. The Cosmic Avenger*

                  I’m not sure, because…wait for it…

                  I Am Not A Llama.

                  (No really, we’re getting into territory where a lawyer’s advice might be needed, and it might vary depending on the state.)

                  I’ll note that OP #5 didn’t state that their employer is a non-profit; I know that many companies require forced volunteerism or donations in order to try to burnish their image. The DOL site has this to say about it:

                  Under the FLSA, employees may not volunteer services to for-profit private sector employers. On the other hand, in the vast majority of circumstances, individuals can volunteer services to public sector employers. When Congress amended the FLSA in 1985, it made clear that people are allowed to volunteer their services to public agencies and their community with but one exception – public sector employers may not allow their employees to volunteer, without compensation, additional time to do the same work for which they are employed. There is no prohibition on anyone employed in the private sector from volunteering in any capacity or line of work in the public sector.

              2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

                It is, but I don’t allow it. I think that it creates problems that I’d rather not have to solve. For example, if I have a young, single employee with lots of free time, it’s probably much easier for them to give that extra time that someone with small children or aging parents. Although I wouldn’t fault the non-volunteer, I worry that people might be concerned about being at a disadvantage. Also, it is not also very clear-cut what is your “normal job” and what isn’t, and I don’t really want to be trying to make those distinctions. We NEVER allow our non-exempt employees to work off the clock. If I need them to do something outside of their normal work hours, I just have them clock their time. Bam. Done. No questions. I cannot tell you how much easier this makes my life.

                1. V.V.*

                  “We NEVER allow our non-exempt employees to work off the clock. If I need them to do something outside of their normal work hours, I just have them clock their time. Bam. Done. No questions.”

                  I wish more were like you.

                2. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

                  Agreeing with V.V. Wish more nonprofit manager-types were of your mindset!

            6. Lindrine*

              Agreed. It was illegal for the nonprofit employer to strong arm the employee to “volunteer” hours.

              If you have limited options and need to keep the job, why not look around for a non profit org that gives you flexible ways to volunteer? I volunteer with an org that would LOVE someone to help with spreadsheets or emailing people or updating social media pages.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Nonprofit employers cannot have employees volunteering hours for their own jobs for free. However, they can have them do volunteer hours in other areas of work separate from their own jobs that are normally handled by volunteers.

            7. Artemesia*

              they aren’t being asked to work for free for the employer. Seems like an extremely clear distinction to me. An employer might give bigger raises to people who keep up in the field and thus privilege people who are involved in professional associations or take additional training. This employer has a stake in employees being visible and contributing community members. Many employers will actually let you take company time to do this; a low paying employer really should but of course those are the companies least likely to do so.

          4. Helka*

            I guess my question about it is that “networking” is extremely open-ended and “team-building activities” usually take place on company time and company dime. But if a requirement of the job is to do a certain amount of unpaid work or to be required to pay out a certain amount of money (effectively lowering an employee’s wages without prior disclosure), doesn’t that potentially count as a labor violation?

            What’s really making me think that is the way they’re requiring specifically either time or money. There’s nothing for donating items or contributing in other ways, and they’ve named a specific dollar amount that the employee must meet or exceed as a condition of their job.

            1. Elysian*

              Nope. Telling them to do something that isn’t their own job is allowed. You have to pay them for their job; you don’t have to pay them for things that aren’t their job, even if you require them (I’m oversimplifying, but that’s the gist). As long as a mandatory donation doesn’t bring them under minimum wage, that’s allowed, too. Here, since they have a choice, it might not even matter if the donation brought them under minimum wage since they could have made a non-monetary donation of time instead.

          5. Sunshine DC*

            I think I was a bit surprise by your response here, AAM. What am I missing here? I expected you would explain that it’s wrong for management to require their staff to give money (etc.) to something, and that you were going to advise saying something like:

            “Thanks, but I already support private charitable commitments of my own, and my budget at this time doesn’t allow me to increase this.” -OR- “My hours outside of meeting my goals in the office are completely booked by meeting family and related obligations.”

            1. Hiring Mgr*

              I too was surprised by AAM’s response. Also, how is it decided what $120 of time is worth? Is it based on what your salary is….so a VP has to donate say 20 minutes while a lower level employee has to give 12 hours?

              1. Nea*

                “how is it decided what $120 of time is worth?”

                I’m wondering that myself, strongly. How is a calculation like that managed, and why $120, and for that matter, how is the charity defined?

                For instance – I have worked on auctions for charities – but would I have to prove that my participation brought in $120 in the overall take? That I spent enough time to be worth $120 while soliciting, setting up, tearing down? How, with a time clock?

                For another instance, I tend a Little Free Library, which gives away books. Arguably a charitable action, but how do I track the time stuffing books into it? Would $120 worth of books have to leave for it to “count”? Would I have to show a receipt for $120 worth of books? (I actually get my stock from another literary charity that gives away books.) Or would I have to go to that second charity and show a receipt of x worth of books given to *them* for it to count?

                And if none of this “counts” because the original job is asking for a specific action to a specific charity, would I have no recourse to protest that it would take away my volunteer time from these self-chosen ones?

                It’s such a can of worms I’m amazed that any company would put so specific an amount on it, as opposed to “we encourage charitable donations and volunteer work and reward that come raise time” — more generic but less likely to raise questions and pushback.

              2. Sunshine DC*

                Exactly my concerns!
                (For the record, I support any encouragement and opportunity given to employees for volunteer opportunities, but the way this is worded and REQUIRED is the issue I see.)

            2. Colette*

              The employees don’t have to do it, if they’re willing to accept a smaller raise.

              I agree it’s not a good policy, but I don’t think it’s that outrageous, either.

            3. Case of the Mondays*

              I think she was responding to the “is it legal” question more than “should my employer do this.” Just as an example, many state bar associations require lawyers to work x amount of pro bono hours per year or donate y amount of money to the legal aid fund to get out of the requirement. If the legal rules of ethics require it for lawyers than lawyers employers can require it of them. If it can be required of lawyers, it can be required of anybody. That’s the “legal” question. (Yes, I recognize that it is different because pro bono work is still done during normal business hours and lawyers are exempt but many lawyers are paid a percentage of receivables so it still cuts into their pay directly).

              Now as to is it ethical. OP says this is a burden on her low wage / no time colleagues. This is not the same as asking lawyers to pay a small percent of their salary towards legal aid. It is slightly more ethical because it sounds like they get to pick the charity. It seems more tone deaf of the day to day lives of the working class. The manager probably doesn’t see what the big deal is because he/she has never been working class.

              Lastly, it is common in non-profits for everyone to be expected to donate even just $1/year to their organization. This is because many grants have basic requirements that x amount of staff/board members financially contribute to the org. It is a really dumb metric since many orgs just raise pay by $5 and say it is expected that $5 get donated back. Or one boss will literally hand someone money to toss into the pool. I’m on a tangent now . . .

              1. Heather*

                I don’t think lawyers are in a comparable situation, though—lawyers aren’t typically employed by the bar association that requires them to donate pro bono hours. That’s a requirement for licensing, not for employment.

              2. Koko*

                Really? I’ve worked for nonprofits my entire career, in sizes ranging from 4 to 500 employees, and I’ve never been asked to donate back to my employer.

            4. Artemesia*

              If someone already supports charities on their own then they are not affected by this rule as they already meet the requirements.

              1. Hiring Mgr*

                I’m more against the general concept of tying raises, bonuses, ,etc.. to something that really has nothing to do with anything work related. Yes, I suppose you could argue that being “community minded” or something like that is a work related value…but it doesn’t sit right with me.

            5. Ask a Manager* Post author

              The question was whether it’s legal, not whether it’s reasonable.

              It’s legal.

              As for how the $120 is calculated, I’m sure they have a way of doing it, which doesn’t really impact the short question the OP was asking.

              1. Hiring Mgr*

                I think everyone agrees it’s legal, but it also seems reasonable to broaden the discussion.

          6. Confused*

            I disagree. Telling an employee to network usually means that that employee could learn from having met others in the industry or will bring in new clients– both directly impact the employee’s work product/output. Saying that an employee should network to expand his/her career is not the same as telling an employee to give time or money in order to receive a bonus payment.

      2. Not Today Satan*

        Yeah, as a regular volunteer I sort of can’t stand days when huge groups of employees from a corporation come to “volunteer” (make more work for the employees and regular volunteers). That’s not always the case but it’s actually hard to find available and engaging volunteer gigs–so I’d rather let them stay available for people who are actually interested.

        1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

          I’m with you. I’ve done a lot of volunteer coordination for non profits in my career and volunteers that don’t contribute regularly are a bit of a drain. It’s a lot of work to get a volunteer trained and set up for just a few hours or days. Even administrative tasks require specific direction because they are org specific, as with any job. The exception would be volunteering for an event when extra people are usually needed. But generally speaking, it’s not always helpful to have someone offer to volunteer for a limited time. And if someone had contacted me and said it was a requirement for thei job I’d feel bad saying I didn’t have anything right now, while at the same time annoyed that they weren’t really interested in helping. At that point, the non profit is helping them, not the other way around.

          1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

            My company encourages employees to volunteer and donate to organizations by making it easy to do so. We can take two days per year to volunteer during work hours and still get paid. If we donate we can get a company match up to $5K per year. In this case, it’s not a requirement but the results are the same. People are motivated to do it. If the goal is truly to get employees involved in the community the better way to achieve that is to make the goal easily achievable. It should not be a burden.

            1. AnonAnalyst*

              This is a better policy for getting people involved in the community. I used to work for a non-profit, and since the organization recognized that we relied on volunteers to help achieve our mission, they offered a pretty generous time off policy for volunteer work for staff (I can’t remember exactly what it was, but I think it was something like 1 day a month because we had several people bank up their days and then go do week-long volunteer projects!)

              I get what the organization in #5 is trying to achieve, but there are better ways of doing it that will make employees more likely to want to participate rather than feeling like it’s a burden.

            2. GigglyPuff*

              That’s what I was wondering, whether the OP could actually do it during works hours. I work in state govt. and we get 24 hours paid leave a year for “Community [Something]”.

            3. Graciosa*

              Yes – I would absolutely assume that anything my employer wanted me to do to meet my goals could be done while I’m being paid by the employer.

              I was actually rather surprised to read that everyone seemed to interpret the letter to mean that the time had to be “donated” from the employee’s free time. If I was asked to do this, I would schedule it as a paid meeting during work hours.

              Or better yet – the OP could take the lead in organizing a volunteer activity for group participation and allow others in the office to get their volunteer hours out of the way as well. A group is more likely to be able to accomplish something significant (clean up a park for example) which helps address AnonAnalyst’s legitimate concerns about having to invest more effort training an individual than the resulting work was worth.

              The employer gets the community good will, the employees get to check the goal off while being paid – and the OP gets to demonstrate leadership and organizational skills. Everybody wins.

              1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

                The letter said They are expected to “donate our time”. So I took that to mean outside of work hours or unpaid.

              2. Hlyssande*

                What HOOF said, but I think it’s also that so many people have experience with crappy companies that would or have done pretty much the same thing.

                It’s hard to give the benefit of the doubt that the company allows that volunteering to be during regular paid business hours when you know that there are definitely companies that would require volunteerism and NOT allow them to be completed during paid business hours.

          2. jag*

            “I’d feel bad saying I didn’t have anything right now, ”

            Why? It’s true. Don’t feel bad. Don’t get annoyed. Just say you don’t have anything they can help with.

            1. Holly Olly Oxen Free*

              I often did say I didn’t have anything, but I also tried to accommodate at times. As a non profit, running on significant volunteer power, it’s important to also give back when those volunteers need something. It’s hard to change how you feel about something so if I feel bad that’s just how I feel. How I handle it may change depending on the situation.

          3. TheLazyB*

            My old employer stopped using volunteers because of this. Had a long conversation with the deputy chief exec one day and he said it was more cost effective to pay people, because then they didn’t just get trained and leave :-/

            Of course they’ve started using volunteers again now. Political and economic necessity :(

        2. Sunshine DC*

          Especially this! Someone needs to clue these companies in how one-off volunteering imposed on local charities or community orgs is too often disruptive. As someone with longterm regular volunteer commitments (haveing zero relation to my job) I know everyone cringes when these obligatory “volunteers” show up. It’s really clueless of them to force volunteer coordinators to expend their time and energy to train their people for a day or 2 of work.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

            Eh, there are plenty of volunteer needs that can easily be filled by these kinds of groups (painting, general cleaning, trash pick up, etc.), and there are plenty of nonprofits that have built their volunteer program around them (I’m thinking of Philabundance in Philly , Habitat for Humanity, and Loaves and Fishes in Minneapolis as examples). For orgs that can accommodate them, it’s a great way to share their mission with a group of (employed, i.e. potential donors) people as well as getting some work done.

            (Previously, I managed the largest “day of service” event in the country – over 100,000 participants! – so I have lots of experience matching people and groups to projects. :)

            1. Kyrielle*

              Yep, if I were under this sort of directive, I wouldn’t look for an organization that was hunting for regular volunteers – I’d look at our local community’s “clean up our public spaces” group and see when they were next doing something. Or another call for public volunteering for a short event.

              1. Colette*

                My community association relies on volunteers to run four events a year. There’s a local group that preserves sand dunes that calls for volunteers a few days a year. The city has a spring cleaning event yearly. There are lots of opportunities to do one-off volunteering, or people who are interested.

              2. nona*


                There are a lot of great opportunities for short-term volunteer work that don’t require training.

                My state has a website for organizations searching for volunteers, kind of like a job search site. The website lets you make your own profile and search for volunteer positions by type, organization, time needed, number of people needed, volunteer age groups, whether the organization prefers individuals or groups, interests, location, etc.

                Something like this was also where I got my “putting kittens to bed” volunteer gig. The one where my job was to play with all the kittens in a shelter until they were sleepy at night. 10/10 would recommend!!

                1. Windchime*

                  You just described my dream job. I could take my knitting, because kittens + yarn!!

            2. Bwmn*

              Agree. Add to this – any type of parade, race, large event often has needs to large number of volunteers to use just for that event. I know a theater near me that has one performance a year that they offer for free to the community and require loads of volunteers during that (a case of take one or two four hour shifts) – and then basically very few during the rest of the year that they expect to be very committed.

            3. Artemesia*

              I have been involved in a big efforts like this as well. I swear some community centers have reduced space in their rooms because they have been painted so many times by school groups ‘serving the community.’ It requires a lot of effort on the part of organizations to make good use of volunteers doing short projects like this. I saw an organization that did instructional projects with schools make good use of 20 student volunteers to assemble their classroom project materials for the year. But often organizing this sort of thing was more work than they could do and so students ‘painted the community center’ — again.

          2. MegEB*

            It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I don’t think it’s clueless, and can actually be pretty beneficial. As multiple commenters mentioned below, there’s tons of volunteer work out there that requires minimal training and/or only needs one day of commitment (such as a race, walk, festival, etc). When I worked as a volunteer coordinator I found that a lot of these groups got really into it!

            I will say, however, that the one demographic I dreaded working with was teenagers – more often than not they were sullen and completely uninterested in doing any type of community service, but I think that speaks more to that particular age group than to the idea of “required volunteering” in general.

          3. anonymous daisy*

            I’ve seen a lot of companies send platoons of walkers for charity 5k’s and that is one of the few times I can see sending in a bunch of untrained people in to help out that really works well for both sides. One company even volunteered to help out with parking (a great help).

          4. Tyrannosaurus Regina*

            …it makes me feel better about Things to hear other people have issues with this flavor of volunteering too. Thank you!

        3. WannabeManager*

          Along with the corporate groups, the worst volunteers the animal shelter I volunteered for were the high schoolers trying to hit their service hours. Honestly, I wish the state didn’t have this requirement; the service commitment is more about quantity rather than quality.

          Personally, if schools want to encourage volunteering, I’d prefer a project that groups work on throughout the year under the direction of a teacher with experience volunteering but I know that’s not happening.

          1. MegEB*

            I was a huge proponent of required community service in high schools until I saw what it looked like in practice. Not so much anymore.

          2. Artemesia*

            Service-learning where students do service as part of the learning process related to what they are studying and over time with guidance of the teacher can be enormously valuable for the community and support both learning and cognitive development. ‘Doing hours’ is worthless and often a burden on the community. It is also often cheated or done sloppily at the end of the year.

            I’d love to see all students at some point engaged in a meaningful long term project as part of their studies. I’d also love to see ‘hours’ requirements without this academic integration, abolished.

          3. OriginalEmma*

            Is this a new thing? Like, in the past 10 years new? I’m not even that old (< 30 years old) but I never had a service learning or community service requirement for either middle or high school. FTR, I went to school in New Jersey.

            1. WannabeManager*

              Required by the state of Maryland if you want to graduate.

              Also, in high school I had to complete a few hours for National Honor Society membership.

            2. MegEB*

              Not required in the entire state of MA, but I know of several schools that require it on their own. It’s gained some traction in recent years.

            3. Dot Warner*

              It might also depend on whether the school is public or affiliated with a religion. I went to a Catholic high school that required service hours for graduation, but I’ve never heard of a public school doing that.

          4. A Teacher*

            Actually, in some cases it does. My dual credit juniors/seniors were required to volunteer 4 hours in some capacity for the organization–like they could do a fundraiser of their own for the group and it would count; raise $100 per student, and “sell the agency” via social media. Most of the kids had no problems getting hours–3 pet rescue groups, a nursing home, Easter Seals, and Big Brothers Big Sisters all benefitted. In the case of the last two, the kids asked if they could throw a party for the members and were told yes. At the nursing home, the kids actually planted their garden that the workers didn’t have time to get done. Of course, they are only in groups of 4 and a few groups went for 1-2 hours at a time over the semester and a few are now volunteering but the agencies did like it and did benefit from the media and from the monetary donations.

        4. Bwmn*

          While for many nonprofits this is the case – there are loads of one off volunteer gigs that are not like that. Marathons/races often rely on volunteers for numerous positions that require no training (i.e. filling up/handing out cups of water). While I would definitely not call a local animal shelter and go “I want to volunteer 2 days a year, what can I do” – organizations that have events often need one-off volunteers for lots of things.

          As AAM said, whether or not this is reasonable as a performance appraisal is one thing, but the kind of volunteering done really doesn’t have to be super specialized or trained.

          1. Lynn Whitehat*

            The last time I ran a marathon, there was a teenager handing out water at about the 20-mile-mark. “Water! Fresh cold water! Come and get it! Make me work for my service hours!” It made me laugh.

        5. Muriel Heslop*

          +1000. As a volunteer coordinator, this scenario is usually more trouble than it’s worth.

        6. steve g*

          I didn’t think of this because my last job was on a farm where you could get some hard work out of people with minimal training. But who wants to shovel manure and fill five gallon water buckets all day? A Lot of the stuff we had to carry was really heavy and I know a lot of people never came back after the first day. Also people complained about the conditions of some animals. Well, unfortunately not every horse is getting an acre. It’s a farm for abandoned animals, it’s not the farm’s fault that no oone else wanted. The volunteers not coming back because of not liking conditions was a catch 22 because more volunteers would have meant better conditions

        7. MinB*

          Once or twice a year my nonprofit will get local corporations who want to have a big volunteer day to ‘help us.’ A lot of the time it’s a company that a board member works for, so we can’t exactly say no, but they’re never helpful.

          We have a small building. A group of 40-60 volunteers easily overwhelms the place; they usually force us to shut down programming while they clean up, repaint a few walls, and weed the landscaping, which ends up costing us money in the long run and alienating our clients who normally expect us to be open.

          On top of that, the corporate volunteer groups don’t tend to do a very good job. Part of our mission is taking care of the historic building we’re housed in and one year the painters repainted the doors and got the paint all over the antique wallpaper in our best preserved room. That still hasn’t been repaired, so that room just looks sloppy in the mean time. Kind of the opposite of the purpose of a clean up day.

          If they really wanted to help, instead of one or two clean up days a year by white collar workers who don’t know what they’re doing and I’m sure have been voluntold to be there, they would donate money to provide a regular janitorial/maintenance/landscaping service by professionals so the building would look nice year round and it wouldn’t get bad enough to need clean up days in the first place.

          That, or they would encourage their employees to help us a few at a time year round using the skills they use for their regular jobs. We’ve had a few volunteer planning consultants and IT professionals and they’re always much more helpful.

        8. Jem*

          Oh God. I know what you mean. I was an activity coordinator for an organization serving the disabled and having groups into volunteer was always a huge PITA. It was more to make them feel good than actually accomplish anything. Regular, committed solo volunteers on the other hand were priceless.

      3. KAZ2Y5*

        Well, as long as they let me chose my church/ministries they operate as my charity then we are all good.

      4. Ed*

        I get their point of employees needing to give back to the community but then they shouldn’t give you the option to buy your way out by donating $120. Lower paid employees (who are more likely to have second jobs and less daycare) must figure out how to schedule their time while higher paid employees simply write a check and move on with their day.

      5. Jessa*

        And for those who due to medical problems cannot donate time, and are so cash strapped because the company doesn’t pay well and even with copays their medications are outrageous? What are we supposed to do? Make an ADA accommodation case out of it?

    2. Confused*

      So an employer can tell employees how to spend their money or force them to work unpaid hours? I may be looking at this too simply but– what?

      An employer cannot ask an employee to work “off the books” but they can require non-paid work elsewhere? Even if the employee is salary/non exempt I did not think that an employer could require said employee to volunteer time for an unrelated project. Even if it is tangentially related– could an employer really say, “Sally, you’ve met your KPI goals this summer, but until you put in your hours at Teapots for Toddlers, the local youth non profit volunteer center, I can’t consider giving you a bonus. If you want your bonus but don’t have time just show me a record that you gave them $120.00”

      This seems off….

    3. Mel*

      They are letting us choose . I just find this so disappointing I don’t feel this has anything to do with work. If I want to donate time or money my family and I can do it on our own. I just can’t believe they can tell me what to do with my money, that is what bother’s me the most.

  2. Kat*

    #3- It’s normal and the professional thing to do. Pushing back on it doesn’t make you look good. What exactly is the big deal about providing your name? Most businesses only ask you to provide your first name when answering the phone, not your last. “Hello. Thank you for calling Chocolate Teapots, This is Kat, how may I help you?”

    It annoys me when people see my name tag and start talking to me like they know me and use my name, but I let it go. I’m not going to demand they let me get rid of my name tag because of it. It’s part of the job. Just let it roll off your back.

    1. MK*

      I almost never catch the name of the person who answers the phone. I am trying to get my job done right then, not be social. And I really thing people can take the notion of privacy too far; your name is not a private thing.

      1. Sara M*

        Your company might let you use your middle name to answer the phone, as long as you’re consistent. I answered phones as Rose and it helped the problems you’re describing. Everyone knew and was fine with it.

      2. Snoskred*

        #3 – I’ve worked in a lot of call centres over the years and I’ve been called by a lot of names that aren’t my actual name.

        I’ve had people call me Veronica, Alexandra, Cassandra, Katherine, Karen, Mary, Elizabeth, princess, darling, darl, sweety, dear.. even, on one somewhat memorable occasion, Ben. The list of names I have been called is long and there are many names on it, and my actual real name is rarely to be seen on that list.

        I’ve had people call in and say “I was talking to Maria earlier” and when I looked back in the call log, they were talking with Sarah. I’ve had people call in and say they were speaking to X name when we had nobody working there by that name, and when I’ve looked in the call logs I have seen the name they were speaking to is nothing like the name they have given.

        Callers do not care what your name is. They are unlikely to call back looking for you to speak to, and if they do, 99% of the time they will get your name completely wrong. I got called Shannon all the time, and that is nowhere near my actual real name. My name has 3 syllables, Shannon only has two, plus the letter my name starts with is at the total opposite end of the alphabet.

        I’ve had co-workers use fake first names because their first name costs them time on the phone – always with the permission of management and also with everyone being aware of it. Over the years it has become common to never give out your last name, and I totally agree with that as a concept.

        On occasions where the caller has insisted on a last name and I have refused to provide it but they will not accept that, I have used a fake last name to end the argument and to get them off the phone. I always choose something long, eg Fitzwilliam, and I make sure I have practiced using that last name in role plays with other staff.

        1. Traveler*

          Yes, if you’ve worked in a call center, many times you’re told the danger of giving out your real or full name. I hated when I entered the corporate work force and I had to give my name out to strangers. I’ve gotten used to it now.

          And a name, if it’s unique can give you access to a lot of personal information, especially in conjunction with your place of employment.

          1. Poohbear McGriddles*

            Every time I call Delta Airlines I end up talking to someone named Skye. Always wanted to ask if her last name was Miles.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              I called DirecTV and ended up talking to this fabulous CSR named LaQuita (sp?). I have no idea if that was her actual name–probably not. She was in Georgia. She was really nice and we had a great conversation. After I hung up, I realized LaQuita of Georgia sounded really close to Locutus of Borg.


              1. beachlover*

                I have DirectTV and I must say, I have always had great customer service when I call in. I will say that for me, being slightly hard of hearing, sometimes when the CSR answers the phone, they say their name so rapidly that I cannot understand it. I will often ask for the persons name, especially if I am calling regarding and issue, only because in the past with other companies, I have called in had long discussion with CSR’s and then called back later only to be told “there are no notes’ regarding the issue in my file.

            2. Jill of All Trades*

              So when I worked in reservations at Delta there were agents who came up with names like Patty O’Furniture, Hannah Rinse, and Christy Cream. Worst job ever but I got to practice all kinds of fake names

        2. Brandy*

          I have learned to answer to any “Andy” type of name. People call me Mandy, etc… and Im all yeah, so while you might say your name, they really don’t hear much of it.

      3. Sadsack*

        I have people not catch my name when I have just said it!

        Answering phone: “Awesome Department, Sadsack speaking,”
        Caller: “Hello, may I speak with Sadsack?”
        “Yes, this is Sadsack…” like I just told you I am Sadsack when I answered the phone. People just don’t pay attention.

        I also forget the name of the person I am speaking to when i make a call and often have to ask again if I didn’t immediately write it down. People are preoccupied with the business they are calling about and don’t pay attention to names at the beginning of a call.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I go by Liz, typically–but on the phone, people here it as Lisa, Liza, etc. Elizabeth is better. But if I use Liz, I can’t say “This is Liz,” because then it sounds like “ZZzz zz ZZZZ.” I have to say “Liz speaking,” or “You’ve reached Liz,” which sounds like an answerphone.

          1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            Yes! One thing I learned from working in a drive-thru is that, on the phone or in a speaker, you should never use a one-syllable word when you can use two. “French fries” over “fries,” because in a drive thru, “fries” sounds like “Sprite,” and you just caused yourself a 2 minute delay once they get to the window.

            (That’s a handy ordering tip, too. Say the entire product; I think when people are misunderstanding each other, the instinct is to shorten up what we’re saying, when it’s much more effective to lengthen it!)

            1. fposte*

              That is amusingly and reasonably like training voice-recognition software–the more text, the more context to help it sort the words out.

    2. Jennifer*

      I hate doing it myself too.

      “Oh, you’re JENNIFER!”
      “HI JENNIFER!”
      “I just wanted to make sure, you’re JENNIFER and I can cite you as saying this was 100% ok, right?!?”

      It (a) kind of makes me feel like I’m going to be stalked a bit (our clientele can be occasionally…iffy, and we had to call the cops again this week) and (b) it really sucks when they decide to track down a higher-up to complain about JENNIFER again or claim that JENNIFER told them something when I seriously never even heard of this person and their problem before–then again, there’s always some other JENNIFER to mix me up with, I used to get mixed up with some girl in accounting I never even met. They kind of make me feel like I’m a butterfly that’s about to be pinned.

      But you have no choice, especially if you are first on the front lines, which a receptionist is.

      1. They were nineteen years old. They were children.*

        I confess that, as a customer who will sometimes be calling places trying to straighten out a bill or somesuch, yes, I make sure I get your name. And I write it down in my notes, along with the date and time and phone # and any other information. Because sometimes this stuff can drag on and on, and if nothing else there’s a psychological advantage to being able to say “On April 12th at 2:35pm I called 888-123-4567 and spoke to Layla, who told me etc etc etc.” (which, frankly, tends to yield better results than “Um, yeah, this is the fourth time I’ve called you about this … Um, I dunno, last week sometime … They said to call a number but I got a recording … No, I forgot it …”)

        1. Snoskred*

          Yes but my dear Cyclatrol, you would be a rare exception to the normal caller from my experience, and I can tell you that having taken 100-200+ calls a day for many, many years. And in some cases, these were calls of high importance where the result may end up in court, too.

          Me personally, I am the same as you – I note the name of the person I am speaking to, the date, the time of my call, etc. Part of that is purely because I have been a call centre operator making calls to other call centres or other companies to organise things to be done and I always needed to log that information in my call log in case another operator had to follow up later, they could say “Snoskred called at X time and spoke with (name), name said X. Y and Z.”

          My other half has an unusual name, and I often give him a plain vanilla name for things like contractor quotes, because it has been my experience that sometimes people will not quote on a job or return a call if they feel they can’t pronounce the name. :)

          1. hildi*

            Wow, I’m actually really surprised more people don’t keep that info!! Because I’m just like the both of you – I always have a note pad and pencil and I’m writing down anything and everything that’s factual about our phone call: date, time, name of people I spoke with, etc. I’ve found it tremendously helpful later on. I figured I was average on that. But hey, I’m above average!!! whoo hoo for the little things!!

        2. ExCallCenter*

          In my experience as a call center worker, I actually hated when people did this. And the reason is that, even if you can cite the time, date, and person you spoke with, you aren’t really giving me any credible information to work off of. I’ve had people say “I spoke with Mary on Monday at 12:18 PM, and she told me specifically I could do so-and-so” and when I read the notes, Mary noted Monday at 12:18 PM “Spoke with Mr. and advised several times he could NOT do so-and-so.”

          Or you tell me that on Monday at 12:18 Mary told you that you can do so-and-so, but there aren’t any notes, and I know from experience that Mary probably DID tell you to do so-and-so, but my job is to still tell you that, in spite of this, you CAN’T do so-and-so.

          I’ve never had a single experience where the caller having the name of the person they spoke with has changed the outcome of the conversation one bit.

          1. Katieinthemountains*

            But I have! I ordered an entertainment unit that was missing pieces. I called, and Brian took care of shipping me the parts though he was supposed to refer me to the company that actually manufactured the thing. So when I called back because one of the pieces was damaged and that guy tried to foist me off on the manufacturer, I told him Brian had handled it for me the previous time. He got his supervisor and it was handled.

            1. ExCallCenter*

              Interesting! Mind if I ask, was this (from what you could tell) a large call center, or a smaller company?

          2. Snoskred*

            ExCallCenter – I had the opposite experience. If someone could tell me the time and date they’d called, I could find their original call in the call log, and tag their new call onto that old call. This meant I didn’t even have to ask for any details from them, though I would confirm their name and contact number in case the original call taker got that wrong – sometimes that does happen.

            If they did not know the time and date, I could also ask them for their name and then search the call log for their previous call.

            This was a real time saver for all of us on many occasions because on that first call there was often a lengthy form that had to be filled out by the operator, and to have to ask for all that information again would take 3-4 minutes of asking and typing.

            One client of ours got a new database where it kept all the information of the callers, so if a regular caller rang up, we could just type in their name and it came up with their address, phone number, all the info we needed. I would always check these things with the caller but sometimes it could be a quick – have any of your details changed since the last time you called vs can you confirm your address, phone number, x detail, y detail – especially if the last call was yesterday.

            1. ExCllCenter*

              You’re describing a time and date, though, which is often helpful. I’m speaking specifically about the name of the rep you spoke with.

      2. AMD*

        In my field, there are a lot of requirements to document the name of who you were talking to – that will basically never matter or be followed up on unless something goes so wrong that someone is hospitalized or dies – so it doesn’t really matter, but I do need the name. I always feel bad asking people for their names, though, like I am going to hold them personally responsible for something. “No, I don’t care what your name is, I just need something to be able to put in this blank on my form.”

        1. Jennifer*

          Heh, in my job they ARE holding me personally responsible for anything and everything. They make sure I know it, too.

      3. LBK*

        If there’s a security issue that’s one thing, but as a receptionist for the county I’d say interacting with and being accountable to the public is part of the job.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Heck, being a receptionist is a public-facing position and you will be accessible to people. If that’s a problem due to security or other circumstances, it’s probably time to look for a non-public job.

      4. Kyrielle*

        I never had this experience, thankfully, but I did have clients just saying they talked to Kyrielle when really they didn’t. At one point, on my team, there was me – another woman whose name differed by one vowel and sounded similar – and a man whose name sounded very close to hers and thus could be mistaken for either of us. Augh!

    3. BRR*

      Not to mention they work for the county. They are going to have more information out there than just their name (which can likely also be discovered very easily).

      1. More Cake Please*

        This is my issue with giving out my name (even first) when I answer the phone. You can easily look up my employer, my wage history and the county I live in if you know my name, because I work for the government. There’s only one “More Cake Please” in this branch in this county, so now anyone who looked that up would have my last name. Plus there are all sorts of websites that catalog home addresses and phone numbers and some of our clientele can be…. problematic. I’ve had enough phone calls asking for “More Cake Please” that turn into requests for dates from registered sex offenders, enough notes slipped onto my desk about my warddrobe, enough creepers sitting outside the office at night that I do NOT need to give people any assistance in locating me.

        I’m only supposed to transfer phone calls to other people, not resolve issues or give information, so really, there’s almost no case where my name is going to be relevant. Therefore, I don’t give it out when answering the main line. (You’ll get it if you hit my extension, but that’s a misdail 98% of the time….)

    4. LBK*

      Yeah, I guess I’m not understanding what the big deal is. If you don’t say it in your greeting and the person asks you for your name, are you going to say “No, I don’t give that out”?

        1. LBK*

          Right, but my point is that she probably gives out her name in conversation anyway – so I don’t see why including it in your greeting is any different from giving it out when someone asks.

    5. Artemesia*

      If a person was very adverse to giving their name, why couldn’t they have a reception name for work that they use? But if it is only the first name, I don’t see the deal. If required to use the last name — wanting to avoid stalking or whatever might be not unreasonable.

      1. Jennifer*

        I can just imagine the reactions you’d get from coworkers if you want an alias while at work and you don’t work at a phone sex line, though.

        1. Snoskred*

          Jennifer – I don’t necessarily think that is true. I had one co-worker whose name was so weird, and I mean out there weird, that she chose to use the name Eva on the phone otherwise she would spend way too much time explaining, spelling, etc.

          I think in this case, the OP has come back with a clear and good reason as to why she does not want to use her name, and if I were her, I would talk to my manager about using an alias permanently on the reception desk. :) If I were the manager I would have zero issue with her doing that. If her manager does have a problem with it, that is where the trouble is going to begin here. :(

    6. The Strand*

      I can’t remember names immediately and my hearing’s a little wonky. I might repeat your name so that I can remember it. I might ask you if I’m talking to you after you already stated your name because we have a bad connection or my hearing isn’t so great, and I didn’t hear or understand your name. I have said more than once, “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” I’m not being a jerk, I won’t ignore what you’re saying.

      Good news for OP, a lot of people won’t even remember her name.

      1. Jennifer*

        I know, I know…I just wish they *wouldn’t* remember my name and come looking for me later. I really hate being “a resource” in this particular job when half the things I’m asked I don’t know jack about and the caller wants to pin me down as an “expert” (especially when this gets cited in their paperwork that JENNIFER told them and then I get in trouble). But finding a not-public job has been impossible of late.

        I just need to surrender, really.

    7. Kelly O*

      I’ve been the receptionist and/or the main phone person for years, and that’s fairly common.

      “Thank you for calling Chocolate Teapots, this is Kelly. How may I direct your call?”

      Like others have said, half the time people don’t pay attention anyway.

  3. Mike C.*

    I feel for the rejected intern mentioned in #1 – what kind of thesis advisor wouldn’t bother to tell their advisee that they wouldn’t be able to give a solid reference? Is there something more going on here?

    1. fposte*

      Maybe the student didn’t ask before putting the advisor’s name down? Otherwise I’m with you.

      1. Observer*

        And maybe the student is like someone who wrote in earlier this week who wanted to know how she could “make” a professor give her a good reference. (The professor told that she would have to tell anyone who called that she was not terribly reliable, an assessment the student disagreed with.)

      2. James M.*

        Recalling my college buddies, that is very probable. Even so, if someone called to talk about Mr. E’s (who didn’t ask me to be his reference) professional acumen, I would simply say “wrong number” and end the call. I would not spin tales about how he’s unreliable, reclusive, prone to mood swings, fond of riddles, etc…

    2. stellanor*

      I left a graduate program in part because of my incredibly toxic thesis advisor, and I got passed over for at least one job based at least partly on weird stuff she said when called for a reference (she didn’t give me a bad reference, but she did seriously play into the interviewer’s fears that I would take a job for six months and then quit to go back to school). When that relationship goes bad it tends to go really, REALLY bad.

      1. mskyle*

        I had a very similar experience, though with a post-college research assistant job rather than an advisor. Fortunately I found out about it because I was applying for jobs through a recruiter and the recruiter told me I was losing out on jobs due to this one reference. I was devastated. She had said I could use her as a reference, and I probably should have clarified that she was going to give me a *good* reference, but I was young and trusting and naive. Later in that job search, I was able to talk to one of my interviewers about what this reference had said about me, and he basically said that she made both me and herself sound bad.

        So, I don’t know what I’d say to the OP – I think you could do a young job-seeker a real service by passing on the info about the thesis advisor, but I don’t know where your obligation lies.

        1. Sara*

          It’s just crummy to *offer* oneself up as a reference when the reference will be less than glowing.

      2. Melissa*

        I’m trying to transition out of academia, and it just dawned on me a few days ago that if I have my current postdoctoral advisor as a reference she’d be pretty glowing but might foster that idea too. She’s the type who’s an academic and can’t understand why anyone else wouldn’t want to be one.

        1. stellanor*

          The interviewer said my advisor pretty much told them how great I was and how much she was looking forward to my inevitable return. Like, not in as many words, but that was the take-home.

          I was already having MAJOR issues with people assuming I’d go back to school anyway because all my recent work experience was research assistantships and TAing, and that kicked a few people over the edge into thinking I wasn’t worth the risk. This advisor having been weird and manipulative and controlling was one of the reasons I was leaving but she was also the supervisor for my last three positions so not using her as a reference would have been a huge hardship, but I strongly suspect she messed with me on purpose.

          I don’t think the job I got even called my references. I was hired as a temp, and we don’t check references for temps, and then offered a permanent position after 6 months at which point they’d already worked with me so I didn’t need a reference from outside the company.

          Having had this conversation I think I wouldn’t list her as a reference in the future!

    3. Artemesia*

      I would expect a thesis advisor who had that kind of experience of a student to let her know that she would not be a reference so either this is a jerk of an advisor OR the student listed her as a reference without permission.

      The exception would be within the institution e.g. if the person were applying for a graduate program within that institution, or for employment there etc where you would expect hiring managers to reach out to colleagues with experience of the person.

      I have known grad students who left programs and transferred to other programs or quit due to vicious faculty members I don’t think it is common but it does happen and in the worst case of this, I had lots of corroborating evidence that the faculty member was abusive and basically protected by the institution because he brought in big bucks — it was not just the grad students’ word.

      1. Mike B.*

        Given that there were *two* problematic references, I think the second scenario (the student didn’t ask permission) is more likely. It sounds to me like one of the people she chose responded with an angry honesty, and the other tried to be as kind as she could when put on the spot.

        One hopes that the second professor will reach out to the student and let her know what she did wrong.

        1. The Strand*

          I thought the issue was that the student wasn’t a “shining star”, not that she was terrible, according to #2.

          1. Cat*

            Yeah, saying someone isn’t a shining star when pressed seems different than so outright negative we have to assume the person wasn’t initially asked.

          2. fposte*

            It’s still problematic, though, in conjunction with the other reference; they really liked her as a person, but her work wasn’t great. Professor’s review was that her work *really* wasn’t great. It seems pretty likely her work isn’t great. And that’s usually not what you’re hoping for when you’re hiring.

      2. Connie-Lynne*

        I once worked for a Professor who would deliberately stall on getting recommendations out, then send out lukewarm ones, for students he felt had “wronged” him some way.

        I made an effort to let those students know what was up. It was so petty.

    4. BRR*

      I started a program and had an assistantship which really tied me there that only had one professor/advisor. After I started I realized how awful he was. I was trapped.

      1. R*

        Ugh. In my Masters program, my advisor was bad. I was doing my thesis from the opposite coast, and had specifically chosen a format that was more theoretical and did not require data analysis. I sent him drafts multiple times. During my defense, he and another committee member stated that it was a problem I had no data! What? I was blown away. Luckily, they took pity on me and passed me. Luckily, my advisor now is great.

    5. INTP*

      Given the two references, I think it’s likely that the student didn’t ask permission or that she has no one that can give a strong reference and the professor probably unintentionally downplayed how bad of a reference they would give (“I don’t feel I’m in the position to give a glowing reference” and the student assumes it’s an average reference rather than a plea not to hire her). The responsible thing for the professor to do at this point is contact the student to explain that they can only give a negative reference. It’s part of their job to teach professional norms like asking before you list a reference.

      But in other cases, I could see this being intentional on the professor’s part. While the vast majority of faculty are not like this, toxic and power trippy personalities tend to flourish in academia, probably due to the tenure concept and the fact that the people they are taunting won’t be around long anyways. I know stories of advisors totally having it out for students for switching to another lab, petty things like that. Even the longtime admins in my department get away with behavior I have never seen tolerated in an admin in the private sector and they don’t have tenure.

      1. The Strand*

        Yes, I’m afraid this is very true. Almost two decades ago, a faculty member who I had TA’d for wrote a somewhat petulant job reference letter when I asked for a reference for a job outside academia, basically, “I think she is terrific doing work in my field, but I can’t tell you if she can do this job in the outside world”. He’d previously lauded me for my teaching work with students, but there was nothing about that in the reference, or about my work ethic, etc.

        1. INTP*

          Do you think it was because you were considering a job outside academia? I know that can be a touchy subject in some programs. Luckily all my profs have been well-intentioned but I’ve had it implied to me that I’m wasting my mind by pursuing a career in X (for lifestyle reasons) when I have the talent to be a great professor of Y. (I’m in an MA program doing a double concentration in X, a pre-professional track, and Y, a field I love and am good at but which doesn’t have many opportunities outside of academia and research.)

          1. stellanor*

            My advisor treated me appallingly and, when I finally pushed back about some of the ridiculous conditions I was expected to work under as an RA, forced me out of the position — she informed me I was resigning and even told me how to word my letter of resignation to the department head.

            I’m pretty sure she was furious when I went on leave and started applying for non-academic jobs instead of groveling, because she was an incredible control freak who lashed out at anyone who disagreed with her or pointed out she’d made an error and had a tendency to punish people in bizarre ways (last-minute assignments, calling you on the carpet in public for daring to do things she’d explicitly given you permission to do, standing you up for meetings and blaming you for it, refusing to provide feedback necessary to move forward with a project).

            I suspect she purposely gave me weird/iffy references so I would have no other option than to come crawling back.

    6. Valar M.*

      Lots of them? Maybe I’m in the minority, but I don’t think I know anyone that had a really great experience with their thesis advisor. Mine constantly told me one thing to my face, and another thing elsewhere because they didn’t like confrontation.

      1. Melissa*

        I had a really great experience with my dissertation advisor – he was really great. Honestly the worst thing he did was disappear for several weeks at a time, but he was up for the tenure at a really hard school to get tenure the same year I was writing, so I can forgive him for that. BUT I do get the sense that I am somewhat in the minority, because most of what I hear is average and I’ve heard far more horror stories than good ones.

        1. Valar M.*

          My thesis advisor was really fantastic at first, but things went downhill. I think he was very overwhelmed by the amount of work he had, and rather than confronting it, kept trying to avoid it. I can’t say I blame him, exactly, but it made things harder than they should have been. I think its sort of like what we’ve talked about here before with people being brilliant at what they do, but not necessarily great managers.

      2. INTP*

        Yeah, the passive aggressive thing is not rare in academia either, nor are students without the experience to know how to really read into it. My TAing supervisor was notorious for presenting things as a mild suggestion and then getting pissed when we didn’t understand they were actually requirements. Even the subsequent punishments (like having a meeting about what professionalism means) went over some of my colleagues’ heads, who thought they were just spontaneous. I think it’s very plausible that the student did ask about a reference and the professor gave a misleadingly mild response that the student interpreted at face value. I would expect an experienced professional to understand that “I don’t know if I am your best choice, Jane has supervised more of your hands-on work” as “Do not list me” but not an inexperienced student.

      3. stellanor*

        Mine told me one thing to my face, said another thing elsewhere, and then punished me whenever I didn’t correctly guess which one was her real intent. One time she refused to give me feedback on a thesis chapter for 6 weeks because I RSVPed for a meeting but did it “wrong” so she didn’t show up, and then I had the temerity to contact her and ask if I was mistaken about us having a meeting scheduled.

        I’ve actually been struggling to internalize that my current boss does NOT think it is her personal mission to destroy me.

      4. simonthegrey*

        I had an amazing thesis advisor who I really respect and would work with again in a heartbeat, but he was actually the third advisor I had.

    7. The IT Manager*

      Given the two negative references, I’m betting that the thesis advisor is not out to get the student. I’m betting the student put the thesis advisor down without asking either because it never occurred to her to ask (“who else is a Master’s student supposed to put down?” / “The career office said to list my advisor as a reference.”) or student knows the advisor doesn’t think much of her but is hoping that when put on the spot he’ll say nice or at least neutral things about her.

      This student could be clueless about her reputation/skills/work ethic, or she knows but has no one else to list as a reference.

      1. themmases*

        I think this is probably part of it. Not being able to list your own advisor as a reference can look a lot like not listing anyone from your last job– there’s just an assumption that you should want to unless something is wrong. Just like in other employment situations, people realize it could be the advisor or boss’s fault in general but in specific cases it often reflects on the applicant. In some ways faculty references can be worse because at many jobs there are several people above you, or at least senior to you, plus HR who could plausibly be the contact person. As a grad student, people expect you to list your advisor.

      2. brighidg*

        But they weren’t two negative. There was one that could go either way and one that was negative. If the first review had been glowing, the second probably would have seemed positive as well. It’s the first reference that influenced the OP’s interpretation of the second.

        And while I can totally understand why the OP would not hire the person based on the above, I do think she should let the student know what’s going on. At best, that first reference is unprofessional for not telling the student they would not give a positive reference or announcing they had not been informed they would be a reference. At best.

    8. Stranger than Fiction*

      I would just tell the candidate something generic, like “you may want to rethink your references. for privacy’s sake, I cannot give details, but you may want to look into this”.

      1. Melissa*

        I think that still does the same thing, you know? It’s indicating to the candidate that they got a negative reference from their references, and that’s going to mean that the candidate is going to ask their references what kind of reference they’re giving and possibly disclose that they were tipped off by an interviewer/potential employer.

        1. Ani*

          I think the person who hasn’t even started their career deserves to know this, though. The advice in response to the question is really manager-focused rather than employee-focused this time, which is fine, but is something to keep in mind.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Well, yeah, because the point of references is to help a manager make a hiring decision, and you’re more likely to get candid references if people think they can speak in confidence. What the candidate would like to know isn’t really the point. I think this is an area where the people bothered by this are very much missing a manager perspective on the situation.

            1. YogiJosephina*

              I wouldn’t say we’re missing the manager perspective, just that we don’t think that the manager perspective should automatically be deemed more important than the employee one.

              One thing I forgot to mention below: you’ve said here many times that the point of a reference is for hiring managers to find the best person. I think that this is true, but it’s not the whole truth. A reference ALSO serves to help a candidate/job seeker get hired. It’s 50-50.

              What’s bothering me about this is that even though a reference serves both manager and job seeker alike, ONLY the managers’ needs are being considered here, and I don’t know why that is. Yes, candid feedback, ok. But if a reference is supposed to help both parties, why is the job seeker not entitled to that same honesty?

              I think this is what I’ve been meaning to say this whole time. Thanks for reading still.

              1. brighidg*

                I agree. Quite frankly, if the hiring manager doesn’t know how to parse references, then maybe they’re not the right person for their job.

      2. Tamsin*

        I agree. It’s one thing to deny the candidate the job based on that bad recommendation. There’s something that makes me uneasy about then saying the OP also has to basically be complicit in the adviser continuing to torpedo the person’s career before it has even started — this was a person deemed a candidate for the job, they’re seeking feedback, and the OP has some obligation to not say “you might want to rethink your references”? Nah, not buying it.

    9. the_scientist*

      Happens ALL THE TIME. Most academics aren’t managers and frankly aren’t that good at the supervising/mentoring part of advising. They are often afraid of confrontation and also can be pretty petty, in my experience. I have had lots of friends ask their graduate advisors to be references and then have been told that they lost a position based on that reference. Further, I know of a few cases where an advisor has actively sabotaged someone’s application because they are really hoping this student will stick around (and work as a tech, RA or PhD candidate- after all, that type of labour is cheap and the person is already trained!). In these cases the advisor wasn’t lying outright, but was giving an extremely lukewarm reference. That type of deliberate subterfuge is rare, but does happen in my experience.

      I think there are also some academics (usually the ones who have limited experience outside of academia) who just genuinely can’t extrapolate their students’ performance in school to a real-world context…’s like they are focused solely on the student’s academic/intellectual abilities that they don’t pay attention to problem-solving, conflict resolution, etc.

      1. KathyOffice*

        Agreed, this is all so true. And it’s a shame, because so many students don’t expect this could happen.

    10. Marcela*

      Well, I know one guy whose PhD advisor is known to give bad references, even when the student is brilliant and he has been saying that. It’s like once it’s on record, he can’t say anything positive. Sadly this guy is a very, very important professor, top of his field, so many people ask him for references, only to discover through the grapevine that he said they should not get the position/tenure because x, y, z. This guy I know got a tenured track position by managing to delay this professor’s reference (telling him to sent it to a wrong email address os something like that). It was very important to get his PhD advisor’s reference and he knew his advisor was going to destroy his chances again (it had happened before).

    11. KathyOffice*

      I feel bad for them, too. Especially since it’s their advisor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were told they’d get a great reference when they asked for it. I had something similar happen to me; I asked for the reference, was told yes enthusiastically, and he wrote up rec letters that were sealed for confidentiality. Many years later, I find a copy and open it. It was not a glowing reference. Not bad, but definitely not one that I’d want to represent me when applying for a job.

      I kinda think the person should be told, if only because this is a situation that happens often enough but isn’t expected by students. Academics can sometimes give great references (I’ve gotten them!), but when they’re bad, ugh.

  4. Pete*

    #4. I don’t believe you should be angry. I believe you should be proud. Most managers I know don’t like to conduct interviews they don’t have to. You are so good you made someone decide to interview you even though they didn’t have an opening. They were very deep in the process and ready to make an offer, at least. They were checking you out in case they didn’t reach an agreement with their choice, or if that person doesn’t work out, or because they might have another position for which you might be a good fit, or another half dozen reasons I can’t think of.

    Maybe the interview was costly to you, e.g. travel, time off from work. I understand that might be irksome since it appears that you you had no chance. Then again, most interviews don’t pay off. If the interview seemingly went well, this one might still. G’luck.

    1. Lucy*

      Thanks Pete, you have a point there. I understand now that this just how things work sometimes.

    2. stellanor*

      Yeah, seriously, we don’t do any interviews that aren’t useful where I work! They’re REALLY time-consuming.

      1. They were nineteen years old. They were children.*

        I see what you mean, but either way: it looks like there might be advantages to having a special “mini” version. Like: I believe I’ve seen tubes that could store rolled-up documents.

        Of course, if you go to a lot of trouble to get fresh, flat, unfolded copies of your resume to the dinner table, and you hand them out to people – what are they going to do with it? Fold it into quarters and put it in their pocket?

        But take heart: a number of companies are hard at work on the next generation of Augmented Reality gadgets. If it ever catches on, you won’t need to carry this kind of stuff around at all.

        1. Elysian*

          Oh my. I would think not having an extra copy of my resume would be better than carrying around a rolled up copy of my resume in a poster tube. You shouldn’t give an interviewer a document that can’t lay flat. That would be so odd.

          OP, the answer here might depend on whether you’re a man or a woman. I assume you’re a man, because the obvious answer for a woman I think is to carry a bag big enough for your portfolio. Honestly, if you don’t normally carry a briefcase or a professional-looking interview bag that you’ll be bringing, I would just bring your portfolio and put it on the floor, or not bring it. Whichever you’re more comfortable with and makes you feel more prepared. I would lean it against the chair or something. But I don’t think this is really something to stress over, especially for a second interview.

          1. Graciosa*

            Even as a woman, I would not carry a bag large enough for a portfolio if bag means handbag or purse (yes if it’s a briefcase). Enormous handbags just don’t scream Professional Woman at Dinner to me. I usually carry smaller bags in the evening – possibly a weird prejudice on my part – and a nice briefcase seems much more appropriate for carrying work.

            1. Traveler*

              There are some out there that are large enough for a portfolio but still thin, think 12 x 9 x 1. They don’t look anything like the beach bags some women carry around, and look pretty professional. They are harder to find though.

            2. Elysian*

              I would think that is just a fashion choice then, and I didn’t get the sense the OP was looking for fashion advice. I’m envisioning a portfolio about the size of a legal pad (I think some people say “padfolio” for this type of thing) – basically a glorified folder. My typical “interview” bag fits that easily. I wouldn’t bring my interview bag to a cocktail party, but a dinner interview is still an interview and if I was worried about where to put my documents, that’s the size of bag I would normally bring.

              1. Graciosa*

                I would absolutely bring something to hold my resume and portfolio – it just wouldn’t be a purse.

                This is probably on the borderline between advice about professional image and fashion (the latter is odd from me as I’m not remotely fashionable!) but I would be less impressed by someone who pulled a portfolio out of a purse at dinner than someone who pulled a portfolio out of a business bag.

                I’m not saying this would be decisive or that I would never hire someone who did the former – just trying to give as much insight as possible into how different people think about this so that the OP can make her own informed choice.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  Yes, and many of those are compact and slim. The OP could tuck her wallet into the bag along with the portfolio and it just would look like a small briefcase. Perfectly acceptable and easily stowed under the table between her feet when necessary.

                  I have a leather one that is perfect for that. :)

          2. Stranger than Fiction*

            How about one of those nice, leather or leather-looking folders? It’s just the size for 8.5 x 11 papers, and could easily be wiped clean if it gets wet from being on the dinner table.

        2. R*

          I’ve used a slightly thinner padfolio and tucked it behind my back on my chair to keep it out of the way.

  5. Merry and Bright*

    On #5 I must admit that the idea of compulsory charity donations grates a bit with me, because the key to anything charitable is that it is voluntary. It goes against the spirit of the thing to say “We require you to donate to X”, or “If you want to do Y you must donate to Z”.

    Sometimes you have to do this of course because you end up harming yourself more in the long run, but that’s the point again really. It is being used as a sort of lever against you. On the other hand, if it is a genuine cause they can always use the extra $/£ but it is still done under pressure.

    1. Ani*

      But I’ve worked places that aren’t nonprofits that push hard for employees to volunteer in the community far more time than is asked here (and that is what’s being asked, though they are giving OP the option of giving a cash contribution instead). Volunteering the equivalent of $120 worth of work time is doing volunteer work for 2 days a year if you make the federal minimum wage.

      1. Stranger than Fiction*

        That’s when you use photoshop to create a receipt for donating to the Human Fund. :-)

  6. YogiJosephina*

    I’m very surprised by the answer to #1, actually. I had no idea that the reference process was intended to be confidential. I would absolutely expect that to be transparent – the candidate knows what their reference is saying about him/her.

    Honestly, I find my sympathies falling with the applicant here. If you didn’t tell your former employee that you couldn’t give them a good reference when they asked (assuming he/she asked), I don’t really think you are entitled to confidentiality when you completely blast them in the reference check. The tanking them behind their back is a far, far worse offense than a “confidentiality breach.” The candidate has much more to lose here than the reference giver.

    If he/she DIDN’T ask, that changes how I feel about it slightly, but I still maintain that when you agree to be a reference for someone, you better be ready to be a) called out for what you’ve said about them, bad or good, and b) stand by it. You don’t get to torpedo someone like that and then play the victim when your duplicity is outed. Their right to transparency trumps yours to confidentiality.

    1. YogiJosephina*

      Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that the power imbalance matters here. Generally, the person in the position of less power (the candidate) has more right to protection than the person in the position of more power (the employer).

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        But the point of references is to provide candid information about the candidate. There’s no point to references if they’re supposed to only say glowing things, regardless of the truth.

        I agree that if the candidate directly asked either of these people to be a reference, they owed it to her to explain what kind of reference they’d give. But we have no way of knowing what conversations did or didn’t take place. What’s relevant to the OP is that they do need to keep the conversations confidential.

        1. YogiJosephina*

          I do wonder, then, why candidates are asked to provide their own references. I know you’ve said in the past that good reference checkers will get around that by calling folks not on the list provided, but I wonder then why the employers don’t flat out say, “please provide me with your current, past, and before-that supervisors.” Why they don’t say SPECIFICALLY who they want you to provide, rather than letting you give them the names. The overwhelming trend is to just call who the candidate gives you on your list.

          Some folks have started doing this, but generally, we just trust who’s on the list. If we really want candid feedback with no surprises on any side, the way to do that would just be for the interviewer to request specific people.

          1. YogiJosephina*

            This gives the candidate two boosts: 1) the opportunity to prep the interviewer in advance if any of the references will be negative, and 2) the opportunity for the candidate to contact those people specifically and find out what they will say. That way there’s transparency all around and people can still keep conversations confidential.

          2. John*

            Sometimes that is really unfair to a candidate. Many people have found themselves in bad situations working for a jerky boss or caught in the middle of some political nonsense…where the reference that boss might give would not at all be representative of the candidate’s body of work.

            A decent reference-checker can see through the false platitudes and asking questions that make it clear that the person providing the reference was more of a friend to the candidate than anything.

            1. INTP*

              This. Or they just weren’t a good fit for the environment. Or they were going through a difficulty and were uncharacteristically bad at their jobs for a short period. I think the key is having several former supervisors and colleagues that will say good things about you, not having no one to say anything bad. I’ve been good at most of my jobs but I know there are a couple of bosses whose references might sabotage a job for me. I just don’t put those jobs on my resume (they were short-lived and I didn’t stay in the fields anyways).

          3. MsM*

            Previous supervisors aren’t always going to be reachable. I don’t think anyone wants to lose out on matching a good candidate with the right opportunity because they couldn’t offer up a different senior coworker’s name instead.

            1. Anon for this one*

              Several of my previous supervisors are dead — one died young from cancer, another committed suicide. One has Alzheimer’s. Another retired, moved away, and seems to have disappeared from the Internet (old email doesn’t work, not on Facebook or LinkedIn, only old stuff comes up in searches, don’t know her husband’s formal name because he had a generic nickname, last name is a common name, no surviving children to ask). There was a lot of turnover in the years right before I got laid off.

              When I had to come up with a list of three or four supervisors and department heads a couple of years ago, it was difficult. I ended up using a couple of co-workers who’d been promoted after I left, because the application wouldn’t process without names in all the blanks.

          4. Jenna Maroney*

            Supervisors aren’t always in the best position to give actual feedback on a candidate’s work. At my current job (which I probably won’t use for references in the future unless I have to, because the work I do is much less relevant to my future career than other jobs I’ve had) the person who’s technically my boss is only in our office less than half the time, doesn’t know much about what I do, and (frankly) doesn’t have the skills to evaluate my work himself (he’s asked me – here less than a year – to do things like evaluate applicants’ writing samples, meaning he himself trusts my ability to gauge writing skills more than he does). I think he would say nice things about me, but a coworker I work closely with would be able to give a lot more details about my work; and a boss at an older job, or someone I assisted but who wasn’t technically my supervisor in the hierarchy at a job before that, would be able to provide much more relevant information to employers for the kinds of jobs I’ll be looking at in the future than my supervisor here.

            1. YogiJosephina*

              I agree, but then that goes back to my original point that protecting the candidate is more important than protecting the reference checker. If the former employer is going to be a negative reference because, say, he didn’t like or get along with the candidate but the candidate is actually great, then you’re not really getting a “candid” reference. You’re getting a biased one that’s colored by your personal dislike of them, and the candidate is much more likely to get screwed, because generally speaking, managers believe each other. Because managers have that upper hand, I’m okay with leveling the playing field a bit by letting candidates know what is being said about them.

              This is tough because one option (the candidate giving their list) so clearly favors the candidate, and the other (the employer asking) so clearly favors the employer. I just feel like there’s no way to get a 100% honest appraisal of someone’s work.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                But it’s not a hiring manager’s job to level the playing field; it’s their job to hire the best fit for the job.

                And if references know that what they say is likely to back to the candidate, they’ll stop giving candid references, and that’s bad for employers (and for you as a future coworker of someone who shouldn’t be hired but will be because none of her former managers will be willing to say what she’s really like to work with).

                1. Lisa*

                  #1 Allison is 100% correct here; I know from personal experience! PLEASE, employers, do NOT divulge to a candidate that they were given a poor reference by XYZ person!

                  I had a former employee who just never returned from maternity leave. We were very generous; I called, texted, emailed, and sent certified letters offering to give her more time if she so desired (and here is the form to fill out). She didn’t reply – EVER. I finally had to terminate her for job abandonment so I could hire her temp replacement permanently.

                  When another local employer called me a few months later to get a reference and inquired about reliability and attendance, I told the truth. They then told my former employee that they had planned to offer her the job, but because I (and I was named!) gave her a bad reference, they decided not to hire her.

                  The former employee called me (the first time I had spoken to her since she left for maternity leave) and proceeded to RAGE at me, threaten to sue me (which had no basis since I only gave out info that is provable fact and is in line with our reference policies), and accused me of child endangerment and the like by ensuring she would never work in this town again so she couldn’t provide for her baby…blah, blah, blah.

                  Did I deserve that? No. Did I have time for that? No. Do I give honest references anymore? Not nearly as often or as honest. I let them read into the silence. If your business gets stuck with someone I fired and I can’t feel safe telling you important circumstances, it’s everyone’s loss.

                2. YogiJosephina*

                  But isn’t it good to encourage employers to stand behind what they say about a candidate? If you truly believe your not-glowing reference was accurate and in good faith, you should be willing to stand behind it and not apologize for giving it if a candidate reaches out to you and asks about it. That has one of two results:

                  Candidate: Hey, Former Boss, I heard from Interviewer that my reference from you was poor. What gives? I asked you directly if you could be a good reference for me and you said yes!
                  Former Boss: Oh, yeah…uh, sorry.
                  Candidate: That was super shitty. You absolutely CANNOT DO THAT. Let this be a lesson.


                  Candidate: What the hell, Former Boss?! You screwed me on a reference!
                  Former Boss: Well, honestly Candidate, you didn’t check with me in advance, or else I would’ve told you that I could not in good faith give you a reference. But to be honest, I stand by what I said about your performance. I’m sorry that it cost you the job, but what I told them was accurate. Let this be a lesson to you.

                  Or you can just not respond at all, up to you, but the fact remains that you don’t get to be free of consequences for what you say, especially when it has to do with someone’s livelihood. You, as a former supervisor, hold all the cards and are in a position of EXTREME power when someone calls you for a reference, and I just (philosophically speaking) can’t get on board that your protection should be so blatantly prioritized above that of the job-seeker’s.

                  I see your argument that employers could potentially be less candid if they knew there was a risk of what they were saying getting back to the candidate, but I think the opposite argument could be made that it could have some positive effects, too. It could force employers to consider what they’re saying a bit more (“is my personal dislike coloring what I think about this person as an employee?”), rethink about whether or not they were honest with their former employees when they asked if they could be a good reference, consider the power they have, think before agreeing to do so, be more transparent, etc.

                  I think my stance on this is fueled by an overall frustration I have towards employer-employee relations in our country, the more I think about it. I just hate that the reference checking process is skewed so heavily in favor of the employer, and that managers will always, always believe each other over anyone else/the candidate, with no consideration that their account may be inaccurate or that the manager may have been the problem instead of the employee, or that they’re really screwing someone who they assured they could provide a good reference for. It’s just not fair, and it’s part of this overall trend I see to never hold bosses or employers accountable for anything they do in the business world. They just seem free to act with total impunity in this country, with seemingly every behavior under the sun being legal, and I’m really, really tired of seeing that.

                  I know it’s their job to find the best fit for the job, but when “the best fit” seems to always be determined by what a fellow employer says, especially when negative, it just doesn’t seem right to leave candidates in the dark and even more powerless than they already are.

                  Anyway. TL;DR, I see what you’re saying, but my frustrations with the overall system here in the states keeps me from agreeing.

                3. YogiJosephina*

                  And Lisa, apologies, none of this is directed at you. Your comment wasn’t up yet when I published mine.

                4. Lisa*

                  I see both sides, Yogi (and thanks for pointing out it wasn’t directly to me). I did explain to the candidate exactly what I said and why it was valid/true. I have no problem standing behind the truth. My issue was that it was 100% avoidable for me to be stuck on the phone being berated by the rejected former employee. I know I don’t give a reason to every candidate I reject; I just let them know they were not the successful candidate and thank them for their time and interest.

                5. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  But I think you’re thinking of references as “good” or “bad,” when in reality they’re much more nuanced. Someone can give a generally solid reference and still express some nuances that make the employer think the person isn’t quite who they want for the job.

                  And if I care about my relationship with the person I’m giving that reference to, I might not care to have tension injected in it just because I gave an honest assessment that was overall pretty good but not 100% glowing. And so I might skip that nuance — thus harming the employer, and the purpose of reference checking in general, and frankly possibly even harming the candidate, if it results in them being hired into a job where they’re not going to excel.

                  There’s a reason academia generally requires references to be sealed and private.

                6. Observer*

                  YogiJosephina, it’s one thing to “stand by” your reference. It’s another to have someone come back and give you an undeserved hard time over it. Lisa’s example is fairly common. the thing is that Lisa DID think about what she was saying, and DID make sure that she was saying only things that are completely fact based. And she STILL had to deal with a lot more than a brief conversation as the one you outlined. And, it often gets worse. In fact, the worse the employee, the worse the blowback.

                  Think about this – there is a significant amount of case law establishing that you cannot sue a former employer for bad references that are fact based. What that means is that there are a significant number of cases that went through the entire court process over FACTUALLY CORRECT negative references. I can’t imagine the number of situations where it didn’t go quite that far, but still cost far more that is fair to the employer.

                  And this is why so many employers won’t give ANY references – sometimes really putting people at risk.

                7. themmases*

                  I see your point in general (and I remember reading posts here about not giving feedback to applicants), but in this question the applicant is a student seeking an internship. We’re discussing a program that exists at least in part to help people early in their career develop professional skills. While the OP doesn’t have to give feedback to this applicant (and if they were applying to graduate school or something, the applicant might be expected to waive the right to even ask), I don’t find it weird that someone hiring interns would want to give feedback or that someone applying to be an intern would want to ask.

                  I really think the internship factor makes a difference because this person may be any combination of: working for cheap or free; only doing supervised work or being trained; only working for a limited time. References are still important, but this person wasn’t a potential long-term hire who was going to behave and be paid as an experienced professional. And at this point in their career, not picking the best references is as likely to be due to poor advice as to poor judgment.

        2. Sophia in the DMV*

          I feel like I’ve read advice from you that it’s a kindness to let candidates know when their references aren’t the best…?

          1. themmases*

            Same, I was really surprised by this answer and it’s partly because I thought I’d read opposite advice here before.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s a kindness for the reference to let the person know, yes. But the employer? I’d be interested to know if I’ve said that in the past! (It’s certainly possible, but I don’t remember doing it.)

            1. Rainbow Snake of Honolulu*

              I was also surprised by your answer to number 1. One of your job hunting recommendations was to have a friend call your references pretending to be a potential employer to see if they are giving honest feedback. You don’t get much more outed than that!

              I understand the need for the employer to be seen as tight lipped, but I was surprised your answer wasn’t something like. Feel free to say something vague like, “after speaking with your references we decided you wouldn’t be a good fit for this position”, but to not divulge who said what.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Ah, I see your point. I’m arguing that there’s an honor code among employers about this; if you want to benefit from checking references and you’re asking people for candor, you can’t then betray the references’ confidentiality. What you’re describing is a different thing, but I get your point.

            2. AGirlCalledFriday*

              I seem to recall that you have said in the past that while it isn’t necessary or the OP’s job to let them know a reference isn’t positive, it’s a kindness and that they can do it if they feel safe to do so.

              I completely understand why someone would want to keep references completely confidential…but I have to admit I REALLY dislike the reference process. They are usually biased one way or another, you can’t always know the person giving the reference enough to know how objective they are, or even if they are aware of the candidate’s work enough to really give a reference. There are a lot of nasty, hands-off, or clueless managers out there. Even a glowing reference might not be justified.

              I think a reference or two should be part of the process, but given way, waaay less importance than experience, personality, and ability. A good interviewer should be able to determine these things in a set of interviews.

              1. AGirlCalledFriday*

                Oh – you also have mentioned contacting the reference in question and asking them about their point of view, if a bad reference is the only thing standing in the way of their being right for the job. Obviously in this case neither reference was great, but I thought I’d bring it up anyway.

              2. Sophia in the DMV*

                yeah, that’s what I remember, too. However, I briefly searched the site and couldn’t find a specific instance where Alison does this…

        3. kitty*

          Would it be appropriate to give a general explanation, something like “Your application materials and references were not quite up to the standard we are searching for” ?

          What if the references just didn’t have it in them to tell the candidate “no, I can’t provide a good reference,” and so she felt confident using them? Some part of me feels like she should be made aware of what is sabotaging her applications. On the other hand, she is in the wrong for being oblivious about what her references will say.

          1. The Strand*

            I think that is the decent thing to do. Let the student do the leg work to find out what went wrong, or find another person who will say better things.

          2. YogiJosephina*

            Eh, I think this is a bit unfair. If you ask someone, and they say “yeah sure,” but only because they “didn’t have it in them” to be honest, the onus is 1000% on the reference who wasn’t truthful. Even if you were totally oblivious to what the reference would say, you asked for the exact purpose of not being oblivious, and it’s not your fault they did a quite frankly REALLY shitty thing and weren’t honest with you, only to burn you when they call.

            This is a perfect example of what I’m talking about where I think it’s TOTALLY okay to compromise confidentiality. You really, really screwed over a candidate with your dishonesty. You deserve to be outed and called to the carpet for that, BIG TIME, especially since you have all the power and lost nothing, and that candidate likely lost everything.

            I agree you don’t have to say, “Mr. So and So totally lambasted you,” but you definitely should at least say, “to be honest, your references weren’t what we were looking for.” Then the candidate can go back to the references and say, “what exactly did you say to them?” You’re not giving out details of the conversation, but the candidate absolutely has a right to know what is being said, ESPECIALLY if he/she asked beforehand. There’s just really no way the reference giver is right in that example.

            1. kitty*

              Agree. Unless the candidate either put the reference down without asking or put them down despite the reference giver politely refusing, reference giver is really not being a good person here. If you can’t give a good reference, SAY SO.
              I would agree that the exact content of the conversation should remain confidential, but keeping a candidate in the dark that her reference is taking her out of the running isn’t really kind.

        4. just laura*

          If I really wanted to help out this candidate, I might offer a vague-but-telling response as feedback. Something such as, “After speaking with your references, we don’t think you’d be a great fit.” It’d flag the references issues but also protect their privacy.

    2. SandrineSmiles (France)*

      Hmm, I see what you mean, but… if the applicant is *that* oblivious (OP from #1 states she doesn’t feel the first reference was from someone being needlessly nasty to the applicant) …

      I mean, whether the applicant asked permission from the references or not, it looks as though she’s not too stellar in the first place.

      Right now for me for example I know that, permission or not, my former boss could be painfully honest about me and play into a future employer’s fears and mention my medical leave. Or he could objectively honest and say that I was a good element, always on time, with a high customer satisfaction ranking.

      (I’ll actually brace myself and expect him to use the former formula, by the way. There are long explanations for the situations that I’m trying to find good formulations for… but I’m not quite there yet, even six months later!)

      1. UKAnon*

        Will you need ongoing medical leave? If so, and if your industry is one accommodating to it (I.e. not McD’sish) I would just be up front. It will put some companies off you, but will also help you find one who is happy to accommodate you. If it’s not ongoing then I think you can just explain it happened but shouldn’t again.

        1. SandrineSmiles (France)*

          Oh no I won’t need that anymore. I was on the verge of a mental breakdown/suicide because of that job. Now that I have left it… I’ve had maybe one doctor visit since september xD . I think.

          1. UKAnon*

            I’m glad you’re feeling better and have been able to escape the job :-) I think that I’d personally go with something like “I had to take some time off from my last job for a health problem, but that’s now sorted and shouldn’t cause further problems” if you want to bring it up before a reference can.

          2. The Strand*

            Congratulations on feeling and doing better (which is reflected in your new username, non?).

    3. Marzipan*

      In the UK, Data Protection law comes into play, and candidates may be able to see references written about them, if they ask to (though there are a few limits on this). So, I certainly wouldn’t regard a reference I’d written as being absolutely confidential between me and the person requesting it (and I’d write it like I write anything else with personal data in it – honest and factual, but something I’d be OK with that person reading if they ever made a Subject Access Request).

        1. UKAnon*

          I believe that if you write “confidential” on it they can’t release it to you, otherwise you can ask about it.

          1. Apollo Warbucks*

            It takes more than writing the word confidential on a document to avoid it being released under the DPA.

            1. UKAnon*

              That’s what I’d picked up from reading around the subject , so I just had a quick look and the ICO (link to follow) says “The references you have received may be marked ‘in confidence’. If so, you will need to consider whether the information is actually confidential. You cannot sensibly withhold information which is already known to the individual… Where it is not clear whether information, including the referee’s opinions, is known to the individual, you should contact the referee and ask whether they
              object to this being provided and why.

              Even if a referee says that they do not want you to release their comments, you
              will need to provide the reference if it is reasonable in all the circumstances to
              comply with the request without their consent. You should weigh the referee’s
              interest in having their comments treated confidentially against the individual’s
              interest in seeing what has been said about them.”

              I hadn’t read into in detail, so thanks for teaching me something new!

            2. Merry and Bright*

              Also, I can’t see any good reason to keep the reference confidential from the applicant. It is not an MI5 file. References are subject to libel laws just like anything else which has probably given rise to the myth in some quarters that it is illegal in the UK to give someone a bad reference. It just can’t defame you – e.g. “Wakeen was caught pilfering the petty cash box” when he was not.

            3. Merry and Bright*

              Yes, I just looked up the position on this. Under the Freedom of Information Act an employer must give reasonable consideration to see a copy of a reference about you just as with any other document you might ask about.

              This is subject to the usual grounds of undue expense etc. You can also of course make an appeal to the Infirmation Commissioner at the ICO. Also, many organisations in the public sector or with public interest factors need to hold written references as part of their due diligence (so the option of relying on phone calls isn’t open to them).

              1. Apollo Warbucks*

                The Freedom of Information Act creates a public “right of access” to information held by Public Authorities, publicly owned companies and designated bodies performing public functions, it does not cover private individuals or private employers.

        1. UKAnon*

          My experience in the UK has been that employers tend to ask for written references and keep them on file for a variety of reasons, mainly to show they’re complying with various regulations/laws/bods etc. I’d be interested to know if that’s the same for others.

          1. JAM*

            I’ve never come across a phone reference in the UK either, just written. These days my company only gives out employment date verification and I think that’s all we ask for (it’s all handled by the recruiter, hiring managers not permitted to get involved).

          2. Kero*

            Yep, I’ve never heard of phone references in the UK, at least not in the way they’re discussed here. Purely confirms the basics of the HR file – job title, dates, that kind of thing. I’m not sure if they divulge any formal disciplinary issues – it’s not come up for me. The last few companies I worked for, there was no manager involvement in references.

    4. CoffeeLover*

      I’m sympathetic to the candidate as well for two completely personal reasons. The first happened to my dad when he was trying to pass his professional designation. He worked harder than I’ve ever seen anyone to pass this thing in a language he started learning at 40. The amount of tests/procedures you need to go through depends on your experience and references. After failing twice, a kind examiner tipped him off that he may want to consider changing his references. He did and they cut his required exams from 3 to 1 and he passed. He never found out who was bad mouthing him behind his back (and he’s not one to dwell), but that examiner really helped him and my family out.

      The second situation was my own, when I was still in high school and luckily had no real impact on my future. I applied for a scholarship and used a prof as a reference. I was so confident she would give me a good reference as I had gone above and beyond for this woman both in and outside of class (way more than was typical of high school). I was lucky enough to see her reference before handing it in. She gave me a very, very meagre reference. Nothing bad, but essentially mediocre. Life lessoned learned right there. You never REALLY know what someone thinks of you.

      1. Stitch*

        I asked a high school science teacher for a reference. I was an excellent student and the teacher thought highly of me. He gave me a positive but generic reference filled with typos. It was more of a reflection on his ability to write a reference than it was of his opinion of me. I really could not use this reference, but what can you do in that situation?

        1. Ellie H*

          For what it’s worth, in my experience (which is only related to grad school admission not employment hiring — having access to student applications and the correspondence between professors arguing why the student should be admitted) people who read applications are very, very good at telling the difference between a lousy student and a recommender who thinks highly of the student but is very bad at writing a recommendation. Esp. when there is some ESL issue. It is obviously pretty worrying to the student, and maybe college admissions are much harsher about this as grad school, but usually app readers can get the picture anyway. I agree that “generic”ness can be a problem though.

    5. Sadsack*

      What if the professor did not agree to be a reference, what if she was never asked?

      1. illini02*

        Even if they are never asked, I still think they should at least own up to it. I was a teacher, and I had to do more letters of recommendation than I care to count. But now and then I’d get an email or something asking about a student. I would be honest. However, I would also be adult enough to tell the student that you may not want to use me in the future because I don’t have great things to say. So if OP tells the interviewee, and interviewee asks the prof about it, then be honest. At least they know where they stand.

    6. Muriel Heslop*

      I had an intern last year that I very specifically told *not* to use me as a reference for a number of reasons. She did anyway. When I was called, I was very frank but polite ( she’s not a monster; she’s just immature and unprofessional.) If someone had told her I wasn’t a good reference she could not be surprised since I told her not to use me.

      1. BananaPants*

        I had an intern 3 summers ago who was abysmal. He still expected me to give him a reference! He emailed me several times to say he’d interviewed with a company and that I should expect to hear from them to give a reference – the sole time someone actually contacted me, I forwarded it straight to HR to deal with (and they only confirmed that he did an internship here and the dates of employment).

    7. Observer*

      but I still maintain that when you agree to be a reference for someone, you better be ready to be a) called out for what you’ve said about them, bad or good

      Which is why many, many people won’t give references, good or bad. If the student really was bad, then why should the professor have to risk all sorts of backlash over telling the truth?

      Now, we don’t know what the story is, but we do know that just as there are plenty of bad references that are being jerks, there are plenty of people who DESERVE it, and will react very badly to hearing about it. (I mentioned a mild case of this that posted here a few days ago.)

      1. YogiJosephina*

        Observer, sorry, I missed this post.

        I know that this probably won’t win me any friend points with managers, but I have a tendency to view these situations through a the lens of who is more negatively affected by the worst case scenario, and then typically decide whose perspective should carry more weight based on that.

        What I mean by that is: say, for example, it happens exactly as you outline above. You get a really crappy candidate who sucked, who didn’t ask Former Boss for a reference, who gave her anyway, and when former boss was honest with Potential Employer, lost her shit and went off on Former Boss.

        Is this pleasant? Hell no. Does Former Boss deserve it? Hell no. But beyond that…how is Former Boss truly, actually affected by this beyond a few tense moments and some hurt feelings? Former Employee has absolutely no standing to do anything substantial to them whatsoever. Because negative yet truthful references are legal, she can’t sue you. She can’t get you fired. She can’t really do anything to you that takes away any aspect of your livelihood. The worst that happens to you (and this is all very theoretical) is that you hang up on a screaming former employee, shake it off and move on with your day. You’re still getting income, still able to pay your mortgage, and still able to feed your kids at the end of the day.

        Now, from the employee’s side: what is the cost they absorb if Crappy Former Manager Who Was Actually The Real Problem either a) gives a mediocre/bad reference or b) agrees to be a good reference but then blasts you when they actually call? You don’t get the job. You lose your opportunity for a livelihood, lose potential income, very likely can’t pay your bills, and are otherwise far, FAR more negatively affected by that than the employer ever will be.

        For that reason, I think it’s a mistake to look at this as though “all things being equal,” because they’re absolutely not in any way. The risk of being honest as a manager is way, WAY the hell less dangerous in an overall sense than a job-seeker’s being kept in the dark about what their former employers are saying about them.

        Looking at the reference process as something where a) only the manager’s perspective should be considered/matters and b) protecting managers is far more important than job seekers in the name of confidentiality, especially when considering the above, just doesn’t hold water for me. Especially when, as we pointed out below, the point of reference is NOT simply just for a hiring manager to find the right person for the job. It’s also very much for job-seekers to get hired. This is not a process that exists just for managers and should not be treated as such.

        OK, I promise I’m done now. For some reason this one I felt very strongly about.

        1. Observer*

          You are missing a few things here. For one thing, just because truthful negative references are legal does not mean that you can’t get sued. It only means that you will probably win your case. People sue over things that a perfectly legal all the time. And, there are other ways that someone could make the references life difficult, other than a law suit. The specific options depend on the circumstances, of course, but that still leaves a problem. If I were in a more vulnerable situation and knew that this employer had shared feedback in the past, I would not provide any information. As the reference, the issue for me is not protecting the hiring manager but protecting myself, my co-workers and my employer from some potentially serious problems.

          It would be with regret, because the repercussions to an employer of hiring the wrong person can be severe. At worst, the wrong hire can destroy a business. But, even in less extreme cases, it can be a significant cost to the organization.

          Given that reality, it’s incumbent on a hiring manager to act in a way that maximizes his chance of getting potentially important information. Sharing information that was intended to be confidential is not a good way to accomplish that. And I don’t believe that a hiring manager has an ethical duty cut off his information flow.

  7. Katie the Fed*

    #4 – you know most hiring managers have better things to do than hold needless interviews, right? What you’re imagining is…kind of nuts. You’re thinking they called you in to interview you just for the heck of it even though the position was already filled? That’s just not how that works. The ONLY time I’ve seen people be interviewed even if we weren’t that interested is if they were an internal candidate and we wanted to give them interviewing experience. But that’s pretty rare.

    1. AnonAnalyst*

      Yeah, interviewing usually is an expensive process for an employer. In my last couple jobs, usually several people from the (small) departments I’ve worked in would interview candidates, so when people came in to interview for part of the day, our group was getting very little work done. You bring people in to interview because you think it’s worth investing those resources because you think there’s a possibility they can add value to the team, not just for the hell of it.

      I guess what I don’t understand is what the OP expects to gain by confronting the employer, even if they are just needlessly interviewing people. I’ve definitely had interviews where it was clear there wasn’t a fit (and should have been clear from my resume that an interview wasn’t warranted), so I can understand the frustration but it doesn’t seem like addressing it with them would even achieve anything other than probably burning that bridge for the OP. If they really are just interviewing people for the heck of it, complaining about it to them isn’t likely to make them see the light and suddenly change their practices…

    2. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      I had this happen to me once. It was for a receptionist position in a dermatologist’s office. I went in, spent 30 minutes taking a filing/editing test, and was finally interviewed by the office manager. It went like a regular interview until the end, when she said “Actually, we’ve already filled this position, but your resume was so interesting I wanted to talk to you anyway. It’s always nice to talk to strong candidates.”

      Thanks for wasting an hour of my time, lady.

      1. periwinkle*

        Grrrrrrr. I had almost forgotten about having an experience like that. I was fresh out of grad school and trying to get a toehold in the field when a small but noted consultancy posted a perfect-sounding entry level position. I applied, they got in touch right away, then they disappeared, and then out of the blue they asked me to come in for an interview (six weeks later). I was greeted at the office by the owner, who introduced me to the staff including the person they had recently hired for the role (I somehow managed to suppress my WTF?!? reaction). So why am I here in full interview attire and makeup on a hot humid summer day? The owner then proposed walking a few blocks to a coffee shop (on a hot humid day, with me in full interview gear while she’s in summer casual clothes) to chat because my resume was so intriguing to her. Er, so not an interview anymore? Thanks a bunch. The chat was educational but the mentoring promises she made evaporated immediately. At least the latte was really good.

    3. The IT Manager*

      +1 It seemed very, very, very likely to me that the LW’s read of the situation was completely wrong to include the fact that he believes he didn’t get the job but believes he’ll get a call rejecting him in a week like they said. (Companies’ hiring timeline are almost always longer than they estimate in the interview, and often people who don’t get the job are never contacted.)

      Maybe the person who “got the job,” is just being overly optimistic. Maybe people are lying and yanking the LW’s chain hoping that he’ll ruin his chances by calling and confronting the company.

      LW#4: If you don’t hear from them by the end of next week, don’t call and confront them about lying about getting back to you. That happens a lot in the professional world.

    4. Sunflower*

      I feel like maybe the colleague was farther along in the process than you. It’s not uncommon for companies to continue interviewing people even if they have put out offers or have an idea of who they want to hire.

  8. Workfromhome*

    I dislike “mandatory or forced charity”. It may not be illegal but unless this was made a clear condition when you accepted the job I personally would push back. If in the hiring process it was made clear that “Here at XYZ we value community service and part of your job will be to donate X. It’s part of your job and incentives”. Well its up to the prospective employee to choose if they want to accept those conditions in order to get the job. IF you don’t wish to be forced into charity don’t take the job.

    But if this is something new introduced well I didn’t sign up for that. My job is teapot maker and if I’m a good teapot maker then give me a bonus for being a good teapot maker and not for how many charity hours I spend.

    I find the practice (which my own company has also annoyingly implemented) of redistributing bonus to charity incredibly demoralizing. After years of no raises my company’s founder announced that the small but appreciated Christmas bonus of a few hundred dollars would be forgone. Instead we’d be pleased to know that the company had made a donation of X$ to the XYX charity. Brutal not only are you now deciding what I do with my bonus dollars (give it to charity rather than say spend it on my family) but you are deciding what charity it goes to (I may not even support that organizations mission), putting the company name on to take the credit and likely realizing a tax benefit for the company (rather than an individual benefit I might gain form a donation).

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      Unfortunately for us, not everything that is a horrible idea is illegal.

      On the bright side, if it was that simple, we wouldn’t have this community to discuss these issues. ;)

    2. the gold digger*

      My husband’s mom is big on this. When she is not sending us cast-iron cats or vases with hand-painted blue flowers or cheap pressed wood nesting tables painted with hibiscus and hummingbirds, she is adopting

      1. a manatee
      2. a Florida panther and
      3. a sea turtle

      on my husband’s behalf. Each of these comes with a poster of said animal AND a certificate of adoption.

      With each useless gift, I think, “You don’t have to get us anything at all. You don’t. But if you are going to get us something, could it be something we might actually want? Like tickets to a show? Or a gift cert to a super nice restaurant? Or a renewal of our Cooks Illustrated subscription?”

      1. Alter_ego*

        When I was 5 or 6, I distinctly remember my parents adopting a dolphin in my name for christmas (in amongst a bunch of tangible gifts) and they put the paperwork for the adoption in a box for me to open. but I was 5 or 6, and not quite capable of the critical thinking skills to understand what the “adoption” meant. they realized their mistake when I had a total meltdown upon discovering that I would not actually be receiving a pet dolphin. The impossible logistics of having a pet dolphin didn’t comfort my disappointment at all.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Aww! I bet that’s why a lot of the animal-“adoption” packages now come with a plush stuffie.

            1. Meri*

              My husband’s Christmas present to me this year was just that- a 3 foot long plush manatee. His name is Pellinore, and he is every bit as awesome as you’d think.

      2. The Strand*

        Hey, but I’ve been looking forward to adopting a manatee. They seem like a really cool group, even if Jimmy Buffett’s the spokesperson (no particular fan of his).

    3. Me*

      This. My ‘raise’ (really a COLA) is never more than a few hundred bucks a year and doesn’t actually keep up w/ inflation. So that ‘minor’ amount of $10/month is a double-digit percentage of that raise. Which, since I can’t itemize, I’ll be taxed on. So I might well tell them ‘never mind; keep it’ rather than let them essentially take it back and send it elsewhere.

      I’m also extremely against the requirement that we sit thru a United Way presentation every year. Especially after the scandal a while back about how they waste the money.

      1. Hlyssande*

        I hate that my company’s big thing is United Way. They grant us 8 paid hours of volunteering each year…as long as you volunteer for the United Way. Ugh.

        The big difference is that my company doesn’t require the volunteer time, so I don’t have to deal with UW much if I don’t want to.

    4. Hlyssande*

      I agree with you. If it wasn’t disclosed when the person was hired, it’s really not cool to introduce this new requirement.

      $10/month is small change for some people. For other people, that means they’re not eating for a few days or that they can’t pay a bill, and I think the people who would struggle with that are also the people who probably don’t have the time to do the hourly requirement instead.

    5. WannabeManager*

      Ugh, and also companies don’t realize that by doing so, the charity (through no fault of its own) gets a negative association.

    6. Mockingjay*

      #5: Early in my career, I was voluntold to support the boss’s pet charity. It was horrible and exhausting. I spent many, many hours canvassing donations, setting up charity events, and editing newsletters, on top of working 60-hour weeks. I already supported charities through my church, and given a choice, would not have supported this one.

      I think companies that require such involvement are symptomatic of what is terribly wrong with our current work ethic. Why do we have to eat and breathe our jobs 24/7? I don’t want to be married to my job; I already have a spouse.

      I have supported many good causes and will continue to do so. But which ones should be my personal choice, not my employer’s.

  9. jhhj*

    Given that over 90% of women bring purses with them at all times, I find it hard to imagine a restaurant which doesn’t have room for a portfolio or briefcase, neither larger than a large purse.

    1. Helen of What*

      I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a restaurant in NYC, but often they truly cram you in there. I’ve gotten used to eating with a purse on my lap under my napkin. Whenever I go to other cities, I marvel at the roominess of restaurants!

      1. Natalie*

        My cousin and I went to one in Paris where they had to pull the table out to let one diner into the booth. When we were ready to leave someone came running from the kitchen to move the table for us. I think that might have been her only job.

      2. Development professional*

        Yes……sometimes, in the super cheap and the super trendy. But presumably the interviewer has chosen this restaurant for business purposes, which tends to exclude the exceptionally cramped. Not so much because there’s room to put a bag, but because being that close to another table makes it nearly impossible to have a private conversation and be heard.

      3. jhhj*

        I’ve been to restaurants in NYC and Paris, both. But I’m willing to leave my purse on the floor (strap around my ankle, and touching my ankles), which not everyone will do. Though now that I am an e-reader person (instead of multiple hardcover library books just in case) I only carry a small purse (a bit larger on vacation).

        But I truly doubt this is going to be a problem.

  10. any mouse*

    LW #3 – I understand it’s strange changing the way you do things after 17 years but giving out your name when answering the phone is standard. I’ve worked several receptionist/office admin/other phone related jobs and answered something like “Thank you for call The Teapot Association this is Any. How may I direct your call?”

    Including working for a city department where I wasn’t technically a receptionist but those duties were also within my scope.

    Not only did I give out my name in those jobs I had a nameplate on my desk or a name/id badge and people were always looking for me for help. I was the point person it’s what I did!

  11. Jwal*

    #3 I am the only person in the workd with my name, so I hate giving out my surname on the phone. I’ve had clients contact me through facebook etc, so I know that giving my surname is a sure-fire way to locate me.

    Luckily you’re a receptonist, so it’s unlikely that people calling would need your surname, even if they did need a record of the name of the person they spoke to. If you can give a shorteed version of your first name (Jo, Kat, Ben etc) then you’re no identifiable by that, and your privacy is protected. If pushed you could tell them your job titke, or that there’s only one of you in the firm, and from my experience people tend to be okay with that.

    1. Traveler*

      Yes. When clients or contractors find you via FB and try to contact you. Why? It’s creepy. If you must do this, find me on LinkedIn. That’s the place its socially acceptable to do it.

      1. catsAreCool*

        I’m friends with some customers on Facebook, but these are people I’ve worked with for a while who I feel friendly toward.

  12. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #3

    I get that OP doesn’t want to give our her name, but it’s part of having a job. At least, at most places. Especially in her type of position. I’ve never worked in a company that didn’t expect me to state my first name, even when I’m in a back office-type of position. I can understand being uneasy about giving out her last name, though. Not sure if that’s the case here.

    I’m pretty much OK with giving out my first name, since I now work in a company where I’m not on the frontline and I’m not the main decision-maker. I answer the phone, “Thank you for calling X Bank. This is Dawn. May I help you?”

    1. The Other Dawn*

      Forgot to add that probably 95% of the time the caller isn’t going to remember your name. They probably won’t even notice you gave it to them. They’re too busy thinking about the upcoming conversation with the person they’re looking for.

      1. Allison*

        Yup, which is frustrating because sometimes I do end up wishing I could remember someone’s name. Like if I call a place, and then have to call back, I’d like to reference the initial conversation. If I have some trouble with the customer service rep and end up wanting to talk to his supervisor, I’d like to know who I’m talking about, because sometimes if you ask to speak to a supervisor they just hang up on you.

        1. Snoskred*

          Get into the habit of saying “And your name was” before you end the call. :)

          They say you have to do something 21 times to create a habit. I used to write things on post-its when I was trying to train myself to say them on a call .

    2. Helen of What*

      I’ve noticed that in some places I call, they speak the intro so fast I don’t catch their names. Clever.

      (I feel for OP, especially when you have to give bad news or screen phone calls hardcore, you don’t want people bad-mouthing you because you couldn’t help them.)

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Especially when it’s a long intro. I hate when a company makes you say a long intro.

        “Thank you for calling XYZ Company, where we value your business and you make our day, my name is Hortense, how may I direct your call?”

        Try doing that every time when you have five lines ringing!

        1. Poohbear McGriddles*

          I hated that about working retail. Especially when the regional manager would call and get mad if we didn’t give the full spiel. Customers just wanted to get to the point.

          Me: “Thank you for calling Wakeen’s Chocolate Teapots, where in honor of WTF Wednesday we’re offering 20% off all discontinued teapots when you purchase three or more new teapots. Some exclusions apply. This is Poohbear. How may I help you?”

          Caller: “Is this Domino’s? Oh, sh1t, I think I have the wrong number.” [Click]

          1. a*

            That was so frustrating when I was working in a drive-thru! Sometimes we’d get a rush so I’d say, “Hi, how can I help you?” instead of “Welcome to ____, my name is a, how can I help you?” This was pretty standard among my coworkers, and I think the customers liked it better since it was faster. Sometimes when I said the long version (which I usually did) the customers would interrupt me and just start ordering.

            But then a new manager came in. She pulled me aside and said, “a, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble if you don’t say the full greeting each time.” The frustrating thing was that I never saw her do that to anyone else AND that she didn’t always say the long version either.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        I hate when companies make their employees answer the phone with the standard greeting, and then they have to tack on some special sales campaign going on at the moment. I was at a store and the employee answered the phone while waiting on me. She had to say the whole spiel: “Thank you for calling XYZ. This is FirstName LastName.” And then the whole thing about the current sale going on. And the “How may I help you?” By then the caller has probably totally tuned out.

        1. AnonAnalyst*

          As a customer, I can’t stand this. I’m guessing there must be some sort of research showing that it’s effective for increasing business, but I’m calling the business for another specific reason, not to hear your current promotions or tagline. All I want to do is get my question answered, so please stop delaying that process!

  13. _ism_*

    #1 Once or twice, I’ve gotten a heads-up email from someone I asked (or didn’t ask, in one case) to give a reference for me. (For the record I have a seriously terrible school and job history and have never had anyone I was truly confident in asking for references.)

    In one case, an old boss emailed me to say, very nicely, that he would speak highly of my work but if asked he’d try to be very careful about saying why I left the job. (The true reason being a seriously shameful lie that got me fired and blacklisted from that organization forever.) That was really nice of him, and I’d been throwing his contact info out on my references list for years. I suspect maybe he never got contacted until this time, when he wrote me to say he’d have to be honest in his review but he’d do his best because he did think I had potential when I worked for him.

    In another case, an old professor called and left a voicemail saying “I’ve been contacted to give a reference for you, but to be honest Ms. Ism, I believe you only spent one summer in our lab and you were an undergrad, so I didn’t pay much attention to you and I do not feel confident giving this reference.” I thanked him and felt embarrassed.

    But anyway my point is some references will tell you flat out if they aren’t confident giving you a good reference, as a courtesy. I don’t know what the rest do – maybe they simply refuse the reference request from a hiring manager, or ignore the requests?

  14. Allison*

    I fail to see how giving out one’s first name would be an invasion of privacy. It’s your first name! People answer the phone with their first name all the time, they introduce themselves with their first names, people wear nametags with their first names. Now, when I wear a nametag for this or that event, I may remove it before going outside so random dudes don’t start addressing me by my first name, but in the context of work it’s really no big deal. The chances of someone deciding to stalk me and use my first name and place of employment to hunt me down are pretty low.

    1. fposte*

      I was wondering if maybe they were asking her to answer with both her first and last name, since she doesn’t specify; resistance to that would make more sense to me.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That would be kind of unnecessary, IMO; usually people don’t care about the receptionist’s surname unless (s)he was rude to them. Then they want it so they can complain.

        1. fposte*

          I would agree that it would be unnecessary. But a lot of non-receptionist people answer the phone with first and last name (I do, for one), so they could have thought it sounded extra-professional or something.

          But it’s all just guessing, since I was thinking about reasons the OP might be wanting to push back on this; I probably shouldn’t go too far into my little fictional world there.

      2. Midnight Oil*

        Actually some state laws specify that a caller collecting on debt must identify themselves by first name and last name.

    2. Michele*

      I was wondering that, too. Unless you have a legitimate safety issue like a stalker, it is just a first name. It is also basic phone manners to let the person on the other end know who they are talking to.

      Even if the OP was in witness protection, they should have been given a new name to use.

    3. Jennifer*

      If you have an unusual name, it makes it very easy for any creep to find you in a search.

      1. J*

        If this is the situation for the OP, perhaps the employer would consider allowing him/her to use an alternate name.

  15. Lia*

    On #5 — I have seen job postings several times (same position, it seems to open up a lot) for a particular religious non-profit that state, up front, that the candidate will be required to tithe 10% of their salary back to the non-profit, or to solicit gifts equal to that amount annually. I should note that the position that this posting references is not a front line fundraiser at all — it is a back-office line with zero donor contact. The way the posting reads, I think the tithe/solicit line is boilerplate and may well appear in all of their postings, but it sure doesn’t look good.

    1. The IT Manager*

      Uggg! That’s semantics. Employees “required” to tithe their salary back to the charity just means they have a actual salary of 10% less than stated. The “or solicit gifts” part just means that they can pressure their friends and family to offset what they owe back to their employer at the end of the year. That’s honestly terrible.

      1. The Strand*

        No kidding. Lia, can you tell us which nonprofit, because I’d like to be sure I never, ever donate anything to them.

    2. baseballfan*

      This is terrible. I already tithe 10% to my own church. So I would have to give another 10% to my employer? Just no.

      I agree that’s the same as paying someone 10% less salary.

      1. jhhj*

        Unrelatedly, but it always surprised me how professionals typically charge charities for their work, then donate back the amount they charged. I’ve never entirely understood the tax implications.

    3. Hlyssande*


      You’re required to tithe back, but you’re getting taxed on that even if you are able to itemize and take a deduction, so basically you’re paying extra to be able to “donate” back to the charity.

  16. illini02*

    I’m going to disagree a bit on #1. While I don’t think you should say “Jane from Job X said you were awful”, I don’t think its terrible to say something like, “You may want to talk to your references and see what kind of feedback they have”. While I understand that you want honesty, I also think that as a college student with very little experience, it would be a nice heads up that maybe they need to do something else to booster their reference network. I’ve even seen advice on here that finding out what your reference are saying and coming to some kind of compromise could be a good thing to do. I’m coming at this from the human perspective of compassion for someone trying to start a career, so I get that all managers (which I have been before) won’t agree since they seem to be a bit more cut throat.

    #3 Seems just weird. I’ve never had a job, outside of retail, where I wasn’t expected to give my name when I answered. Why does it bother you so much? Talk about getting upset over nothing.

  17. Retail Lifer*

    #3 – I’ve always had to give out my first name when answering the phone at all of my jobs. I think it’s pretty standard in industries where you deal with people.

    Try having an unusual first name. It’s not like there’s anyone else that’s ever worked here with the same first name as me, so in addition to everyone always mangling it when they try to repeat it, they also know exactly who they’re talking to and can identify me when they come in.

  18. HRish Dude*

    #3 – For one thing, identifying yourself by name lets the caller on the other end know you are a person and they probably won’t start dialing numbers in your ear.

  19. hildi*

    I am really curious the context for OP3’s concern. Strong emotion to something like that doesn’t come from nowhere. I’d be interesting in hearing more from OP3 about what specifically about the request bugs her.

  20. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    OP #4 – I was hired for a job last year and thought I was the only person hired. I walked into my first day of training and there were 6 people hired for the same position. Don’t get mad just yet, there’s still a chance you could get the job and that they’re hiring more than one person for the position. The person who you heard got the job, was just probably interviewed before you.

    1. nona*

      Yep, that happened for me, too. I thought they only needed one person, but they were bringing in as many of us as they could get.

      Before some restructuring, my current job was like this, too. There were 3-4 of us with the same title and similar work.

  21. The IT Manager*

    As part of our goals for our yearly raise, my employer is making us either donate our time or donate money to a nonprofit in the amount of at least $120. If we don’t do this, our raise will be impacted by not meeting our goals.

    Something about how this is worded just sounds terrible (albeit legal). Maybe because its (1) new (2) tied to raises so overtly. Also the time OR money thing makes it seem like the volunteering is an annoyance that those who afford it can avoid by buying their way out of it.

    IMO the way to do it right is for the company to promote a culture of charity, inform them of local charities needing support in a non-pushy way, and allow employees a certain amount of paid time each year (one day?) that they can take off to support a charity. And just writing that I realize it opens up a whole another can of worms (making sure people are not lying about it / charity of employee’s choice versus company’s choice), but if you actually want a culture of charity you do that instead of something that sounds like blackmail which creates resentment of charitable donations.

  22. Christian Troy*

    I’m a little confused about #1. It seems in the past the advice has been it’s kind to let someone know if they have bad references but in this situation you shouldn’t tell them? Is there anyway to verify the information isn’t just badmouthing?

    Since it’s someone still in college or about to graduate, I’d probably say something. Maybe they don’t know to ask references before using them, maybe they thought since the person was their advisor everything was fine. I don’t know, if they were in their 30s I’d probably say they should know better at this point, but I made mistakes out of college because I didn’t know any better and I appreciated when hiring managers told me my cover letter sucked.

    1. Sadsack*

      I think the thing here is that the person who was called as a reference should probably reach out to the former student and tell her that she wouldn’t be able to give a good reference and why.

  23. The Strand*

    I always ask, “Would you feel comfortable giving me a positive reference?” That gives them the out to say “Well, I don’t really feel like I knew you,” or “You were horrible, sorry, no dice”.

    #5, are they letting you volunteer while you’re on the clock at the job? If that’s yes, then it’s OK. If it’s no, then they’re crappy people. Your workplace has no say about how you spend your salary or your free time.

  24. JamieG*

    I know there’s nothing actually wrong with giving out my name over the phone, but I really hate doing it. In general, the only people who ask for my name are ones who are upset, so asking always feels a little bit like an unspoken threat – “If you don’t make me happy, I’m going to try to get you fired”. (To be clear, I don’t do things that could get me fired, and my job is reasonable enough that I’m not actually worried, but the intent is still clear and bothers me.)

    I’ve had several (joking… mostly) conversations with coworkers who agree how weird it is to give out your real name (because then people use it! Constantly! I know what my name is, using it in every sentence is just strange and makes me uncomfortable!) about just using a fake name all the time.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yes!!!! This pins it down in a nutshell.

      I also don’t like those people who keep calling you by your name all the time in conversation. You know who does that? Creepy pushy salesmen. No wonder all of this triggers me.

    2. a*

      Once a customer asked for my number, and after I said “no, I don’t give out my number at work,” he asked what my name was. I couldn’t tell whether he was going to try to get me in trouble or not (and it was a little odd because I had a nametag AND I was required to introduce myself at the start of every transaction.)

  25. Sunshine Brite*

    I do know of a CEO that prides himself on his full time, salaried employees having 32 hrs/yr of volunteering somewhere of their choice to gain perspective, but it’s on work time. He’s upfront that this is a requirement and if you don’t like it, don’t work for me. It’s rolled into work time and it’s not clear to me here if it’s automatically outside of work hours or not in the OP’s situation.

    1. The IT Manager*

      IMO, that’s the way to do it and the CEO can be justified in being proud of that.

  26. penelope pitstop*

    #5 — Curious, because I’ve seen it raised, but not specifically addressed in the comments. I understand the answer to what OP5’s situation; however, it made me curious whether giving/volunteering to a specific nonprofit can be required as a condition? That is, what if only that employer-specified nonprofit would satisfy the condition of full bonus eligibility and the employer doesn’t give employee latitude in the choice of nonprofit. Seems like that would be potentially shakier legal ground–is it?

      1. penelope pitstop*

        Interesting–thanks for addressing. I’ve never experienced it directly, but I can see it being dicey and super-controversial (potentially), even if not technically illegal. Especially if the specified and required non-profit is one that lands pretty hard on one side or another of a culturally-contentious issue – political, religious, etc…and the employee is firmly planted on the other side. I’m sure it happens, I just never thought of it before OP5’s letter. Thanks the interesting stuff to think about!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Definitely if you had a bona fide religious objection, that would exempt you legally (with an exception of a limited number of situations where that wouldn’t apply).

  27. penelope pitstop*

    One more, sorry. This time #3.
    I have no idea if this is the reason, but used to work somewhere where the receptionists were first line to a ton of sales calls or job seekers. Some of the more aggressive ones would use receptionist’s name if they managed to get through to someone else and would keep leapfrogging and using names to give the impression they knew people and were being passed through rather than gaming. Receptionist would sometimes get chewed out by people internally who took a call they didn’t want or expect because they didn’t realize it wasn’t a real referral/forward. Receptionist tired of that quickly, so would answer the phone with her with (Abigail) when at work she consistently went by and signed her name as (Abby). The more formal (Abigail) became code for a cold call.

    OP3 might be concerned with something much more serious than this–like that recent stalker situation, but wanted to throw it out in case it’s helpful to someone.

    1. Observer*

      Well, it sounds to me that Abby / Abigail handled it well.

      If OP3 is worried about a stalker type situation she needs to get herself another job. I’m serious – there is no way that a stalker is going to not be able to find out the name of a public facing employee at a public organization such as a government agency. And identifying yourself to people is NOT an invasion of your privacy unless they are calling your private number.

  28. Jo*

    In Response to OP#3, I completely understand you not wanting to give out your name because automatically start to ask for you and talk to you about things that you know nothing about. However, what I’ve learned is that it can be a great opportunity to learn things and meet people that you wouldn’t have been introduced to otherwise. They might even be important people that would have completely paid you no attention or looked past you, but guest what now they now your name. And you’d be surprised how much you can impress someone just by the way you speak with them on the phone. I’ve had someone offer commendation to my manager about me because of how friendly and professional I was on the phone. That wouldn’t have happened if she didn’t know my name.

  29. Lynn Whitehat*

    I have donated more time and money to charity in the past week than OP #3’s employer is requiring for a year, and I still wouldn’t like it if my employer imposed that requirement on me. I contribute to charities that could be controversial in terms of the issues they support, and I just don’t want to get into it at work. I really like to keep my work and personal life separate, and I don’t want to get into, for instance, being very involved in my church’s (comprehensive, gay-positive, sex-positive) youth sex ed curriculum. Then we’re talking about sex and religion at work, which I really don’t want. And from there, it’s a short jump to politics too. “Don’t they cover that in school anymore?” “No, they do not. Not in this state.”

    So then I would have to give additional time or money to the Humane Society or the American Heart Association or something so I don’t have to get into all that at work? Not that those are bad groups, but I would really not appreciate it.

  30. Beth*

    #1 If the candidate asks for feedback, I’d say “your references were not as strong as I’d like to see for someone joining our organization.” References can be weird. Many people don’t feel comfortable saying to someone “I cannot be a reference for you” but then feel comfortable giving a review that will surely end the person’s chance for being hired. Just be honest from the get-go with the candidate. As much as it’s an “ouch” to hear someone tell you that they can’t give you a reference, it’s a bigger ouch to miss out on an employment opportunity because of it.

    On another note … I had a weird reference call this week. I always ask at the end of the conversation “Is there anything we else you think I should know in considering Daenerys for the position?” To be told, “Well, I know she has some health issues … but they didn’t really interfere with her work.” As my eyebrows shot up past my hairline and all the way to the back of my head, I said “Yeah, that’s neither something that’s relevant to her candidacy for the position, nor is it something I think you should be sharing.”

  31. Jem*

    #5 This is one of those things that isn’t illegal but should be. Your employer shouldn’t be allowed to dictate how you spend your pay or your time outside of work hours. Period. And I say this as someone who donates to charity regularly.

  32. ITPuffNStuff*

    #5 — I’m not an attorney, but, if the employer’s position is that working for a nonprofit is a job requirement, doesn’t that mean your are spending your time doing required work? And if the employer is requiring you to spend your time doing this work, doesn’t that legally obligate them to pay you for that time? Perhaps this is a moot point for salaried individuals, but at least for hourly employees, I would think all volunteer time would go on your time card, as your employer’s failure to pay you for that time is tantamount to your employer demanding that you do required work for free.

  33. Oh This Situation :)*

    My suggestion is that you don’t tell the candidate about the references but stick only to giving feedback on what you (or other interviewers) are willing to offer based only on direct observation-in other words what came up in the interview(s) only.

    I once had a candidate that was not hired call and question me as to why-his opinion was that he was the ‘perfect’ candidate. There were a few flags in the interviews, technically he was excellent, but his responses to several questions regarding how well he worked with others created some doubt. And being able to work well with others (exceptionally well in this team) was critical. Unfortunately his references all said the same thing, technically excellent, working with others -negative, they provided situational information that illustrated the flags we noted were in fact very problematic. Two of his references said they didn’t even know he was using them as references. One said he hadn’t asked but that didn’t surprise her. One comment he repeated in his ‘want feedback call’ was how he was positive that all his references had given him glowing reviews and kept pushing to find out why we ‘ignored’ that information. It was awkward. We refused to confirm one way or the other what his references said. He did not take it well and called back several times trying to get us to change our minds. Given some of the comments he made during this fiasco we were ultimately glad we did not tell him about his references because we believe he would have confronted them.

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