was my vacation request unreasonable, can I ask if I’m about to be laid off, and more

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

1. Was my vacation request unreasonable?

Last month, I submitted a request for a single week’s vacation with approximately two months of lead time (submitted in April for June vacation), and was told that they were not willing to take someone off another task for that long and that I could take two days off.

We are a very small company, and I understand that this would possibly be hard, but I am still unhappy about the decision. Was my request reasonable and is there something I should have done to push for additional time?

Yes, your request was reasonable. It is very, very normal to take a week off for vacation once or twice a year, and being told that two days is the maximum time they can spare you is ridiculous. Or at least, it’s ridiculous if they are saying that will be the situation year-round. If the issue is with doing it June — if that’s a busy season or if you’re short-staffed that month — that’s more reasonable. I’d get clarification about that by asking, “Do you mean that you’ll never want me to take a full week off, or that June is a bad time to do it?”

If the answer is “never,” that’s ridiculous and would unsustainable for most people in the long-term. If that’s the answer, you can try saying, “Only being able to take off two days at a time would preclude ever being able to take a cross-country trip or even simply being able to recharge. It’s such a standard expectation that we’re not going to be competitive if we don’t let people do that. Can we talk about how we could make this work?”

2. Can I ask if I’m about to be laid off?

Because of a particularly bad quarter for the nonprofit where I work, I’m fairly certain that I’m about to be laid off. I’m basing this on the fact that one staff member has already been laid off (we’re an organization with 15 full-time staff members), our part-time staff have had their hours cut, and my organization works in a number of communities, with mine being the only one that isn’t currently grant funded. Our director of evaluation also recently asked me if I could help them transition a number of partners on my caseload to “operate more independently” (i.e., without me). If that isn’t the writing on the wall, I’m not sure what is.

I’ve accepted that if they decide to cut more staff, there’s a very strong possibility that I’ll be the first to go. Would it be weird for me to directly ask my supervisors to let me know if they’ve made that decision? I’ve been talking to my network for the past couple of weeks, and I have a promising lead for another job, but I’d have to let my contact know before the end of this month whether I want to go that route or not. Ideally, I’d rather not leave my current job, which I really love. But, if there has been talk of cutting my position, I’d like to know about it so that I can take advantage of this other opportunity. Our executive director has insinuated that there will be more cuts, but that they won’t make any final decisions about who/where those will happen before the end of the fiscal year, which at the end of June. Is there any way of asking my company to give me a heads-up before then that my position might be next?

It sounds like you should almost definitely plan on leaving your current job.

You can definitely ask your current employer about your job security, but there’s a high risk that you won’t get a straight answer (organizations often don’t want to tell people they’re being laid off until the decision is absolutely certain and the timing is right for them) or that they’ll give you a no that’s true now but it will change in a month or two.

However, the advantage of talking to them is that they might nudge you in the direction of the other job, which will probably give you some peace of mind about the decision and prevent you from second-guessing yourself.

It’s also true that organizations that are planning to lay someone off are often hugely relieved if that person decides to leave on their own (especially for another job). So you could say this: “I know it’s likely that we may need to make more cuts. Someone in my network happened to reach out about a possible position. Normally I wouldn’t be interested, because I like my work here. But I definitely wouldn’t want to turn it down and then have my position cut. Given that I need to get back to them this week, are you able to give me a sense of how likely that is? To be clear, I don’t want to leave — but I also don’t want to end up jobless.”

But regardless of their answer, given the conditions you’ve described, I’d only plan on staying if you hear an extremely convincing “we will never cut your position because of Compelling Reasons X and Y, and our plan for funding it is Reliable-Sounding Plan Z” — and it comes from someone who you trust implicitly. And even then I’d be pretty skeptical.

3. Odd interview question

I recently had a panel interview for an IT-related job with a local city government. As expected, three panelists took turns asking me a set of 10 pre-determined questions, one of which I found odd. They asked, “If an internal customer came to you with a request just as you were leaving the office at 5 p.m. on a Friday, what would you do?”

This seems like such an odd question that would depend a lot upon the organization’s policies. This interview was for a full=time permanent role, but I have only ever worked contract positions where these types of last-minute overtime projects were expected and compensated well. Do you have any idea what sort of answer they might have been looking for here?

What a terrible question — as you say, it depends on details that you don’t have, like how the organization prefers people to operate and whether the request is a 10-minute thing or a three-day thing. That said, the fact that they asked it at all makes me think they were looking for an answer like “I’d find a way to get it done” or “I’d get more information about the urgency and if it was time-sensitive, I’d get it done before I left.” Or they might have just wanted to hear your thought process out loud — what factors you’d consider in order to decide how to handle it.

But it’s a bad question. If they wanted to test for, say, someone who won’t walk out the door just because it’s 5:00 if they’re still needed, they could have instead asked something like, “Tell me about a time when you were given a last-minute work request and didn’t have much time to handle it in.”

4. Giving a gift to a mentor

I’m a bit of a career changer and am in my first year of teaching. I have had an AWESOME mentor. She is paid to be my mentor as part of a formal program for new teachers, but I think she’s really gone above and beyond.

I know you say to write people letters letting them know how great they are and how they’ve helped, and I absolutely plan to do that. But I’m wondering about a gift as well? I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, but we talk about food a lot and share a lot of the same favorite restaurants. Would it be okay to give her a gift certificate? If so, how much?

A gift certificate might make her uncomfortable, or it might not — but I promise you that if you give her the letter on its own, she’s not going to think “That’s all?” So I’d just stick with the letter, which will mean far, far more to her than a restaurant gift certificate. Far more. I made those words red because I can’t stress that enough.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. Sami (a teacher)

    OP#4- Definitely a letter! They’re so meaningful and last forever!
    But, if you can, go for a gift card. Why? Because, as you’re finding out, teacher pay is generally abysmal and the lack of perks are legion. But the intangible rewards are infinitesimal. Good luck as you begin your career!

    1. Coffee Ninja

      I work in the education field (not a teacher) I agree! A nice letter and a (small) gift card, if it’s somewhere you know she likes, would be lovely. I think it’s a little different for teachers – many go far above & beyond and are not recognized for it – and gifts aren’t uncommon in this field.

    2. TychaBrahe

      Instead of a restaurant gift certificate, how about one to Staples or a teacher supply store? (Do those even do gift certificates?) Most teachers spend a lot of extra money funding supplies for their students. So in a way, it wouldn’t be a gift to her, but to her own charges.

      1. Talley Sue Hohlfeld

        or a professional contribution. (for example, my minister, if offered money for performing a wedding for a congregant, directs them to contribute to a charity he works with)

        Then again, maybe you want to give her something that’s just for her.

      2. Callie

        When I was in the classroom I always loved gift certificates to buy things for the class.

    3. Violet_04

      My mom is a teacher and she likes getting gift cards. She also loves flowers and would appreciate pretty bouquet with a nice card. If you go the gift card route make sure it is something she can use. My mom got a Starbucks gift card once, but she’s not a coffee drinker. Same thing with bath and body type stuff. She usually gives them to me, which is nice. Just try to get a feel of what she might like. At the very least, a heartfelt letter would very nice.

    4. Callie

      I work with student teachers and occasionally they will give me a Starbucks gift card (or one to a local coffee shop). Even if they are super broke and it’s just $5, I always appreciate it. Sometimes they stop by to see me and bring me coffee. It comes off as very thoughtful. I love that, but I love the little notes and cards they give as well. I keep all of them and sometimes when I’m having a shitty day or feeling unappreciated, I read them. It helps. :)

    5. AGirlCalledFriday

      Teacher here – teachers make very little in comparison with other professional jobs, and work long, stressful hours, spending a ton of their own money. It’s rare to hear that they are appreciated by other adults, so a letter would send her over the moon! However, small gifts are very common in this field, so a gift card would not be out of touch…but why not just invite her out to the restaurant and treat her? You could give her the letter and express your thanks in person. A strong mentor can make or break a new teacher’s career. I’m so glad you were able to get the support that so many need and almost never get! I’ve actually only heard of one network of charter schools in the USA that provides mentoring…if this OP is in the US. I really, really hope that more schools are doing this because it’s so essential.

  2. KR

    On number 3…
    I think the “correct” answer would be to look at the urgency of the request and then either complete it then if it required it or wait until Monday morning otherwise. Alison was right that it depends on a lot though – if you were interviewing for an exempt position, what their opinions on overtime were, ect. Our hours are pretty flexible in our IT office because while coverage during the work day is important, often requests and outages happen at night or on the weekend or work needs to be done off hours.

    1. dragonzflame

      +1. If you were in website support and someone in customer service reported that the whole online shopping cart was down and it was Black Friday, well, you’d be cancelling your plans to get the sucker back online. If someone was asking you to proofread a document that was due to be submitted on Wednesday, I think you’d be within your rights to leave it till Monday morning.

    2. Aurion

      Yes, this is the only reasonable answer. If the interviewers were expecting anything else, that’s a red flag. The ability to anticipate (in this case, the best response) is well and good, but anticipation requires context and background that these interviewers didn’t provide.

      Anticipation can be a job requirement. Divination should not be.

    3. Joseph

      Exactly. The only correct answer here is something like “It depends. I certainly wouldn’t just ignore a request because it was quitting time, but I would certainly want to know more about the situation.”

      It’s such an odd question that I’d bet that they specifically had this issue with the last guy being so focused on his weekend that he wouldn’t work one second past 4:59 pm, regardless of how important the task was.

    4. Colette

      I’d actually suspect they’re looking for your thought process. I.e, is it urgent, how long will it take to fix, is there anyone else working later who can fix it, what authorization do you need to work overtime, etc.

      1. snuck

        Yup. I can’t see a reasonable recruiter asking this unless they want to hear what you say.

        And if you give a one sentance answer back that speaks volumes, as much as a thought out analytical reply…. You might have spent half an hour talking about how you consider everything, and weigh it, that you take into account policies and processes… and then in the last gasp you just say “Oh, I’d totally do it straight away”… that speaks volumes too…. it’s part of a bigger picture.

        Not necessarily a good interview question though.

    5. Not So NewReader

      This question gets asked a lot in retail interviews. What I hate about the question is that it’s a trap. You don’t know what company policy is on over time and here you are figuring out what to tell the interviewer.

      In retail it works this way: You tell them that you would stop and help with the question. If you do this in real life then you immediately get reprimanded for punching out late and running up three minutes of OT. They will spend a half hour telling you how wrong you are and the irony of the whole situation is lost on them.

      I do think the question itself is a tip of their hand of cards they are holding. For whatever reason the person you are replacing flew out the door at the exact correct time each day.
      A much better thing would be for them to just tell you that they are looking for someone who is willing to stay a little bit late of there is a sudden problem. Then they could ask if you would be able to do that. I am a big fan of speaking directly, “We need X. Can you do X for us?”

      1. Hellanon

        With these questions, though, it’s not necessarily the *right* answer they are looking for but some clue as to how the applicant thinks things through. So an answer that includes an awareness of context – “Well, there are a couple factors I’d want to know. Is there a strict no-overtime rule to consider? What’s the scope of the work & how time-sensitive is the request? Who is the request coming from, etc, are a few of the things I’d need to know before responding. At my last workplace…” – is a better choice than trying to go the multiple-choice test route. Especially in a situation where they can’t ask you questions that aren’t on the list, you’ve got to find opportunities to make yourself stand out.

        1. neverjaunty

          And it’s still a trap, because th applicant 1) doesn’t have enough to information and 2) doesn’t know what they think the “right” answer is. Asking someone how they would solve a problem is very different than making them play mind reader.

          1. snuck

            But verbalising those question shows the applicant is willing to work within policy when they find it out… which speaks well for the person.

    6. Talley Sue Hohlfeld

      I’d say the correct answer would be:

      “First I’d want to know about the company’s policy on overtime–I know that some places are really firm about the idea of not invoking overtime. And by Friday, the week is over and I might not be able to adjust my hours to stay under 40.
      “If that wasn’t part of the equation, I’d check both how time-sensitive and time-consuming it was. An extra 20 minutes is easily done right then no matter how urgent it is. More than that, and it’s not really fair to ask it of me, especially on a Friday–plus, even if *I* wouldn’t mind staying later, I wouldn’t want to ‘train’ this person that it’s OK to treat our department that way. Because next time my colleague might be the one to get that last-minute request.
      “Something truly crucial? First, I hope I’d have enough experience to know that. But if it really seemed like there was going to be a big problem to let it wait, then I’d probably do it even if it was longer–but I’d make sure it got brought up on Monday so we could avoid it for the future.
      “I’m sorry I can’t give a short answer–I just don’t think it’s that simple of a question.”

      1. TootsNYC

        And this may have been the sort of answer they’d be looking for. I actually don’t think it’s that bad of a question.

        1. DoDah

          I agree it’s not that bad of a question. It’ll tell the committee what you are “like” to work with and help them determine organizational fit. To everyone else’s point, it’s perfectly OK to ask clarifying questions.

          The worst question I ever got was, “what did your Father do for a living?”

          Because that’s relevant….

          1. snuck

            It is…

            If you are a farmer and young….

            A young farmer who had a farmer father will have eons more experience than one who doesn’t (generally). You’d have started riding in tractors possibly as a newborn (mothers drive tractors too, and breastfeeding doesn’t wait for harvest!) …. and you’d be driving them possibly at 12, definitely by 15… and it’s not just driving them… before that you’d be the general hand – between 12 and 15 you are probably on the ‘fire truck’ (really just a ute with a fire pump and tank attached) for at least part of the day keeping close in case there’s a fire on a harvester…. and before that you’d be passing tools and parts and oil around, you’d be picking stumps and rocks out of the paddocks, you’d be listening to conversations about what crop where and when…

            If you started farming at 17 or 18… even if you went to Agricultural College (yes, these exist in rural Western Australia, where kid’s go to their last two years of school to learn Agricultural work if they want)…. you’d be years behind those who did it every day…

            1. Owl

              Okay, that’s a strangely specific situation, but even so, the question is not “what did your father do for a living,” it’s “did you have experience working on a farm in your youth?”

        2. neverjaunty

          Or they may have been looking for “of course I’d drop everything and take care of it” and be puzzled that you criticized their question. That’s why it’s terrible; there’s not really enough in it to get at the information they want.

          1. Kylynara

            But if that’s the answer they want (that’ll you work an unspecified amount of overtime at the drop of a hat for any employee’s issue of any importance regardless of urgency with no other information or authorization) then perhaps you’ve dodged a bullet.

            1. neverjaunty

              Sure, but it’s still a bad question for an interviewer to use. “Use this question in order to signal that you’re a terrible employer and the interviewee should refuse the job”?

      2. Melissa

        This is a pretty good answer. Especially as OP specified it was for a municipal government job. I don’t know if they’re all unionized, but my state government job is unionized and workers covered by the collective bargaining agreement can’t work more 40 hours a week without approval and compensation. But at least in my position, we’re asked a very similar question. It’s supposed to help determine time management and prioritizing.

        1. OP #3

          This is precisely what threw me on this question. It depends so much on their policies, which could vary even within the organization. My first thought as a life-long contractor would be “yay overtime pay!!”, but not knowing anything about being exempt or other possibilities was definitely on my mind. And I felt very out of place asking what their policy was, since I knew that wasn’t the real point of the question.

      3. Anonophone

        Great response! The only bit I’d hesitate on is ‘More than that, and it’s not really fair to ask it of me, especially on a Friday–plus, even if *I* wouldn’t mind staying later, I wouldn’t want to ‘train’ this person that it’s OK to treat our department that way’

        I’d hesitate to use the word fair here: it may suggest someone a bit petulant or high strung (in the absence of other info).

        Instead I’d say something like ‘if the issue would take longer to fix, I’d look to understand how crucial it it is, and whether it is something that could wait until Monday. I’d also consider whether there’s a pattern of last minute, crucial requests and if so raise that with a manager to see if there’s a way we could avoid the last minute on Friday requests’

    7. Liz

      It also depends who’s asking. VIPs tend to get same-day fixes, even at 5pm on a Friday, unless it’s a complicated issue.

      1. Bag of Jedi Mind Tricks

        This is why I love this site. I learn sooo much. I’ve been asked this question on interviews and answered it as “It depends…” However, I never thought to consider asking them what the overtime policy is, etc. But now I do. Thanks.

  3. Graciosa

    To #2, I would assume you’re going to be laid off and take the other position no matter what they tell you. Under these circumstances, you can’t afford to believe any assurances you might receive.

    Frankly, I think this is one of the risks an organization faces in doing layoffs to begin with. It does have an impact on remaining staff, and I really don’t have an issue with the organization losing people they didn’t intend to lay off as a result.

    I say intend to lay off because intentions change with the circumstances, which is one more reason you can’t trust any assurances that your job is safe.

    There will be other jobs you care about with other organizations you admire – but you probably need a fairly consistent income regardless. Protect that income and take the new job now.

    1. Mander

      This is what I was going to say. Even if your current organization doesn’t have immediate plans to lay you off, the fact that they are doing it to some people suggests to me that the place isn’t all that stable and is heading for more layoffs. Go ahead and pursue the other opportunity so that you at least might have some options, and hopefully won’t be scrambling for a job!

    2. Artemesia

      So this. When a place is staggering and laying people off, that is the time to move on when you can. The world is full of unemployed people who were assured that their job was safe.

    3. TootsNYC

      My experience is that companies CANNOT tell you in advance, either yes or no. I actually believe, after several years in workforce, that it’s unfair to your managers to ask them.

      You know this: your company is doing poorly enough that it’s laying people off, period.

      That’s a reason to pursue the job. Remember that pursuing it does not obligate you to take it. You can go in and say, “I have a job offer, I’d rather stay here. I’m only considering it because i’ve been assuming I’m going to be laid off. Is there anything you can tell me that will make is possible for me to stay here? I really like this job.”

      I wouldn’t tell them “I might pursue an offer,” because if you don’t get it, then they’ve got in their head that you were looking to leave or even just “willing to leave and might have options,” and they might put you on the layoff list because of that.

      1. Kyrielle

        This! Even if they have a strong plan to keep your position, changing circumstances may change that plan, and you already know they are having issues and vulnerable.

        If you didn’t need the job, if you could survive a long time (year+) if it evaporated, and if you loved it and wanted to help the place, that would be noble. But assuming, like most of us, that you need it – you don’t want to gamble on their stability (which is clearly not great, and you have _all sorts_ of signs that your position is vulnerable, too).

        Honestly, based on the signs you have, if they say your position is absolutely safe, I would be more inclined to think they were wildly optimistic or completely blind to the realities, because every signal you have says it isn’t. You’re not obligated to stay and watch it finish falling apart.

    4. Brownie Queen

      When I got laid off years ago, the day before I asked my boss point blank if I was getting laid off. She looked me in the eye and told me no. Next day I got my walking papers.

      If your company is doing poorly and they are laying off, do the sensible thing and pursue other opportunities.

  4. Sara M

    Did I misunderstand something? I thought the letter writer only had a lead on a potential job. Not an actual offer.

    Wouldn’t that change your advice somewhat, Alison?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I mean that she should pursue it. She said she needs to tell them by the end of the month if she’s interested, and she should almost definitely say yes. But I’ll make that clearer in the answer!

  5. Graciosa

    Regarding vacation in #1, I am a big advocate of taking real vacations. Little breaks and extended weekends have their place, but it can take a week just to really unwind from work so you can relax enough to get into a true vacation mode. I often recommend two week stints because of this, where the first week is to enable you to take your mind off work enough to truly enjoy the second week off.

    This isn’t always possible (people with only the standard two weeks of PTO may not want to use all of it at once) but that should tell you what I think of an organization that limits someone to two days at a time unless the block only applies to a very limited time during a peak season.

    Your manager should regard enabling your vacation as a goal, and ensure that there is appropriate cross training and coverage available. This is partly because everyone does need to really recharge and partly because the same practices that enable vacation also ensure that the work can be managed in a lot of other situations (accident or injury that keeps the employee out for weeks, for example).

    If your manager seems resistant to more than two days as a general rule, I would push back fairly hard to get her to identify time when you can take at least a full week. Your vacation time is pretty useless if you can’t actually use it to serve it’s intended purpose of letting you rest and recharge, and a week is far from unreasonable to do that.

    1. Elizabeth West

      Hear hear. People do get sick or hurt or have to be out for various other reasons. And we aren’t machines–we need breaks.

      Having limited PTO in jobs past, I tended to use those days to bookend holiday weekends so I’d have time to actually do something, or travel, or just actually get some rest. At Exjob especially, I did run into a boss who complained “Why do you always take off at month end?” It used to make me really mad; it’s not my fault that many holidays happen near or at month end–I didn’t set them. Plus, handling month end wasn’t my job, and if he needed help, it was on him to go to corporate and put in a case for hiring an assistant. I got as caught up as possible and left procedurals for anyone covering my tasks.

      Nobody lasted in that job after my first supervisor left, because her assistant took over and they never hired anyone to help her either. It wasn’t a one-person job. Instead, they pulled me away from my job to do various tasks, none of which made much difference in the workload.

      Companies need to plan for people to have time off. My old boss in NewJob would cover me when I was on PTO, but there is no one to do it now that she is gone. NewBoss probably won’t–she barely has time to do her own stuff. So it looks like I’m back to being out around holidays. But I’m starting to plan a huge trip for next year (I hope–money :P), and I hope this gets ironed out before then. I’m not working abroad this time.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Oh boy, that is right that companies need a plan for how to cover time off. One place I worked, I calculated all the time off for our department. It worked into 37 weeks. And this was only going to get worse as people accrued time off at the rate of one day per year of employment. (You started with 10 days after the first year. Then increased one day per year. If there was a cap it was pretty high, I think it was 6 weeks or so.)

        Anyway, 37 weeks of time off meant that most of the time we were working short one person. If someone called in sick, things got really tough. Likewise, having one person attend mandatory training, that we all had to have, was tough, too. It was normal to have one person on vacation, one person out sick and one person off to training.
        Am shaking my head…..

        1. TootsNYC

          yep! I have 11 weeks across 3 people to cover, and I have budgeted for 8 weeks of freelancer coverage. I probably won’t use that, because if people take time at non-crunch times, we don’t always need someone in the office to cover. And because my people almost never ask for crunch time. But I’ve got that as a possibility!

          When top managers don’t allow for vacation coverage, they’re very, very short-sighted. And I think it’s bad budgeting and bad management.

        2. NotAnotherManager!

          That sounds like chronic under-staffing that could easily be fixed by adding a body. That sucks. When I got my department, they needed 2-4 more people (we hired 3 in my first year) because the formula they were using to determine staff resources is one of the most insane things I’ve ever seen.

          I have found that the real challenge, when appropriately staffed, is that many people want the same time off every year, at which point, it doesn’t matter how many people you have, not everyone can take the week between Christmas and New Year’s off. Or the weekends that bookend long weekends. I do get peeved when the same people ask for all their days off before and after holidays because it’s no fair to everyone else when we have to turn down their requests because we’ve already hit bare-minimum staffing. I try really hard to accommodate all PTO requests, but I do have to turn them down sometimes when we’re at peak busy or too many people are already out. Unfortunately, we also don’t have control over our deadlines, and judges have no problem assigning briefing due January 2nd. Someone’s got to cover that.

          1. No Vacation

            We are definitely understaffed. The entire company is 7-8 people with my department being a single individual. Last year we were more fully staffed and I was able to take the week before Christmas off with another staff person taking the week after Christmas. Not sure when we will be staffed enough for that to be normal again.

            I try to schedule my time so it doesn’t automatically just extend a long weekend, because I understand that people want that time off too.

    2. AVP

      Seriously! If you have so little slack built into the system, what are you going to do when someone eventually gets pneumonia or breaks their foot? Or gives their two-week notice but it takes a month to replace them?

    3. No Vacation

      OP here.

      We don’t really have a peak season (software sales can peak near fiscal year end, but the support for those sales tends to peak a few weeks later when they have their ducks in a row to implement).

      The impression I have is that I can take longer time off once they have hired to fill a second position. Based on how slow and rigorous hiring is, and a reasonable expectation that they will want the second person to be fairly comfortable in the position, I imagine this is the situation for most of this year. I haven’t pushed back on this, but mostly upset that I was being penalized for being a one person department.

  6. NN

    Re #3
    My husband just faced a similar question in an online application form for a casual, entry-level sales job at a large hardware chain. It asked if a customer (external) came to the store right on 6pm closing and wanted something, what would you do. It had multiple choice answers such as tell them the store is closing and to come back tomorrow, keep the store open and serve them, and something else (I can’t remember the last option). He answered the ‘keep open and serve’ response as he thinks they are trying to screen out lazy/unmotivated potential employees who don’t care about customer needs. However, he said he really wanted to be able to tell them that as someone whose has spent years (decades) working in senior roles, that this could be dangerous – what happens if the customer has an accident when the store is supposed to be closed? Or the salesperson has an injury when cutting building materials to measure (a common task)? Would there be other staff around to render first aid and more importantly, would insurance not cover the incident as the store was supposed to be closed?
    What would you answer here (remember, multiple choice only!) and what do you think the employer was after?

    1. Mander

      That’s a really stupid question format, because like so many things, the answer is “it depends”. I’ve been that customer who is dashing in at the last minute to pick up one essential thing that will allow me to work on a project that evening. But in that case I’d only be grabbing something like a paint brush or a roll of masking tape off a shelf, not asking for a more complicated service like getting wood cut or paint colors mixed. The reasonable answer, IMHO, is to help a customer with something simple but tell them to come back in the morning for a more complicated thing. Whether or not it’s the “right” answer depends on the company culture.

      1. One of the Sarahs

        I have a massive hate-on for multiple choice Qs because of lack of “depends on the circumstances” – I’m always gnashing my teeth when I have to do personality tests and the like…

    2. WIncredulous

      I helped someone do an online interview to work at a gas station/convenience store. It was page after page after page after page after page after page (are you getting how stinking long this online form was?) of multiple choice questions. I’ve never seen anything like it. I had to write down my whole life to be admitted to the bar and it wasn’t as long as this darn application! For a gas station! I cannot even fathom what that all was for. I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t hire me after all that nonsense. Someone is making bank on making applications seem like a psych test, I guess.

      1. Liane

        These types of multipage multiple choice applications are common for retail and fast food jobs.

        1. Elizabeth West

          And they’re INSANE. It’s a crap job with very high turnover, but why don’t we make you jump through a bunch of hoops that make you feel like a little piece of pond scum while we’re at it. :P

      2. Panda Bandit

        When you hire a person for arcane tasks (operating a cash register) and pay them sooooo much money (minimum wage), you have to make sure they’re right for the job, you know?

    3. TootsNYC

      what makes this so stupid in that format is that your store’s policies should really dictate your answer. Some stores are very focused on not creating that liability. Others want to serve the customer no matter what.

      Others will say, “if they’re not in the store before closing time, don’t let them in at all.”

      And there’s no place to say, “depends on the policy.” So it really doesn’t tell you anything. And you are left with the impression that if you guess (and it’s truly guessing) the wrong answer, they’ll kick out of consideration.

      (My own take is, customers have an obligation to do their part, i.e., to remember they need to buy something earlier in the day)

    4. Rusty Shackelford

      I worked at Walmart one summer when I was in college, before they were open 24 hours. One night, at closing time, the store was still full of customers, and the manager on duty announced that we’d stay open an extra 30 minutes to accommodate them (yes, there was much grumbling). After the store closed, she excitedly announced how much extra we’d made in sales during those 30 minutes. The next day, a different manager grumbled that the extra electricity to keep the lights on another 30 min probably cost more than that, let alone the added labor cost.

      So if I were answering that question, I’d indicate an awareness of all these issues, and say I’d stick to whatever my manager’s policy was.

  7. VG

    #3 – I don’t think this is such a bad interview question, and it seems to be getting at something slightly different than Alison’s suggested question, which is more about time management skills. Some employees do not treat an internal customer as a ‘real’ customer, so its possible they’re trying to weed those people out.

    I’d think a good answer would be that you’d find out more about the request, and if it was urgent that you’d be open to being flexible and staying to help out.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Hmmm, I didn’t mean it to be about time management skills; I meant it to be about whether you’d find a way to accommodate the request if there were a realistic way to do it!

    2. Nico m

      Ahghh buttons pushed…

      The internal customer is not a real customer. The real customer is the real customer. “Internal customer” is a training shortcut thingy because its an improvement on “those bastards in dept” x. But its not actually true.

      Plus, some customers are bad and need to be fired.

      1. QualityControlFreak

        Yes, the internal customer is a real customer. It’s not a gimmick. If you’re in IT, and Joe in Finance has a last-minute IT issue that is preventing him from running payroll, blowing him off as “not a real customer” is going to piss off a lot of internal customers, probably including you!

        Totally agree with your last line, however.

        1. MillersSpring

          +1000 Some departments’ functions are to serve other departments. Having internal customers is most definitely A Thing.

          IT, marketing, payroll, HR, legal and accounting are just a few examples that serve other departments and have to do it well. It’s NOT a silly corporate rah-rah idea.

          1. TootsNYC

            Especially because sometimes another department’s budget gets deducted from when they use your services!

      2. NoBadCats

        That’s just not true.

        I worked for a huge international aviation company as the Document Control editor/controller. I often heard from the engineers and pilots when I was soliciting their procedures for documentation, “Well, it’s just internal.”

        Well, yes, it is “just” internal, but it’s still customer service. How one treats internal customers directly affects how one eventually treats external customers. The more respect you pay to your co-workers then leads to how you treat your external customers. Ignoring or disregarding internal requests leads to co-workers feeling that their needs/contributions are not important, which then leads inevitably to that attitude bleeding out onto external customers.

        The internal customer is just as “real” as the external customer. How co-workers treat each other, because we’re all internal customers to each other, directly affects the end product and how workers interact with external customers.

    3. Joseph

      I don’t necessarily think this is a terrible question either.

      I mentioned this a little in a different comment above, but odd/unique questions like this often are borne of history – i.e., the last guy was laser-focused on being out at 5:00 pm, no questions asked, no matter what…and they don’t want to hire That Guy again.

        1. Artemesia

          Which is why you need an it depends answer which addresses company policy about overtime if it is non exempt as well as the important and time sensitivity of the task.

          1. De Minimis

            And it’s government so they may not want people working overtime for budgetary reasons.
            I don’t like these type of questions either, though my feeling is the right answer probably involves helping the person.

            1. TootsNYC

              well, it’s not multiple choice, so maybe the right answer is, “It depends on the policy and on whether I could tell whether the task was trivial or important, or whether it was short or long.”

      1. fposte

        But that’s a bad way to create questions–you don’t want the interview to be about preventing the last war.

        1. Colette

          I somewhat disagree (possibly for the first time). I think questions should be focused on making sure the interviewee will succeed in the role, and understanding what the previous employee did well or did poorly will help create questions to screen for success. So if the previous employee struggled with making priority calls leading to unapproved overtime, or if she left right at five regardless of what was going on and that caused problems, questions about prioritized ion and handling a crisis at the last minute make sense. But they make sense not because the previous employee struggled with them but because her struggles highlighted the job need.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          I used to always say that managers are haunted by their last bad hire. They get so focused on finding someone who isn’t like that person that they often overlook other important things. There’s more than one way to be wrong for a job, and when you get obsessively focused on only one of them, it’s really easy to miss the others.

          (Not saying that’s what’s happening here since I don’t know. But it reminded me of that.)

    4. Not So NewReader

      It’s a bad question because they already have a set answer in their minds. It’s up to you to guess what that answer is. Maybe it’s more in retail, but if you answer this question wrong you just lost the interview. Some companies are very good about clearing their stores out therefore it’s not an issue and other companies not so much. So basically, they are saying here, “Guess what we want you to do in this instance.” Different companies have different answers.

      I would answer it by saying “I will follow company policy and my supervisor’s expectations about how I should handle these situations. Some places require you to stay, which is fine, I can do that. And some places require you to leave, in those cases, I can politely explain that I have to leave but I will be certain to look at first thing in the morning.”

      1. TootsNYC

        w/ the multiple-choice version of this question, I agree with you.

        But in the panel version, there is room for explanations, and I’d personally want to hear how someone thinks. Are they focused only on giving other people what they need? Do they even bring up the idea of whether the request is trivial or crucial, short or long? Do they say, “I’d want more guidance,” which indicates another sort of focus?

        In an open-ended situation, I as a candidate would actually consider it an excellent question–but that’s because I would not WANT to give a short yes/no answer.

        I’d want to explain how I make decisions, and what sorts of how-things-work knowledge I have that would inform the decision-making.
        I’d see it as my opportunity to demonstrate:
        -that I’m willing to give up some of my time when it matters
        -what is “some of” my time?
        -what is “when it matters”?
        -that I’d protect my colleagues by not getting my dept the reputation of being a pushover
        -that I’m willing to seek out and follow company/dept. policy.

        I’d also ask the follow-up: Does this happen to your department a lot? And, since you’ve brought it up and I’ve given MY answer, what is YOUR answer? What would you expect me to do, if I had this job? (bcs if you want me to stay an hour late at the drop of a hat, I don’t want to accept this job, and I deserve to know whether this question is a red flag in that area)

        So in an open-ended conversation, I actually think it’s a decent question.

      2. cardiganed librarian

        I actually prefer questions worded in this manner – that is, present a scenario and ask for your reaction – to the “tell me about a time you […]” question for exactly the reason of a set answer. The “what would you do if you had a last minute request” is one I have gotten a few times as I’ve worked primarily in government/corporate libraries where internal client service is huge. I find that relaying a story about a past experience is really just an exercise in trying to explain that same process of thinking you go through, with the added challenge of trying to fit it into a neat narrative. I think it’s easier to explain that you would consider policy, then consider the nature of the request and the position of the client, and then make a decision based on your estimation of the time demands, than to try to explain how you would have potentially behaved totally differently than you did in reality if a hypothetical workplace had different norms.

    5. AdAgencyChick

      #3, my *honest* reply to that question would be, “Who’s making the request? Is it the client or an internal person? If it’s an internal person, is the request coming at 5 PM on Friday for a good reason, or just poor planning on her part?” Because if it’s the client, I will grit my teeth and get the thing done, or at least as much of it as absolutely must be done on Friday. If it’s an internal person who is in a genuine emergency and has earned my goodwill by being a good person to work with, I’ll try to help her out. And if it’s an internal person who could have asked me earlier in the day and/or is a pain in the arse to work with? That shiz can wait till Monday morning.

      1. AdAgencyChick

        Whoops, meant for this to be a standalone comment, not a reply to VG’s about internal vs “real” customers. In my industry there’s almost no such thing as an internal customer — occasionally there is, like when we’re doing self-promotion, but otherwise I think it’s perfectly legit to have a double standard in advertising. The clients get to make annoying requests born of poor planning because they pay our salaries. My coworkers? Aw hell no.

        (Of course, the above answer is not what I would say out loud in an interview — but I would answer that my response would depend on context, and that the first thing I’d try to do is find out exactly what needs to be done immediately, and what can safely be postponed.)

  8. Chaordic One

    #3 I was recently asked a similar question at an interview for an Administrative Assistant job. What would you do if you were given documents to send by Fedex overnight, the person who created them left for the day, and I then noticed that the documents were incomplete. I said that I’d go ahead and send them because they might still be of some value to the intended recipients, even though they were incomplete. I guess that was the wrong answer because I didn’t get the job.

    I did not say, but did feel that, in my previous jobs, my catching and pointing out things like this was unappreciated and the people I worked for kind of felt I was a nit-picker and PITA, so my answer was probably tainted by that.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I bet they wanted to hear that you’d call the person and ask how they wanted it handled (because that could result in them telling you that the missing piece was on their desk and you could easily grab and include it, or that it would be worse to send incomplete than to hold it for a day).

      1. TootsNYC

        Part of the problem w/ some of these questions is that it assumes a condition that the interviewer may not have. Like, is that person reachable; do you have their number; are they driving w/ their phone off; etc.

        Is “left for the day” code for “not part of the equation”? I might have thought it was. The person left, but it’s not late enough that they’d be home and phoneable.

        And “incomplete” may mean “one sheet of paper still in the printer” or it may mean “no signature” or “one box of the form not filled in,” all of which would have a different solution.

        So while I like the question, in a way, they aren’t

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I bet they wanted at least some discussion of thought process though — because I can definitely think of time when just going ahead and sending the incomplete thing would have been worse than waiting. I suspect that wanted to hear that you recognized that possibility, and would try to account for it in your actions. (So, for example, if you couldn’t reach the person by phone, trying to reach their manager or another colleague who might know.)

    2. Nico M

      Its a silly question: how would you know they are incomplete yet have no clue how important the documents are and whether the missing bits are critical?

  9. Rayner

    AAM – I’m having a weird issue with an advert or something. When I go straight to your website, as opposed to reading through something else, a banner advert pops up at the bottom, obscuring the screen. But it’s got nothing on it (at all) except a black X to click out of it. It reappears every time you click on a new page or refresh.

        1. Rayner

          Maybe I’m not leaving it long enough but it’s been happening to me for a couple of days and not turned into an ad for as long as it’s been going on. It just stays blank.

          1. OlympiasEpiriot

            Oh mine is not blank. It’s another ad for Dick’s Sporting Goods about golf.

            1. Lore

              I’m getting those and on my small phone screen the ad is wider than the screen so impossible to close. It’s making it virtually impossible to read on my phone because i usually read sideways. I have no problem with the floating ad if it’s closable.

            2. hermit crab

              Mine’s an ad for Kingsford charcoal briquettes and it has a picture of delicious-looking food on a grill,and now I want to have a cookout!

    1. Not So NewReader

      Yeah, I have this happening, too. It’s been going on for a little bit- maybe a week?

      Am running Chrome on an old laptop.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Wanted to add:
        It only happens when the page reloads, such as when I first come to the website or after I hit reply. The current ad is for workman’s comp attorneys.
        I feel like big brother is reading over my shoulder as we were talking about comp cases. (AAM is the only place on the net that I have been reading about comp cases.)

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s a new ad that started on Thursday night. It should be populating with an actual ad though, not just staying blank, and there should be an X in the top right corner to close it.

      Rayner, are you outside the U.S.? If so, that might be related to why it’s staying blank, if they don’t have advertisers at that moment who want to advertise to foreign visitors. (I’m just guessing though, so I’m curious to know where you are.)

      Lore, I’ll check into the issue you reported since it shouldn’t be working that way.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Hmmm, Lore, what kind of phone are you using and what browser? I just tried to recreate the issue on my end and couldn’t, so I’m thinking it might be specific to one of those two things.

        1. Lore

          iPhone and Safari (an old small screen phone if that matters). Since then I’ve gotten different ads that I can close sometimes–the natural gas ad in particular was one that was wider than my screen and there was another one I can’t remember. But today’s are closable. I’m switching to a new phone (iphone SE) this week so hopefully it will help!

    3. Sami

      Problems here too in my iPad – Safari. The page keeps reloading and eventually goes blank. It started when the ads at the bottom started.

    4. Mander

      I’m having an issue as well, though because it’s on a relatively obscure browser (Konqueror on Fedora 23) it might just be tough luck, use Firefox. Despite using the ad blocker there is an ad that seems to have something to do with Uber that is trying to load but it just causes the browser to crash.

  10. newreader

    #3: Just this week I was part of a committee conducting interviews and we had a few scenario questions where we knew the candidates wouldn’t be able to provide the exact “right” answer, but instead wanted an idea of their thought process when confronted with the types of issues this job handles. We (hopefully) provided enough context and detail about each scenario that allowed each candidate to have enough information to answer successfully. And we did get some very thoughtful, logical answers along the lines of what we were hoping for.

    It’s very difficult to ascertain someone’s knowledge and mind set from just their resume and cover letter, People will tell you they are great at handling x, y, and z, but it’s hard to know for sure without some demonstration of that. Some skills can be tested for and scenario questions can be one way to test for thought process and logic. Provided the questions are phrased well.

    1. TootsNYC

      yes! This is why I’d actually think it was a fine question in a face-to-face situation where the interviewee can give a long-form answer–as long as the interviewers weren’t sitting there thinking there’s only one right answer.

      “Walk me through your thought processes and decision making” is what I consider every interview to be.

    2. gsa

      Bad question, maybe; easy answer: yes.

      My answer would be somewhere between, “Sure, that will only take a second” to “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today…”

  11. Rebecca

    Re#1 – your request is more than reasonable, and you gave plenty of notice. I wonder what your manager would do if one of your coworkers was injured, or became ill, and was out of the office for a month or more? Without cross training, this would really result in a hardship on the entire office. 5 days is a very short time, relatively.

    1. Joseph

      I always wonder that exact same thing!

      If someone unexpectedly resigned or was hospitalized or got in a car accident driving to work, they might have to scramble, but they’d figure a way to make it work somehow with zero notice…yet you absolutely cannot figure out something with two months to plan? Really?

      1. MK

        Well, in those cases there is no choise; when one asks for leave, they are presenting a choise: reject or approve, and of course the companys chooses to reject the leave instead of trying very hard to find ways to deal with it. It may be shortsighted, or it may be the reality of the company’s situation, but people don’t usually volunteer for difficulties.

        Think of it this way: if I have 3 spare beds and invite 3 people to visit me, but by some misunderstanding 7 arrive shortly before midnight, I will find a way to let them spend the night, even if it involves people sharing beds and sleeping on the floor. But if they call ahead to ask if 7 people could come, of course I am going to say I don’t have room.

  12. TheBeetsMotel

    I’m probably jaded, but #3, to me, smacks of the interviewer fishing for the “Of course I’d always stay late! My whole life is about the company!” answer.

    While I agree that there are a lot of permutations to such an answer that are dependant on culture, overtime policies and much more, I’d personally be wary of an company for which this was such a commonplace event that they’ve incorporated an interview question specifically to address it. To me, it would suggest an expectation for employees not to have a life to go home to at the weekend.

    But then, that’s just me, and I know my perception of this is clouded by all of the last-minute requests I’m voluntold to deal with, so there’s that.

    1. OP #3

      “I’d personally be wary of an company for which this was such a commonplace event that they’ve incorporated an interview question specifically to address it.”

      Exactly this! Especially since they only asked 10 predetermined questions, it must really hold a lot of weight in their evaluation process.

    2. Actuary

      This really depends on your industry (and salary) though. There are many, many places where leaving at 5pm is not the norm. Maybe it’s not ideal, but if you’re paid well and average 45-50 hours a week (and not like 60-70), it’s not the end of the world either. I don’t really consider this a red flag unless leaving at 5pm every day is an absolute must for you.

      The question does signal that last minute requests and a willingness to sometimes stay past 5pm is important. But that might just mean leaving at 5:30pm sometimes – doesn’t necessarily signal that you’d be working nights and weekends. We try to get a sense for whether candidates would be OK working on tight deadlines with short notice during our interviews, because it’s important to the role in my department. But overall, our work/life balance is pretty good – start times are flexible, work from home is fine, etc. – just sometimes you need to be willing to stay past 5.

    3. Bee Eye LL

      I stated this in another comment, but the job is with a city government and not a company. If it’s like every other city, departments like Police and Fire will have people operating 24/7. The interviewer was going for an IT job, so the chance of them getting a before or after-hours support call is not unusual.

  13. NewCommenterfromDaBronx

    Re #1. We recently ran into something similar in our 5 person office-2 bosses & 3 support staff. Two of us in support do the same admin work & have worked together forever, newest member does office manager/reception/everything else work. She is not trained to cover for admin work, but we can cover for her on most things. August is our slowest month & we close on Fridays during August. She recently requested a single Thursday in Aug to make a 4 day weekend & was turned down by 1 boss (Boss #2) because one of us admins was going to be out the same day.Other boss (Boss #1) will also be on vacation at the same time. Boss #2 is pregnant & may already be on maternity leave at that time. This would leave me alone possibly in the office for a single day, which for many years, was never an issue for us. Happened regularly in the summer. We (admins) have gone to bat for our other staff member with the bosses but they are still considering it.

    1. No Vacation

      A single day to get a 4 day weekend does sound completely reasonable especially if you have a history of letting a single person be in the office for a day.

  14. Seuuze

    I am going on a rant here about vacation time and these wonderful United States. This puritanical thinking has got to stop. The OP from May 13th stating that “more than 5-6 days off is frowned upon”, and OP #1 here can only take two days off, REALLY?? Why is that exactly? It sounds like in these cases these companies are woefully understaffed and run by a reincarnated and possibly dessicated Mr. Scrooge. Go read up on vacation time in Europe where the average is 4-6 weeks off EACH YEAR PEOPLE!! Compare that to what we are allotted here. Then add on top of that the expectation that you don’t want or need to take any vacation time that you have RIGHTFULLY EARNED????? Stingy, stingy, stingy.

    I had friends from the Netherlands that said even the busboys at restaurants, when they sign their work contract get 4 – 6 weeks off. People really do need to take time off because it makes them happy, content and pleased to work where they work. And an article published in the NY Times was written by a man who moved to the Netherlands because his wife got a job (they are both American), kept getting mystery money deposited in his account by the government for school clothes and supplies and then around $5,000 for a family vacation. Yep. Horrible, terrible socialism, because they want to take care of their own and share. I suppose that made him and his family mad and unhappy that they got money to make their life happier and more civilized.

    Another friend worked in Germany. Her husband was used to the many hours of working well beyond 40 hours a week just like he did in the USA and did so at his job in Germany. His company and co-workers thought he was a bit nuts working so long at the job instead of spending time at home and with his family. He did not adapt and get a clue to stop and conform and did not do well in that company over the long term.

    I have been fortunate to have government jobs where the organization did not fall apart when people took two week vacations (GASP!!!!). Even in my relatively small organization where I was the executive director of a program under state government.

    I am the type of person who just cannot recharge unless I am gone for over a week. People get burnt out and need to do something else and go somewhere if they can afford to do so and just NOT BE AT WORK!! Bankers are told to take a mandatory two consecutive weeks so that they can be audited when they are gone to see if they are doing anything screwy like embezzling.

    I would quit a job if I knew that taking my vacation time was taboo, not allowed, and frowned upon. This is some sick shit and people need to change this kind of thinking to treat people more humanely. We are not automatons that can work and work and work until we drop dead.

    As the saying goes; no one ever put on their tombstone, “I wish I had spent more time at work”. Well maybe some people have, but I bet they are miserable Type “A” jerks that have no life. So it goes.

    1. No Vacation

      I agree with you, though I am pretty bad at taking time (I tend to want to save it for specific events).

      I temped at Gillette in the 90s and my managers all were from the UK and talked about the month vacation they were going to take. It’s a huge disconnect between how we operate in the US and most of our peers in the world.

    2. Kyrielle

      Yep. And, if you’re raising a family, depending on the age of the kids, a big family vacation may need a small personal vacation at the end of it just to be functional when you get back to the office!

    3. MissDisplaced

      I work for a company that has offices in other countries. In France, by law, they get 5 weeks paid vacation.
      Here we get 3, which is generous, but you are still made to feel guilty if you take it.

      1. DoDah

        I work for an org that is HQ’d in Finland. They 5 or sick weeks plus extended holidays. Here is the US we get 3 weeks–but don’t you dare take it.

        It doesn’t help that my VP is a workaholic who hates his family….

    4. R2D2

      Why would businesses change anything when they didn’t have to? The average American employee lives in a mortgaged home that will be foreclosed on if they alienate themselves from all the employers who will hire them. On the other hand, employers are at best mildly inconvenienced by any individual employee refusing to cooperate due to disagreement with “industry norms”, unless their companies are quite small.

      If anything, it’s a minor miracle that there’s anything left after outsourcing at all — I mean, I only know a handful of people who are committed to purchasing only American products, even when they aren’t cheap or convenient, so why would companies be committed to hiring American workers who want more money and more vacation time? To expect companies to be better the people who constitute them is expecting disappointment. :-)

    5. Actuary

      ” kept getting mystery money deposited in his account by the government for school clothes and supplies and then around $5,000 for a family vacation. Yep. Horrible, terrible socialism, because they want to take care of their own and share.”

      You do realize that money isn’t coming out of the sky, right?

      1. AGirlCalledFriday

        Of course it’s not coming out of the sky. Every person pays a bit more in taxes and that money is allocated to all. They actually end up spending LESS money than Americans do, which is why we are so broke all the time and continue working so hard. Consider:

        European higher taxes American lower taxes – but surprisingly not much lower
        free education education fees
        free healthcare medical fees
        none insurance deductibles
        longer vacations short or none
        free or cheap child care nope
        Retirement assistance nope
        Cheaper senior care nope
        Paid sick/parental leave nope

        Americans also pay lots of hidden taxes – tax breaks for the wealthy for example – state taxes, tolls for the highway, taxes on food, etc etc etc when you add it all up, Americans pay just as much as Europeans but considerably more out of pocket, while receiving almost nothing in return. A huge chunk of our taxes goes to the military, not necessarily for the average person. I’ve spent a lot of time working with Europeans and not one of them would trade what they have for the American system.

        1. AGirlCalledFriday

          Well, I tried to do a neatly spaced chart here but it clearly didn’t work! :)

  15. Rebecca

    Exactly. The company that bought the smaller company I work for only gives 10 days vacation per year, and people have been with them for literally decades because their home office is in an area with few job opportunities. Oh, I forgot about the 5 sick days, that they discourage taking unless you are truly so sick you can’t possibly go to work. I have a sinking feeling that one of these days we’ll get the call from HR telling us our vacation time has been cut back to match HQ’s.

    Oh, and every time someone says that employers can’t afford sick time, and people shouldn’t expect handouts, I ask them how they like their food. This always gets a “why?” and I remind them that people who are so sick they can barely function, with the flu, bad colds, stomach bugs, etc. routinely have to go to work in food service jobs, handling YOUR food, because of attitudes like this.

    1. Kyrielle

      YES. This attitude is inhumane and inhuman wherever it appears, but having it appear in the food service/supply chains positively terrifies me.

  16. Seuuze

    I used to tell my staff to stay home when they were sick as I did not want to catch their illnesses. That is what sick time is for. Please use it and spare the rest of us your germs and contagion. Why on earth is it a good idea to expose your co-workers and whoever else you come in contact with to your virus or cold? Then guess what – more people are out because they got sick from you coming into work sick. Bad idea.

    1. SandrineSmiles (France)

      Problem is, not many people have the luxury of being able to stay home, even in such cases. Some employers will fire them, or make them miserable, just because they dared feeling sick. It’s just horrifying.

  17. Actuary

    @#3 I’ve gotten this question multiple times, and I’m never quite sure how to answer. One time, I got a version like this:
    “One time, I was in the office at 5:30 and everyone in the department had left for the day. I got a call with an urgent request that needed to be completed immediately, but it was beyond my authority and was normally something my manager needed to sign off on. I didn’t have my manager’s home phone number. If the request didn’t get fulfilled that day, we would miss the opportunity to win a high profile account. How would you react/what would do in a situation like that?”

    Was I supposed to stay late to get the work done or not do anything because it was out of my authority? Who knows.

    That said, I don’t necessarily think it’s an awful question. It does force people to think about what they would do instead of just giving a canned, rehearsed response, and it does give the interviewer a sense for how you would act in a real-life situation at work. The particular version I got above was weird though.

  18. Bee Eye LL

    #3 – I work in IT for a city government and while our IT office has hours of 8-5, other departments like Police and Fire operate 24/7. It’s not an unusual question and something that does happen from time to time. We have one Police captain who purposefully calls @ 4:58 just to mess with us.

    I think what they are looking for is to make sure somebody isn’t the type to be out the door at exactly 5pm every day, which is typically the case with government workers. That’s why we give comp time and sometimes overtime. I don’t like having to stay late any more than anyone else, but it happens.

    On the other hand, just last week I got the 5am phone call because a server went down and I had to come in early to get things fixed. It can go both ways.

  19. Bowserkitty

    Yes, your request was reasonable. It is very, very normal to take a week off for vacation once or twice a year, and being told that two days is the maximum time they can spare you is ridiculous.

    Alison, it’s so weird reading this because OldBoss turned me down for a TWO DAY vacation request just before my company-wide layoff. A week would have been unfathomable! Good luck, OP1.

  20. Unegen

    “If an internal customer came to you with a request just as you were leaving the office at 5 p.m. on a Friday, what would you do?”

    Allison’s answer was great, but if you’re stuck having to answer a question like this where you don’t have enough info to give the “perfect” answer, your best bet is to give what your experience has been and then turn the question around on them.
    For example: “Well, that would depend on your team’s policies. In past jobs I’ve stayed–and been paid–to work overtime when issues came up without advance notice; it was a normal, expected part of the job. How does your team generally handle this sort of situation?”
    And then wait for them to tell you.

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