my interviewers burst out laughing after I left the room, I need a different desk chair, and more

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

1. My interviewers all burst out laughing after I left the room

Last week, I interviewed for a position that would provide me some great experience right after I graduate. The position is not permanent, but would tide me over for a while as I search for a more permanent position. I was very excited to interview and practiced answering questions, as well as preparing questions of my own to ask as you advise. I thought I did well in answering all the questions, and was honest about the areas in which I had some, but not a great deal of experience.

As I left the interview room and closed the door, I overheard one of the interview panel members say something I could not make out and then heard everyone else in the room laugh. I think the people in the interview room thought that once the door was closed, the room was soundproof. I have no idea if the remark and laughter were directed at me, but I am wondering if this is a red flag. I am considering pulling my application as this may be an indication that these people found me ridiculous. Even if I was hired, I now feel uncomfortable with the notion of being around these people. Am I being overly sensitive? Should I let this go and see what happens?

Yes, you should let it go. Absent some specific reason to believe that they were laughing at you, it’s far more likely that they were laughing at something that had nothing to do with you. Someone could have commented on a funny text they just received, or pointed out that they’d accidentally worn mismatched shoes that day, or all sorts of other things.

A roomful of people isn’t likely to burst out laughing at a candidate who just left, unless the candidate did something truly outlandish (like pooping-in-the-potted-plant level of outrageousness, not jut not interviewing well). And inexperienced candidates in particular generally get cut a lot of slack and are the group least likely to provoke an instant post-interview group laugh. Really, the most likely scenario is that the laugh wasn’t about you at all!

2. How do I ask for a different desk chair?

I spent several months earlier this year with a debilitating injury, sciatic nerve pain from a herniated disk. I was working from home part-time, and spent a lot of my work days lying on the couch covered in ice packs. After months of physical therapy, I am doing much better but it is not an experience I ever want to repeat.

I just started a new job that is a full-time office job. Today is my second day. I know already that the chairs they give everyone here will not work for me—they’re not uncomfortable for the average person, but it is not possible for me to sit in them with good posture. I need a different chair because if I keep sitting in the one I have, there is a good chance I’ll be injured again.

What do I do? Is this a situation where the company should be paying for a chair? Will it be considered high-maintenance for me to ask for this on my second day? Should I talk to my boss or to HR? Or should I be buying my own chair, which may cost hundreds of dollars? I may also want a trackball mouse and wrist cushions. And for the chair I should probably go to my physical therapist again to figure out what kind I need so I don’t end up ordering a new chair that’s just as bad—who pays for that?

I feel silly being so worked up about this, but I’m actually really scared that they’ll deny my request, that I’ll get injured again. Can you help me figure out how to have this conversation?

In most cases, reasonable companies will get you the chair you need. Go to your manager and say this: “I’m finding that my desk chair is aggravating the pain from a recent herniated disk. I’m going to talk to my physical therapist to see what she recommends, but once I know that, is it possible for me to get a different type of chair and possibly wrist cushions?”

The physical therapy appointment is something that you’ll pay for yourself though, since it’s not an injury that you got at work.

3. I can’t afford my coworkers’ lunch invitations

My colleagues invite me to lunch several times each week. I attempt to make excuses by mentioning I have a heavy workload or that I’ve already packed a lunch, but the fact is that I just don’t have the money to go out for lunch. I’m very budget-savvy and I pay attention to every penny, so it’s not as though I’m a careless spender– I just quite literally do not have the money, especially for spontaneous events. We work in a fairly upscale part of town, so even when I do have some extra cash, I can’t really afford anything within walking distance.

I really love my job and my colleagues and I don’t want to appear antisocial. I also understand that my coworkers significantly more money than I do, so they may not realize that money is more of an object for me (I am fine working at the “bottom of the totem pole” since it provides experience that directly correlates to the skills I’m learning in my master’s program). My colleagues really seem to like me and I don’t want them to think the feeling is not reciprocal. I also don’t want them to become less comfortable working with me. How do I politely say “no” to these friendly lunch requests?

“My budget usually only allows for packed lunches from home, but if you ever get takeout and bring it back, I’d love to eat with you.”

Most people remember being on a tight salary at the start of their careers and will get it once you explain it.

If you can, though, look for other ways to make overtures — for example, if you usually eat your lunch in the park next to your office, you could invite someone to join you there. Or if you occasionally splurge on a takeout coffee or a cookie from the bakery downstairs or whatever, invite someone to go with you. That stuff isn’t strictly necessary, but if it’s an option, it’ll help reinforce that you want to be friendly.

4. Should working in a sex shop go on my resume?

I am an undergrad student doing a degree that will hopefully lead me to a job in the government as an analyst. I’ve always worked through school and have taken on student debt which barely allows me to pay bills in an expensive city. My parents can’t help me out for school so I am on my own. I was downsized from my old job and looked for months to find work, depleted my savings, and was actually worried about starving or becoming homeless.

I eventually found a retail job in a store that specializes in selling equipment to help people enhance their sex lives. The store is clean, feminist, a great safe space for our LGTB community and not at all sleazy. Most importantly, I am good at sales and it pays my bills because of the good commissions. I’m worried, however, that as I finish my degree and apply for government jobs, I am going to have trouble explaining this on my resume, or that people will see it an ignore me entirely. I have tried to find other work but to no avail (I applied for a job as a cashier and I was told that 600 people applied for the position).

Do I keep this off my resume and just say that I was focusing on school? Do I use a euphemism? What should I do when I am ready to enter the professional world?

I originally asked this letter-writer if the store name makes it obvious what it sells (it does), and whether the store might have a corporate name that’s more opaque, possibly for the purpose of being vague on customers’ credit card receipts, but it doesn’t.

Given that, I’d just go ahead and own it. Put it on your resume and be very specific about the work you do there — play up the customer service aspects of the work and anything else that would be transferable to other types of jobs. Make it clear that it’s respectable, customer-service-oriented work.

There’s also some good advice in the comments on this post (on a similar question).

5. Company I used to freelance for refused to consider me for a new job

I freelanced at a creative services company a few years ago. I thought it was a great experience. They retained me for six months, and I had no issues while there.

Recently, an outside recruiter called me about a full-time opening at that company. I said I was very interested in working with them again, so he submitted my name to the hiring manager. When he got the hiring manager’s response, he forwarded it to me. I was shocked. It simply said “Sally has freelanced with us in the past. It’s a NO on her.”

This cannot be a case of not being qualified; the job listing sounded like a perfect match for my skills. It seems clear that this company had some kind of problem with me. My question is, should I reach out to the hiring manager and ask for some elucidation? (The recruiter was not willing to ask for more info.) It is killing me to think that perhaps I did something to flag myself as a poor employee, but obviously had no idea.

No, don’t contact the hiring manager and ask why. The reason could be an awkward one (such as that she thinks your work is okay but not great, she just didn’t like you, or you didn’t get along with people there), or it could be that there’s something else off about the fit that you don’t realize (your strengths are more X, and they’re looking for something more Y — which wouldn’t mean that you were a bad employee, just that you’re not the right fit for this particular role). It could even be that normally you’d be a solid candidate, but they have two unusually stellar candidates in the mix, and they only want to talk to additional people if they’re competitive with those two.

Who knows — but it’s her prerogative to pass, and she probably wouldn’t appreciate knowing that the recruiter passed her message to him straight along to you.

{ 218 comments… read them below }

  1. Vicki*

    #5 – It’s sad but you do know one important thing. You do not want to work with these people / this manager again. It really doesn’t matter why; tell yourself it’s her issue, not yours.

    1. Christopher Tracy*

      I don’t even think the hiring manager did anything wrong here. She’s allowed to pass on a candidate, even one who used to work for her company, and there’s no indication that she knew the braintrust recruiter was going to forward her email response directly to the person she was talking about. If anything, OP should never want to deal with this recruiter again – he’s so unprofessional it’s not even funny.

      1. Marzipan*

        Mmmm, this was pretty much my thought.

        I have a colleague in another department who has the unfortunate habit of sending on emails about his team *to* his team, verbatim, when those emails were clearly intended for him to action as their manager. Many people have been bitten by this in the past, and it’s not very helpful in terms of getting a good outcome.

        In this case, I think your recruiter has done you a disservice, as they’ve done the same thing – they’ve sent you a message which was written to and certainly intended for them, without regard to your feelings, and left you in a situation where you feel you want more information but they won’t ask for it. I don’t think you should ask for it either, but I’d be questioning whether that recruiter was someone I wanted to be involved with since they don’t seem terribly good at the kind of communication that’s involved in their role.

        1. MK*

          Yes. The recruiter might even have good intentions in letting the OP know that the company isn’t interested in having her back, but forwarding this abrupt non-informative e-mail was worse than useless. He could have asked the manager why she isn’t willing to consider the OP as a candidate and passed on that information (or not, depending on the reason).

      2. Yeah I'm commenting!*

        I disagree. I know what it is like to have candidates continue to ask over and over again why they weren’t chosen and sometimes the company simply refuses to give more information than no. Like mentioned above, it could be some weird thing that they feel uncomfortable answering and just want to leave it alone. Additionally, there is a huge chance the recruiter has worked with this company before and knows that they won’t give more feedback so as a way to shut down continual questions they sent the candidate the verbatim feedback they received. I guess they could have softened it for the candidate, but I don’t know why they would. If that was the response they received from the hiring manager, I think it could be worthwhile to hear it like it is and not sugarcoat it.

        1. LBK*

          Disagreed, I think part of a recruiter’s job is sugarcoating and being the filter between the hiring manager and the candidate. And what’s worthwhile about hearing this? If it were constructive criticism then sure, that’s worth passing along, but clearly all it’s done is set the OP spinning because it’s so vague.

            1. Yeah I'm commenting!*

              I guess my question would be, how should the recruiter have responded? She doesn’t have any more information than no, they don’t want to move forward. The OP states that the recruiter refused to ask for more info, but that could again be because in the past they were never willing to give more feedback. So the recruiter tells the OP, “No, I’m sorry they do not want to move forward.” The OP will undoubtedly ask why, but the recruiter doesn’t know. Then what?

              1. LBK*

                Then they use one the of various boilerplate responses that recruiters, hiring managers and HR use all the time, like “we went with someone with more experience”. It’s extremely common that there either won’t be more feedback available or that the hiring manager won’t be willing to give that feedback to the candidate – any recruiter worth their salt should be breezing through this situation 10 times a day, and certainly not resorting to forwarding emails verbatim from the hiring manager.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But he could do that over the phone. I’m assuming he didn’t have permission to forward that email, so that’s problem #1 (he’s betraying the trust the employer put in him, and they’re his client), and problem #2 is that it was just a pretty thoughtless way to deliver the feedback. I’d be pissed if a recruiter forwarded one of my emails to a candidate without my permission.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        Of course they’re allowed to. However, this would drive me crazy just like it is for Op. She’s been operating under the assumption she did a great job there and now is scratching her head. Yes, the recruiter should not have forwarded the email to her, but he could have asked that employer why so he knew what other jobs may be a better fit and/or diplomatically give the Op some feedback depending what the problem is.

        1. LBK*

          A candidate is never entitled to feedback or an explanation, and it’s not on the recruiter to proactively go back and request it unless the candidate asks them to. I’m with Christopher Tracy that the only error in this process was the recruiter forwarding the manager’s email.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t know that that’s true though — if the issue is just that they have stronger candidates or that the OP could be right for something else but not this particular job, I don’t think she should write them off entirely.

      1. Jeanne*

        Yes. The wording is abrupt but I probably wouldn’t give a lot of detail to the recruiter. It’s short hand and could mean lots of things. “I worked with Sally and I don’t like her so no.” Or “I worked with Sally and I know she can’t do the special engraving on teapots that we need.”

        1. Marzipan*

          Or even, I know that you-the-recruiter are a bit pushy, or tend to be tone-deaf to my messages, and so I need to be VERY BLUNT with you even when the actual reason for my saying no may be mild, because if I express my mild reason mildly we’ll be here forever.

          1. Mabel*

            This is good to keep in mind – that the rather abrupt response could be for this sort of reason having nothing to do with the OP.

          2. Prismatic Professional*

            This is a great thought! I didn’t think of this one, but it makes so much sense.

        2. Artemesia*

          I have hired people for temporary positions many times whom I would not hire again because they were okay but not great. I might accept them in a part time role if I couldn’t find anyone better, but if a permanent position opened up and they applied we would not consider them knowing their work. It has happened more than once and it is very awkward when the candidate tries to use the past relationship to get more information. It is often not that they are terrible or that you don’t like them, but they may not be a comparatively strong candidate. This communication sounds to me like that kind of case. For whatever reason, the candidate did not impress sufficiently to be a strong candidate for permanent employment; they were not necessarily bad, they just were not exceptionally good. If it were a fit matter, I would have just said ‘Sally is just not a good fit for this position’; ‘we have worked with her and no’ tells me that the rejection is broader and that this company is one to write off.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            When I hire for a full-time writer or graphic designer, I have a lot more flexibility in salary band and things like relocation coverage. So I am often able to get a pool of candidates that is broader and deeper than when I am hiring freelancers or part-time.

      2. Aunt Vixen*

        I’ve worked in places where for various arcane reasons we weren’t allowed to hire former contractors or consultants as employees until a period of time (probably a year) had passed since their last contract or consulting gig had ended. So it’s even possible the manager meant “Yeah, she freelanced for us so we can’t hire her, and you [recruiter] ought to have known that.” As she couldn’t have known the recruiter was going to forward the message to the job seeker, she wouldn’t have expected to need to moderate her tone.

        1. SophieChotek*

          Another interesting perspective I would not have considered — along with Marzipan’s suggestion of needing to be blunt with pushy recruiter

        2. Sydney Bristow*

          If the contractor was used through an agency, there is often a provision in the firm/agency contract that requires the firm to pay a commission if the contractor is hired within a certain time period. It’s common in the field of legal temps.

          In this case there might be an agency commission plus the recruiter’s commission, which could be more than the company is willing to pay.

          1. Aunt Vixen*

            Sure. But I also mean we couldn’t hire completely independent contractors or consultants as employees until a blackout period had passed. People with unrelated day jobs who picked up a sideline gig with us for 50 hours over three months or what have you. (It came up again at one such job when a bunch of us who were employees were laid off and there was some talk about being able to contract with our old teams for some short period afterward – but doing so could have jeopardized our chances to be recalled if the budget issues had somehow magically resolved themselves. All very complex. Glad I didn’t work in the financial department.)

        3. Big10Professor*

          This is exactly what I was thinking. I have seen this at more than one company.

      3. Stranger than fiction*

        But their response doesn’t seem to indicate that at all. It reads as the Op worked there before and there was some sort of concern so therefore it’s a No.

      4. Lucky*

        Since #5 was going through an outside recruiter, couldn’t it be that the company hadn’t budgeted for the recruiter’s commission? Many large tech companies in my area won’t consider a candidate through an outside recruiter if the candidate has already been “tagged” by the company – either a freelancer, a prior application, a different outside recruiter – because the company wants to avoid a conflict with the recruiter over the commission. It’s unfortunate, but does not reflect on the candidate. Perhaps #5 should watch the company’s job listings and apply directly if something that seems like a good fit comes up.

        1. Lauren*

          I thought this too. That the recruiter cannot put forth a candidate with a previous relationship with the company. The hiring manager may be mistaken that they can’t hire this person now because the recruiter might have to be paid, but that isn’t the case if the contract states that previous interactions cannot be put forth by the recruiter.

      5. designbot*

        Or maybe the company just didn’t want to pay a recruiter fee for someone they already knew about?

    3. (Not an IRS) Auditor*

      Hmmm. I think there might be a way to reach out, if you handled it with the same tone that you’d use to follow up with a hiring manager that had turned you down…

      Hi Fergus,
      Recruiter mentioned your name when we were talking about the Teapot Coordinator position you had open, and I just wanted to reach out and personally say hello. I understand why I wasn’t a great fit for that position, but I really enjoyed working at Chocolate Teapots. I learned so much about spouts from you when I was there. If something comes up that would be a better match for me, I’d love to have the opportunity to work at Chocolate Teapots again.

      There’s no guarantee of a response, and I wouldn’t say anything that would imply you expected one, but it opens the door for one if they really did like you but thought you were a bad fit or had better candidates or what not.

      1. Colette*

        She should only say she understands why if she does, though. It would be pretty tone deaf to say that and ask to be kept in mind if he reason was that her coworkers found her abrasive or she continually produced sub-standard work.

    4. Always Anon*

      I work with contractors/freelancers pretty regularly and there are many that we happily use for different projects, but who we would never hire for a permanent position. It’s not that those people aren’t qualified for the position, it’s that we don’t think they would be a good fit. Sometimes the fit is about their skill set, but more often than not it’s how they approach their work that isn’t a good fit.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq*

        This. Also, with freelancers, there’s a combination of other factors. Managers are less likely to give real feedback to freelancers, so it could be that there were problems that OP never knew about with their work at the time. There’s also the fact that with freelancers, there’s more opportunity to inadvertently be a PITA; contract disputes, incompatible workstyles, miscommunication on deadlines, etc, because the manager will generally be more hands-off. There are a lot of things that people will tolerate from freelancers that produce good work (and that they only have to interact with a bit) that they will not tolerate from people they have to interact with every day.

  2. Mags*

    LW #4 – I can’t tell by your wording, are you barely able to pay your bills because you are repaying loans? Or are you able to pay your bills because you are taking loans, rather than paying for school outright. If it’s the former make sure you are signed up for income-based repayment where you are not responsible for the full payment, but rather a reduced payment based on what you can reasonably afford at your salary. It took my payments down something like $600 when I first entered repayment.

  3. Jane*

    LW #2 – It is not an unusual request by any means, so don’t fret too much about seeming high maintenance or anything of the sort. When I went through a period of back problems and could not sit in the awful chairs we had in the office, I spoke to my manager and just gave him a short but succinct explanation of why I needed a better chair. He said he would need a note from my doctor in order to put in the request (and I think there was a limit as to how much they could spend), and once I did that there was an Aeron waiting for me a couple mornings later. It helped me immensely and I no longer had major pain from sitting in a crappy chair 8+ hours a day.

    1. MsChanandlerBong*

      Awful office chairs are the bane of my existence. The last time I worked in an office (I’m self-employed now), I had to take a muscle relaxer almost every night. After sitting in my crappy chair for eight hours, I felt like I was twisted up like a pretzel. My trapezius would spasm, causing my neck muscles to tighten. There were even times I couldn’t chew because the pain would extend into my jaw muscles.

      1. AFT123*

        Ugh. I sympathize. My office just shuffled many of us around and my group ended up on a floor that hasn’t had the furniture refreshed in many years, including the old, uncomfortable office chairs. I was using a really nice, newer chair on my old floor (It was a Mirra, kind of like an Aeron) but they won’t allow people to take their chairs from floor to floor. I’m currently in the process of trying to get a new chair approved, but if I get denied, I’m going to have to buy my own and bring it in because this is just awful! It doesn’t help that I’m uber pregnant too.

        I know, I know… it’s such a first world problem. I’ll stop whining now. :)

    2. Bend & Snap*

      I just spent a long time fretting about asking for a new chair because mine was giving me back pain. The answer was “sure just go on the intranet and request what you need.”

      This is pretty common and shouldn’t be a big deal.

      1. Small but Mighty*

        I think for someone with the OP’s issues, it would be helpful to be able to try out several chairs as it’s tough to just order something from the internet or a catalog. I’m at a point now after getting several that way (slight back issues but 5’2″ tall) that I’ll probably have to buy one myself that will be comfortable for 10 hours a day. I think it’s worth it.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s the tricky bit–the PT may know what chair *should* work but not what chair *does* work. Also Varidesks for sit-stand are pretty affordable these days, as office equipment goes, so that may be a possibility worth looking into.

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            Yes. I have a disk issue and I use the Kanagroo JR sit/stand desk as well as a more ergonomic chair. The Kangaroos are more expensive than varidesk but you can adjust both the keyboard height and monitor height. I need a different distance between the two for sitting and standing to be ergonomic. (Long legs, short torso). For the chair, my office manager took me to a wholesale office supply store with 1000’s of chairs (many used though) and the team at the store helped fit me in the best one and adjust it. It was surprisingly affordable compared to what you see in standard office supply catalogs.

    3. Rat Racer*

      Also, companies spend a LOT of time worrying about workers becoming disabled due to ergonomic issues. It’s a nightmare for them in lost productivity and if (God forbid) you were to injure your back again, they would have to pay you disability benefits while you were unable to work. You are an important asset to your company, even though you have just begun working there. Most employers will do the math and realize that a $1,000 up front investment in your safety is unquestionably in their economic best interest.

      1. Revolver Rani*

        Agreed – your company might even have a mechanism for requesting an ergonomic consultation. At my company, you can get someone to come in and look at your workstation and you and make recommendations specific to your height, where your trouble-spots are, and so on. It’s not something companies do out of the goodness of their hearts, either – it’s often part of their arrangement with the health insurance company from which they get their group plan. Definitely ask your manager about it.

        1. LJ*

          My company in the past offered an ergonomics evaluation when I returned to work from surgery a couple years ago. I got a seriously upgraded office chair. If your company is large enough to have its own occupational health office, I would recommend trying there as well.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Mine makes you go through an ergonomic adjustment on the intranet. I had to do this when I requested a mouse with a trackball on the side. It DID help because it helped me readjust my chair. And the trackball cured my mouse hand.

    4. Trout 'Waver*

      Given how easy a bad chair is to fix compared to how much it can impact a person’s health and morale, I’d be aghast if one of my employees was suffering in silence. I’d want to know about it ASAP so I could fix it. I think any reasonable manager would.

    5. Stranger than fiction*

      Yeah, this is not unusual and especially the mouse pad and wrist guards are standard these days. We have posters in a couple places here talking about ergonomics and are encouraged to ask if we need any adjustments to desks, chairs, etc. because most employers want to avoid a workers comp case.

    6. Young'n*

      Check out getting a yoga ball in addition to or on lieu of a regular office chair. They are $20 or less at target. It helps my lower back a lot.

    7. Rebecca in Dallas*

      My company actually provides things like wrist pads and ergonomic mouses (mice?). They don’t really advertise that, but my coworker asked HR once about a new mouse because her wrist was hurting. They sent over somebody who specializes in that stuff, he even adjusted her chair and computer monitor so that they were the correct height. I have no idea about chairs, but I doubt it would be an odd request.

    8. Ife*

      Yes, a good chair is so important even without pre-existing injuries. I *dislocated my shoulder* due to the combination of (1) very bad office chair (it was too low, so my wrists were above my elbows all day, plus no lumbar support for someone 4’11), (2) no keyboard tray, and (3) weak upper body/shoulders. After about 6 months of sitting that way for 8 hours a day, I lifted my arm wrong one day and it just kind of… popped out and didn’t go all the way back in. Took a week of chiropractor appointments to fix it. Also, I started getting carpal tunnel in that time(!).

      Now I have a new chair and keyboard tray, and try to get up and walk/stand at least once an hour to keep myself from getting too stiff. Do not mess around with bad chairs!

    9. saminrva*

      I was on a Skype call once with colleagues in the room and part way through, one noticed she had her shirt on backwards. I happened to notice her noticing and both of us had to try really hard not to laugh for the duration of the call (luckily I don’t think anyone else noticed!)

  4. Christopher Tracy*

    OP #1 – I think your interview anxiety is making you a bit paranoid. Is it possible the interview panel was laughing at you? Sure, I guess it’s possible. But it’s not very likely. They could have been laughing at something dumb they asked in the interview. For instance, I’ve been on an interview panel before (and will be on one again next week), and I got just as nervous as if I was the one interviewing for the job! And then inevitably my nerves caused me to not word something quite right, and I ended up feeling silly. My default when I’m uncomfortable is to make a joke out of the situation, so of course, the rest of the panel laughed.

    Now I’m not saying that happened here – just using that as an illustration that you’re not the only one in that room when you interview. The people you’re meeting with have their own things going on, their own anxieties or nerves, their own relationships and in-jokes. You have no way of knowing what was going on in that room, so for your own sense of self and sanity, put it out of your mind. Definitely don’t withdraw from the process – you could be taking yourself out of the running for a great opportunity over something that had nothing to do with you.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I swear if this was my workplace what the person said would have been “Oh god I dropped a peanut down my blouse right before she walked in and IT’S BEEN SITTING THERE THE WHOLE TIME.”

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        For me, it’s peanut M&Ms. I don’t know why, and I rarely know how, but I always wind up with a stray down my shirt. And then of course I dig it out and eat it, which I guess is another problem in and of itself…

        1. Al Lo*

          My bra is often a treasure trove of snacks after I leave a movie. Just saving some for the ride home!

          1. Alter_ego*

            What is it about popcorn!?!? When I get undressed after a movie, taking off my bra looks like one of this air popping buckets that the popcorn overflows from.

            1. GigglyPuff*

              Oh my god, yes, every time.

              The last time something happened, there was a spider on my shirt. I frigging hate spiders, but this one wasn’t to big, so I just tried to swat it, went straight into my bra. I can’t remember where exactly I was, but it was somewhere busy, like the street outside at lunch. At first I tried to be all stealthy and look for it. But after a minute I started freaking out when I couldn’t see it, and figured out it went down my bra. There in the middle of the street, I frantically started smashing my hands on my boob, while looking down my shirt. Not my proudest moment.

              1. neverjaunty*

                If you’d just yelled “SPIDER!” everyone would have understood and sympathized.

            2. Allison*

              Yes, every time I wear a low-cut top to the movies, my cleavage becomes a popcorn magnet!

            3. Elizabeth West*

              I don’t get it in my bra because I wear t-shirts all the time, but it goes ALL OVER my lap and leaves little spots on my jeans. Even when I eat it at home. You touch it and it just goes POOF! all over the place.

          2. Meg Murry*

            Reminds me of one of my (many) favorite lines from one of the “Crazy Ex Girlfriend” songs:

            “Stuff falls into my bra, it’s a little bit of a drag. But when I go to bed at night, it’s like opening a Mary Poppins bag.”

            I was going to say something similar – chances are one of the interviewers just told another “I can’t believe I went through that whole interview with my fly down!” or “Do you [other interviewer, not OP] realize you just went through that whole interview with spinach in your teeth?” or just pulled up a funny text or email and showed the group.

            I’m willing to bet the laughter was NOT about the OP, and that OP shouldn’t take it personally.

            1. zora.dee*

              OMG, i was scrolling down just praying that someone else had made this reference!! I loved that song so much, I laughed so hard it actually hurt.

        2. JessaB*

          Cheerios. I cannot eat a handful of Cheerios without one going down my shirt or falling on the floor or getting stuck in clothing. They go everywhere.

    2. Marzipan*

      I agree – this is exactly the sort of thing I can picture happening in my own interview panels for some obscure reason that’s everything to do with us and nothing to do with the candidate. #1, the one bit of concrete information you have here is that this is a workplace where people can laugh together – and actually, that’s a good thing. You have literally no idea what they were laughing about, and no reason to believe it was you; chances are that it wasn’t and it has more to do with Wakeem’s squeaky interview chair that’s been making fart noises all day, or Valentina’s having mangled the word ‘preventative’ in every interview all day but finally got it right with you, or whatever. I would encourage you not to see this as a red flag, but as flag of whatever the opposite of red is. (A happy unicorn flag, maybe?)

      1. Sarahnova*

        Captain Awkward has some posts about “green flags” in various situations. (Alison, maybe you should do a post about job-search “green flags”?)

      2. Trout 'Waver*

        Yeah, I could easily see this happening in previous places I worked. Interview panels involved people who didn’t congregate together often due to busy schedules. So the 5-10 minutes after an interview became catch-up and gossip sessions.

        I agree that it’s a “green flag”, because it indicates that the people get along together and can laugh with each other. It’s a sign of a good culture, imho.

        1. Christopher Tracy*

          Interview panels involved people who didn’t congregate together often due to busy schedules. So the 5-10 minutes after an interview became catch-up and gossip sessions.

          This is how it is at my company. I no longer work with the people I interview with, so when the interview wraps, we end up chatting about what’s going on in my new division. The other panelists still do work in the same division, but like you said, they’re super busy and have to do the whole catch up thing after.

    3. AnonAnalyst*

      The last time I was on an interview panel, one of the other panel members asked a candidate some totally off the wall questions. Someone else on the panel walked the candidate out, but once that person came back the rest of us were like, “Joe, WTF?” and erupted in laughter (my workplace is pretty casual, so this interaction was not unusual!)

      So for OP #1, I totally understand the concern and I tend overthink and second-guess myself as well, so I probably also would have immediately assumed it was about me. But as some of these examples have hopefully shown, it probably wasn’t about you at all!

    4. LQ*

      I imagine this as someone farted when you walked out of the room and then was like sorry I’ve been holding that in for an hour! And everyone laughed.

      Because I’m secretly 8 and think fart jokes are hilarious and can totally see this happening.

    5. Trig*

      During panel interviews for interns on my team a few years ago, I (accidentally) dropped my pen. In Every. Single. Interview.

      After the last one (we’d been at it all day), my coworker couldn’t help herself anymore and burst out laughing as soon as the candidate had left. It’s a running joke now, and I STILL drop my pen all the dang time. (I need to get one of those triangular pens with the flat sides so the dang thing doesn’t roll off my notebook.)

      So, OP#1, it’s probably not about you.

    6. Elizabeth West*


      And it also could have been something like, “Oh wow, this person was miles better than that doofus we interviewed last week–remember him?” And then everybody says, “OMG YES HAHAHAHAAHAHAH!”

      It probably had nothing to do with you.

      1. Anna*

        Yeah. If the OP didn’t get any other weird vibe off the panel during the rest of the interview, it’s probably safer to assume it was something unrelated.

    7. C Average*

      Not a panel interview, but I was once on a fairly important conference call and I had to mute myself for a few seconds because there was a squirrel doing something entertaining outside my window. My colleague at the desk across from me was also watching the squirrel and trying not to crack up, and eventually both of us just broke and had to put ourselves on mute. Which was awkward, because we were both pretty key participants on the call, and there were a lot of important people on that call.

      I had to IM him something like, “OK, no eye contact for the remainder of this call. Deal?”

    8. Creag an Tuire*

      OP, I’ll just add that I’ve been on an interview panel with my colleagues, and we were always laughing and joking a bit after the interviews. The only time we didn’t was the lady who completely, utterly, bombed it — everybody was just quietly sitting around with an expression of cringing sympathy (cringathy?) for five minutes after she was shown out.

      The point being, unless you have some other reason to think this panel was full of jerks, normal people aren’t going to react to a bad interview with “That person sucked, let’s all point and laugh!”

  5. jesicka309*

    #3 – just because they’re inviting you to go out to lunch doesn’t mean you need to eat! I have many coworkers who come along to our lunches and just order a coke, or a side, and eat their lunch at their desks. Some even bring their lunch along as eat it in the car/with us while we eat our bought food (when applicable eg. getting Subway and sitting in a food court, for example).

    It’s more about the social outing than the food. Easy way to avoid the food part “oh, I already have my lunch, but I’d like to come for the walk/get out of the office for a bit!”

    1. Colette*

      That depends in where they’re going and whether the OP’s budget stretches to a drink or side. At a sit-down restaurant – especially a pricier one – it would be odd to not eat, and rude to take up a table without buying anything.

      1. animaniactoo*

        It’s rude for all or most of the table to do that, it’s by no means rude if the majority of the table is ordering and eating.

        Restaurants deal with this all the time with people who are out for a social outing, but someone has medical issues, etc. that mean that they can’t eat there.

        1. Petronella*

          Really? I think it would look weird, and likely make the co-workers feel awkward, for the OP to come to a sit-down restaurant and not eat. It would make the financial differences between the OP and her co-workers even more obvious. Plus it means the party taking up a larger table than they need, which sucks for the restaurant.

          1. Sherry*

            It doesn’t have to be awkward! The OP just has to say, “I’m happy with just a Coke, and I’ve got a great leftover curry to eat at my desk when we get back.” If the OP is chill about it, everyone will likely follow her lead.

        2. Kimberlee, Esq*

          I agree. I have often been at a table where everyone else is eating and I’m just having a Diet Coke or maybe a margarita or something. If a group of 5 people are going to lunch and a 6th joins, that is not a big difference, table or service-wise, to the restaurant. Coworkers are busy with their own food and drink, and while they may be like “ooh, you have to try a bit of this!” more often to someone that is not eating, I have never been in a situation where the other people appeared to give any sh*ts about what I was, or was not, eating or why. Often, at a nicer restaurant, the wait staff won’t even bother charging for the soda.

      1. fposte*

        She’s talking about eating in a food court, though. They’re not going to chase you down for a homemade sandwich in a food court when you’re with people who bought lunch there.

    2. Meg*

      This wouldn’t happen with reasonable people, but there is a nightmare scenario where the OP goes out with the group, orders a Coke and then when the bill comes, they say, “Oh, we always split it evenly!”

      1. Sadsack*

        That’s easy enough to resolve by speaking up and saying OK, but first here’s my money for my coke, plus tip.

    3. Trig*

      This works best if they go to a food court/get takeout. My coworkers only come in to the office a few times a week, so they usually get food court food (and eat it at their desks). I almost always have a packed lunch, but I go down to the food court with them ‘for a walk’ to be sociable.

      Sounds like OPs coworkers are going to expensive sit-down restaurants though. They could always accompany people as far as the restaurant ‘for a walk’, but it could be a short walk. And sitting there drinking a coke while everyone else eats would make my stomach rumble something fierce!

    4. OP #3*

      Thanks! Though my colleagues generally go to sit-down restaurants, I can definitely use this advice in other situations.

      1. Artemesia*

        Eating out for lunch is soo expensive. I always took leftovers but for my husband eating out at lunch was just a mark of being a grownup and successful and that was a huge expense. We could afford it, but I would have preferred to sock that money away for something else. (never said that though as it was important to him) For someone on a tight budget, it is out of the question and you can’t take food to a restaurant.

        In that situation, I’d just be very frank that it is a money thing. ‘I can’t afford to eat lunch out, so I brought a lunch’ is a lot better than people thinking you are standoffish. If there are occasions like food court eating where you could go along mention that ‘If you decide to go to the food court let me know and I can join you.’ Or ‘if you are getting take out, I’d love to join you, or ‘Let me know if you go out for coffee and I will join you.’

        You can also make a point of stopping by desks in the morning for a few moments of conversation. Being attentive to friendly interactions at other times helps especially if they know you aren’t going to lunch for financial reasons.

        1. Megs*

          I swing between your perspective and your husbands – eating out for lunch feels like such a nice perk of working, and it’s so easy to come up with all sorts of excuses for why I deserve it! But on the other hand, yes, it can be so expensive, especially added up! I try and make it a once a week treat and remind myself that a lot of times I actually prefer what I pack.

          As for the OP more specifically, it seems like “I prefer to pack my lunch, but I’d love to join you at the food court sometime” should be fine for people without going into the money piece of it – I think that going into money opens the OP up to “oh just this special occasion,” or “you could just get a side!” or whatever, and that’s not even getting into issues where the coworkers might make assumptions about OP’s financial situation that aren’t welcome. Plenty of people prefer to pack a lunch for plenty of reasons. I like your idea of coming up with alternative ways to be friendly which don’t pack the same financial punch.

        2. Rebecca in Dallas*

          Good suggestions! Maybe if there is a more inexpensive restaurant nearby, you can suggest that one once in a while?

          I hate eating out for lunch, the cost adds up so quickly plus I never feel like I eat as healthfully. But it is nice to get out with coworkers once in a while and there is a good mix of sit-down and fast-casual in our neighborhood.

      2. Lemon Zinger*

        I also can’t afford to eat out often. I only do so when I have a BOGO coupon, then save the extra meal for lunches later down the line. I empathize with you! It sucks when you can’t go out with colleagues. Fortunately mine have stopped asking.

      3. Renee*

        I don’t eat out during lunch because I have to track my diet to limit a specific macro (fat) for health reasons (and also because I am counting calories to lose weight, though that’s less important). While I can eat out, it can be complicated to determine what I can eat, and I won’t have real control over how it is prepared, and then I may have to make it up by depriving myself somewhere else because inevitably restaurant meals contain too much of what I need to limit. I’m not sure if “on a diet” works for you or is acceptable (because I know some people aren’t comfortable with sharing that information) but the ability to maintain control over the ingredients might be an excuse if you need one. Lots of people need to watch their sodium or fiber or sugar or whatever, or just choose to for health reasons, so a vague explanation that you need to keep track of what you eat might work.

        1. Renee*

          It also might make it look less weird if you wanted to just go and drink a soda: “Hey, I shouldn’t eat anything I haven’t prepared, but I can come hang out and be social.”

  6. Wendy Darling*

    #4, I used to hire for a job that was basically wrangling research participants. One of the most important skills for this job was making nervous, squirrelly participants calm down and do the research task. I feel like working at a sex shop would actually be very relevant because people are prone to walk into sex shops and act SUPER WEIRD, frequently because they are uncomfortable.

    We liked to hire people who had been in the military or worked in assisted living because people who succeeded in those jobs could deal with the kind of weird crap our work could dish out. I suspect ‘sex shop clerk’ would have got on the ‘good last job’ list if we’d come across any.

    1. Marzipan*

      For the roles I hire for, the ability to have unembarrassed, non-judgemental conversations about sensitive topics is *really* important. I would similarly be interested in someone who had done this work, because it speaks to their ability to talk professionally to people about things that those people might find it very hard to discuss, and to make those conversations positive ones for their clients.

      1. JessaB*

        Also when I managed at an answering service, because of some of the stuff people called their doctors offices on and got very TMI with the operators, the ability to deal with creepy people who say things deliberately to make someone nervous is also very useful. Sex toy shops have their share of people who really, really, really like to make the staff nervous.

    2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

      We’re not hip or trendy at Wakeen’s, but sales is sales and there wouldn’t be an issue with this job. Teapots or [whatever sex aid], it’s still sales.

      I was going to write a longer post but every sentence I typed ended up with a “that’s what she said” kind of unintended pun in it so I’ll just leave it all at this.

    3. AMT*

      I’m a therapist and it’s important for people in my profession to be able to talk comfortably about sexuality. Some can’t. If I saw that on a potential intern’s resume, I’d consider it a huge plus.

    4. sometimeswhy*

      I have related experience in my background and, early in my career, I had to include it because it was within 10 years and I had to list everything for the government jobs I was applying for on the application though I left it off my resume.

      Once, ONCE, they asked why I’d included it in my application packet and I told them that my understanding of the instructions was that I had to then went on to talk about how it prepared me to deal with delicate situations with people who were uncomfortable and sometimes inappropriate and then tied it back to how it was relevant to position I applied for (which wasn’t customer-facing but did periodically deal with some belligerent people with misconceptions about the work we did.)

      I got the job.

  7. stevenz*

    #2. When I had disc surgery at the age of 30 I asked for a good ergonomic chair when I got back to work. It was provided with no hesitation at all. Then the boss got one for himself, having a bad back. Not long after he started replacing everyone’s chair (50 people) with the same model. So I’d like to think I saved my coworkers a lot of back problems!

    Just ask. There is probably money sitting in some account waiting to be spent. And get a good one.

  8. Aelle*

    #2, my husband and one of my coworkers suffer from herniated disks, and in both cases the respective companies have paid for standing desks (my husband’s did ask for a doctors’ note). My husband could have gotten his choice of chair from the company catalogue, but he chose to bring a yoga ball. It seems companies are increasingly conscious of the fact that chronic pain and especially back injuries can cause huge dips in productivity and are providing reasonable accommodation to avoid relapses. Good luck!

    1. JessaB*

      Especially since if you’re buying in bulk for a company, the difference in price between a really decent adjustable ergonomic chair and a lousy one is probably NOT that much money (probably less than $100 a chair,) and seriously is way cheaper in the long run than replacing broken cheap ones all the time. Also 24/7 call centres need to remember that the extra $50 to buy an all day chair (many, many chairs are only rated to be used about 8-10 hours a day, not shift after shift,) is really worth it. Now for a smaller company that’s a lot of money, but seriously the bigger ones are realising what’s already been said above. Every day someone is out cause of pain costs way more than the $100 or so difference in the chair they sit in.

  9. A Non*

    #1 – Last time I was part of an interview process, there was one guy who had us laughing our butts off as soon as we thought he was out of earshot because there were a lot of genuinely funny things said during the interview and we just had to rehash them all. He’s the one we hired. We felt like we’d just met a kindred spirit, and we were right. The people we thought were embarrassingly bad, we were embarrassed for. No laughter there. Alison’s probably right that the laughter had nothing to do with you – interviews are stressful for people on both sides of the table, and a lot of people need a laugh afterwards to get back to normal. But if it did, in my experience that’s a positive rather than a negative.

    1. Jeanne*

      I think you’re only in trouble if they laugh at you during the interview. Otherwise, it probably has nothing to do with you. If the team is able to laugh together, that’s probably a good sign about the culture.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      I agree. I’ve been on interview committees where, once the person left, we sat staring at each other in shock for a minute. I’ve never been on a committee where we laughed at the candidate.

    3. Creag an Tuire*

      Now that I think about it, we “laughed about” our final hire, too. Specifically:
      PERCIVAL: “So, anybody got a reason not to hire Jane?”
      WAKEEN: “I have an objection, are we ready to handle two [Star Wars fans], or is that too much awesome for one office?”
      PERCIVAL: “Oh, good point… Bye, Wakeen!”

  10. SusanIvanova*

    #2 Getting that is probably easier than you think. My company had a big push for people to come in for ergonomic analysis to see if they needed different chairs, standing desks, or whatever.

    1. Nobody*

      Wow, I am so jealous of people who work at companies that care about their employees’ comfort. Where I work, chair selection goes by hierarchy. Managers and directors are allowed to have nice chairs, but peons have to use crappy chairs. Last year, my team got new chairs because our old ones were worn out, but the new chairs are incredibly uncomfortable. I asked to keep one of the old chairs (which were slightly more comfortable than the new ones), but I wasn’t allowed because it didn’t look good among all the new chairs. I do know a guy who got a better chair for medical reasons, but he may or may not have had to buy it himself.

      Let’s hope the OP works at a company more like yours than mine!

  11. The lazy b (with spaces today for no particular reason)*

    OP1, you might have unknowingly said something that echoes conversations they’ve had about the post that makes you a really strong candidate and someone might have said ‘can’t believe said that, we might as well send everyone else home!’. Cue laughter.

    Good luck.

    1. Leeza*

      Yes, the first thing that occurred to me was that the guy said something like, “Did we finally get a good candidate for the job or did hell freeze over?” So please don’t assume it was something bad. Best to just forget about it.

    2. Tammy*

      Agreed. I’ve been doing a bunch of recruiting for my team lately (read: lots and lots of interviews) and the bad candidates don’t provoke laughter. They provoke that frozen, jaw hanging open, “did that REALLY just happen??” shocked reaction. The last time I laughed after a candidate left the room, it was more like “OMG, can you BELIEVE this instant message I got from Fergus during the interview? A client is actually THREATENING TO SUE us because the free tea sampler he got with his teapot had ONE RIPPED TEA BAG!!”

      Laughter after you leave the room would be a good sign in my book about the company’s culture, and a good to neutral sign about your interview.

  12. Nobody*

    #1 – I can totally understand why you felt self-conscious about that, but even if they were laughing at you (which, as other people have pointed out, is highly unlikely), there’s nothing for you to do now. If they did think you were ridiculous, they won’t hire you and you’ll never have to see them again. No need to withdraw your application. If they hire you, you can pretty confidently conclude that they weren’t laughing at you (because they wouldn’t hire someone they thought was ridiculous), so there’s no need to feel uncomfortable around them because of that.

    1. Ice Bear*

      Such a very logical way of looking at it! I can relate to worrying about something like this myself so I appreciate your insight.

  13. lamuella*

    re: #2, depending on the company they may have an occupational health liaison, someone who does risk assessments to show the safest ways of working. This is someone you should speak to as they may know the equipment you need if reasonable accommodations are to be made for you.

  14. Anonymaus*

    Would it be appropriate for OP 5 to let the hiring manager know the recruiter forwarded the rejection email? If it were me I’d want to send it under the professional guise of “Hey maybe you should think twice about using this recruiter” but also satisfying my inner petty need to get in a “I know what you said, glassbowl.”

    Which is why I try not to listen to my inner petty.

  15. Kathlynn*

    #5, I’d just like to say, I would feel the same if I got a response like that. I would really want to know why they were no longer willing to work with me. But, I have to agree with the advice, just move on, and assume it’s just not a good fit, rather then something you are doing wrong.

  16. Maria*

    LW5, this recruiter is lousy. He should have written back to the hiring manager, saying something like “Thank you for the feedback. Your response suggests a strong opinion about this candidate. Is there something about her work ethic or technical skills that I should know going forward?”

    Just accepting a terse NO and wandering off, as he did, implies that he doesn’t care about placing a candidate in a position that matches her skills. He came off poorly to you, and probably to the hiring manager as well.

    1. Newby*

      We don’t know what past communication between the recruiter and the hiring manager was. The terse answer could be because the manager was annoyed at the recruiter and trying to move on. The recruiter could have been to pushy or kept asking for more feedback about other candidates in the past.

    2. Beezus*

      I agree that he’s lousy, but his job isn’t to place the OP in a position that matches her skills. He’s not working for the OP. He works for the hiring company, and his job is to find candidates that are good matches for the openings they send him to fill. If the hiring manager clearly communicates that it’s absolutely a no for her, it’s appropriate for him to move on without digging further, as long as he understands what they ARE looking for.

      1. Sadsack*

        Yeah, he should have rephrased the response to OP, not demanded more info from his client.

      2. Maria*

        “his job isn’t to place the OP in a position that matches her skills”

        That’s not what I said. His job is to find the hiring company a person whose skills match the job. If he gets intel that she lacks X skill, he’ll know “companies A, B, and C require X skill. They won’t want her. I’ll look at other candidates.” Knowing why the hiring manager reacted strongly tells the recruiter the job’s priorities, which he needs to know.

        1. LBK*

          I think I see what you’re getting at now – that for the recruiter’s own purposes, he should have asked for clarification because it would allow him to pick better candidates going forward. Is that what you mean?

          Even if that’s the case, I don’t think that does anything for the candidate. It seems pretty clear that the HM wasn’t interested in giving the candidate feedback, so anything she did say would’ve presumably been for the recruiter’s ears only.

          1. Kimberlee, Esq*

            What I think is likely, in this case, is that on paper there’s nothing wrong with OP; that that is the type of candidate they want forwarded; they just happen to know OP and know they don’t want to hire them. No feedback needed on that!

            1. Kimberlee, Esq*

              (the all-caps NO and the reason given being that they’ve worked with OP before make me strongly suspect that this has nothing to do with skills/experience and more to do with a personality or workstyle mismatch, or that OP made a bad impression on someone somewhere, which isn’t something the recruiter benefits from hearing more about, other than that they know this company is not interested in this candidate.)

    3. BananaPants*

      Or the hiring manager doesn’t like working with the recruiter and isn’t going to seriously consider anyone that the recruiter presents to him.

      People forget that a recruiter’s job is to place someone in a role for their client – the firm doing the hiring. The job seeker is not the recruiter’s client and your utility to a recruiter is mainly in whether or not they think they can place you somewhere and earn that commission check.

  17. Murphy*

    LW #1: While I think Alison is right and that it probably had nothing to do with you whatsoever, I just wanted to say that if I were you, I would have immediately jumped to the same conclusion you did and been super self conscious. I totally get how you feel.

    1. Megs*

      My mean brain would have done the same dang thing, but I agree with everyone above that it is pretty unlikely to be about the OP.

      One thing stood out to me in particular: the OP asked if she should pull her application. I’ve seen people say things like this before and I just can’t see the circumstances in which it would be useful. The only reason I’d want to pull an application is if *I personally* decided that I did not wish to be considered any more under any circumstances. I’m trying to think of if there could ever be a strategic advantage to pulling an app, and I just can’t think of any. Even the worst job interview I’ve ever had, I can’t see how pulling my application could have made up for my bout of foot-in-mouth disease and made them look more favorably on me later.

    2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      Yup! I have pretty bad social anxiety, and so I **always** think people are talking about me. Like, oh those two people a few tables over are laughing and whispering, they must be making fun of me, kind of anxiety.

      I always try to step back and remind myself that the chance people have even noticed me is pretty close to zero, and in situations like this, I try to think through all the positive/realistic scenarios (like the suggestions here).

      And worst case scenario, even if your interview panel was the equivalent of Regina George and the Plastics, just be proud of yourself for doing great on an interview with a bunch of jerks.

  18. Picky About My Chairs*

    OP #2: I’ve got a slightly different take on the chair thing, in that I don’t have a specific medical need, but I reallyreallyreally prefer to sit in a chair of my own choosing for 8 hours *before* I end up having a medical issue. So rather than asking work to find me one, I bought my own and simply ask as part of the interview “I’ve got a chair I prefer to use. Is there a problem with my bringing it?” Most places I’ve worked are fine with that and haven’t even asked why I want or need it. (And a big advantage is that if you seriously like the chair, you can take it with you from office to office when you own it outright.)

    One thing if you buy your own, though – I was warned at the first building that “If it’s a very nice chair, someone might steal it.” So the chair I bought is hot pink — and I painted my initials on the metal frame in bright pink nail polish. People tend to side-eye it like they’re afraid it’s an unexploded bomb or it might yip, jump up, and lick their face — but nobody, and I mean NOBODY, else touches my chair. My comfy, comfy chair.

    1. Anna*

      I did this too–just brought one from home because I hated the one issued to me. I also bought my own mouse. And pens. My company has been very clear that they do not buy custom equipment on request, though.

    2. AFT123*

      Love it. I’m considering buying a chair for myself as well in the event my company won’t spring for a different one for me, and I’ve been thinking about how to chain it to my desk or something. Everyone on this floor hates these chairs and I guarantee it would go missing after awhile if it wasn’t somehow chained down! Pink paint MIGHT do the trick, but I think I’ll get a bike lock or something too :)

      1. Picky About My Chairs*

        I didn’t even have to paint it! It’s one of those elastic-band chairs and one of the standard colors is “berry” — more of a hot pink.

    3. Artemesia*

      Very good advice. Even if hot pink is not going to work in the environment, make sure your own chair is well marked so when it is stolen it is identifiable. I know someone who had their ergonomic chair taken by their boss over one weekend. And when my grandmother died in a nursing home, her custom chair that my mother had bought for her was taken. My mother tracked it down and the owner of the home said ‘well there is no way to know that it is hers’ at which point my mother flipped the thing over to show her my grandmother’s name wood burned into the bottom. Chairs are a common thing to have go missing in many workplaces.

      1. Picky About My Chairs*

        Woodburning was a great idea! I didn’t scribe into the metal of my chair… but there is another set of painted initials where it won’t be found easily by anyone else.

    4. TL17*

      This. I saved mileage reimbursements for 3 years to get The Chair. It got drop-shipped in a huge crate. I opened it and rays of sun beamed down. Choirs of angels sang.

      Then I sent an email that said, essentially, “if you touch my chair I will break your fingers.” I keep the receipt in my drawer, lest anyone think it belongs to the company.

  19. SeekingBetter*

    #3 LOL, I’ve been on a tight lunch budget for the past six years of my career. :)

    1. SeekingBetter*

      I forgot to add that I do eat out once in a while. At my last position, I would probably go out once a month. It wasn’t mandatory for us to go out to eat together, although, that’s how some work relationships are formed.

  20. IT_Guy*

    #4, It’s all in the name. A friend of mine worked for a furniture refinishing shop called “Bogies Barn and Strip Joint”, and it didn’t stop him from have a great career.

  21. Mona Lisa*

    Oh, #2, I empathize. My dream is to either be able to work from home where I can put together my own desk set up or have a high enough position where I can request something more ergonomically friendly. I’m pretty tall, and I’ve found that most office furniture just does not work for me. At my last job, I had my husband come in with me during off hours to put my desk on wooden blocks to make it taller, and at my current one, where they are required to purchase ergonomic chairs, my department purchased mine before I was hired. The back support on its highest setting just barely comes up to the top of my butt.

    I think you should definitely consult your PT before purchasing a chair though because (as my current chair demonstrates) not all ergonomically designed chairs are created equal and are not designed for every body type.

  22. fposte*

    A plug here for Ali Davis’s wonderful book True Porn Clerk Stories, which will convince you that it’s extreme job experience.

  23. Hlyssande*

    #2, depending on the company they may be happy to accommodate your need for a better chair. Mine automatically sets you up for an ergonomic evaluation on hire and if you move to a new office/get new desks. There are a number of people who have the option for an adjustable sit/stand station as well.

    Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. You might find that they’ll happily help you out. And if they don’t, well, that’s important information for you to have.

  24. Levsha*

    To the LW who works in a sex shop, I think how people feel about it may also depend on the field. I know that in the nonprofit world, at least in my admittedly liberal city, this would not raise eyebrows AT ALL, and no one would care one bit, especially since you’re working there while you are a student.

    1. BananaPants*

      And in my private sector engineering firm in suburbia, it would raise many eyebrows. I don’t even think that my boss would be comfortable asking questions about a candidate’s employment in such a place.

    2. vpc*

      In public health – which has a lot of government, analyst-type jobs – no one would even blink.

      Actually, they’d probably consider it a plus.

  25. Newish Reader*

    #2: If your company will buy you a new chair, check to see if the vendor will bring a few chairs to demo. When we were purchasing new chairs , the vendor would bring two or three different brands/models that we could use for a week or so. The people that were getting new chairs were able to take turns using each chair for a few hours or a day each. It’s really hard to tell from sitting in a chair for a few minutes if it will hold up to a full day’s work.

  26. Church Dancing Honey Mustard*

    #3 – I dealt with this in my old job too. I was on a really tight budget (saving up for a down payment on a house and catching up on retirement) and always brought my lunch to save money. Meanwhile, my coworkers would go out to lunch every single day. They asked me to go for awhile, and eventually stopped asking, even though I knew it was an open invitation. I do feel like I missed out some bonding/socializing but once I found out they mostly just gossiped about others in the department, I didn’t mind as much.

    OP #3, if your budget allows it, what about asking if anyone wants to go grab a cup of coffee? We had a coffee shop fairly close to our building, and I would go there once or twice a week and ask others if they wanted to tag along. That way, I did get to socialize with my coworkers in short bursts of time and it didn’t break my budget.

    1. Meg Murry*

      It also depends on how tightly OP is holding together her budget, but if she could re-arrange some things to allow herself to go out sometime in the once a week to once a month range, it might be worth it if she would otherwise enjoy the lunches.

      I’m not suggesting OP go out to lunch instead of pay her electric bill or if it means eating only ramen for the rest of the month or giving up her one and only dinner out with her SO every month – but if it’s possible to divert some of her other fun/discretionary budget to one lunch every X often , that might be worth the investment to get to know some of her coworkers better since they may turn out to be good contacts for her in the future. If OP wanted to do that, I think she could use the line “Oh, I brought my lunch today and I don’t want it to go to waste, but thanks for the invite. Do you think we could schedule another time next week?” so she’d have time to work it in her budget and make sure she has cash on her, etc.

      OP could also keep her ear out as to exactly where the coworkers are going for lunch, and then scope out those menus online – it’s possible not all of the restaurants are as expensive as she fears at lunchtime, or have an inexpensive option OP could order like a soup and salad.

      Obviously if she can’t afford it, she can’t afford it – but if OP is in grad school now she may want to consider the cost of some of these lunches a cost of future networking/career investment, not just an expenses that is 100% fun/splurge. For instance, in my case, I feel like the money I spent on lunches out with some of my former colleagues that because mentors to me was 100% worth it, because we got to know each other much better out of the office where we were a little freer with our discussion.

      All that said, if going out for coffee is also a thing in your company/industry – yes, that is also a viable and cheaper alternative. It’s never really been a thing anywhere I’ve worked, but I know it is in other companies that have nearby coffee shops. Having a single drink at a post work happy hour could be another option if that is something people at OP’s company do.

  27. Pwyll*

    #4 – This isn’t really all that big of an issue if you’re considering going into the Federal government in a civil service or otherwise non-political role. In many of those jobs you’ll need to disclose everywhere you’ve worked anyway, so you can’t really leave it off. I’ve really found the early stages of the Federal hiring process to be sort of sterile and disconnected (in an effort to be fair to all candidates, I guess).

    So long as the resume is focused on the customer service aspects, and you’re pointing to specific skills and successes as opposed to the subject matter of what you’re selling, you should be fine.

    1. C Average*


      Also, I think the overall narrative of your resume is important here.

      If your job sequence is grocery store clerk, porn shop clerk, retail sales, retail customer service (or something like that), any reasonable person would get that you’re probably just another person who needs to have a job to pay the rent, and porn shops need clerks. Supply, meet demand.

      If your job sequence is strip club dancer, porn shop clerk, sex advice columnist (or weed dispensary clerk, tattoo artist, etc.), they might conclude you’re someone who’s drawn to . . . edgier pursuits.

      (I’m not saying that any of these professions are unacceptable or judgment-worthy, just that they may get you some side-eye from potential employers, especially if they represent the totality of your professional experience and you’re trying to break into something a little . . . less edgy.)

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I was going to say something similar. Don’t most government jobs have you fill out an application where you have to list everywhere you’ve every worked for the background check process? It would probably be better to leave it on the resume as just a couple lines than to leave it off and have it potential become an issue later.

      That said – how long has OP worked at this job, and what other jobs has she had? If she has had other jobs that are a better fit for her resume and/or she hasn’t been at the job very long, it’s perfectly reasonable to leave it off to focus on other jobs that are more applicable to the ones she’s applying for. After all, no one really gets concerned about a resume gap when someone was a full time student, and if asked, OP could say something general like “yes, this semester I took a part-time retail job as well, but I’d really prefer to move more into [field of study] and away from retail if possible”

      That said, since OP is finishing up her degree – could she find another part time position more related to the work she wants to do (perhaps working for a professor, or some kind of volunteer work that would make use of the skills she is learning in school) to build up her resume? Or heck, is there any way she could make use of her current skills at that job (some type of analysis of the products they are selling, or profit margins if she is talking about the data-intensive type of analyst)?

      1. CMT*

        I wouldn’t say most government jobs. I think it really depends on what type of role you’d be applying for.

  28. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#3…if you take Alison’s advice and let them know you’re on a budget, you may find that at least one or two of the group are relieved to hear it and you may be their “in” to bringing their own lunch and you all could dine together. My old work bestie was on a budget for quite a while and once it was obvious that there were no spare lunch funds, I would either bring my lunch too or grab a sandwich nearby and come back to eat with her. The side effect of this situation for me was that I now bring my lunch far more than I used to and have saved a fair bit of money doing so, so I’m grateful to my pal.

    As for lunching in general, I’m not sure how important colleague relationships are where you work, but I think it’s almost always beneficial to build relationships in whatever way you can, so if lunch doesn’t work, maybe see if any of them go for coffee later in the afternoon, as another commenter mentioned, or if anyone uses their break to stroll around the building to get in their steps, or plays Pokémon Go, etc.

  29. ChrysantheMumsTheWord*

    #2 – If for some reason they determine what you need is outside their budget or they don’t want to open the door to everyone else coming up with their own special requests a low cost alternative would be an ergonomicseat cushion.

    I don’t believe my sciatic issues come close to what you’ve described but this bad boy has saved my life for the last three years:

  30. OP 2*

    So update, I was chatting with the HR person who onboarded me and brought up furniture and she said to pick out a chair that works and they’ll put in an order. I’ve been using a different chair that’s not an office chair but is slightly more comfortable (hard, non-adjustable seat > seat that tilts way back unless you sit on the front edge of it, seriously who designed that thing). At some point I’ll make an appointment with my PT.

    Alison’s info was super useful to have for future reference and it’s also good to have validation that a decent chair is a normal thing to want. This is my first “corporate” job after years of bouncing through internships and temp jobs at small nonprofits and startups that tended not to see accommodating workers as something worth spending money on. So this company is a pleasant surprise.

    1. Mr. Mike*

      For future reference, I believe this still falls under ADA reasonable accommodation requests as this is a medical condition that creates barriers to work.

  31. JeannieNitro*

    I bring my lunch basically every day. My team & a couple other teams usually all go out to lunch on Fridays. Luckily, they are great about eating somewhere that I could bring my lunch and eat with them – food courts, places with outside seating, etc. They still go to sit down restaurants occasionally, but they would rather have me be able to come eat with them than to go to fancy places all the time. People at my last job were like this as well.

    I think the key is to be enthusiastic still. When they ask you to go to lunch, say “Oh, I’d love to go with you! I brought my lunch today, is there anywhere we could go where I could sit & eat with you?”. I try to pull it off in the same tone of voice as though I’m saying “I’m not really in the mood for Mexican today” or some other perfectly reasonable request that the group will take into consideration when deciding where to eat. If you make it sound like it’s not that big of a deal, a lot of people are usually fairly willing to accommodate.

    1. Marisol*

      I had a friend turn down an offer to socialize (forgot what it was specifically I was offering) and after she said she couldn’t make it she smiled and said, “ask me next time!” and I thought that was a very effective way of saying she still did want to stay connected to me.

  32. animaniactoo*

    OP3, you might also ask where they’re going for lunch. Often, even in upscale areas, there are hole-in-the-wall pretty cheap good food places, and your co-workers may be planning to head to one that you’re not aware of. And if they’re not that day, they might be willing to pull you in on a day when they are, or switch plans in order to include you.

  33. voluptuousfire*

    OP who works in the feminist sex shop, the skills you’re learning are pretty invaluable. You’re working with a wide swath of people, you learn to deflect creepers and calm skittish people and you learn a lot about human nature. In many ways it’s like bartending almost.

    Does your shop offer consent workshops and such? Even better! Boom, event organizing!

  34. Arielle*

    OP2, this is probably not the case for you – but I just started a new job and spent the first two weeks with horrible back pain every night. I was totally freaking out about having to request some kind of alternate chair – and then I sat in a coworker’s chair and realized that the chair at my desk was just broken! I grabbed another chair from an empty desk and have been fine ever since.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      I didn’t even think of swiping another chair from an unused desk! I might do that right now, actually…

      1. OP 2*

        I thought of this but I’ve tried other ones and I think the chair is just weirdly designed. There’s one guy who is kind of known for leaning WAY back in his to the point where he’s basically under his desk.

  35. HR Recruiter*

    I wish I knew where the plant pooper was located. We had an applicant who urinated on our building because he did not get the job. Now I’m curious if its the same person or if there are multiple people doing this!! Ironically the reason he didn’t get a job was because the day before when I spoke to him on the phone he was available weekdays. After we hung up he got another job and wanted this job to be evenings (we weren’t open in the evenings) so he could work both.

  36. Katie*

    OP4 – I think you can also mitigate this by the way you talk about it on your resume. Something like “Create a nonjudgemental, feminist-and-LGBT-friendly space for patrons” but worded better.

  37. motherofdragons*

    #3, I have a coworker who is in a similar spot. She was upfront with me about being on a tight budget, and being not-so-recently out of grad school, I totally get it. I told her she will always be invited because we want to include her, but we also got better about getting take-out and then eating in the break room with her, which was very pleasant. You don’t necessarily have to divulge your budget challenges to your coworkers (we are pretty tight-knit and open here, YMMV), but I like the idea of saying “Actually I brought my lunch, if you guys decide to get take-out I would love to eat with you.”

  38. pennywit*

    On 2, the magic phrase is, “I’d like to ask for a reasonable accommodation for my disability.”

    1. ADA Geek*

      THIS. A million times over this. I don’t normally read all the comments, but for this I did to see if someone would mention it.

      Your back condition almost certainly falls under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and employers are REQUIRED to make reasonable accommodation; it would be nearly impossible for your employer to show that buying you a proper chair creates an “undue hardship” on them. You would need to provide medical documentation, but since it seems you’re still in physical therapy or under a doctor’s care regularly for your back, that shouldn’t be hard to accomplish.

  39. Susan the BA*

    Sex shop experience would be a bonus in a lot of research university administrative positions. Depending on the area, it can be critical that someone be able to say the word “vagina” out loud (or type it in a professional email) without freaking out, and I would 100% assume that someone who has worked in a sex shop could handle that.

  40. AJ*

    #1 – I have to disagree. If I were in the OPs position my gut feeling would be that they were laughing at me. Even if they weren’t (maybe something the OP said related to an inside joke that was too funny not to laugh about) I think it’s incredibly strange and rude for the interviewers to start laughing as soon as the door was closed! I mean, it sounds like the OP wasn’t even able to take a few steps before the laughing started! I would like to think that at least one person in the room would have enough courtesy to think “wait, this room isn’t soundproof, and we don’t want Jane/John to think we’re laughing at her/him.” Even if the joke was totally unrelated (someone just noticed they had one two different shoes) – I think courtesy toward the OP still needs to apply. Laughing as soon as the door is closed shows inatention to detail and surroundings. Shouldn’t the interviewers be focused on candidates enough to not start cracking jokes (even if unrelated) as soon as they leave the room? My thoughts for the OP are this: Go with your gut. You know when someone is making fun of you and you know when someone has made you feel uncomfortable. If you can brush this off, great – go for it! But if you really have to convince yourself that this is no big deal – go with your gut. You deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

    1. LBK*

      I seriously doubt it even crossed their mind to control their laughter until the OP was out of earshot on the off chance she heard it and thought they were laughing at her. I don’t think that is a reasonable expectation or one that you can use to therefore assume that means they were laughing at her.

      If anything, I think it’s the reverse – they would probably be more likely to hold their laughter longer if they were laughing at the OP, because then they would want to ensure the OP didn’t realize that’s what they were doing.

    2. Christopher Tracy*

      Laughing as soon as the door is closed shows inatention to detail and surroundings.

      No it doesn’t. It shows that these people have lives and personalities outside of that interview. Expecting that people are going to be sitting around thinking about how their private conversations may or may not affect a random interviewee is completely unreasonable. I’m sorry, but if I’ve been sitting in long ass interviews all day on top of doing my regular work and I need to blow off some steam by being goofy, I’m going to do so and I don’t fault anyone else who does either. We can’t tiptoe around other people’s feelings all day every day – that’s an incredibly exhausting way to live.

    3. Tammy*

      Laughing as soon as the door is closed shows inatention to detail and surroundings…You deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

      It really, really doesn’t show that, though. Laughing at job candidates is so far outside the norm of any workplace I’ve ever worked in that it wouldn’t even cross my mind to be thinking about this. It makes me super curious about the workplace culture and/or interviewing experiences of the people for whom this has been a concern in the thread, to be honest. And it would be a real shame for the OP to remove herself from the running for a position based on a gut-level insecurity, without any evidence that her gut instinct is in any way grounded in reality.

      The overwhelming majority of interviewers/recruiters/managers don’t sit around looking for ways to make people uncomfortable. We don’t want to trip up applicants, or humiliate them, or make them jump through hoops just to prove how smart we are. We want to find a good candidate whose skills, experience, culture and compensation requirements align with the job we need done and the budget we have available. The horrible manager/recruiter stories we see here on AAM are noteworthy exactly BECAUSE they’re so far outside the norm. Mocking and laughing at a candidate is entirely counterproductive, so it’s weird to me (even with my own insecurities) that people have had such terrible experiences that this is the place they go in their heads.

      I wish there was a career coaching service that allowed job seekers to role-play (with coaching/teaching) being on the hiring manager’s side of the interaction. I think it would give a much better understanding of how to be a strong applicant, and what things they should/shouldn’t get worked up about.

  41. AnonMarketer*

    Re: #3: I’m close to some of my co-workers, but they eat out often, and in order to budget, I started eating out less. When they ask, I simply reply: “I brought my food, but I’d like to tag along.” Usually no one says no. :)

    1. Marisol*

      I was going to suggest this too. I try to bring my lunch to work both for budgeting and health reasons, but sometimes I go out. I have a friend who I often eat lunch with and frequently, one of us will bring lunch while the other one orders from the restaurant. We’re not taking up any space from a potential paying customer–if I were eating alone at the restaurant, there would be an empty chair at the table, so what’s the difference if someone sits with me and eats a sandwich they made at home? I’m talking about at a fast food or casual place of course. As long as they’re not going to a fine-dining restaurant, I don’t think doing something like this is a problem. And the OP wouldn’t have to say she was budgeting, if that made her feel self-conscious. She could just say she likes her own cooking, or thinks it’s healthier, is following an eating plan, etc.

      Another idea is to eat at her desk, then tag along for a half-hour or so and have a soda or coffee while the group is eating.

  42. Rubyrose*

    #2 – bite the bullet, buy your own trackball and wrist rests, that you can take from job to job. I did this 20 years ago and it has saved me a lot of grief.

  43. Jill*

    #4, one caveat to AAM’s answer would be that if your work in government will possibly involve working as part of the staff of an elected official or working on political campaigns in a high profile position, leave the job off. Any “questionable” work history may not go over with someone who depends on the votes of a fickle public in order to get elected.

    Having worked for a politician, my history came up all the time, even though I was just his aide. Sucks but that’s political life. Even if it’s a perfectly legal activity.

    1. Been there, helped people do that*

      On the other hand, it doesn’t disqualify you from politics altogether – my very next job after working in a similar feminist sex shop was high-profile fundraising for a major political campaign! You never can tell.

  44. coffeepowerrdd*

    @OP #2; I’ve deal pain down my leg for years from disc problems. If you haven’t already, ask your MD about gabapentin. It can really reduce the amount of neuropathic pain you feel from this type of injury, and is non-narcotic based. Also yes a new chair that you really really can sit in and feel at ease should help you.

  45. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    OP #1:
    Interviewer 1: Ha! Flaky McGee just texted — he can’t come in because, and I quote, his cats have Weltschmerz!
    Everybody: Bwahahahahahahahahahahaha!
    Interviewer 2: Hey, Fergus, you owe me two bucks!

  46. Maureen P.*

    OP #1: What was the overall demeanor of the team during the interview? Were they smiling, friendly, was there a clear rapport between everyone? In that case, I’d guess that when you walked out, someone said something like “Phew, once we hire that person, I can retire!” And everyone laughs. No one considered that the laughter would be rude, because it was in response to a complimentary comment – even though you couldn’t hear it!

    If the team behaved standoffish, businesslike, cold, or strange in any way during the interview, I’d be more likely to think that someone said something snarky or at your expense. It seems you thought the interview went well otherwise, so it’s probably completely innocent and perhaps a sign of a companionable team.

  47. Been there, helped people do that*

    Just wanted to chime in that I worked at precisely that kind of sex-positive, classy sex shop in college and I’ve actually been able to use that to get great jobs. You are correct in that you should use your best judgment, but you’d be surprised how receptive employers can be if you use it as an example of building particular necessary skills. I usually mention it as a means of discussing my ability to handle sensitive customer needs, to build empathy with customers in a vulnerable/easily-frightened situation, and to build long-lasting relationships with customers (since those kinds of stores attract grateful customers who come back for years). I used the position to get my first two jobs after college, which involved selling very expensive artwork. I said something along the lines of “If I can sell someone a $300 dildo, I promise you I can sell a $10,000 vase.” And I could and did! It came up during my current job search when they were doing a deep dive into my work history, and since this was an account manager position I emphasized the empathy/relationship building/sensitivity skillset. They cracked up when they learned what I was selling. Good luck out there, and remember that at the right company, it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

  48. MommaTRex*

    OP #1 – Here’s a possibility, similar to things I have probably experience:
    Interviewer #1: “OP #1’s answer about working with a difficult person reminded me of that crazy lady Jane who used to work here! OP #1 solution would’ve made Crazy Jane’s head explode!”
    Interview panel breaks out in uproarious laughter remembering Crazy Jane. Interview panel collectively sighs in relief that Crazy Jane moved out of the country.
    Interviewer #2: “Yes, OP #1’s answer was terrific. I think OP #1 is a viable candidate that would mesh really well this team.”

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