I overheard my interviewer calling me a schmuck, are managers obligated to give references, and more

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

1. I overheard my interviewer calling me a schmuck

I seemed to really hit it off with an interviewer during my final interview. I even had pretty good rapport with them prior to the final interview and was more than accommodating when they needed to reschedule this final interview and a previous phone interview. They walked me out of the building after the interview was over and even then we had a pleasant conversation, which is why I find it odd that as soon as I got outside I heard this person loudly refer to me as a “schmuck.” I’m not sure that they meant for me to hear this or how they came to feel this way about me, but I heard it just the same. The question is now should I simply ignore it and pretend I didn’t hear it, or is it something that should be a deal-breaker in terms of me working for this person and this company?

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked whether it was possible the interviewer was talking to someone else (like jokingly calling it out to a coworker). He said:

There was no one else around and I was the last person they were speaking to, so I assume it was about me. They appeared to say it out loud to themselves as though they were thinking it. I suppose they could have been referring to the other interviewer, who was sort of obnoxious and really hung up on my lack of direct experience though I do possess a lot of easily transferable skills. But I kind of doubt it. When I turned around to look, the person was standing alone at the window. Their context is also open for debate they may have been annoyed-angry by something I said or did or even something I didn’t do or say that maybe they felt I should have or may simply think me a fool for wanting to work there.

This is so weird, and I can understand why you’re taken aback! Honestly, if there were someone else around, my money would be on them joking to that person and it not being about you at all. But given the context you described … I have no idea! I mean, best case scenario, they were chastising themselves (“You schmuck! You forgot to ask about Excel skills!”) or cursing someone else (“That schmuck Fergus! He never showed up for his part of the interview!”) … but that feels like a stretch. On the other hand, it also feels like a stretch that he would have been so bursting to insult you that he’d do it like this.

If he really did mean it toward you, he’s probably not going to offer you the job (at least not if he’s the final decision-maker), so at least there’s that. If someone else is the decider, though, then yeah, I’d be wary. In that case, I’d pay a lot of attention to the other cues you’ve gotten and will continue to get about what he’s like, what the culture is like there more broadly, and how well you think you fit what they’re looking for. Maybe he called you a schmuck, maybe he didn’t, and we probably can’t know for sure — so really leaning hard on the other stuff you see is probably the way to go.

2. Are managers obligated to give references?

Are all managers/bosses obligated to a certain extent to act as references for their employees (as long as they were satisfactory workers)? Or is acting as a reference more like a favor?

After getting a new job offer, should employees thank the referees who were contacted by the offering company in regards to the job? Are simple thank you emails enough, or is it customary in any situation (specific field of work, etc.) to send them gifts as a thank-you?

I have always thought that acting as a reference would be extremely time consuming for managers, especially those who have been in the role for a while or in company/area/department of high staff turnover rate, as the number of past employees build up.

It’s generally considered a professional obligation, if the person requesting the reference did good work. Certainly if a manager working for me weren’t returning reference calls for good employees, I’d speak with her about it — because it’s part of the unofficial agreement between employers and employees that you’ll be responsive to those.

That said, there’s an element of favor-doing to it too, in that you want your manager to go out of her way to help you — doing things like returning the call right away and not letting it sit, taking the time to be thoughtful with the insights she provides, and making sure she’s covering all the good things about you as an employee. In other words, you can be awesome at giving references or you can be perfunctory about it, and of course you want your references to be awesome at it. So that’s maybe where the line is between favor and obligation.

Regardless, though, most good managers are usually delighted to give references for good employees and don’t see it as a burden.

Definitely don’t send gifts as a thank-you; that feels a little too much like a quid pro quo (“I’m giving you this gift in exchange for giving me a good reference”). Instead, just send them a heartfelt thanks and let them know what job you end up in.

3. Taking roll call on conference calls

I have a question about the best/most efficient way to handle roll call during a teleconference with over 12 people. The program I work for has employees all over the country and there are multiple times throughout the week that our teleconferences will have upwards of 30 people on them. We do have access to a web-based meeting platform when we need to see/share our desktops which shows participants by name, but it is not always appropriate or necessary to use that system for our conversations.

I have seen a few different methods of taking roll: (1) the open-ended “who’s on the line?” approach — which really is the worst, because then there are people speaking over one another and it is mass confusion, (2) the “going down the list name by name” approach — effective but often takes up a large chunk of time and each time another caller beeps in, they start back at the top, (3) the “I’m not going to take roll” approach, which takes the least amount of time, but then we are unaware of who is on the call with us and it can lead to issues if specific people are needed for specific updates, and (4) the “group roll call” approach, where we are told to reach out to our managers to alert them of our attendance and then that one manager reaches out, via email or instant messaging, to alert the host. Again, efficient, but leaves the callers in the dark.

I tend to vary my approach based on the meeting, but was wondering if there is an approach I have not thought of. Is there a way to take roll that is efficient, effective, and time sensitive?

If the coordinator of the conference call is able to see who’s on the line, the most efficient approach is probably for that person to read off the names of everyone in attendance at the start of the meeting. Then if others trickle in, the coordinator can announce those when there’s an opening (“Jane and Fergus have joined as well”).

If the coordinator can’t see who’s on the line, an option is to have people announce themselves as they join while the coordinator notes down those names — and then can read off a full list of attendees before the meeting gets underway (and can have stragglers announce themselves later if needed).

But really, once you’re over a certain number of people (15? 20?), I’d lean toward avoiding the process altogether because it gets unwieldy and time-consuming at that point. If there are a few specific people who need to be on the line, go ahead and confirm they’re there — but don’t do it for everyone.

4. Am I supposed to respond to job candidates’ thank-you notes?

I’ve been a manager for several years, and been involved in numerous searches. I value and appreciate thank-you notes/emails from candidates, although it’s never a dealbreaker if a candidate doesn’t send one. I never respond, mainly because that’s what my boss did.

In the meantime, my fiance is searching for his first job after completing his degree in his 30s, and he sometimes gets responses to thank-you emails he has sent (maybe about 25% of the time). They’re just brief, polite responses (“Thank you, it was nice to meet you too”).

If a candidate sent a handwritten thank-you card, it would be very strange to handwrite them a note back (right?). But since many/most of these now come by email, is it weird that I don’t respond? Or is it normal for hiring managers to not respond, and my fiance just had a few particularly nice people?

It’s totally normal not to respond. It’s certainly a kind and gracious thing if someone does respond, but it’s 100% not necessary and most employers don’t respond to them.

{ 205 comments… read them below }

  1. MR*

    If #1 hears back from the interviewer, especially with a job offer, would it be worth asking about that comment and ask for an explanation?

    1. Ask a Gardener*

      I really wouldn’t! If they WERE addressing the OP (which I doubt) they’re probably not going to admit it, and if they were not they may not even recall the comment so it would come across really weirdly to bring it up. The OP should focus on carefully assessing all the other information they have about the company and make their decision accordingly.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Seconding. Sort of a variation on not attributing to malice that which can be explained by absent-mindedness–as Alison suggests, it’s entirely possible the interviewer was thinking “You schmuck, you forgot to call the phone repair place and now they’re on break!” or “I can’t believe my brother is asking mom for a loan again. The schmuck.”

        1. Vicki*

          Or that the word they heard wasn’t actually schmuck (although other options are not particularly attractive…)

    2. Kelly*

      I’d steer clear of that kind of accusation. First impressions are everything and you don’t want to come off as being confrontational from the get go. That’s the kind of thing you maybe bring up on an xmas night out, hopefully when they won’t remember having answered it, or if you are on good terms. If you want the role, like the people and culture, I wouldn’t go in and try and stir the pot.

      1. Samata (Formerly Whats In A Name)*

        Yes, I think it could go many ways, more negative than positive. And if they did call him shmuck the chances of them admitting it when he is coming to work for them are minimal.

    3. Lissa*

      I wouldn’t. If it was about you, it probably won’t help and there’s a good chance he’ll deny remembering it. If it *wasn’t* about you and was another suggested explanation, it’s likely he *legitimately* won’t remember it, and calling him out on it will make you look paranoid/aggressive.

      I once had a coworker approach me and say “Just so you know, I have really good hearing.” I must have looked confused, because he said “I heard what you said about me.” I seriously had *no* idea what he was talking about, was pretty sure he didn’t believe that, and came away from the conversation feeling kind of freaked out, tbh.

      1. Specialk9*

        I was wondering if the hiring manager might have checked his phone as he turned away and seen an email or text that made him mad.

  2. LadyL*

    OP 1: I really think there’s a possibility the comment had nothing to do with you. I’m kind of awkward, and I often find myself either replaying interactions in my head, or imagining hypothetical future interactions with people. Often these thoughts will be triggered by the most random things, and have very little to do with the circumstances around me. Sometimes I do catch myself mouthing the words I’m thinking, or making faces to go along with the conversation in my head. I think there could really be any number of things your interviewer was reacting to. If you seemed to get along fine in ever other respect I think it’s very possible that the interviewer’s mind was on something else, as Allison suggested.

    1. Time Bomb of Petulance*

      Agreed. I do this all the time. Someone we’ll use a word or phrase in that trigger something in my brain which makes me think of something else that is completely unrelated. I will then start talking about the unrelated subject. It drives my spouse mad when I do this, haha.

    2. Kalkin*

      Yes, I totally agree with this — I don’t think it’s that much of a stretch. I talk to myself all the time (more often than I even realize, my wife says), and I routinely find myself self-consciously replaying a conversation or interaction — and chiding myself, sometimes out loud, for doing or saying something I feel weird about. (And ninety percent of the time, I’m sure it’s something the other person didn’t think twice about or even notice.)

      I can absolutely imagine calling myself a schmuck (“What a schmuck!”) right after I’ve had a nice connection with somebody, because I’m stuck in my head worrying too much about whether something I said landed wrong. (I could also imagine myself replaying a scene involving a third party and calling that person a schmuck aloud. The talking to myself truly is only partially under my control, and it comes out when I’m feeling strong emotion — like anxiety about something I said or did, or irritation with an obnoxious co-worker like the other interviewer might have been.) Unless you think the interviewer really might be a giant asshole — someone who would act friendly and warm throughout, and then loudly but passive-aggressively insult you with no warning, just as you were leaving — I would definitely consider that they might have not meant you at all.

      1. JanetInSC*

        I’m so glad to hear that other people suffer from this talking aloud thing, too, and you’re right, it’s always a response to a situation in the near or distant past that produced social anxiety. Maybe I need to up my meds?

      2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

        I talk to myself out loud all the time. That’s what charmingly eccentric people do. :D (It’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

        It’s *possible* that the interviewer was talking to himself out loud about the OP, but it’s more possible he was talking out loud about some stray thought that just went through his head.

        1. Mabel*

          I thought the same thing when I read the letter. I’m another one who thinks out loud a lot, and I talk to the dogs while I’m walking them. I just hope that people think this is normal (enough) or that I’m on the phone (my hair hides my Bluetooth headset, so no one can tell usually). :)

      3. Future Analyst*

        Same! I sometimes mutter “ugh, idiot” to myself when I realize I made a mistake/said the wrong thing, whatever. I would really not be surprised if the interviewer was referring to himself b/c he forgot something, or asked the wrong thing.

        1. Elizabeth H.*

          Yeah, I think “You IDIOT” to myself a lot, loudly (you know how you can think loudly?) – I know it’s really bad to talk to yourself that way but it’s a reaction I haven’t trained myself out of yet. I don’t talk to myself a lot but if I were a person who did I can imagine saying it aloud.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I do it too–usually, I rehearse conversations before I have them. For me, it’s an anxiety thing, and I also do it when I’m writing and want to try out a dialogue exchange while I’m doing dishes or making the bed, just to see if it sounds authentic.

        And then there’s that whole pretending-I’m-on-the-Ellen-show-talking-about-my-book thing I do in the shower. :3

      5. Gingerblue*

        I do this too. Mostly at home, where there’s no one else to notice, but I’m sure I’ll eventually be deep enough in my own head to do it in public and startle someone.

      6. Risha*

        I’m another mutterer to myself, and I share a small office with yet another one. It can get a little weird in here when both of us start talking to our respective computer screens at the same time.

    3. Anne (with an "e")*

      #1 Is it possible that the interviewer was talking to himself about himself? I know that I call myself “idiot” in my head all the time. In my head I’m constantly saying things like, “Don’t be an idiot.” Or something will happen, or I’ll do / say something and then mentality call myself, “Idiot.”

    4. BeckyLynn*

      I agree – my initial reaction is that you should just proceed assuming this wasn’t about you. “Schmuck” would be such a strange word of criticism after an interview. As Allison says, certainly keep an eye out for other red flags, but I wouldn’t let this keep you up at night.

    5. Amelia*

      I think the most likely scenario is, it had nothing to do with OP#1 at all. That would just be bizarre given how well the rest of it went. It’s most likely he was talking to himself, chastising himself like Alison suggested, or maybe talking about the other obnoxious interviewer.

      I talk out loud to myself all the time. I would imagine others have heard me and wondered what I was talking about! I hope there’s never been an instance like this :/

      1. Bunny*

        I insult myself out loud all the time. I also yell at my TV, my desk, my stove, my dishwasher…

        Then I forget I’m doing it. I think you’re dealing with a harmless wack job, OP. We won’t hurt you.

    6. LS*

      I do this too. Perhaps that’s why I think it’s really likely that it had nothing at all to do with you, especially given the earlier positive interactions.

    7. Bagpuss*

      I agree. I’d think it was far more likely that the interviewer was talking to or about themselves, or that they were reacting to something such as a text message or e-mail on heir phone, than that they were making a comment about the interviewee, especially if the interview was generally positive.

      I would not bring it up with them, if it wasn’t to do with the interviewee then its unlikely that the interviewer would remember it t all, and it would come over as very odd, and if it was, then they are not going to admit it

    8. Bagpuss*

      I agree. I’d think it was far more likely that the interviewer was talking to or about themselves, or that they were reacting to something such as a text message or e-mail on heir phone, than that they were making a comment about the interviewee, especially if the interview was generally positive.

      I would not bring it up with them, if it wasn’t to do with the interviewee then its unlikely that the interviewer would remember it t all, and it would come over as very odd, and if it was, then they are not going to admit it

    9. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      My money is on the interviewer checking their phone after the interview, getting a message from someone they think is a schmuck, and exclaiming. The LW had their back turned for a few seconds, so might not have seen the phone check

    10. A Girl Has No Name*

      I came here to basically say this. I actually do what you describe all the time…replay scenarios or think through future discussions and sometimes my inside thoughts are reflected outward in some way (accidentally “responding” out loud, chastising myself out loud, making faces to match my inner thoughts, etc). Yes, I can be a bit awkward…

      I really think OP should just go with the assumption that it had nothing to do with them. There just isn’t enough evidence that it was absolutely definitely without-a-doubt about the OP, and so many possibilities (regardless of how likely those possibilities are) of it not being about OP that I think they should just assume it isn’t.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I’m so glad to see all the people on this thread saying they do the same thing. I do this a lot.

    11. Not So NewReader*

      I used to think that schmuck was a relatively benign word until someone pointed out that some people thought otherwise. So I dropped it from my work vocabulary.

      Which ties into my point a little bit, people tend to watch themselves when others are around. I really doubt he was talking about you, OP. He probably knew on the baseline level that you might overhear a comment about yourself. (It’s amazing how keen our hearing can get if we think others are talking about us.) Since there are dozens of explanations as to what could have been going on there AND everything else in the interview was okay, I would let it go.

      One point I would like to offer for consideration, don’t let the remark dominate your thoughts of the whole interview. Try to consider as many aspects of the job and the company as you can. Sometimes one thing can really throw us off course and we forget to look at what else is going on. It could be that you saw other red flags that you have not been thinking about and the remark was just the tip of the iceberg.

      1. Vancouver Reader*

        NSNR is so right about our hearing being better when we think people are talking about us, but 90% of the time, we’re just on the periphery of someone else’s consciousness. I’m trying to coach myself out of thinking it’s about me because more likely than not, it isn’t.

      2. Toph*

        It’s basically calling someone a dick in Yiddish. So how benign (or not) it is depends on one’s opinion of using that term to describe a person, or if one doesn’t speak Yiddish and uses it after having intuited the meaning from having heard others use it to describe people.

    12. Anonjour'hui*

      Another vote for this person checking their phone and audibly reacting. I received some work news this week that made me exclaim “What the f***!” almost involuntarily–in front our intern. Not a fine moment, but it happens when people get wrapped up in their jobs.

    13. Turquoise Cow*

      Maybe it was a favorable comparison, like “oh it’s so nice not to interview a schmuck!” Or “of all the candidates I got, this was the only one who wasn’t a schmuck!”

      Without hearing the whole sentence, it’s hard to judge. But sometimes people dislike other people and are good about hiding it. In that case, the OP has to decide whether she’s ok with knowing this person dislikes her instead of assuming he does not.

    14. OP 1*

      They could have been referring to someone-something else or even to themselves but I kind of doubt it. They are the fourth generation owner of the place and I doubt they have ever really done anything else. I guess I failed to make this person see that selling is selling regardless of the environment in which it’s conducted. They seemed to be hung up on the idea that only someone who has sold in a showroom before was capable of selling in a showroom even though the position required no previous showroom experience and mentioned willingness to train. They never seemed too high on me and seemed to be hung up on my lack of showroom experience in both of the interviews (both of which were rescheduled for hours and days after the originally scheduled time which this person originally picked.)

      I have over a decade of internet and telephone selling experience and have worked retail in the distant past, but this person just couldn’t see how this experience and easily transferable people skills, customer service, selling ability and willingness to learn about products would translate to a showroom environment. I question why I was even interviewed if they only wanted people with showroom experience my resume makes no claims about me previously working in a showroom.

      1. Kalkin*

        They never seemed too high on me…

        I’m a little confused by this, because you originally wrote: “I seemed to really hit it off with an interviewer during my final interview.”

      2. Myrin*

        Wait, I thought you were talking about two different people? The one you “really hit it off with” whom you heard say “schmuck” and the second interviewer who didn’t seem to be too keen on you. Or am I misreading either your letters or your comment?

        In any case, I still can’t see why they would call you a schmuck, though – from what I gather (and I’m not a native English speaker, so I could be wrong) it’s not what one would say to mean “incompetent” or “unfit”, so wouldn’t it be a weird word to use even if your interpretation is correct?

      3. fposte*

        That’s disappointing, but it’s not wrong of them to bring you in to see if in person you can surmount that one guy’s objections to you if everybody else likes you.

        However, right now it sounds like you’re thinking about all the frustrating aspects of this particular application process; it sounds like it might not matter whether they said “schmuck” about you or not, because you’re realizing you found them kind of annoying overall anyway.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yep, that’s how it sounds to me, too (plus I’m confused by why the OP initially said they hit it off really well).

          1. OP 1*

            I was interviewed by two people at the same time the owner and the general manager. This was the second and final interview after a phone interview I had with the owner nearly a week prior. I kind of felt like the final interview was a good cop/bad cop kind of situation with the owner playing the good cop and the GM playing more of an antagonistic bad cop role. He seemed to be trying to push my buttons and provoke me to see how I would respond and trying to test how I could make up for a lack of experience in this particular setting. I feel I did pretty well, the owner although they had their reservations (or seemed to) seemed to be far nicer. The GM even seemed to make me wait for a while before even being interviewed he said I “caught him in the middle of something” but from all I could see he was simply sitting behind his desk and fiddling with some papers. The owner was the one who walked me out with the GM staying behind and it’s the owner who played the good cop in the interview who I thought I had hit it off with who I overheard presumably calling me a name. They originally scheduled and then postponed both of my interviews the original phone interview and the second and final in person interview since the whole process took nearly two weeks I really doubt I was their first or only choice.

            1. A Girl Has No Name*

              Ok so it sounds like the Owner had some potential reservations about your experience but overall got along well with you . AND, at the same time, it does kind of sound like the GM guy was, frankly, being a bit of a schmuck.

              It sounds possible that the owner was referring to you when he said that, but hardly definitive, and it seems more likely to me that he was referring to GM. And certainly possible that the other scenarios folks have mentioned are the reason (e.g., checking an email, something he saw out the window, etc.)

              I guess my point is basically that since it’s possible but not definitive and other possibilities exist, I think you should assume it wasn’t about you and follow Alison’s advice to look at the bigger picture of your overall experience to determine if this is someplace you’d like to work….

            2. Stranger than fiction*

              Is this a car dealership?? Because I used to have a job selling a certain product to car dealerships and they would not hesitate to call me a schmuck (or female equivalent) right to my face. The culture in that industry can be very crass.

              1. OP 1*

                Appliance retailer actually but it seems they would have preferred my coming from a used car dealership as opposed to coming from internet sales of electronic devices among various services (pet insurance, life insurance, flood insurance etc.)

    15. CanCan*

      Agreeing totally with LadyL.

      I often say swearwords to myself – usually I try to keep that inside my head, but I often do mouth them, or whisper, and might even say out loud if I think no one can hear me of if I’m having a particulary strong reaction.

      In a situation such as this one, I can easily see myself calling myself and idiot (schmuck is not a word I use) because I made even a minor a mistake (forgot to ask the interviewee something, didn’t use the best phrasing, committed some completely minor faux pas that the person may not have even noticed, etc.). It’s basically just a stress response. Or it may not have been related to the interview at all (personal life, next item on the agenda, competing priorities, etc.)

      The comment may not have been meant for you at all! Try to forget about it.

    16. Fictional Butt*

      A few months ago I was standing in the office kitchen and another person walked in and started making coffee. We didn’t interact, and as I left the room I heard her mutter “Bitch!” I was taken aback for a few seconds before I realized she definitely wasn’t talking about me–she was probably thinking about some office drama that was happening at the time. It happens! OP, I wouldn’t bring it up. It probably wasn’t about you, and if it was the kind of unconscious uttering I experienced, mentioning it will only embarrass your interviewer.

  3. Christine*

    I find it very difficult to use previous managers as references. The old company that I used to work for had a policy that prohibits current employees to provide professional recommendations or references for previous employees. The company will only verify dates employed and possibly salary verification. Also, in my current company, they have a similar policy as well. It would be difficult for someone to provide current references if he/she, who has worked there for so many years, decides to move on to either job.

    1. Mike C.*

      Yup, my wife’s former employer did this under the threat of termination, and actually followed through.

      1. HMM*

        Every hr policy I’ve seen says it, but nobody abides by it just because you’re really putting your workers in a bind when they move on. (and a healthy org wants you to move on if you want to!) our org keeps the policy as an out in case a bad employee asks for a reference, but it’s basically a given that managers will give references anyway. I’m surprised your wife’s company is so punitive about it.

        1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

          I’m not surprised. My friend’s company had a lawsuit and put the “no references” policy in place. Something like 6 employees were fired until the, “No, we are serious. No references” message stuck. Now I doubt anyone would chance it.

                1. Jessesgirl72*

                  One of the local school systems just finally got clear of a discrimination case yesterday from a principal firing they did in January 2010! (And she had brought a lawyer to her PIP meeting in 2009…) They had multiple documented complaints about her, had spoken with her several times and gave her actionable things to improve on, brought in an outside assessment firm who she wouldn’t cooperate with, who reported back that the only thing to do was fire her, because she was hostile to them and the teachers told them they wouldn’t speak because they feared her retaliation, they even tried setting her up with a coach to mentor her, and she refused to meet with the mentor. So they simply didn’t renew her contract. She said it was racism. They did every CYA thing possible before letting the contract expire, and it has taken 7 years of a legal fight through the lower court and two appellate courts, who have all said she was fired for well documented performance reasons, and not discrimination.

                2. JB (not in Houston)*

                  I’m not sure what your point is, though. It doesn’t sound like in the case you’re talking about, the lawsuit came from giving someone a bad reference. Sometimes organizations face lawsuits, and sometimes those lawsuits drag on, but that doesn’t mean it is generally a good idea to refuse to give references, and it doesn’t mean lawsuits from giving references are common.

                  (Also, as an aside, and I’m not saying this is what happened in that case, but it doesn’t mean she didn’t face race-based discrimination in her job and evaluations. Racist and sexist people can hide behind evaluations when they want to. And even if that’s not why she was fired, it doesn’t mean racism didn’t affect her at her job).

                3. Jessesgirl72*

                  My point was this was a perfect example of a case having no merit at all, and it dragging on for years and costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

                  And that is exactly what she was trying to claim, but all the courts said no, not racism.

              1. Natalie*

                Although I’m not sure how a no-reference policy would actually protect against someone filing a meritless suit. They’re just as capable of tying up lawyer time with such a policy in place.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Yeah, exactly this. I was puzzled by the race discrimination story because almost all companies at some point will get hit with meritorious and non-meritorious employment discrimination lawsuits. Fear of lawsuits is a weird excuse for a “no reference” policy as neither is connected to the other.

            1. neverjaunty*

              A lawsuit where someone suffered actual and serious discrimination. And when the employer later argued “there’s no discrimination! They were an awful employee!” the company then had to explain why they gave a glowing reference. (As you can imagine, that didn’t go well for them.)

              It’s the same reason a certain Large Software Company where a friend of mine was a manager carefully structured its review forms so they only reflected potential negative feedback.

              TL;DR – if you never say anything nice about an employee, it’s harder for them to prove anything.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                But – wow, well, that is not a problem with giving references, that’s a problem in which a company inflicts actual and serious discrimination. And that would be an absolutely justifiable lawsuit!

                But I guess I find companies’ attitudes about their legal liabilities regarding reference-giving – and plenty of commenters opinions of possible legal liabilities – very much out of proportion with the actual risk.

                1. Evan Þ*

                  Though, if people give unwarrantedly positive references to bad employees, that could increase the organization’s legal exposure. Doesn’t impact accurate references, but I could sort of see why some legal team might be soured on the idea.

                  (Until they need to find a new job and don’t have any references to use…)

            2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

              I don’t want to say too much but it was found to have merit and the damages were not small for a firm of that size. Part of the evidence submitted was ….shall we say…. a pattern of too many, too honest opinions by managers about “those people” and their work habits. A plaintiff had a friend call and ask for a reference and recorded it in a state where one party recording consent was legal. Then the lawyer looked for other employees who might have faced similar issues and found them.

              After the settlement, there was a management purge and the no references policy came into place. Once bitten…..

              1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

                And by honest opinions I mean that the managers obviously believed it, and openly acted that way in the workplace, not that it is rooted in any truth.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          No, some places definitely abide by it, and if I were you, I wouldn’t assume your next office doesn’t.

    2. OP2 (Nieve)*

      Thats very interesting, any idea why this policy is in place? Would it potentially be to try discourage their employees from leaving? (Although I dont think it would really discourage anyone who actually wanted to leave.. but I cant think of any other reasons)

      Also, if the policy prohibits ‘professional’ recommendations, are people allowed to give character references? How would the company find out which was given?

      1. Amy*

        My company has this policy, and it includes “character references.” It’s intended to protect the company. Only HR gives the official word on your performance, which is dates of employment and eligibility for rehire. If you were fired for performance, for example, but got a manager to give you a positive reference (maybe it’s not the one who fired you) now we have someone on record saying you’re great when you weren’t great, and if you decide to sue the company over your termination, now you have that reference that you can use to prove that you weren’t all bad. So all references are strictly forbidden, which makes it very hard if this company has been your whole career, leaving you literally zero references unless people are willing to be fired in order to vouch for you.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I’m in the UK, and here, a company can potentially be liable if a reference is not accurate, (can be sued by the employee if you give a bad reference which [they claim] is inaccurate,or by the new employer if the reference is good but not accurate.

          So a lot of employers have a policy to give only a factual reference with the dates and job title of an employee.

          Our company policy is to give that kind of reference, and also specifically defines who is authorised to give a reference on behalf of the company. If someone wishes to give a character reference they have to make it clear that that they are doing so in their personal capacity, not on behalf of the company

        2. Mookie*

          How does an organization like this conduct their own screening and hiring? Do they never call references themselves?

          1. Bagpuss*

            Yes, but it is a fairly common policy, so we know that we may simply get the factual reference.

            It’s also sometimes possible to have an informal chat with a potential employer or with someone following up a reference, but it does depend on the employee.

            Having it as a policy means that you can fall back on that if you don’t want to give a poor reference and open up the cab of worms about what was said and whether it is fair, but can’t give a positive one.

            I think because it is a fairly common policy, it doesn’t disadvantage applicants. In our case, the policy is n open one which all staff are aware of.

          2. Antilles*

            Having previously worked at a company with this policy in the past, this is how the process worked when we did reference checks:
            1.) You call the references anyways, hoping that they don’t have the same policy – in which case you treat it like normal and mentally block out the fact you’re being *incredibly* hypocritical (I wouldn’t help you if the situation was reversed, but please be helpful to me!).
            2.) If the references do have the same policy, you try to ask a couple leading questions anyways, hoping that maybe they’ll answer even a little bit.
            3.) Then you ask for the company to confirm the few factual items that even companies with this policy will typically answer – confirm dates of employment and titles, eligibility for re-hire, and the stated reason for departure. This is basically useless unless you discover a massive lie, but you take it anyways just to prove you tried.

        3. Natalie*

          It’s worth noting that the scenario you described is really unlikely to be actionable in the US unless the employee has a legal discrimination case (race, sex, etc). You can’t successfully sue over a termination generally, only in pretty specific circumstances.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        Alison did a “myths about the workplace” type post a few weeks ago, and one of them was the idea that giving a bad reference in the US opens you up for a lawsuit. It’s not that simple, but a lot of people and HR Managers seem to think it is, so the rule is fairly common.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      Be careful, because there’s a thing called “back door reference checking”, where they circumvent policies like that and reach out directly to managers on linked in for example.

  4. Dan*


    It’s totally normal not to respond, but as an applicant, what will always stick out to me are the interviewers who do respond back. Mind you, I try not to send generic thank you notes, but something substantive. Strangely, I’ve even gotten responses from people who have ultimately rejected me!

    BTW, one of the things to remember is that interviews aren’t necessarily over when you walk out the door… the thank you note is an opportunity to leave a favorable impression. I work in a technical field, and sometimes my answers on the spot aren’t as complete as they should or could be. I’ve written notes along the lines of… “thank you blah blah blah, but you know, sometimes my thoughts on something come when I’m not under so much pressure. On the flight home, I was thinking about…. and X would have been a much better answer.” I got a response to that one, saying that is a quality that is highly desired in their applicants. No offer though.

    Another company had like six people interview me over the course of a half-day. I sent thank you notes to all of them, and got responses from them all! That surprised me. I did get an offer from those guys. That was almost ten years ago, and I remember that vividly.

    My current job, my immediate supervisor was running short on time for the interview, so I had like five minutes with him. He asked me a really dumb question that I didn’t answer well. In my “thank you note”, I pretty much (but politely) told him he asked me a dumb question, and in the Real World, with direction that vague, I’d have to sit down with you for an hour to dig through why you’re really asking that in the first place, and what kind of answer you really want. (He asked me the technical version of “what is the meaning of life?” Uh, really?)

    1. Thlayli*

      The meaning of life is an easy one! 42.

      Really though – I’m dying to know what the technical meaning of life question is? What do you get if you multiply 6 by 9?

        1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

          Anyone who has read or seen Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Which I haven’t, but my husband is a big fan of the book so I’ve heard the reference for years but don’t really know why it’s 42.

          1. Electric Hedgehog*

            I heard once that six times nine is actually 42 if you’re using base 13. I’m not super mathy, so I don’t know if that’s accurate.

            1. Aunt Vixen*

              Hmm. In base 13, 6 is still six and 9 is still nine, and 6×9 is still fifty-four (base 10), and 54 base 10 is [does math] yup, 42 base 13. The 4 in the 13s place is 52 in base 10, so there you go. If you have three extra fingers, “what do you get if you multiply six by nine” is indeed the ultimate question.

              Otherwise you’re going to need a few more Scrabble tiles so you can do a little subtraction to get to the ultimate answer. :-)

              1. Thlayli*

                Douglas Adams said that he doesn’t make jokes in base 13 and that the joke is that there is something fundamentally wrong with the universe because 6 x 9 is not 42. Which I think is funnier even though the base 13 thing is weirder

                1. Cath in Canada*

                  IIRC, the 6×9 answer came when Ford and Arthur were pulling Scrabble tiles out of a bag at random, and they ran out of letters. So I always assumed that there was more to it and it’s supposed to be “6×9 minus the number of dimensions in which god exists” or something like that.

          2. Emilia Bedelia*

            It’s not the meaning of life, per se. 42 is the answer to the “Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything”. The supercomputer Deep Thought is asked to answer this question, and when it comes up with 42 after millions of years of calculations, it says “The problem is, you’ve never actually known what the question is”. So people then try to come up with what the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is (eg “How many roads must a man walk down?”). In “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”, the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything is revealed to be “What do you get when you multiply 6 by 7?”

            I feel like this story actually relates quite well in many ways to interviewing- ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer :)

            1. Turquoise Cow*

              It’s also revealed at some point that you can know the question, or you can know the answer, but both cannot be known in the same universe.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      This is exactly what I was thinking of. Usually my thank you email isn’t just a thank yiu, but also a medium to expand on a point I feel I may not have gotten across well, or to ask a follow up question there wasn’t time for. So in those circumstances, it would be rude to not reply.

    3. Not Rebee*

      Honestly, as an anxious person I worry a LOT that my email has gone awry if it’s not responded to. I have never had this happen, to my knowledge, (except for once where I got an immediate bounce back and was able to correct) but it’s still something I worry about in the few days after an interview where I’m waiting to hear back from them about next steps. This worry is compounded if my interviewers don’t give me a business card or other way for me to determine their email (at CurrentCompany, I guessed on about half of the emails which was stressful because it’s a small company. They’d been using firstname@company for a while and then got into trouble at about 25 employees when they needed more distinction so now it’s first.last@company. Which means you basically have to guess whether they’ve been around enough to have one of the first name emails or not if they don’t give you a card). Now, I understand it’s not up to you or any other interviewer to assuage my anxiety, but even a short and impersonal note would make me happy in these instances.

  5. Optimistic Prime*

    OP #3, what kind of teleconference software do you use? I’ve never used one that didn’t make it plainly visible to all attendees who else was on the call. If this is a persistent issue, do you think it might be worth investing in some software that allows everyone to visibly see who else is on the call? Something like Skype for Business or Google Hangouts Meet?

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I know of two cases where people aren’t listed by name. The first is if people are calling in from a landline (which sometimes happens if the internet connection is poor), the second is if more than one person is using a given dial-in (for example, a group of people from the same location are in a meeting room or office).

      What we usually do is have an email list of who is invited to the meeting, and people identify themselves as they log in. Then when the meeting starts, the organizer can tell people if someone who is supposed to be there isn’t. Most of this occurs as we’re waiting for people to gather, so it doesn’t waste time once the meeting has started.

    2. Thlayli*

      The teleconference we had in my oldjob didn’t list by name. We contracted with an external company. You had a phone number and a code and everyone dialled in. There was no way to see who was on the call, or even how many.

      We also used webex which does let you see, but that’s only for when u need to use screens

      1. Cath in Canada*

        We have the same system – a phone number, a participant code, and a moderator code, but even if you’re the moderator your phone just looks like it’s on a normal call to the shared phone number. There’s no online component to it at all.

    3. Grits McGee*

      What we’ve done in the past is to have a Google Doc or Sheet for the meeting and people can type in their names once they’re connected to the conference call. Out AT&T Connect software will display “names” but if you don’t create an account or you’re calling from a conference room, it’ll just show a generic “User 1”, etc.

    4. Queen of the File*

      If there is a chat function you can also ask everyone to check in there as they log in rather than taking up ear-time.

    5. Lora*

      For large teleconferences where we expect there will be multiple people using the same line, we just ask who is there from (department X who needs to be there). It seems to work. Or if there’s a site where we know that department is, we just ask if there’s anyone from Andover / Fredricksburg / Cambridge etc on the line. It’s pretty common that people will delegate meetings and you’ll get a chirp, “Hi Fergus on the line!” and then who is Fergus? I don’t know a Fergus, do you know a Fergus?

    6. AnotherAlison*

      You can still do call-only conference calls on regular office telephones, instead of web exes. All you get is a beep that someone joined. With the web ex, if someone joins the associated call, it will say “call in user 1” if they aren’t calling from the web ex on the computer.

      When I run a call, I say we will announce ourselves once everyone is on, and then I have each company have one person say who is on from their company. But, once you’re over 10 people or so, I don’t think it matters. You can’t tell who is saying what, and no one can remember who all is on.

    7. OP#3*

      We have WebEx, but I would say in 90% of the cases we don’t use the actual screen-share function, it is being used purely as a teleconference number. And unless you have the WebEx call you it will not show you by name, it will show “Call In User 1”, etc. And by nature of our work we are often on the road and dialing in from cell phones so being online isn’t a mandatory option.

      For some of our interdepartmental calls the idea of identifying by department is used and that works well enough. For other calls, where it is only our department for example, we all work remotely so there would never be more than one person per location. So we go down the list name by name. I am impressed by those that seem to be able to get this done quickly, I feel like it always takes up the first 5-10 minutes of the call.

      I do like the idea of using the chat function. Of course, that would only capture those who are online but there are times that would work very well, for instance during our training calls when 99% of people would be online to see the training materials. I will remember and try that one out next time.

      1. Wheezy Weasel*

        Some of the conference system mobile apps are savvy enough to dial the call-in number, meetingID and participant ID so that your name shows up in the attendee list. It’s the participant ID that is the tie-in to show your name.

      2. Autumn Leaves*

        I am government and we often have conference calls with large numbers of people from different divisions. When this happens, the coordinator or whoever is hosting the call will do a roll call only for the manager from each group/division that is expected (Is Sansa from teapot building on the call? Erlich from teapot development? Wakeen from accounting?)
        If the manager isn’t on the call, then if anyone from that team is, they will chime in “This is Linda from accounting, in place of Wakeen.”

        This helps to know if there is at least representation from each team who could answer questions/share with their team members. If there is someone in particular who is a key player, then they would be roll called as well, even if they are not management.

        Not sure if this would work for you too, but thought I’d share!

  6. DecorativeCacti*

    I wouldn’t worry about responding to a thank you note unless you’re prepared to be stuck in a never ending “thank you” loop.

    This is the song that ever ends…

  7. Tiger Snake*

    #2, My experience* is stuff like references falls into the same bucket as “Other Duties” for your employees.

    By which I mean, even though your staff’s job description only said they needed to paint and glaze teapots, you expect them to help with prepping the teapots for post-glaze firing, or you might ask them to research the new paint colours that have been released. And staff do. This sort of thing is the Other Duties of Staff; things that need to get done for business that you just need them to pick up once or twice. Really great staff do so cheerfully, and even look for further improvements that they can take or present to you to make the business better.

    And on the flip side, the Other Duties Of A Manager include giving references. The really great managers give really great references, especially for staff that went above and beyond themselves.

    (*Disclaimer about my experience; I’m not as a manager, I’m the long-term employee in a branch that’s viewed as a notable ‘starter’ team for entry-level programs. That means I get a LOT of young new folk in their First Office Job coming onto my team for 6 months or a year, and then they move on, and so even though I’m not a manager myself I see a lot of managers acting as references and being a reference myself.)

    1. OP2 (Nieve)*

      OP 2 here, this makes sense, thank you!
      As you are in a place to act as a reference for ‘First Office Job’ which is a position I am in, I’d like to ask some questions if thats OK. It sounds like you would experience a lot of reference checks for people who only worked short terms, do you ever have difficulty remembering the performance/conduct of some people you are asked about? Do these reference check conversations last some time, like enough to interrupt your main work schedule?

      1. Thlayli*

        I’m not a manager but I worked as a lecturer for a few years (teacher in college – I’m not sure what u call it in America.) I supervised final year projects (a big project you do for your engineering degree – typically you would design build and test something). This was a big part of the degree and the final year project supervisor would typically be the main reference from college, so for a few years after I left I was the main reference for a few young Engineers. TBH there were times I didn’t remember who the person requesting the reference was referring to (I’m terrible at names and some of these calls were years later when I would be the second reference). In those circumstances I gave them the benefit of the doubt and gave them a good reference.

        1. Mookie*

          Perhaps not always true for lecturers, instructional aides, adjunct faculty, visiting scholars, et al., but providing academic references for students is certainly part and parcel of a faculty member’s normal duties.

          1. Thlayli*

            Oh yea I totally agree, I was just giving an example of how I dealt with it when I couldn’t remember the person – just assume they were good and give them a good reference. Anyone who’s badwill probably stick out in your mind anyway

      2. Tiger Snake*

        As Thlayli said, I take the view that I’m much more likely to remember an employee who was terribly erogenous. I figure if I can’t remember them, that means I didn’t have any major problems, and so I give them a good reference.

        The other thing to keep in mind is that, when someone calls you for a reference, you don’t have to do so right there and then. You can ask they call you back at a convenient time (I set early in the morning myself), and tell them you’re available to talk to them for a set period – I usually say 15 minutes, but maybe a manager reference would take a little longer.

        One thing I know MY manager does – and I’ve never been able to work out whether this seems kosher or not – is tell leaving staff that if they want him to act as a reference _write their own reference content and give it to him_. (Yes, what they want him say or write if someone asks him for a reference). He asks they give that to him about a week before they leave, and that gives him enough time to read it over and confirm whether its reasonable or not.
        So my manager has a folder on his computer with those documents, and that way when he’s called up for a reference, he uses that as his guideline. ;)

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            It’s the absolute worst, isn’t it?

            But now that I’m on the other side, I understand why managers ask for it. It can be so helpful for identifying the information the employee saw as their biggest strengths/contributions. I don’t ask folks to write their reference, but I do ask them if there’s any specific information they want me to include/highlight.

        1. Mookie*

          I’m much more likely to remember an employee who was terribly erogenous.

          Well, I should certainly think so.

          1. Tiger Snake*

            *face palm*

            It is especially terrible that I missed that autocorrect, because I spend so much of my time peer reviewing other people’s work. (Please don’t tell anyone in my office I did that, I will die of humiliation. :P)

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP, the call should not last longer than 15-30 minutes. If it needs to last longer than 15 minutes, ask the caller to reschedule with you for when you have time (but be good about follow up and schedule enough time for the call, ideally that same day/week). My longest reference call was 45 minutes, but the vast majority have been 10 minutes or less.

        It can help to take/keep notes on prior employees (the non-egregious ones) so that you’re prepared for a reference check. Ideally you’ll have annual performance reviews that capture some of this information, as well. If the former employee were very short term, you can be straightforward and mention that it’s been several years or that they worked with you for only a few months. It’s also ok to say that it’s been some time but that you did not have concerns about that employee’s work when you worked with them (of course, don’t say that if it’s not true!).

        But with the exception of seasonal and service jobs like retail and restaurant work, most employees will work with you for at least a year, so ideally you’ll have more to work with.

  8. Ophelia Bumblesmoop*

    #3: When we have regional or national conference calls, the organizer starts the meeting (verrrrrry promptly) with a roll call in the same exact order every week. If you have branches with a numerical assignment, you’d go in order. Or alphabetical by location. “Albuquerque?” “Jane is present.” “Boston?” “Fergus here.” “Denver?” “Wakeen checking in.” This helps people know exactly when their turn to report in is, so they can be prepared to unsure and respond quickly.

    It would get cumbersome once you reach a certain total, but our weekly conference calls have 34 locations as participants and it is an absolute requirement to be present. As in missing one without a good reason is grounds for disciplinary action. So clearly roll call is more important in my office, but that’s what works best for us.

    1. MC in NJ*

      This is what we did at my former employer: ran down the list of geographic locations in alphabetical order, and the attendees from each location would chime in with their name(s). Fairly smooth and quick, all considering.

    2. kavm*

      We do this as well. Any stragglers are caught at the end since you can hear a chime when they log in. So once the roll call is done, the organizer then says something like “and who just logged on?” In my experience this doesn’t take very long at all, even with a lot of participants.

    3. Antilles*

      We use the same method, but organized by discipline/role – “Aviation?” “Sully here” “Engineering?” “Dilbert and Alice here, Wally might join in a few”, “Marketing? … Marketing? … okay nobody from Marketing is here, how about Sales?” “Jim”.
      If there are any log-in beeps during roll, you just ignore them and ask at the very end “Okay, I heard a couple people joined during the roll. Who else is here?”
      Works very easily and simply.

    4. OP#3*

      Thanks for your feedback!
      I replied above that there are times when department or location could work and I’ll use that! There are other calls when that wouldn’t work, but I like the idea of having a designated person to text/email, we just have to get the information out to the attendees so they are aware.

    5. Liz*

      I agree. We use this in certain situations at the state agency where I work. If we know we need representatives from different companies (our consultants, parties to a proceeding we’re working on, etc), we’ll go by company and find out who’s attending from each company. Of course once you have representatives from a dozen or more different entities, that method is time consuming. But in certain circumstances, it helps.

  9. Cambridge Comma*

    If OP1’s interviewer was looking out of the window, he might have seen someone there, perhaps someone parking like a schmuck? Or he might have just looked at his phone and seen an irritating mail or message.
    There are just too many possibilities to take it personally.

    1. Thlayli*

      I actually think there’s a good chance he was talking about the other interviewer. OP1 said he was walked out of the building, and if this guy stayed in the room it was presumably the other interviewer who was walking OP out. And given the other interviewer was being obnoxious I think there’s a good chance this guy was talking about other interviewer.

      1. Bostonian*

        Yeah, for all we know the two interviewers don’t get along and he’s at the BEC stage with the obnoxious one.

    2. hbc*

      Yup, guy across the street littering, he noticed the lawn guy still hadn’t come, a coworker who complains about money is driving past in a new sports car, so many options outside before you even get to the internal options.

    3. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

      I immediately thought the interviewer checked their phone, probably because I have been known to verbalize at annoying messages.

  10. Liz in a Library*

    Who knows what actually happened, #1. If it makes you feel any better, I get anxious talking to new people, even in a business setting, and I could totally see calling myself something like schmuck out loud after leaving a meeting if I thought I had been awkward.

  11. Vanilla Nice*

    L.W. #3: I once worked at the headquarters of a large organization where we did weekly conference calls to coordinate media strategy with our regional staff. We took roll geographically and as we did so, asked them to briefly report on any major issues listed on the agenda. (e.g., “Seattle?” “Sarah, Sam, and Steve here. We’re getting quite a few phone calls from reporters about the Exploding Teapot rumor.” “Boise?” “Bob Here. Nothing to report.”). It was useful to orienting everyone to who else was on the call. We had about 12-15 people on an average call, so it took maybe 5 minutes at most.

    For groups larger of 16-30, I would suggest doing a very quick roll without further comment or chit-chatting. It really doesn’t take long if you have a list right in front of you. I wouldn’t bother for groups larger than 30.

    1. phyllisb*

      I do monthly conference calls with my company. We are supposed to email/text our managers that we are on the call, then the facilitator will roll call the managers, and the managers will say everyone’s on, or if someone is missing, mention that Jane isn’t on because she’s on vacation or whatever. Takes about two minutes.

    2. OP#3*

      Maybe I should speak to my fellow manager regarding the email/text option. The reason it doesn’t work is because everyone does it differently and there are always a handful of managers or directors on the road who would be harder to rely on. But it might be worth a five minute conversation (during our next teleconference!) to get us all on the same page.

  12. Nathaniel*

    The schmuck thing…

    Sometimes it used when it is perceived that someone is being overly ingratiating.

    Maybe they are used to a certain level of pushback or unpleasantness from people.

    So when someone is nice like you they are like… “Fergus… he’s a nice guy… but what a schmuck!”

    It could also be used playfully.

    You’ll know in two weeks…

  13. OP2 (Nieve)*

    Thank you so much for posting my question Alison!
    I’m recently getting into the ‘real world’ where proper, formal professional interactions are needed and thought it was a good time to ask a knowledgeable person about this. Since high school I’ve mainly worked in hospitality (cafes, fast food etc), summer temp job (assistant park ranger) and seasonal/temp processing work (dairy cow testing, egg grader/packer). None of those were office jobs, or were very formal in the way the managers interacted with the employees. I’ve in the past found it a little uncomfortable reaching out to past managers about being a referee, because I felt that it was like asking a favor to someone who I hadn’t kept in touch with and only wanted to ‘use’ them for my benefit. Having it explained as more like a professional obligation would definitely help me talk to my managers about it in the future, and as I have almost always had great feedback (I move & think fast, with good work ethic) from any past managers I think such conversation would generally go quite well.
    Thanks again Alison! :)

    1. Allypopx*

      I totally get why it can feel awkward, but it’s really a joy to give references for good employees! And managers expect it, don’t worry!

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Agreed. It’s totally fine if I’m not in touch with my former employees in between their job searches, too. Although I do like to hear if they got the job or what.

      2. Nieve*

        Oh great, its not just me with my social awkwardness coming through then hahaha thanks! :)

  14. Ramona Flowers*

    #1 I’m wondering if the interviewer was saying it to themselves – or maybe in reaction to a text or email they just read.

    1. FTW*

      That was my thought too. Going through the day’s emails after being away from email interviewing… I am sure one of them will make me swear out loud.

      1. Fellow Moomin fan*

        Yup, I came here to say this. I tend to look at my phone (way too) often, and especially after having been unable to do so for a while, for example when focusing on a conversation. So I might easily have picked up the phone, quickly read something and reacted to it, and just as quickly put it down again so the OP didn’t see it when looking at me.

    2. always in email jail*

      I had the exact same thought- I could see myself saying that out lout to a text or email

  15. Anony Non*

    I take meeting minutes for large conference calls and this is always a problem. If you have someone who is taking actions or minutes or will have send anything out to attendees please don’t skip roll call even if it’s faster and easier! Someone will miss that post meeting information! And that person will be scrambling to find out who was on the call.

  16. Jane Dough*

    I don’t think I would be a good cultural fit at a place where people called each other shmucks. I would be afraid they’d expect me to yell “Gee willikers!” if I banged my toe on a door.

    1. Shiara*

      I was kind of wondering if OP1 might have misheard. If all OP heard was a sudden “Schmuck!” while walking away, I could easily see that being a startled mashup of certain other words exclaimed as someone’s in the middle of tripping or something before catching themselves.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Wait, I’m confused. What do you mean? Schmuck is a semi-obscene word and “gee willikers” is very tame so I can’t figure out what you are saying. I need closure!

      1. Jane Dough*

        I work with engineers, “schmuck” is incredibly tame to me! It’s surprising to hear it classified as semi-obscene.

        1. neverjaunty*

          You must be from the West Coast? “Schmuck” is a Yiddish insult and it isn’t particularly mild.

        2. AvonLady Barksdale*

          It is one of the many Yiddish words for male genitalia and one of the several used almost solely to describe people. I guess the level of obscenity is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s definitely not a particularly kind thing to say. :) My personal favorite of all these is “putz”.

          1. fposte*

            I tend to think of “schmuck” as pretty mild, about the force of British use of “cock,” whereas “putz” to me is closer to the American use of “dick.”

          2. ZSD*

            Wow, I had NO idea it was a word for genitalia. I thought it just meant an easily duped person.
            (This is like in high school, when I found out that “prick” meant something other than just “mean person.”)

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          “Schmuck” is pretty inappropriate in the West Coast offices I’ve occupied! But we also would not call people “dicks” or scream “penis!” :)

        4. Elizabeth H.*

          I think it’s because of that thing where a foreign curse word (regardless of its literal meaning in language of origin) will always seem less obscene in a second language context, because it loses its specific cultural connotations. Like if you’re speaking American English it sounds less inappropriate to use terms like merde, cojones, pendejo, scheisse, wanker, etc. than it might in the same context in the original language.

      2. Emilia Bedelia*

        Really? I’m honestly very surprised by this. Perhaps it is regional, but I’ve always heard “schmuck” used to mean something like a pathetic, obnoxious loser -like Milton Waddams in Office Space, or Toby in the Office, or basically any character in Napoleon Dynamite. Definitely not nice, but not obscene.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Me too! The use I’ve heard is negative, but sortof loveable, maybe? I’m learning today!

        2. Lily in NYC*

          It has the connotation of “loser, jerk” but is a yiddish word for penis. It’s like calling someone a dick.

        3. Aimless*

          For the examples you gave, a I think a closer Yiddish word would be “nebbish” – it means a weak, pitifully ineffectual man (George Costanza and many of Woody Allen’s characters are good examples of this, as is Milton from Office Space). They don’t necessarily have to be obnoxious, just sort of fumbling and hapless.

      3. Rat in the Sugar*

        I’ve heard before that it’s an obscene word in Yiddish, but I’ve always heard it used as the tamest of insults that a conservative grandmother or a toddler might use (like nincompoop or dodo), and the meaning was always that someone was a sucker and/or a loser. Maybe because I’ve never lived in a place with a high Jewish population, so people aren’t familiar with the actual meaning?

        1. Fictional Butt*

          Yeah, I’ve always gotten the sense that many non-Jews don’t realize what a dirty word it is. In my experience, it’s not the worst thing you could call someone–not like c*** or anything–but it still is not a word you’d use in polite company. I remember a few people being shocked when the movie “Dinner for Schmucks” came out, and saying the movie title must have been chosen by a committee of goyim who didn’t realize what the word meant!

    3. Cheshire Cat*

      While “schmuck” has the same double meaning as “dick”, I have always thought of its connotation as being closer to “motherf*cker”. Yes, it’s semi-obscene, and people who use it casually around me always get a shocked response (“I can’t believe you just said that!”)

      I heard a great definition when I was a child–a schmuck is the person who sticks his feet out into the aisle in a movie theater, hoping that someone else will trip. Or, the kind of person who puts tacks sharp side up in the sofa cushions. In other words, a giant, intentional jerk.

  17. always in email jail*

    For the conference call thing, I’m assuming it’s a conference call because people from either multiple divisions, or locations, or organizations, etc are calling in. I find it’s easiest to go “OK, who do we have on the line from the philadelphia office? Great thanks, and from New York?” or “who’s on from the spout division? OK and the intricate painted designs division? great and the teapot lid division?” etc. It’s a bit more controlled than the free-for-all approach, but is less awkward than reading out a list.

  18. Laura*

    I’ve been on conference calls where the roll call is just about which departments are represented. The person leading the call will either go through a list or just ask people to call out their department. If someone else says yours, you keep quiet. This makes things go much faster when you have 30+ people, but they’re only from 8 or 9 departments.

  19. The Outsider*

    OP #3 – We had the same problem!! So what we did was send a quick text to designated person – that has our name and joined on it. We happen to have work lines and personal lines so this is not a problem (or if you didn’t you could send an email). Later, that person has a written list of who was actually on the call. This might be too much for a big number of people but really any system would get too much for a big number of people.

    1. OP#3*

      Thanks! I see how that could be much faster than the current method. I think I’ll try it out and see how it goes. I think the key here is to have one designated person as opposed to everyone contacting their own manager.

      I am also learning from these replies that I might be the weird one…the roll call process in general drives me nuts! Maybe I need to take deeper breaths or something? Use the time to meditate?

  20. GermanGirl*

    OP #1 any chance that your interviewer’s native language is German? Then “schmuck” can mean any of pretty, neat, or jewelry and is definitely a positive word.

    I think it’s more likely that he was saying it to himself or the other interviewer, so I would try not to worry about it.

    1. neverjaunty*

      In the US, “schmuck” is a Yiddish word that English speakers have picked up. It’s the equivalent of calling someone a prick.

      1. GermanGirl*

        Yes I know that in the back of my head, but if I were talking to myself I might still use it with the German meaning even if I just talked English for the last couple of hours.

        I’d go with Hanlon’s Razor on this one: Don’t assume bad intentions over misunderstanding.

    2. Cruciatus*

      Heh, I checked the comments today just to see if any German speakers commented. I remember when I was in Germany and saw SCHMUCK written across buildings. I started laughing and my then German boyfriend asked why and I had to explain “schmuck” as I know it. It become a little joke and he enjoyed using the term–though in my mind it was never as strong as prick!

  21. AMT*

    #1 reads like a Seinfeld episode.

    “He called you a schmuck?”

    “A schmuck, Jerry! I’ve been called many things, Jerry, but never a schmuck.”


    “Well, once. Kindergarten. I’d prefer not to discuss it.”

    “George, come on, maybe he was just talking to himself.”

    “You don’t call yourself a schmuck, Jerry. You don’t self-schmuck!”

    “I’ve self-schmucked! I self-schmuck all the time! Jerry, you schmuck, you can’t parallel park!”

  22. MommyMD*

    When calling in for a teleconference we say our name as soon as the tone connects us even if late. At the end the note keeper roll calls those who are not on the attendance sheet. It’s fast and there’s at least 20 of us.

    1. OP#3*

      Thank you for your thoughts. It’s funny how differently people handle this. Though I have to honest and say that the scenario you describe sounds like my worst nightmare!
      How do you avoid people all taking over each other? That awkward moment when two or three people are all trying to announce at the same time…oye. It makes me cringe. And I am not very tolerant of late comers who announce themselves. Show up on time and be part of roll call (whatever crazy method is used) or show up late and be silent.
      Won’t lie…I totally judge people who dial in more than 4 minutes late and announce themselves.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        OP#3, we do this, as well, but it’s because our conference software is set up to require you to say your name and hit pound before joining the conference. Then the software plays back each person’s name in the sequence in which they joined the call (so no overlap or talking over, but also helpful for keeping a steady flow of names). I think WebEx gives you the option of requiring people to say their name prior to patching them into the call.

  23. Electric Hedgehog*

    #4- If you’re all using Skype or something similar, you can ask that everyone pings the roll-taker with their name as son as they join the call.

  24. OxfordComma*

    To: #2 I am usually happy to give a reference, but I prefer to be asked up front and before my name is given out.
    If I feel I cannot give the person a good reference either because I really didn’t work with them much or if their work was substandard, I will tell the person not to put me down.

  25. Elizabeth West*

    #3–Oh man, freaking WebEx. “[WAKEEN] has joined the conference. [VALENTINA] has joined the conference. [FERGUS] has joined the conference.” You miss everything people say at the beginning thanks to those stupid announcements. Because every time, Wakeen and Valentina and Fergus are always late logging in.

    I don’t know if there’s an option to turn those off, but if there is, I would like to see leaders use it. You can typically see who is on. I don’t know what to do about calls using a conference phone (the ones that look like little spaceships) and not a computer, except to encourage people to be the hell on time.

  26. Beancounter Eric*

    In re. references – sorry, but no.

    When I managed a team some years ago, got a call for a reference on a so-so employee who was released for cause by the company. Gave what I considered a decent reference – got a voicemail a few days later from a party claiming to be ex-employee’s attorney stating I had disparaged her client….alerted my boss and our counsel, who told me a) don’t lose sleep over it, it probably was a shot across the bow and nothing would come of it (correct), and b) refer all reference requests to HR.

    Part of why I avoid supervisory positions – I do very well without the headaches, thank you very much.

  27. Noah*

    It sounds to me like OP #1 had a joint interview with this guy and another guy “who was sort of obnoxious and really hung up on my lack of direct experience though I do possess a lot of easily transferable skills.”

    OP #1 should consider how his interaction with “sort of obnoxious” interviewer affected the other person’s perception of him.

  28. thefyd*

    “Their context is also open for debate they may have been annoyed-angry by something I said or did or even something I didn’t do or say that maybe they felt I should have or may simply think me a fool for wanting to work there.” This is really showing undue concern for the thoughts of others, especially given how much uncertainty surrounds the event. I think the OP is over-thinking this and would be better served in dismissing this person from their thoughts. From personal experience I know that’s easier said than done, but continually trying to guess what you might or might not have done or said wrong is never helpful.

  29. Cath in Canada*

    OP#3: I really struggle with this too. It doesn’t help that the call where I have to take roll call starts at 6am, I’m not a morning person, and I have a really difficult time with poor quality audio and multiple people talking simultaneously. Omitting a roll call isn’t an option (I’ve asked the prof who chairs this working group).

    I’ve had all the same problems as you with various methods. Our teleconference system doesn’t let anyone see who’s on the phone, and anyway a lot of the teams who are on the call book a meeting room and dial in together, so even if we could see which phone numbers are active, we wouldn’t know who’s on the end. Asking people to announce themselves when they join led to people talking over each other, and lots of interruptions.

    What I do is do roll call by team: “Who do we have from the Blueprint project? How about Germany? Anyone from South Korea?” etc. You still get people talking over each other, but less so then with other methods, and it’s easier to pull specific names out of the general babble when you have a smaller list of possible names to pull from.

  30. Kobayashi*

    I’m just going to comment on an experience that MIGHT make you feel a bit better. I was once talking to my gardener over the phone about an issue (trying to explain something) and we concluded the conversation (it was all amicable). As she was hanging up, I heard her say, “Well, that makes NO sense!” – then click!
    I called her back and said, “Hey, I was wondering if I was clear enough? AS you hung up, I heard you say, ‘that makes no sense’ so let me know if there’s any confusion.”
    She told me it had nothing to do with our conversation. It had to do with something her son did/said/or handed to her (I can no longer remember) as we were talking and she was responding to him as she was hanging up. So, what seemed obvious to me upfront later ended up with a perfectly mundane explanation. LOL Maybe that’s what happened here. One can hope!

  31. Whippers.*

    #1 “Terone”. Is this a word neither I or dictionary.com have heard of? Or should it be “on their on”?
    Genuinely not trying to be sarcastic here, am confused as Alison rarely makes mistakes like this :)

  32. Liz*

    OP #3 – If you really do need to know who’s on the line, another way to do it is to ask by region/location.
    Who’s on from our Cincinnati office? Who’s on from our Nebraska office? Who’s on from Houston? Etc. That way people can talk, but not all 30 at once. I used to do statewide tele-learnings. The didn’t do attendance, but they used this model for questions at the end. County 1, what questions? County 2… etc.

  33. OP 1*

    It’s doubtful that I’ll be getting an offer so I feel it’s pretty moot anyway. The GM seemed to just be reading and nitpicking things off of my resume and questioning how my skillset and experiences would translate into the position and then arguing with me when I showed how they would. I expected and prepared for actual questions like

    “Why do you want to work here?”
    “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
    “Tell me about yourself”
    “Tell me about a time when you did this, this and/or this.”

    But there was none of that it was more like

    “I don’t see how this skill or that skill or this experience or that experience translates to this position please enlighten me.”

    I would do so and mention transferable skills and it’s like the guy would ignore or argue with me that he was right and I was wrong.

    1. OP 1*

      I found it strange that they would interview me twice if they truly felt I was wrong for the position and didn’t have the right experience but this seems to have been the case.

      1. Cheshire Cat*

        OP1, I’m sorry to hear it. Although, the GM sounds like a jerk, in addition to using profanity rather casually. Maybe you’ve dodged a bullet.

  34. OP 1*

    They didn’t really seem like visionaries to me to be honest. They should have been able to see what I brought to the table and how it would have helped their business. Even after I explained it in comprehensive details, they still didn’t seem to grasp it or see how my extensive background would have made me an asset to their company. I don’t know if they were merely testing me or were just kind of being rude and disrespectful. I felt like I was being tested-disrespected during the lead up to the interview process itself with the rescheduling toward the last minute seemingly because they didn’t feel like staying late to interview me that day or forgetting they had scheduled an interview with me-whatever else it may have been.

    I was certainly treated in quite the opposite manner that a VIP candidate (or someone viewed as such) would have been treated. But like I said above all of it could have very well simply been a test to see how I would interact and detail with difficult people.

    1. OP 1*

      I’m somewhat of an introverted person who oddly works in a form of sales-marketing-customer service. I understand completely about being trapped in your own head while experiencing social anxiety and thinking things that you probably should say out loud but not actually saying them, and sometimes blurting things out that you should probably keep inside. I have in the past thought of compliments I could say to a person, but didn’t say them out loud for whatever reason, but thought I said them (if that makes sense.) so I might be thinking “you have a lovely store that is conveniently located right in the heart of beautiful, downtown, wherever.” But for whatever reason I won’t verbalize it at the time. In memory, I’ll think back on it as though I did verbalize it and might actually repeat something similar to the person at a later time such as “Like I was telling you the other day, you have a lovely store that is conveniently located in the heart of beautiful downtown wherever.” And the person will respond with a “thank you” but with a confused look on their face some will even tell me they don’t recall me telling them that previously.

  35. pepp3rminty*

    We do a ton of big conference calls in my work. One thing we do to “take attendance” is to have a standard agenda with a point person (or two) for each item, so when we get to that, the leader will say “on the dark chocolate wide-spout teapots – Harvey, any updates this week?” If Harvey is on, he gives his update; if he’s not but he’s asked someone to fill in, they’ll pipe up with “Harvey is in Chile this week, but Barbara Gordon is here for him. Our department’s training meeting is moved to Thursday…” and so on. And if no one from that department is on, we just go to the next item on the agenda. Then at the end of the meeting, we go down the attendance list and ask if anyone has anything to add, and finally ask if anyone else is on the line with something to report. If someone wasn’t “called on” they can still comment; if they don’t have anything to report and are just listening in, they don’t need to speak up or be on the attendance list anyway.

  36. Karinna*

    OP1: Two years ago, I had an interview with a Creative Director and Art Director at a medium-sized ad agency. I had over 10 years of agency experience when I met with them, and have a respectable portfolio of work. Yet, after the interview, the CD actually used my business card to pick his teeth while he walked out of the conference room where we met.

    I was pretty horrified about it at the time, considering how he made no effort to be gracious or show any professional consideration, but now I think how terrible it would have been to work for him.

  37. OP 1*

    I recently discovered that a rogue reference without my knowledge or permission and without me even listing the person as a reference for this particular job had been contacting the company and advocating for my hiring often with some way over the top sales pitches about how “great” I am. I’m not sure if references are really supposed to advocate for people in this manner in order to try and get them hired, but this definitely seems to have been off putting for them and may have resulted in an adverse effect with the animosity and so forth.

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