did I signal disinterest in the job, I found the interview questions ahead of my interview, and more

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

1. Did I bungle this interview by implying I wasn’t interested?

I’m worried that I handled a recent job interview badly. The job was at a very exciting institution, and the duties were right up my alley, with a bit more responsibility than I have now. The job would involve moving to one of the big desert metropolises in the Southwest, a city I was ambivalent about (too hot for me, too conservative, and too car-oriented) but I was willing to consider the move based on what I knew about the job and the organization.

I had a successful phone interview, and then a few weeks later they flew me out for an all-day interview, which is typical in my field. There was a lot that I liked, especially the people I met, but other things that weren’t perfect, such as the actual physical location where I’d be working. At the end of the day, as the hiring manager was driving me back to my hotel, she asked me something like, “So, what do you think?” I panicked a bit — I wasn’t yet convinced I’d take the job if offered, even though I felt positive about a lot of it, and I became irrationally afraid of sounding too enthusiastic in case I later ended up turning an offer down. So I hemmed and hawed and said, “I’m not sure about the lifestyle here in Desert City, and you know I’d be expensive because of my current coastal Blue State salary” (the topic of salary hadn’t come up but I had already decided I would probably be unwilling to take a big pay cut even to move to a cheaper city). The rest of our conversation was fine – I liked this manager a lot and felt that throughout the day she and I had a good connection – but I worried I’d bungled that interaction badly.

Flash forward a few months and they haven’t been in touch. The job is still listed as unfilled, but I assume if I were still in the running I’d have heard some indication about it. Obviously throughout the course of an entire day they had plenty of opportunities to decide I wasn’t right for the job, but the conversation I mentioned above has stuck with me. Does my answer sound as bad to you as it does in my memory? What’s the best way to handle it when, at the end of an interview, they ask for your interest in the job, especially if you’re still on the fence and want to see what an offer looks like before making a decision? Should you be honest about any reservations you have, or should you try to show an enthusiasm you may not feel, just to keep options open?

Yeah, it wasn’t a great answer, unfortunately! It likely came across as if you had some serious reservations, and the salary remark sounded like you were signaling that this probably wasn’t going to work out.

It’s not that you needed to be 100% convinced by the end of the day. It’s that if you choose to mention serious reservations without anything else to temper it, an employer is going to take you at your word. It would have been better to say something like, “I’m really interested in the job, and today has made me even more so. I’m still thinking about what the move would entail, of course, but I’m excited to keep talking.” That would have been honest about your interest in the job (which sounds like it was high) but also noted that you were still mulling other factors. The problem with your response was that it was entirely discouraging; there was nothing indicating any enthusiasm at all.

Ideally you would have followed up within the next couple of days to let the hiring manager know that you’d been reflecting on the trip and were strongly interested in the job (if in fact that was true). That might have helped counteract the previous impression. It’s not necessarily too late to do that now, although I wouldn’t do it at this late date unless you know you’re open to moving if the offer is right.

2. I found the interview questions ahead of my interview

I was applying for a job I had been in for a few months as a temp. I researched the files and found questions that were asked at a previous interview for the same job and, as they weren’t protected, I used these as a practice for the interview. I was horrified when I got to the interview to see they hadn’t changed the questions. I didn’t say anything, as if I did they would have to redo the whole process, which took months to set up, and if I didn’t get the job then it wouldn’t matter.

However, they did find out and told me I was unethical and said I was not going to be considered for the position. My contract was ending on the day they told me. They said they didn’t believe anyone else could have accessed the docs (which I don’t believe) but that’s that. Of course I was very disappointed as I had worked very hard learning the job and left with over 18 hours “flex” time which was how much extra I put into the position. It was a very disappointing ending. Just wondered your thoughts. I was going to suggest they redo the interviews with just the top two candidates but I didn’t even get a chance to put that forward.

The subject line of your email to me was “boss didn’t password protect interview documents” — which is an odd way to characterize this. The issue isn’t that your boss didn’t protect the documents; the issue is that you accessed documents you weren’t supposed to access in order to get an unfair advantage over other candidates. Your boss is not to blame for not stopping you from doing that. In any job, there are going to be opportunities to behave unethically, and your employer needs to be able to trust that you won’t do that just because you think you can. So yes, they took the right stance here.

You sound like you’re not taking responsibility for what happened, and that’s dangerous, because if you don’t learn the lesson from this, you’re likely to make similar mistakes in the future.

3. Not giving a gift to a resigning manager when I’m giving a gift to another coworker

We have a frustrating director/project manager (Tywin) who does not allow us to go beyond his strict guidelines in any project without he direct say-so. When we reach the limits of his guidelines and have to request new ones, he acts annoyed or he says he wishes he worked with people who knew how to do their jobs. It feels condescending and I join my coworkers in a sigh of relief when his projects come to an end.

Tywin, thankfully, is resigning to take over his father’s successful business. His friend, my direct manager (Cersei), had my coworker (Joffrey) send out a group email asking us if we would all contribute $20 towards a gift card so that Tywin can have a nice outing with his family. I balked at the email, chose to ignore it, and would pretend I did not see it if anyone were to ask. I work night shift and come to find ANOTHER group email this time from Cersei, requesting that I reply as soon as possible and let her know if we are interested/not interested in participating. I was going to reply that I cannot afford it or that it is not in my budget, like you usually advise.

But at the same time I have been asking around to plan a small office baby shower for a recently pregnant coworker. My coworker had to use IVF to get pregnant so we are all visibly excited for her and do not mind spending way more than that. (Do not worry, I am not going to pressure anyone into contributing!)

I do not want to send mixed messages, but there is absolutely no way I wish to participate in funding Tywin’s family time. Is it okay to just say, “That is not something I would like to spend my money on but I wish him well”?

I wouldn’t say it quite like that, because that language highlights the “I don’t want to” part. And you’re absolutely entitled to not want to, but in the interest of preserving smooth relations with your boss, you’re better off with something like “I’m not able to chip in, but I wish him well!” And in this context, “I’m not able to chip in” could mean anything from “this is not in my budget” to “that’s not something I’m going to choose to contribute to” (just worded more politely in the latter case).

It would be pretty aggressive for your manager to ask you why you’re able to contribute to your other coworker’s baby shower but not to Tywin’s gift card, but if she does, you can say, “My budget for office gifts is limited and I had already planned on Sansa’s shower” or “My budget is limited and I couldn’t do both.” (Frankly, I would love for you to say, “I’ve always been taught not to give gifts upward at work,” but you shouldn’t do that unless you know Cersei will handle that well.)

4. Do I really have to make up hours I missed at my internship when I was sick?

I am a graduate student getting my masters at a pretty good school. I’m also a graduate assistant for the chairperson of the program, who is notoriously very demanding. (I knew this going into the job). The power dynamic is similar to the “big boss” of a company who picked one of the company’s interns to be their own personal intern. I’m scheduled to work 12 hours/week, but I also have 18 hours/week of scheduled “in class” time that I have to work around.

I got the flu this week, on a Tuesday which is when I work. As I’m writing this, it’s Thursday and I’m still not feeling great. On the days I was sick I tried my best to be responsible, pass my tasks along to other interns, and everything the boss needed got done. (I even came in extra this morning for an hour). But the boss keeps asking me when I’m going to come in and make up my extra hours.

Now usually I wouldn’t mind, because I did miss a day. But the issue I have is that I’ve worked overtime for the past few weeks without saying a word about it (4+ hours every week so far) and I never complain. I guess my question is, since I’m at such a low position on the totem poll do I really have to kill myself next week to work eight extra hours to make up the time I missed?

I understand if that’s the case and since I’m at such a low position and I have to that’s fine, I’ll do it, but thinking about that scenario just sends the darkest of clouds over my head. I feel like I’ve dug myself a hole that I can’t get out of by getting sick.

I can’t speak to graduate assistantships in particular, but if this were a normal internship, no, you absolutely would not be expected to make up the missed hours. That’s not typically how sick time works (or no one would ever be able to recover). You are sick, you get time off, that’s it. There are some jobs where you’re expected to make up missed time, but they’re usually widely recognized as terrible jobs and/or it’s because of very specific, limited-time circumstances (like an unusually important deadline). It’s not something that should be expected as a matter of routine.

That goes double since you’ve already been working extra hours anyway. And in fact, it would be reasonable to note that to your boss, saying something like, “I’ve actually worked an additional 12 hours over the past three weeks, which covers the time I missed this week and then some. Because of my class schedule, I can’t put in more on top of that, but I’ll be back to my regular schedule going forward.”

Whether or not you can say that to this “notoriously demanding” boss is a different question, but at least know that it would be perfectly reasonable.

5. New manager is asking a battery of personal questions

Is it appropriate for a new manager to ask personal questions? My new manager met with one of my colleagues and asked her the following: Where are you from? Where do you live? Do you own your own home? Do you have kids? How many? Are you married? Is your son’s father in the picture? (My colleague is a single mother.) Do you have a boyfriend, a partner? Do you socialize with colleagues from this office outside of office hours?

HELP — I am dreading my upcoming meeting.

What on earth?! Some personal questions, like where someone is from or if they have kids, are fine when they come up in an organic way as part of getting to know someone. But this is bizarre and intrusive. Asking if she owns her own home?! Why? And the intrusive question about her child’s father? And all the rest is quite weird too, especially when you put it altogether.

I wonder if she heard somewhere that she should learn this type of information about her staff as a way to show she cares about them as people, but then horribly misapplied that and turned it into this weird, inappropriate interrogation.

Anyway, if she does this to you, when it crosses over from feeling like normal getting-to-know-you chat to feeling inappropriate (which I think might be at question #3 in this list, about owning or renting), you could smile and pleasantly say, “That’s a surprising question. Why do you ask?” And if she really crosses lines, you can always say, “Oh, I don’t usually talk about my personal life that much at work.”

I’d like to tell you to tell her she’s being weird and inappropriate, but it’s in your best interests to stay on good terms with her because she’s your new manager. (Which of course is unfair, but that’s power dynamics for you.)

{ 444 comments… read them below }

  1. Viki*

    As someone who does have experience with graduate study internships and placements it depends on how it’s structured. Is this internship built into course work/requirements for x amount of hours per semester for the credit? Then yes, you do have to make it up. Is this something outside of your degree but still in your institution, and as such more of a job? How important is his connections that you in the end will hope to profit from?

    If you’ve already made it up and have the logs/paperwork to do so with the overtime, use that as proof for the required hours. If this is strictly a job thing-that’s between you and your boss and the arrangement. It’s unclear if this overtime is allowed (“without saying a word about it”) or fact of the job. If it is fact of the job, and the boss is known for being hard, with connections you need this might be a suck it up situation. Unfair, but not unheard of in academia.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree that the structure of the position changes OP’s approach.

      This sounds like it may be a position that contributes to OP’s financial aid package (as opposed to an internship required for graduation). If it’s compensated work (i.e., there’s tuition deferral or paid wages), then OP is likely covered by their department’s academic personnel manual, or if they’re unionized, their CBA.

      If I were OP#4, I’d let my boss know I’m out with the flu, I’d appeal to whatever personnel rules allow sick leave, and I’d let them know what my game plan is so that their work doesn’t fall through the cracks while I’m out. When OP is back from being sick, it’s worth discussing how overtime, etc., should be accounted for, as OP shouldn’t be working overtime without compensation, anyway. And if you have to figure out “make up” hours, I’d make arrangements for how to spread that out over time.

      Worst case scenario, OP’s boss is draconian and OP will have to put in extra hours because the academy is full of petty tyrants. Best case scenario, OP’s boss will be a reasonable human and allow OP to take sick leave without an expectation of “make up hours.”

      1. Viki*

        Agreed, it really depends on the nature of the beast. I know that there were grad students in labs for far longer than what was expected due to the nature of their work/experiments/culture of the bacteria shelf life.

        If you’re right and there’s no grade/course part than go see the department sick rules/leave-usually if it’s not posted, the admin for the department will be able to point you in the direction.

        Worst case-look at the boss’s standing in the field and be careful. It’s a clique in many ways.

        1. Flower*

          Yeah, as a grad student in a lab situation, all of this is weird to me. It depends greatly on the individual lab head, but in general, the student determines their hours in the lab based on what they need to get done. Sometimes you work less than 40 hours in a week and sometimes you work FAR more… but it doesn’t matter too much so long as you’re doing what’s expected.

        2. OP #4*

          Hi! I just had a follow up question about the boss’s reputation in the field which is also something that worries me. I don’t think this boss has a great reputation, because after reading this thread and listening to the “My Boss Yells” podcast, he’s not a good boss.
          I currently have a good reputation but I’m worried that if I don’t continue to bend over backward to please him, he will talk poorly of me to others.
          I also kind of worry, what if I do bend over backward to get a good reputation, but then when he talks others his reputation comes along with it and they think “If I don’t like this boss, I won’t like the employee he likes”


          1. Ego Chamber*

            Just because he’s a Bad Boss doesn’t mean he has anything other than a stellar reputation in his field, especially in academia—this is 100% bullshit but it’s very, very common for someone’s professional reputation to have nothing to do with how they behave as a boss or coworker.

            Your reputation will rarely be damaged by someone who sucks as a person thinking you’re a good employee and telling others that they like you. People may be initially apprehensive to be meeting the favorite of the Boss From Hell but as long as you don’t act like someone who’s Also From Hell, there’s nothing to worry about. Many, many people are diplomatic to a fault, and that’s not a bad strategy to aim for.

      2. AnnaBananna*

        But even then there wouldn’t be a requirement to make up hours. I remember spraining *both* ankles horribly during my freshman year (dont ask…there was booze and really horrible dancing involved) and I was out for, like, three days from my daily work study job – I never had to make up the hours.

        Ugh, I also got pink eye that same year. Damn, that was a rough year. I didn’t feel too bad about that one though because everybody in my dorm came down with it. /gag/

        That said, if this is a paid on campus job NOT related to a financial aid package (there’s plenty of those too), Boss could actually trying to do something kind by encouraging LW to make up the hours so that their paycheck isn’t lowered, since LW probably makes something close to minimum wage. Something to consider anyway.

        1. Michael*

          A work study job is different than an internship though. As a registered nursing student I absolutely had to complete my clinical hours in order to finish the program. An internship job that directly relates to the students major needs to be completed. It should be anyway.

          1. Sarah N*

            This is what I was thinking of. If someone had a really severe illness where the hours couldn’t be completely made up during that semester, maybe they would get an extension to complete the hours later, but ultimately the hours would have to get done at some point to complete the program. Similar to writing a thesis — a really severe medical situation could allow someone to take a leave of absence and finish the thesis on a later timeline than their classmates, but they aren’t going to be allowed to just write a shorter or less good thesis and claim “sick time.”

    2. Ender*

      The key thing is to ensure boss knows she put in the hours already. It’s possible boss may not be aware, or that there have already been time sheets entered for the weeks she did overtime and it’s not possible to change them.

      The best way IMO is to start by saying “I don’t know if you remember this, but I actually worked 12 hours extra in the three weeks before I had the flu. Is there any reason we can’t use those hours to make up the required time?”

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      If the internship is structured such that you have to complete a set number of hours over the term, then all the overtime hours should count towards that.

      I do agree with your last line–if logic says one thing, and your boss with great connections that could make your career says another, you might want to suck it up for the purported long-term payoff. And such professors seem likely to overlap heavily with those convinced that their grad students’ DREAM should be to work 80 hours a week unpaid on this research, because why else are they here?

      1. OP #4*

        Thanks so much for the advice, just wanted to correct a few things.
        I’m not doing research, just office-type work that’s usually associated with interns. I work as a “graduate assistant” in the advising office that runs the graduate program I am in. It’s a small program and a small office and I generally do things like hanging up posters, getting things ready for events, etc.

    4. Lil Fidget*

      I think you often have to make up WORK, but not necessarily sick hours, if that makes sense.

    5. epi*

      I was thinking the same thing. There are a lot of different types of graduate student jobs!

      If it’s an appointment that pays the OP’s tuition, at my school this is akin to being salaried. You don’t clock in and out, and you agree to work an average of X hours each week all semester, so yeah, they need to be made up at some point because you were being paid for them. Similarly for a practicum, those require a total number of hours that you must fulfill. A normal boss will know that goes both ways. If it’s an hourly job, I think most bosses would assume the OP wants those hours if she has time to make them up. Just some things to think about since it’s hard to tell from the letter if the boss is literally telling the OP to work extra, or if the OP misunderstood.

      Regardless of the arrangement, the OP *really* should not be working overtime they don’t tell their boss about. Even if they just need to work the same average number of hours per week, it’s the boss’ call whether they need you so much right now that they’re willing to sacrifice some of your time later in the semester. And it won’t sound good, after being sick, to say “actually I have been working extra all semester and not telling you, so I’m going to stay home.”

      Also just in general, consistently needing to increase your time by a third is a problem. I’ve been there before but it is usually due to bad time management on the student’s (read: my) part, a genuine training need (you’re here to learn!), or truly unrealistic expectations that might justify getting help from your faculty supervisor or trying to find some other assistantship next year.

      1. Gabriela*

        This is my experience with hiring graduate assistants as well. They don’t clock in and out and are expected to work a certain number of hours per week for the same biweekly salary. You should absolutely NOT be working any overtime. I would expect a graduate assistant to make up hours if they missed them, but I would probably look the other way if a really reliable GA had the flu- especially if the work was still getting done.

      2. AnotherSarah*

        I agree generally, EXCEPT that at many schools, GAs aren’t considered employees. They’re considered students, even if they’re paid out of payroll (or out of a grant, or whatever). This means that for most GAs (schools where grad students/workers are unionized will be different but there aren’t many of them), there really are no rules governing PTO. It’s up to advisor/supervisor discretion. And it sounds like OP’s supervisor won’t be helpful here.

        However, because there may be no HR policy governing GAs (again–there wasn’t at my school, which was a large and well-respected institution), the supervisor might be amenable to the “already clocked extra hours” idea.

        What I would do is ask other GAs what’s happened when they’ve been sick, and also talk to the department chair (and really, department manager or lab manager, as they tend to know more about the day-to-day ops), and see what’s been done in the past. One of the horrible things about being a GA (or TA) is that employment often works on very secretive, individual terms. The more you know about other GAs’ agreements, whether explicit or implicit, the better.

        1. epi*

          This is a really good point.

          GAs and TAs are unionized at my (very large) university. As an RA, I am not– our state law prohibits it– but my pay and working conditions match what is in the contract negotiated by my classmates. (For which I’m very grateful!) However, working conditions are going to vary a lot by what field you are in and it’s definitely a good idea to find out what your peers are doing. For example nearly all my work can be done at a desk during office hours, and I never leave anything running that I would need to check in on overnight. The expectations of everyone around me reflect that. That’s not necessarily the case for someone in a lab.

          However, I would also advise the OP to talk to their boss directly about this unless they are a lot scarier than the letter makes them sound. The fact that grad student employment can be so idiosyncratic and inherently difficult to understand, plus the fact that the OP calls themself both a grad assistant and an intern, makes me think that they do not understand their employment situation. They need to know exactly what their boss expects in order to be successful here, and to understand any information they get from other grad students.

          1. OP #4*

            My official title is “graduate assitant” and I work as an employee in the administrative office that runs the graduate school. I make posters for events, test slideshows, move desks in classrooms, etc. and I get paid hourly. I call myself an “intern” because it is more similar to that situation than a research based academic assistantship.
            My boss isn’t my advisor, he is the person who coordinates the graduate program at my school. And I’m not worried about my professional reputation because I’m just not the type of person who has conflicts that lead me to a bad reputation.
            But in general, yes, I think he’s much scarier than I let on. Even the person who has the “vice” version of his job does not stand up to his antics, so it’s a tough situation being at the bottom of the totem pole. I also just listened to the “My Boss Yells” podcast episode, and learned that yelling is unacceptable, something this boss also often partakes in.

      3. OP #4*

        Thanks! I wanted to clarify about the OT. It’s not that I don’t bring up the overtime, it’s that I don’t complain about it. The overtime hours are largely very spontaneous, meaning that when I’m in class he’ll message me and I’ll have to come down to the office to print some posters he forgot about (that type of thing). These are the overtime hours I’m referring to, coming in spontaneously outside of my regularly scheduled office time. I basically have to be on-call any time I am at school.
        I didn’t realize how much OT I had been putting in until writing this email, due to the fact that the OT is so spontaneous.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          What the hell?

          Next time you get a chance to speak with him, or the next time he pulls you out of class (even though he’s scary, I swear I get it but this has to be done), ask how you should be logging the hours when he pulls you out of class to do things that apparently have to be done right then for some reason.

          He’ll either tell you how to get paid for that time (problem solved), tell you you’re not getting paid for that time (not okay), or he’ll stop doing it (problem solved). I doubt your university wants you working time you’re not being paid for, and I can’t imagine that’s legal if you have an employment relationship with them.

    6. Anon 367*

      I agree. I had two unpaid for-credit internships when I was in college. The attached course required that I get a letter from my intern supervisor stating that I’d met the minimum hours worked. There was a hurricane during one and a family emergency during the other and I made those hours up over the course of the semester.

    7. Nesprin*

      I’m in academia- this advice might be applicable to standard internships, but given that OP is a MS student this is not correct.
      Academia is an apprenticeship system- one works to learn and develop skills and hopefully to impress the PI who is the ultimate judge of one’s work. When the OP is done with her masters she will need a letter that raves about her ability and dedication as much as she needs her diploma. Problem is that bad advisors are legion and given that it’s an apprenticeship system if you have a bad advisor your time in grad school will stink.
      If your advisor has signaled that any missed time will need to be made up, then you have a bad advisor.

    8. ch77*

      Agreed with this.
      When I had grad school internships, it was structured that X amount of hours of internship work = X amount of course credit for the internship. So I did make it up if I missed due to vacations/sick/etc.
      Now, you’ve already worked the extra hours, so I agree that I’d document that and try to address it that way. Or, if it is likely that you will still be working more extra hours over the next few weeks, I’d just document those as your make-up hours for being sick.

      1. OP #4*

        Hello everyone!
        Special thank you to Allison, this is exactly what I needed to hear

        I don’t know if I can answer all of the additional comments, but in general the situation is that the boss is extraordinarily demanding, and he wants me to schedule in-office hours that don’t correlate to specific tasks.
        I took care of the tasks that needed to be taken care of while I was sick via some other interns that work in the office.
        I usually don’t mention the overtime hours that I work, because I do get paid for them (I work hourly) and the fact that they’re ‘overtime’ really just refers to the fact that they’re almost double my scheduled hours, in addition to my coursework. A lot of these “overtime” hours are spontaneous, meaning that my boss will message me while I’m in class and expect me to come in and work with little notice. (Usually because he is running behind on one of his tasks and he needs to delegate some tasks to help achieve a deadline)
        I am new to the “work force” and in general, just not sure what is standard office practice and what is not. I do get paid hourly, so that makes sense to me that the office should be able to just simply pay me less for a week in which I worked less.

        Again, thank you so much!

  2. Sami*

    Oh OP-2– I can understand the temptation to look over the interview questions, but it’s definitely not something one should ever do.
    I would have done the same thing as your bosses. It’s a shocking lack of work norms.

    1. valentine*

      OP #2, it’s good you didn’t get to suggest anything because they’re not taking instruction from you. You violated their trust and won’t acknowledge it. If they would have to redo the whole process and I was going to suggest they redo the interviews with just the top two candidates is what PCBH refers to as Trying to bargain your way through and you thought they should work around your cheat, I’m stunned you don’t see removing you from consideration as the obvious solution and that the only better solution was for you to have withdrawn and confessed. Had this occurred mid-temp-assignment, it might be possible to go with a serious discussion of ethics around access and a second chance, but that would require you admit you knew you were wrong (or, worst-case, can see it now) and how you’ll safeguard trust in future.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I was a bit agog at the whole redoing the top two interviews idea – why should they waste HR/hiring manager time AND make the candidates come back in because OP #2 contaminated the process when the more obvious solution is to just remove the problematic element from the equation. I feel bad enough when we have to ask candidates to come in for more than one round of interviews because we can’t get the key players in the building at the same time.

          1. Elise*

            I work for a government agency and this would still have resulted in removal from consideration. Of course, we’d have saved the file where she wouldn’t have seen it… That doesn’t absolve her though.

          1. Myrin*

            It’s Princess Consuela Banana Hammock; people regularly shorten her name like that because it’s quite the mouthful.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Princess Consuela Banana Hammock ;)

          (It’s a bit of a handful when typing. And valentine captured what I meant about “bargaining through” perfectly!)

    2. MK*

      I can understand the temptation to look at questions one had come across by accident. The OP “researched the files”, a.k.a., she went looking for them. Even more problematic.

      1. I Herd the Cats*

        That’s the part that grabbed me — “researched the files.” OP, what exactly did you think you were going to find that might be useful to you, without raising any red flags? The problem is, anything I come up with in my mind is something the employer probably doesn’t think you should go poking around for.

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah, the only way this wouldn’t have been a huge breach of trust is if it was completely and purely accidental – you were asked to clean out the filing cabinet and someone had mistakenly filed a document in there or whatever.
          But with it being more purposeful, then yeah, I see where they’re coming from.

          1. Penny Hartz*

            Right, or the questions somehow ended up on an email chain (in a “Hey, here’s what we’re thinking about asking the candidates–anyone have any input or changes?”) that OP was on as well. But digging through files LOOKING for them? Not okay. Were you going to look for people’s salaries as well?

        2. Courageous cat*

          I’m also insanely curious how they could tell. I mean, if I had done this, I would have probably acted as though I was just well-prepared. Did you literally just sit there and instantly spout out an answer without even pretending to think about it?

          I agree with all the other commentors about it being wrong, but I’m also very perplexed by this aspect of it as well.

          1. Sh’Dynasty*

            OP probably needed to download the document from the server; either it was monitored at the initial download, or OP accidentally hinted at it and the company then looked thru the downloads. That’s my guess, but of course if it was printed/ written down that’s another way, too.
            Or OP may have been caught reciting like you mentioned. Whatever way it happened, it sounds like OP is new to the workforce and so doesnt entirely realize how poorly they handled the situation.

      2. NerdyKris*

        Exactly. It’s not just the interview questions that’s the red flag here, it’s “What else will this employee find while snooping, and how will they use it?”. Confidentiality requires people abide by the honor system and not go out looking for stuff that’s accidentally left where others can see it.

        1. Ms.Vader*

          I agree – that’s the part that really stood out to me. What does that mean “research the files”… The only thing I can only take from that is you were looking for something to help you in the interview and are now just upset you were caught. Your attitude makes it seem like you’re somehow smarter or better than your former employers because they didn’t bother to password protect sensitive information. But you’re the one who was fired so not sure where that attitude comes from. The right thing to do would have been a)don’t go looking where you shouldn’t b) immediately close the file upon realization they were interview questions and c) mention to your boss what you found and assure them you didn’t breach ethical norms.

          1. many bells down*

            I read “research the files” as “find out more details about what the job entails long-term.” Like, maybe how they’ve handled problems or issues that only come up rarely. But not immediately admitting that you’d read the interview questions already was a real problem.

            1. Kelsi*

              But even then…I don’t feel like that’s appropriate to go looking through the files for. That’s what the interview is for (on the candidate’s side), to get a better sense of what the job entails and whether it would be a good fit. Or ask the hiring manager, since you work there! Looking through the files is looking for a secret leg-up on the other candidates, no matter how you slice it.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        When I saw the headline, I thought it was going to be someone outside the company who was googling questions that might come up and found that they’d been posted somewhere (i.e., “I interviewed at Sucracorp and here are the questions they asked”), and that didn’t seem like an awful thing to do. But an internal candidate searching through company files? Yikes.

        1. CMart*

          Yes, this is exactly what I was thinking when I read the headline as well. For my current role, several people had posted interview questions on GlassDoor (specifically the technical proficiency type questions). They were from several years prior, but I made sure I had polished answers anyway.

          The company was still asking those questions, which surprised me and made me feel kind of guilty, like I had “cheated”. I don’t think I did anything wrong, but it still felt wrong, and I was going to be very interested in AAM’s response.

          But the actual scenario presented is something else entirely.

        2. Working Mom Having It All*

          My read was that the internal candidate was doing something as part of their normal job duties (“researching the files” for another matter and this came up in their search, for example) and accidentally saw the interview questions that seemed to be clearly marked for a long-ago hiring process which surely would not be relevant to this particular situation. Something vaguely innocent. So maybe not snooping in the initial situation?

          But even then, I would probably try not to snoop (if anything about the file seemed like something I wasn’t supposed to see, I wouldn’t open it), and if opening the file didn’t seem like snooping until I actually saw the contents, I would probably tell my manager immediately so that everything would be above board. I certainly wouldn’t deliberately read the entire file, use the questions to practice for the interview without saying anything, go ahead with the interview despite realizing that the questions I was getting were NOT from some long-ago hiring process, and then put the blame for my unethical behavior on someone else.

          OP had many, many chances to clear the air and make sure they weren’t doing something unethical, and they didn’t take any of those chances. And they don’t seem to have learned from the mistake, either!

    3. BurnOutCandidate*

      From an InfoSec standpoint, I’m actually sympathetic to OP-2. Don’t put anything unprotected on a shared server if you don’t want someone else, who you may or may not know, to have access to it and look at it. The interview questions should never have been anyplace where the OP could reach them. This doesn’t mean that the employer was incorrect in how they handled the situation; what OP should have done is alert her supervisor and/or IT that this file was accessible as soon as OP discovered the interview questions. OP would have to answer why she had accessed the file, and the results of that conversation would probably not be good, but the employer has a security problem they need to be aware of.

      1. Roscoe*

        Yeah, I kind of think that too. I guess it depends on how they were hidden. My company used basically a shared system (confluence) and basically people put all kinds of stuff on their departments page, which is basically public to anyone in the company. If I happened to come across those while researching the department, I’m not sure that I think its super unfair. Like don’t post things there that you know others can access if you don’t want them to see it.

        1. NerdyKris*

          By that logic, if I leave my computer unlocked does that make it okay for someone to read my emails? If I leave a car door unlocked, can they go into my glove box?

          One person making a mistake doesn’t suddenly make something free for anyone to use.

          1. AK*

            It isn’t quite that level of a breach, though. We have a shared system as well, and for ours at least a closer equivalent would be leaving a stack of paperwork in a conference room. The room itself is a shared resource so there’s no reason why you would expect total privacy as you might with your computer or car.

            I agree that OP2 shouldn’t have studied the questions, but it’s the use of the list that I think is the problem here and not only finding them.

            1. all the candycorn*

              Or on the communal printer/copier.

              I’ve worked with a good number of people who’d send confidential information to a communal printer/copier, and then get mad at the people who also used the printer during that time for “moving their papers!”

              If you are printing something confidential, you hit print and walk your butt to the printer room ASAP. You don’t leave the papers sitting there for three hours and then get mad at everyone else for continuing to work during that time.

              1. Decima Dewey*

                A lot of people don’t think about those things. I had a job where I had to fax orders to another location. Once when I went to use the fax, it was spewing out all sorts of personal information on the director’s daughter’s educational issues. If that had been my (imaginary) kid, I’d have been looming over the fax once I knew the stuff was being sent.

                1. Annon for this*

                  I once received the fax for the buy out offer for the company I was working for. I was shaking as I handed it to the VP. He was like “ops, thanks”.

        2. Kelsi*

          Two things can be true. Yes, they should have protected the files better, but that doesn’t mean what OP did was ethical, and getting into files just because they’re not locked up is a good indicator that you don’t want to hire someone.

          1. Kelsi*

            Sorry, that was phrased badly. I was trying to say that getting into files just because they’re not locked up is a good indicator that you wouldn’t be a good choice to hire.

        3. chi type*

          I agree with Roscoe about this not being as clear-cut egregious as lots of people are saying. Should you not look at anything on the intranet while researching for an interview? If I was looking at a division’s intranet to see what tools/links/databases they use most (aka what I should definitely familiarize myself with) and stumbled across what I thought were past questions I’m not sure I wouldn’t look at them…
          Or is it unethical for me to look at the intranet at all since outside candidates don’t have access?

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Definite grey area.

            Outside candidates also don’t have preexisting professional relationships with the people who will be interviewing them and working with them. If it’s unethical to look at another division’s intranet, then it’s unethical to be ask people who you work with, who work in that division, what their day to day is like, for the exact same reason of unfair advantage.

            (This assumes there’s no internal policy about looking at other division’s intranet, which there shouldn’t be because it’s easy enough to just lock it down, but I worked at an incompetent company that used SharePoint in the stupidest ways and they had a page just for supervisors where they discussed different departments’ “problem children” and anyone who clicked on the page title from the main page could see it. I read that page for years before any of the other small cogs found it, and the eventual fallout was spectacular.)

      2. NerdyKris*

        Right. It’s like leaving your front door unlocked. While you made an error, the correct course of action for someone discovering the unlocked door is to alert you, not take a look around your house. And the poster isn’t clear on what they meant by “researching the files”. It could have meant checking the directory where they keep training documents and are expected to have access, or it could mean poking around the entire file system looking for something that didn’t have the proper security settings, which is a major red flag that they’re not trustworthy.

        1. Lasslisa*

          Or maybe it’s like leaving things on the curb. Depends on the details of the corporate system and how it’s typically used – is the shared server where they put all the training files and documentation, and employees are expected to go check it first before asking questions? Or is it more “if you need access, I’ll send you a link to my files on the shared server” where the presumption is no browsing?

          1. boo bot*

            Or maybe it’s like leaving personal food on the communal shelf – yes, probably everyone should be able to realize that your tiny wedge of super-expensive cheese is not for sharing like the store-brand cheddar is, but there’s always one roommate who won’t make the leap…

        2. Kitrona*

          (I’ve had that happen, ran to the store and came back to someone *in my living room* SMOKING. He was very confused and had some dementia, but… it clearly isn’t your house, dude, and why would you smoke in someone else’s house?)


      3. Johan*

        We don’t know important information — I worked as an assistant in HR right out of college, most such people have access to this type of thing (and far more sensitive information). She could have been in IT. I mean yes, the employer needs to protect sensitive information, but at the same time an employer shouldn’t have to use an additional lawyer of password protection for documents in entire categories of files that certain employees by job definition need to access. It seems like a red herring anyway because OP was so clearly wrong in handling this in so many ways.

      4. Working Mom Having It All*

        Eeeeeeehhhhhh, through my job I theoretically have access to a lot of sensitive information that doesn’t always directly relate to my duties, but that I might need to access at some future point. My understanding is that it’s part of the conditions of my employment here not to use that level of access for unethical behavior. For example I have access to the background check results for most people who work at my job site. It would still be unethical for me to go snooping into the files of people I don’t like, in hopes of finding sensitive personal info to use against them later. That those files weren’t password protected is no defense.

    4. Sh’Dynasty*

      OP probably didn’t realize that hiring managers do have a standard set a questions for roles that the hire for frequently. They’ll surely add new ones in depending on the candidate/particular responsibilities that are different in each hiring round.
      It sounds like OP looked in the previous job req. itself, which can house all sorts of information about the role and that’s how they found the questions. I can kinda understand what they were looking for- more job requirements/responsibilities details about the previous job in hopes to “research” and be as utterly prepared as possible.
      Job descriptions is one thing; looking into the folder for said description, finding interview questions (which probaby were also found with interview notes about past candidates) and then using those is another thing. Private information had to have been read over, so the boss’ reaction makes logical sense.

      OP, take a step out of your embarrassment about what happened; accept and own up to your mistake personally; and move forward. Keep walking forward!

    5. Scarlet*

      I agree that it was inappropriate and a mistake, but I’m also awfully curious about the file structure and naming conventions that led the LW to believe it was fine.

      In my team, we have shared spaces with, among many other business planning etc folders that are open (factually and culturally – everything in our team’s drive is available to all our team) to the team, a catch-all folder about employment stuff that houses things like job descriptions, KRAs for different roles, various old documents about progression, key differences between e.g. “teapot wrangler” and “senior teapot wrangler” etc.

      If there was a file in a folder like that called “example interview questions” or “interview questions Role 2014” or what have you, there would be nothing to indicate it wasn’t just another resource. If there was a specific folder called something like “2018 Particular Role hiring” then that would be a flag, or a file called something like that in a non-resource location, that should certainly be a warning that getting into it would be a dodgy move. And yeah, in that case, I’d be letting the manager know the file’s public, and probably using it as an opportunity to ask for advice about the interview, and that way you’d get what they were willing to give you.

      I work in a large organisation and information like that would be kept with HR on their own secure drive, so this would’t even be a possible scenario (unless the LW worked in HR, but there’d be a process to handle that and a conversation with them as an internal applicant around what was appropriate during the hiring process…), but filenames and file locations are a really big cue for how a document should be accessed/used if the organisation doesn’t have divisions like that. Also, the note of “since it wasn’t protected” – a lot of folk are going with the least charitable reading of “since the front door was unlocked” but another interpretation is that this is a workplace where sensitive files are always protected, and everything else is usually available.

    6. TootsNYC*

      It’s really not that you’d had a chance to figure out an answer to the questions in advance.

      It’s that you used your access to the company’s files to go looking for them.

      THAT is the problem.

  3. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – I see no mention of a thank you note/follow up email. That would have been the time to salvage your message.
    “I enjoyed speaking to you about x,y,z. I believe my skills in A could help you with task d.
    I’ve also been thinking more about the relocation. I actually found Desert city quite interesting and could see myself living there. I enjoy activity F and know that Desert city has many opportunities available.”

    1. LarsTheRealGirl*

      Right! I’m a little dismayed that months went by after you flew out for an interview and apparently there was no communication from you or them? I know we stress that sometimes companies don’t respond, but some form of contact should have existed after all of that.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        +100. I know that doesn’t help you at this point, OP, but for future interviews, please keep this in mind!

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      OP1, I am sorry this has happened to you, but you can learn much from this episode. Keep the following in mind for the future:
      1. Job interviews are not just about a candidates’ ability to do the job. Alison frequently points out that there are often multiple candidates who are well qualified for a role. In that case, many hiring managers are looking at intangibles, and one of them is enthusiasm for the role. A candidate who appears focused on the negatives is often perceived (correctly in your case) as not being committed to the job. That is usually a deal-breaker if there are other qualified candidates who are showing enthusiasm.
      2. When asked “So, what do you think?”, you said you panicked a bit. That question (or a variant) is almost certain to come up for any onsite interview, particularly if there are multiple people or if you traveled to the interview. You don’t need to fake enthusiasm, but you should always have a positive-sounding response ready. For example: “the job looks interesting and I enjoyed meeting the team today.” Note that you are not committing and highlighting the positive side.
      3. You were concerned about later turning down an offer. Good managers know that there is always a chance their offer will be turned down. The company is not worried about turning you down (in the form of not offering you the job). You should not be worried about turning them down as well if the job ends up not being the right one for you.
      4. I agree with Engineer Girl about follow-up. In fact, I would go a step further. If you are interested in the job, your thank-you email should clearly state that. If you are not interested, you can use the email to politely remove yourself from the process. The key in both situations is to send it 1-2 days after the interview. That gives you time to think. Given how stressful an interview is, try not to make firm decisions (either positive or negative) until you have had time to decompress.

      I am sorry you went through this experience, but bear in mind that there will be other opportunities. You will be better prepared for the next interview cycle because of what you learned.

      1. Bungler # 1*

        OP # 1 here. Thanks for the positive comments and suggestions! Your ideas here, and Alison’s as well, are very helpful.

        1. KitKat100000*

          As an Arizona resident (I live in Scottsdale and work in Chandler), I’m DYING DYING DYING to know if you interviewed in Phoenix! If yes, (a) Phoenix is a driving city (I live 20 miles from work but the drive only takes 25 minutes on a bad day), (b) the State is Red (but turning purple), (c) salaries here can be lower the big East Coast cities, but many people manage to make a LOT of money, (d) Arizona is NOT for everyone, but I have lived here for four years (after living in the Midwest and the Rust Belt) and I love, love love it, and (e) the summers can be excruciating, if you’re not prepared for it (we usually just stay inside during the day or stand in swimming pools – but it can still be 95 degrees or hotter at midnight).

          Basically – if this was Phoenix, Arizona, the city is not for everyone, and if you don’t LOVE a city, then you might regret moving there, even if the job is awesome and the pay meets you requirements. I hope that you find a job in a City that you LOVE, not one that you can just tolerate. Good luck!!

          1. Former Producer*

            Fellow Arizonan here (live in Gilbert, work in Phoenix, previously lived in Tucson) and I also want to know if OP1 interviewed in Phoenix! I agree with you on all points, personally I LOVE living in Arizona, especially coming from the cold, snowy winters in Colorado but I know not everyone loves it and I hope OP finds the right city!

  4. nnn*

    An option for #5, depending on dynamics, could be to obliviously misunderstand the tone of the conversation and ask the same questions back at the manager, like you would in a social conversation.

    Manager: Where are you from?
    You: Smalltown, you?

    The manager will have to either reply or tell you their intention behind the question. And if they say their intention is to get to know more about their employees, you can say “Oh! Well, in that case, what you should know about me is [work accomplishments, professional strengths, answers to the question you wish they’d really asked you]”

    1. Susan Calvin*

      Ok, so oblivious is kind of my middle name, but are we sure this IS a misunderstanding? I could see how a non-confrontational person with strong feelings about privacy would feel aggressively interrogated by a new manager with a ‘loud’, outgoing personality, who from her point of view is frantically grasping at straws for something to connect over with her weirdly stand-offish new report.

      Maybe “Smalltown, how about you?” is exactly what Boss is looking for! (Not saying she should. But I wouldn’t jump to the assumption of malice.)

      1. Someone Else*

        The way it was framed in the question made it seem more like the Boss was going down the list of personal questions in order, though. As if they were an intentional sequence, not just naturally coming up or curiosity. It’s hard to read it as presented and not see it as boundary crossing. You’re right it’s possible this person was just doing a very poor execution of “the types of question you could ask to get to know someone” but even so, it doesn’t change the advice which is to do something to stop the flow of the string of the personal questions, which will either (if he’s interrogating, which is what it read like, cause him to show his hand, or if he’s interrogating but not meaning to, turn it to something more casual and conversational, or if it’s something in between and not complete malice but also maybe he didn’t realize how it was coming across, maybe get him to pause and notice).

        1. Bibliovore*

          I agree with you on the framing. As it sounds like the information on the questions presumably came from the coworker rather than from OP’s direct experience, I also wondered whether the questions were asked conversationally vs. as going through a list. I could see most of them coming up reasonably in some conversational contexts — for instance, if asked where they lived a person might mention that they were looking to move, and someone might casually then ask if they owned or were renting. Asking whether a child’s father is in the picture is crazy personal for a get-to-know-a-new-report conversation, but it might be slightly less awful to someone who mentioned struggling with childcare or issues surrounding family vacations. It’d be very uncomfortable to be asked that by a new boss either way.

    2. Miss M*

      Urgh, but the answer I often get after “Smalltown, you?” if their intentions are not so great is “Oh, you know what I mean. Where are you *really* from?” And then you’re back to square one.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        Where are you really from? What answer are they looking for? Why would anyone question when you name a town?

        1. Narcoleptic Juliette*

          I’m guessing Miss M is referring here to the question people with ethnic backgrounds get. They really want to know what their ethnic background is. So if someone’s family immigrated from India, that’s where this type of questioner thinks they’re “really from.”

        2. nnn*

          When I’ve encountered it, it’s been code for “Why do you look like that, despite your name and accent reflecting the prevailing local ethnicity?”

    3. JLCBL*

      Not sure if this is relevant but I started wondering after the drift of the questions if this was a male manager looking to size up relationship potential. Gender isn’t mentioned (so it may not be a factor at all) but that was where my red flags started flying.

      1. AKchic*

        I had that consideration too.

        And even if this were a female manager, there’s another potential – the “Checking out potentials for a male relative”. At my last employer, we had a receptionist who kept trying to get every unmarried woman to date her sons. Even after multiple verbal warnings and three SH classes specifically for her. To her, it was innocent. She was just trying to play matchmaker and find the “perfect match” for her sons. Her sons weren’t impressed either (one was engaged and had two children).

    4. Genny*

      I really like this idea. The one thing I would caution is some people who cross boundaries do so because they don’t have a good grasp of where the boundaries are (others know exactly where they are and choose to cross them anyways). If new manager is the former, she might not realize how personal the question is even when they’re directed back at her. Now she sees you as someone who is equally okay with super personal conversations at work. Not the end of the world, you can find other ways to shut her down, but not ideal.

  5. Artemesia*

    #5’Oh I never discuss my personal finances at work’. ‘Oh I like to keep my personal life private.’ ‘That is a pretty personal question.’

    And flip any personal question you are willing to answer back with you asking her or him something similar.

    1. Auntie Social*

      Or take it to an extreme. Respond with “You forgot ‘How much money do you have?’, ‘What do you weigh?’ and ‘Is that your real hair color?’ “

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, what you did was unethical. Unfortunately, you demonstrated a lack of judgment that called into question your integrity. As a result, you effectively wiped out any goodwill you’d accumulated during your temp period.

    Even if they hadn’t reused previous interview questions, searching through files you’re not authorized to access (even if they’re not password protected) in order to get a leg up in the process is not reasonable, ethical, or fair. There are lots of jobs that are going to expect privacy for certain files, even if those files are not locked. You had a judgment call to make, and unfortunately, you made the wrong call.

    But even if you didn’t realize you shouldn’t have accessed the questions, you compounded the problem when you failed to immediately disclose that you had had access to the interview questions as soon as you became aware that they were reusing prior questions. It wouldn’t have been great, but in theory, you may have been able to salvage your reputation and the process (to be sure, it would have been ok if they disqualified you at that point, even if you had promptly disclosed). Trying to bargain through the process after you’d been disqualified would have only made it worse, because it would have underscored that you didn’t understand why your conduct was unethical.

    I’d encourage you to try to step into the shoes of the hiring managers and/or other applicants, as it may help you realize why your approach was not ok. Otherwise, as Alison notes, you’re likely to make mistakes like this, again.

    1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      I’ve had jobs where I’ve only been able to access or even see a very limited selection of files. It’s not that hard to make sure that people only see what they’re supposed to see. Even if that’s not possible, I would expect someone at least to tell to the employee what files they’re not allowed to open. If the employer hasn’t done either of these things, I would say this is at least partly their fault.

      1. MK*

        I disagree. Or I would have agreed if the OP had come across the questions by chance, but she went looking. I work in a courthouse; we have protections against outsiders snooping, but we cannot keep everything under lock and key (figuratively) or the clerks wouldn’t be able to do their jobs. If an employee went looking in the second basement to find the files of her neighbour’s past dispute with their father, it won’t be our fault for not protecting the files; they need access to the archive to do their job. Nor do I think we should have to point out to every new employee that they have access for the purpose of their work only and they shouldn’t snoop beyond that, it should be understood.

        1. JessaB*

          This and if you do find unsecured information during routine usage (routine not snooping) you have an obligation to tell whoever is responsible for securing it or controlling access to it that it’s out there. You don’t go searching for the March report on how much steak was served in the dining hall, accidentally find how much bribe money was paid to the King, and then not tell the Seneschal that that book was in the wrong shelf, and should be locked up. You have a duty.

        2. GreenDoor*

          I also disagree. We have a few restricted documents in my office. If you use different passwords for each, sure it’s secure, but it’s too easy to lose track if the employees that know the pass codes leave. Or, you do what we do and assign all restricted documents the same password….which defeats the purpose of password protection.

          These documents didn’t come to OP accidentally (like erroneously being copied on an email or something). In which case, you’d just reply and say, “I don’t believe you meant to send these to me” But in this case, the OP went looking. That’s unethical.

      2. Ciara Amberlie*

        The “If you don’t explicitly tell me not to, then it must be OK” defence is only valid for small children. People are adults and should be expected to use their judgement to make appropriate ethical decisions.

      3. wherewolf*

        I think the employer, hiring a competent adult to do an adult job, can reasonably trust that an employee (including temps) isn’t going to do things like read their boss’s email, save personal information they come across at work for their own use, access client info so they can email them for their side hustle, and other obvious Things You Don’t Do. If for some reason an employee sees their boss’s email they should pretend they never did, or disclose if necessary and don’t spread that info around. I think this is a pretty basic, safe assumption to make.

        1. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

          I think company data security shouldn’t be based on assumptions about what reasonable adults understand to be wrong. At the minimum, those things should be specifically said when a new employee comes to work. First day info sessions usually include pretty obvious things, just because it’s better to be safe than sorry. As we see from the comments, there are many work places where everything that you can see you’re also allowed to see, and someone coming from that kind of environment may not understand if things are different in another company. If it’s impossible or too difficult to make everything sensitive password protected, adding the sentence “you are able to access files that you’re not allowed to open so don’t read stuff outside folders X,Y,Z” takes only a few seconds. I don’t see any reason not to do that, and I wouldn’t trust my personal info to a company where the info is only protected by trusting employees to automatically know things they haven’t even been told.

          1. Kathleen_A*

            But the OP *did* understand that what she was doing was not quite on the up-and-up. What other reason could there be for her to be “horrified” when she got to the interview and found herself being asked the exact questions she’d found? I agree that she probably didn’t realize quite how bad this is, but come on. If she had been entirely innocent, why not disclose ahead of the interview?

          2. neverjaunty*

            All of this would be relevant if the OP had no idea she was supposed to look at this document. She went looking for it, and clearly knows she wasn’t supposed to given the things she’s said in her letter.

          3. Rex*

            Sure, it shouldn’t be in an ideal world. But bosses are human, and sometimes not that tech savvy, and still have to be able to rely on the discretion and judgement of their employees. That’s not to much to ask, either.

          4. Perse's Mom*

            There are a dozen drives, probably thousands of folders, and millions of files on my employer’s network. We’re pretty good about limiting access to the truly hands-off drives and folders, but crap happens. Someone saves a shortcut where they shouldn’t, or a folder gets moved and permissions aren’t adjusted to match, etc. The point is that OP went digging for info she knew was hands off.

          5. Genny*

            I can understand being concerned if a company didn’t protect PII, proprietary information, or other sensitive data, but are interview questions really considered sensitive? If I were the boss, it would never occur to me to put them anywhere restricted. They would be firmly in the realm of “this is technically public because its exposure wouldn’t harm the company, but you should only be looking at it if you need to know”. I don’t think the company is at all to blame here. The default position for all employees should be only look at what you need to look at regardless of whether or not you have access to it.

      4. Not Today Satan*

        Yeah, I’m a little bit confused by this too–everywhere I’ve worked, if something is saved in the common drive and not password protected, is meant to be shared (even if you assume most people won’t be going into most files). But maybe it’s just a culture thing.

        1. Holly*

          There’s no reason to password protect internal documents related to the interview process for a position. The ethical thing to do is *not* search for them. You don’t come across them by accident.

        2. Daffy Duck*

          Not my experience at all! Current job gives my team access (and the ability to modify) almost all of the documents in the company. We are only allowed to add/modify the specific projects we are assigned, which are then reviewed by boss before they become public. It would be a PITA to have us blocked from everything we shouldn’t touch (and probably a full-time job just granting/limiting access). We were specifically told we could look but not touch if it wasn’t our project – the underlying message was that would be a firing offence. I am pretty much at the bottom of the company.

          1. Seriously?*

            Yes! It is a pain to add people as they need something. Almost everything is available to everyone and we are expected to use good judgement in which files we access. The only things that are password protected are things that need to be because it is protected information by law and not everyone has the training required to be allowed to see those documents. Even those, you are expected to only access them if you have to and not just because you are curious.

          2. AMPG*

            But the OP didn’t modify the files; she just read them. I agree that the whole point of a shared drive is to share internal documents, and everywhere I’ve ever worked it was understood that sensitive documents needed to live in password-protected files.

            That being said, the appropriate thing for the OP to do in this case would have been to come clean during the interview and clarify that she thought the questions were visible because they weren’t the set of questions currently in use.

            1. Annonymouse*

              But how did OP find them? That is the crux of the issue here.

              They found them by doing something they shouldn’t have and tried to blame the boss for them doing the wrong thing.

              It’s the equivalent of me going around punching people in the face and telling them it’s their fault for not wearing a head guard.

              Instead of, you know, my fault for going around and doing the wrong thing that most people wouldn’t expect me to do.

        3. Jenna Maroney*

          Yeah, agreed. And I work at a top hedge fund that takes compliance & privacy SUPER seriously.

        4. Kelsi*

          May be a culture thing, may be a “what resources you have” thing.

          There are only two people at my agency who can change the permissions on drives/folders. They are both very busy. Some “make this private” requests are higher priority than others (like, the ones that would cause legal breaches, vs. just “it’s unethical to look at this but doesn’t expose the agency to legal liability” breaches)

          They do their best to make sure things that shouldn’t be shared aren’t shared, but a) they don’t have infinite time, and b) they can’t necessarily stop our less tech-savvy folks from saving stuff in the wrong place.

          Because of the team I’m on and the work I have to do, I have read/write access to probably 90% of our files. But there are most definitely files that would be unethical for me to access for my own benefit, and I would expect to be written up or fired if I chose to do it anyway. But, you know, I don’t do that, because I try to be an ethical person and also I like my job.

      5. NotAnotherManager!*

        It really depends on what sort of company you work at. Most attempts where I am to implement need-to-know security has presented problems during work spikes and when a matter takes an unexpected turn that requires adding additional people with different expertise. So, personnel files and and other highly sensitive materials are locked down, but much of the rest of it is secured by good faith and expectations that people will behave ethically.

        People also make mistakes. A rookie network engineer accidentally unsecured an entire share on our network once, and it was the transparency and proactivity of someone who noticed their search results clearly contained restricted materials and immediately flagged the issue (rather than poking around in the documents) that put the genie back in the bottle in very short order.

      6. Frankie*

        There are so many instances when this isn’t the case, though. I have a ton of security permissions at my job so that I can quickly resolve work-related tasks when needed. If I were to abuse those permissions to wade through data I’m not actually supposed to be viewing outside of a specific work-related task, that’s an ethical violation (and I could easily be fired for it).
        I used to be the admin in charge of filing all HR paperwork for a company’s employees. Had I pulled out files and investigated people’s past performance reviews in the course of my filing, that would have been a violation.
        I think that’s a bit like saying the food in the fridge is fair game if no one wrote their name on it, or that bike that’s not locked to the post is up for grabs.
        It’s even weirder in this case because LW already has an advantage over an external candidate, because they know the internal culture and job specifics better. So the fact that they went out and “researched” even more is sketchy.

        1. Jadelyn*

          I’ve got something similar. I’m in HR, and I’m our HRIS sysadmin, so I have literally All The Access To Everything. I also do data-wrangling for HR, which includes processing peer feedback for staff who are in that stage of the review process. We use Surveymonkey for that, and I have full access to that account so that I can get in and pull whatever data I need, whenever I need it.

          However, since we in HR are also subject to the peer feedback process, we created separate individual surveys for each of us, and the feedback in those surveys is supposed to be processed by the president’s EA instead of by me, so I’m not seeing the peer feedback for people I work directly and closely with. I have to pull the raw data and send it to her, but I do it without even opening the file.

          So I’m not supposed to see some of this data, and yet I have to have access to it in order to do my job. Thus, it operates on the honor system – I know I’m not supposed to go peeking, so I don’t. I mean, have I been tempted once or twice? Sure, I’m human, I’m curious. But I know the only reason they’ve entrusted me with this is because they, well, trust me. So I remind myself that the only reason I have the ability to go snooping in confidential data, is because they trust that I won’t do it, and if I did and anyone ever found out, it would be an enormous blow to my reputation and could cost me my job.

          So it’s very, very possible for someone to have access to something that they shouldn’t be getting into – and I don’t think it’s at all unfair to expect someone to respect that boundary instead of going “Well, you can’t stop me, so I feel justified in doing this.” It would be impractical to try to physically lock me out somehow without introducing roadblocks in my ability to do my own legitimate work, and I’d bet it was the same for OP2.

        2. Kelsi*

          (In my office the food in the fridge IS up for grabs if there’s no name on it, but that is an explicit and clearly communicated part of our office rules, since we often have events with leftovers that anyone may eat. Your point still stands though! :D)

      7. ENFP in Texas*

        Wow. No, the expectation is that “If it’s something that doesn’t pertain to your current job, you shouldn’t be poking around in it.”

        That is the professional, adult expectation.

        Not “Everyone else has to take steps to make sure you aren’t poking around in things that don’t pertain to your current job.”

      8. Working Mom Having It All*

        The reality is that there are a lot of jobs out there where people have access to things they’re not really meant to be going searching for, and certainly where there’s an honor code of sorts about not misusing information one has access to for personal gain.

        I work in legal for a large media company. I could probably dig through the files right now and find out personal information on a few celebrities. But it’s assumed by virtue of me being given a position here that I’m not going to access that stuff unnecessarily, and if I see that information, I’m not going to use it for my own purposes.

    2. Artemesia*

      And of course they use the same questions. It isn’t a final exam; it is the structure that works for the particular jobs. This is such a huge ethical violation that I am shocked the LW doesn’t recognize this. Yeah, easy to understand how it could occur and that the LW was not aware of how easily traced such things are, but after the fact to still think she can bargain her way into being considered is kind of amazing. The only play here, was an abject apology and statement that you didn’t realize they would be using the same questions and then to slink away and sin no more and apply somewhere else. This is a giant big deal.

      1. Frankie*

        Yeah, maybe this is someone fresh out of college and used to googling around for outdated exams to prep for a class? Which is also sketch, tbh, and a weird framework to approach a job interview with.

        1. SusanIvanova*

          Googling common software interview questions is accepted (googling Google interview questions is practically required ;) ) – there are even books out that cover them – but it’s generally understood that you study them to get the feel of how the questions work and what they’re looking for. If a question comes up that you know cold, acting like you’ve never seen it before would be a red flag – and interviewers can generally tell because it’s *not* about the right answer, it’s about explaining the process you use to solve it.

          What you do in that case is say “oh, I know that, I solved it like so in my last job” and the interviewers nod approvingly and go to their backup question.

        2. Daisy*

          Why on earth is that ‘sketch’? I’ve never taken any kind of exam where doing past papers wasn’t a major component of the preparation.

    3. LV*

      “There are lots of jobs that are going to expect privacy for certain files, even if those files are not locked”

      I agree that what the OP did was unethical. However, generally speaking if I came across a file/folder in our shared drive at work that I had full access to, it probably would not immediately occur to me that those files were sensitive or that it would be wrong of me to look at them.

  7. Tash*

    I think it might be helpful for letter writer #2 to actually explain what they could have done instead.

    Not sure what researching the files means? But ideally you wouldn’t have done that. Or when you found what you found you would ideally have mentioned that you found them and asked if you should look / admitted you had opened them by mistake.

    The next best option would have been to come clean when they gave you the questions, despite it taking months to set up. Dishonesty wasn’t the right choice even if it was intended to minimise inconvenience.

    1. Greg NY*

      I’m coming off a raking over the coals on Friday, so hopefully this comment is better received than that one was.

      It’s unclear to me how the organization found out that the LW accessed the files. Was it the way they answered the interview questions? Was it something the IT department was able to discover? I disagree with Alison and PCBH that it was a definite violation of work norms. More context (beyond what the LW provided) is needed. This LW was in the job they were applying for as a temp. They could have had ready access to the files without snooping. And it’s not even my understanding that interview questions are never meant to be seen by a candidate. Twice I’ve had questions given to me beforehand with the explanation that it was meant to save time during the interview itself. It’s like an open book exam. It’s the quality of the answer you come up with, not whether you are able to do it on the spot and from memory.

      What I would have done in this situation was to explain what I found before the interview and see how they wanted to proceed. If they would back the whole process up and not interview me as a result, I would have a clear conscience and feel it was a bullet dodged. This LW, unfortunately, was probably screwed either way, but coming clean would have given the best chance, however slim, for a better outcome. Not coming clean was the unethical part. You don’t want to give yourself an unfair advantage, you want it to be a fair competition. I might have suggested that the other candidates be given the questions beforehand just as I found them out.

      Because this comment is mildly controversial, I will definitively say that if the files were not supposed to be accessed by this LW, everything I said goes out the window and the LW dug their own grave, and that grave was dug on that alone. It wouldn’t matter one bit what they said, or did not say, afterwards.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s pretty easy to figure out who opened a file, especially if no one else has recently accessed it. I’m not a tech person, and I can tell you which user was the last to access any file on our shared server.

        Whether or not someone has “ready access” is not what determines whether they were snooping. I’ve worked at any number of jobs where there were files I was not supposed to access, even though I could easily do so. If I had browsed through them, it would have been snooping. OP characterizing this as “research” is disingenuous at best.

        Finally, in the context of interview questions, the insider benefit from having seen those questions before interviewing is undeniable and obvious. Your analogy is not apt because the interviewers provided the questions to you and ostensibly all applicants. In OP’s case, no candidate was expected to have had access to the questions, which is underscored by the fact that no applicant other than OP had access to the questions.

        Obtaining the file from an internal server, using it, and then failing to disclose that OP accessed it represent three decision points where OP failed to make the correct ethical choice for this employer. Suggesting otherwise doesn’t help OP, who seems to be struggling with identifying why their conduct disqualified them.

        1. Kay*

          I agree that the OP should have disclosed it but I also dont necessarily think looking through the files is a massive work violation either. At my last two work places everything was saved in a g drive and as an admin assistant I had access to all the company’s files. Once when I was looking for some communications stuff I found all the resumes saved from when i applied. I think many people would look at that stuff if they found it, considering it not that different than asking on glass door what the interview questions are, or people who already work there.

          1. krysb*

            Personally, I would see it as an astonishing lack of integrity, and I wouldn’t want that person working for me.

          2. Clare*

            Finding something accidentally while searching the files for a legitimate work purpose is one thing. But LW was looking through the files in order to give herself a leg up in the interviews (I’m guessing that’s what “researching”means here), hit the jackpot, then spent time practicing for the interview with the info she found. Everything about this was unethical.

          3. Silence Will Fall*

            It’s one thing to organically come across files and recognize what they are. It’s another to go looking for information that you wouldn’t otherwise have access to. If OP’s company wanted candidates to have the questions, they would have provided them.

            In the case of organically discovering files in the course of one’s work, I would hope that many/most people would either never open the document and/or immediately close it once they realize it wasn’t the file they were looking for. Otherwise, they are behaving in a way that lacks integrity and would make me look closer at their behavior for other ethical violations should I discover it.

          4. Smarty Boots*

            So, two things to consider:
            1. Even if you have access to files doesn’t mean you should. I can see the grades (and a lot of other info) for any student on campus, but it doesn’t mean I can ethically (or legally, in this case) do so.
            2. Researching: she’s already got a leg up by being in the job. It’s possible that she was not looking for interview questions, but instead looking at other documents related to different aspects of the job. For instance, a series of reports on llama saddle sales. And then came across the interview questions.

            Assuming good intentions — #2. But then once she came across the interview questions, #1 kicks in and she should have said something then.

            1. Hiring Manager*

              I am among the managers who hire for our org and also manage security. I don’t really disagree with the consensus on AAM regarding the interview questions, but I do think this is a minor transgression on the part of OP#2, not a despicable breach of ethics and judgment that requiring immediate termination.

              If the hiring managers at her job think their precious interview questions are so cunning that they will help them decide which candidate to make an offer to, I think they’re putting too much emphasis on the interview and not enough on the resume, references, tests etc.

              If they’re so sloppy that they can’t be bothered to secure their data, the OP kind of did them a favor with inadvertent penetration testing. I’m wondering if their overreaction was a result of being embarrassed as much as their horror that she’d leverage her temp slot by snooping in files that everybody in the org has access to?

              1. Baby Fishmouth*

                I don’t think OP outright got fired after this – it sounds like she was a temp who was interviewing to become permanent. This scenario resulted in her not getting the permanent job, so her temp ended.

                Also, although this probably did factor into their decision not to hire her, we actually don’t know if this is the only reason she didn’t get hired on as permanent. She could have also just not been a strong candidate to begin with.

                1. Greenhouse*

                  But why do they need to interview someone for the exact same job they’ve been doing for you? And at the interview, you ask them the exact same questions you asked them when you first hired them and decided they’re good enough. The purpose of interviews is to assess candidates and figure out if they will be a good fit. But if she’s already working for them they don’t need silly interview questions to assess her – they already know everything they need to know about her way of work. Their practices are questionable.

              2. Elizabeth*

                It’s called “business-need-to-know.” Do you, as you are working, need the information you are accessing to do your job? Yes: access it. No: don’t access it.

                OP2 did not have a business need to access the information. In my industry (healthcare), that’s an offense that gets you disciplinary action, up to & including termination. Calling it “inadvertent penetration testing” is trying to hide behind a fig leaf that doesn’t exist.

                I have access to everything. I can look at every employee’s HR record, every patient’s medical record, every quality file, etc. You name it, I can see it. I don’t look unless there is a business reason. Looking without a business need is a violation of every bit of trust an employer puts in an employee.

                1. Kelsi*

                  Also, calling it inadvertent penetration testing implies that you then TELL SOMEONE. “Hey, I can access this file and I’m pretty sure I’m not supposed to, could you maybe fix that?”

                  OP didn’t do that.

              3. Former Retail Manager*

                Totally agree with Hiring Manager. Sounds like this company is just lazy, at both data protection and at switching up their interview questions. I don’t see much difference in the OP finding the questions or her asking someone if they might have any input to help her be more prepared and that person conveying the questions they were asked, which then turned out to be exactly what OP was asked. I would honestly not expect a company to use the exact same interview questions for any length of time. Perhaps the same format….behavioral question, technical question, prior achievement question, etc., but not literally the same questions.

            2. smoke tree*

              While I think that the company was in the right to disqualify the LW from the process, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt, to a point. Particularly if the LW is newish to the work force, I can see how it might feel like looking at previous application materials isn’t too far off legitimate research into the company/role–kind of like looking up past exams in school for practice. But I think at some point they started digging in and rationalizing their choices, rather than reflecting on why these actions were unfair to other candidates and alarming to the employer. This has the opportunity to be a good learning experience, and hopefully with time the LW will see it that way.

          5. Frankie*

            Well, you theoretically shouldn’t be viewing the resumes of your competitors after the process is over…that’s their confidential information and unless there’s a business need for you to see it, you shouldn’t access them.

          6. Jadelyn*

            You found the resumes by accident – but did you then start opening and reading them? Because that’s the issue with OP2 – not just that they *found* the interview questions, but they then *accessed and used them* to give themselves an unfair advantage over other candidates. That’s the unethical part of this.

          7. Working Mom Having It All*

            Here’s where I think it wasn’t OK.

            1. Searching through the company drive in the first place. It’s one thing if you were going about a work task and happened to see a file called YOUR JOB TITLE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS 2016, or something. But if you deliberately decided to see what advantages you could shake out of the company server… that’s not great.

            2. Opening the files. A smart person would realize that the old interview questions might not be significantly different from the questions that would be used this time around. Even if I’d found this file in the course of doing a work task, I would choose not to open the file and potentially let someone know at that point that sensitive hiring materials were popping up in a routine search on the server.

            3. Using the information found without alerting anyone. Even just quietly closing the file and never speaking of any of this again is a little bit shady. But to actually use the questions to rehearse for the interview? Ew.

            4. Getting to the interview and finding your worst suspicions confirmed: those WERE this year’s questions. At that point, you have one hail mary left. You can fall on your sword and apologize for the advantage you availed yourself of, and hope that the rest of your work performance was amazing enough that they can overlook this serious breach.

            But to not stop and examine the situation at any of those points is pretty clearly unethical.

        2. Harper the Other One*

          In addition to the points PCBH made here, the questions that jumps out at me is whether the OP was doing this research (using company log in information) during time where they were supposed to be working on other things. Researching the files presumably took a bit of time, which could very well have been time the company expected would be spent on work tasks, not interview prep.

          I don’t mean to pile on the OP but these are important things to understand. Confidentiality and proper use of work materials and time are a big deal.

          1. Someone Else*

            I’m less inclined to be worried about that here. You’re not wrong it’s possible it took quite a bit of time, but also depending on the naming convention, it could’ve taken a very simple search and only a couple of minutes to find the stuff. If she spent the practice time on the questions she found during the workday, then sure that probably took a while, but if the “research” was search for folder named “interviews” drill in until jobABC123 shows up, open doc named “questions”, this might’ve been very very easy for her to find. Still not something she should’ve been looking for, but not inherently time consuming to locate.

      2. Woodswoman*

        Responding to OP #2. In my field, I manage a lot of confidential information, and also have permission to access to other confidential information necessary for my job. And there are other things I’m not supposed to see, because someone left documents in the printer’s output tray. Once I recognize that these are documents not for my eyes, I stop reading because it’s inappropriate.

        The only way I can see that your situation would have been ethical would be if you inadvertently stumbled on the questions on the server, stopped reading, and immediately told the hiring team that you accidentally read some of the questions. The situation you are describing is like cheating on a test, where you had the answer sheet beforehand and used it to practice. As Alison points out, this is a good opportunity to learn about handling such a situation with a better approach in the future.

        1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

          One year my summer job was organizing files in a law office. I learned quickly not to read anything that I came across even with closed files. It was a small town and the names were recognizable. I wanted to be able to say I saw nothing beyond the alphabetical order of the names.

        2. wherewolf*

          This is a good comparison. OP, imagine you were asked by your math teacher to burn a CD for them. As you’re on their computer, you discover the answers to next week’s test. (Did you really stumble into those answers, thinking it was a music file? Or did you see MathTestAnswers.doc and click it?)

          Then you take the test and get 100% because you saw the answers. Why didn’t you say anything before taking the test? Some tests are open book but this was not, so why is using notes ethical for you and no one else?

          But your teacher sees the answers on the CD you made and realizes you saw the answers. They confront you and your defense is “well you should have password protected the answers.” This defense doesn’t hold up because you are admitting that you accessed the answers (maybe even looked for them?) and used them, and you don’t care that that gave you and unfair advantage, and you can’t be trusted to be discreet about information you learn on the job. You’re basically saying, “I can’t distinguish what is public or private knowledge. If you give me an inch I will take a mile, so you have to monitor me carefully or else I will take advantage of you.” Even if that’s what you feel I’m your heart, that’s not a good thing to say to your employer—presumably you want them to promote you and give you more responsibilities!

          1. On Fire*

            Exactly this. I was an office aid in high school, and one of my teachers occasionally had me copy tests – for the class I was taking from him! But he knew he could trust me to not even look at the printed page, other than to make sure that it was aligned and that the copier was working properly.

            If the LW had accidentally seen the document, then said, “Oops, this is interview stuff” and closed it – and reported to her supervisor that she had stumbled across it and closed it when she realized – that would be one thing. But “researched the files” and “used these as a practice” was cheating. That’s not just the conclusion that a *reasonable* adult would reach, but one that an *honest* human would reach.

          2. Jadelyn*

            “If you give me an inch I will take a mile, so you have to monitor me carefully or else I will take advantage of you.” I think this is what it comes down to, at the heart of it.

            I mean, I literally cut a family member out of my life for, among other things, repeatedly refusing to understand any boundary that couldn’t be physically enforced. He would search me out on social media communities that were totally unrelated to anything I ever wanted to share with him, then badger me about the things he saw me saying there, even after I asked him to please stop doing that. When I confronted him, his response was basically “It’s a public website, if you don’t want me reading it, don’t post anything there.” At which point I said “Okay, if you can’t grasp the very simple concept of “just because you can do something without being forcibly stopped, doesn’t mean it’s okay to do it after people have asked you not to,” then I don’t need to deal with you in my life.” and we haven’t spoken since.

            And it seems to me that that’s what happened here. OP2 went looking for things they weren’t supposed to be accessing, used them to gain an unfair advantage, and when called on it basically said “Well you didn’t forcibly stop me from doing it, so really this is your fault.” And the boss decided they didn’t want to deal with that in one of their employees and declined to hire her.

          3. SittingDuck*

            I disagree – she didn’t find the ‘answers’ she found the questions. While the questions to a math test could easily give you the ‘right’ answers if you did the work beforehand – finding interview questions is completely different. There are no ‘right’ answers, only ones that apply to your situation and background. Unless the interview questions she found had notes detailing what answers they were looking for with each question(which there is no indication in the OP2’s letter that they did) I see no correlation between what OP2 did and your example above.

            I’m fairly surprised at the majority of responses here that are holding interview questions as some secretive data. Most interview questions are fairly mundane and repetitive across disciplines. Knowing what questions you are going to be asked about yourself doesn’t give you any more advantage than preparing for an interview by googling ‘interview questions’ and preparing answers, as Allison has suggested countless times that job seekers should do.

            1. Working Mom Having It All*

              I agree that most interview questions are fairly mundane, but to me that’s part of why this was such a breach. It implies that it honestly doesn’t take a lot for OP to act unethically.

      3. gecko*

        I think you make a good point but that it would apply more if OP had accessed the files via a public means than via the internal filesystem.

        If OP had found the questions on Google, I’d say yeah, absolutely…tell em “this is awkward but I think the practice questions I was using are the real questions.” But I think in this case it’d be hard for OP to come clean & fix the situation cause the the vibe is unavoidably that she has gone a-peeping where IT has failed to adequately secure.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          This is also how I see it – I still think it’d have helped if OP told them what happened once she realized the interview questions were the same, but I think, at that point, it still would have colored the interviewer’s perspective of her.

          Ideally, OP wouldn’t have opened the document or would have told someone she found it ahead of time (I know that doesn’t help now, but hopefully is useful in the future!).

      4. Seriously?*

        If they thought they would be allowed to see the interview questions ahead of time, then they would have just asked for them instead of searching. The questions were obviously not provided to other candidates. Also, it sounds like they may have had more than just a list of questions but also the interviewer’s notes which would not typically be provided.

    2. Lilo*

      From the subject matter it sounds like OP looked in their boss’s files. That’s bad, if so. Like unrecoverably bad.

      I have been in the position of having confidential files, but also that IT messed up when setting up some access issues and stuff was visible to people it shouldn’t have been. How I figured this out was that one of my employees immediately emailed me and said “Heads up, the management folder appeared in the shared drive this morning.” He didn’t dig into the files. As it was always visible for me, it would have been hard for me to figure this out without someone letting me know.

      OP should have know the “interview materials” files wasn’t to be used to prep for the interview. That isn’t hard to figure out. Earlier disclosure might have helped, but the truth it it probably wouldn’t have. Accessing files you shouldn’t is a huge no no. While some stuff shouldn’t be visible you have to rely on your employees not to exploit flaws and act like the guy I managed did.

      The best advice Alison can give is “move on and never ever ever do that again” truly, there is no other option here.

  8. Kiwi*

    OP4, I reckon you should stop doing that overtime. 4 hours on top of a 12 hour week is a high proportion of overtime! It’s unfair that they don’t pay you for that, and you risk burning yourself out and that could have bad effects on your study.

    1. Smarty Boots*

      It’s graduate school. Alas. Happens all the time and often necessary to get references, use connections, get the next internship, etc. BTDT. It suuuuuucks. And it’s wrong. And it’s really hard to fight against because as a graduate student you have next to no power. (Read the stories in the Chronicle of Higher Ed over the past couple of months for some sad and egregious examples.) You need a powerful prof to get on your side. Or even better — a union.

      1. Nonsensical*

        The thing is people work their butt off because it gets them good references. I did this in school and work all the time. University is the time you put in a huge amount of effort. I am sorry but I disagree.

        If it gets them ahead, then they should absolutely do it. It could make their future career.

        1. Jadelyn*

          “It worked to get me what I wanted” isn’t an exoneration of an unfair system. There’s a huge power differential and it’s being used to take advantage of those who lack the power to challenge the system, and just because you were able to get good results out of it doesn’t make that okay.

  9. Dan*


    OP tried to get a leg up, got busted, and now has to suffer the consequences. I’ll stay away from all the sanctimonious stuff and just say OP has no one to blame but themselves.

    But… I work in a technical field, and IME, I’ve never seen a *good* interview process where knowing the questions ahead of time would actually put a candidate at an unfair advantage.

    Some places give technical tests, which is actually somewhat rare, and in theory, knowing *those* questions could give an unfair advantage. But the typical behavioral style “tell me about a time” questions? I don’t get those any more, and the ones I do get, I better know on the fly. So much of my interviews in this day and age tend to be more free flowing conversations between me and the interviewer. Scripted question based interviews honestly end up as a rather crappy interview.

    OP tried to get a leg up and got busted, and has to pay whatever price is associated with it. But on the whole, the interview process more than likely sucked anyway; it’s hard for me to get too sanctimonious about what the OP did.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I find this frustrating because there are so many jobs for which access to the interview questions does provide someone with an unfair advantage. Even if it’s the advantage of not being stressed out by which questions to anticipate, it’s still an advantage. I don’t think anyone is being sanctimonious by agreeing that an employer could easily find OP’s behavior unethical.

      1. Lilo*

        Yeah once you’ve proved you will him sitting around in your boss’s files for your own benefit, you’re out. That isn’t sanctimonious, that’s self preservation.

    2. Ange*

      Depending on the organisation though, they might have to use scripted questions. I work for a public sector organisation and our interviews have to have the same questions for each candidate – I believe on the basis of having an equal playing field.

      1. Gregor*

        I was surprised by this when I interviewed with a public sector dept. as the interviews I have had were always private sector. Part of their process was to have candidates come in 30 mins. prior to the interview where they give the questions they are going to ask in the interview to the candidates so they can prepare. It made me a degree less nervous during the interview (though I was still nervous because interviews naturally make me that way). I agree that this process was the level the playing field (it seems a lot public sector orgs. stress trying to hire from a diverse candidate field and make their recruitment processes conform to get that).

      2. Karyn*

        Funny enough, I just had an interview with the Dept of Health and Human Services and they straight up told me that the interview questions were all the same for all the candidates. However, at the end, one of the interviewers asked me about my involvement with our local bar association (given that I am not a licensed attorney, just a law grad) and I ended up talking about that for a bit. Didn’t follow their own rules, it seems. ;)

        1. Brett*

          When I did public sector interviews, the stipulation was that we had to set of pre-set questions, or a question tree, that we would ask every candidate.

          From there, we had open time where we could ask additional questions that were introduced by the set questions or ask followup questions to clarify information gaps in experience or skills.

          For example, if someone had a 2-year gap in employment, I could ask them to explain the gap in employment without having to ask _every_ candidate to explain any gaps in their employment (since that would not make sense for a candidate without a gap in their employment).

          Similarly, if one of the questions was about your legal experience, and you said you were not a licensed attorney but were involved with the local bar association, I could ask a followup questions to elaborate on your level of participation, even if I had no planned questions to ask anyone else about their involvement with professional organizations.
          (Basically, as long as I could explain that every candidate with a similar structure of skills, education, and experience would get the same questions regardless of their race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual identity, etc, then the additional questions were okay. We did have an HR person in every interview to help us with that.)

          1. Brett*

            I’ll add that our HR person was so used to our individual interview styles, that she would likely know in that situation to prompt me with, “Are you going to ask about their involvement with the bar association?” if I routinely ask follow up questions of that type.

    3. Lilo*

      It depends. I have a family member who is an attorney and part of her interview involves some hypos to test basic knowledge of the relevant field and some basic ethics questions. They are especially careful when they interview former interns and change up the hypos, but someone accessing the hypos shortly before the interview would have a big advantage.

    4. BRR*

      This is how I feel about it as well. We recently hired for a position and the questions were pretty basic. The only way that seeing them ahead of time would help a candidate is if they didn’t do basic prep for the interview. Of course this position might very well be different.

      1. Snowglobe*

        Depends on the interviewer. Many interviewers just use basic questions that you could find in any list of “top interview questions”. But experienced interviewers will develop questions that are very specific to the particular job and often have some technical questions to gauge a candidate’s knowledge in certain subject areas. A candidate with advanced knowledge of the questions could research topics they are not too familiar with and come out sounding like an expert when they are not.

        Which is beside the point that whether or not the answers helped, the LW shouldn’t have gone looking in the first place.

    5. Tyche*

      I understand what you are trying to say, but I don’t agree.
      In a interview there are a lot of factors that matter. Knowing the questions beforehand could give one candidate an advantage.
      Maybe the technical preparation is the same, but giving an answer while remaining calm and collected it’s a boon in every interview.
      Maybe it helps in making a better impression, maybe the answer is more precise or more aligned with the position they’re looking for, maybe it makes you more confident…
      I think we all know that sometimes when candidates are on the same level, even details matters.

    6. neverjaunty*

      I don’t understand either the logic or the snide remark about people who disagree with you. We should assume the interview process sucked, so who cares if the OP was unethical? Why?

    7. Holly*

      Sometimes interviews have behavioral questions like “tell us about a time you were challenged blah blah blah.” Knowing what that question is in advance allows you to form a much better answer.

    8. Hiring Manager*

      Dan, I agree with you, the sanctimony about the horrible breach of ethics seems overdone to me. I think the employer needs to improve their hiring process and secure their data more carefully.

    9. Persimmons*

      I also work in tech, and IMO this situation was a missed chance for LW to shine. She could have approached it as a permissions architecture problem. “I should not have been able to find this. I suggest revamping our department to this set of user groups with this escalating set of permissions, etc., etc.”

      1. Persimmons*

        ETA: I thought I saw that the LW was also in tech, but upon re-reading I’m not seeing that. This would only apply if that were the case.

    10. Lucille2*

      I agree with this. In an interview, overly prepared and polished candidates can come across as inauthentic. It’s not a good way to determine how they’ll do on the job. I suppose it depends on the role, but a good interviewer would ask more follow up questions or adjust if the candidate seems to have answers prepared in advance. That doesn’t always indicate a candidate had access to the questions beforehand, but it’s not unusual for a mentor to prep a candidate, especially where it’s an internal promotion. Not to mention the same, stale interview questions we hear everywhere.

      I like to ask a lot of follow up questions to a candidate’s answer in interviews. It helps me get to know the real person behind the nerves or interview face. It also helps to cut through the BS.

      For the OP, it’s easy to pile on what a bad idea this was. At best, it was naive and a hard lesson learned. I hope the OP takes a hard look at this from the hiring manager’s perspective and why this move negatively affected their candidacy.

    11. Turquoisecow*

      But if knowing the questions didn’t give OP an advantage than

      a) why did she research what they were

      B) why was she astonished when she was asked the same questions in the interview and

      C) why weren’t the questions given to everyone?

      The reason this was unethical isn’t just because OP saw info she shouldn’t have. The reason she shouldn’t have seen it was that the info gave her an *unfair* advantage over candidates. She already had an advantage as an internal candidate and she took that advantage and used it to, essentially, give herself a larger advantage, AKA cheat.

      She cheated. Serious side eye on everyone here who tries to say OP was behaving ethically. She tried to get information to give herself an advantage in what was otherwise a pretty fair contest. That’s cheating.

    12. Jadelyn*

      You don’t think someone having time to thoroughly consider their experience without any time-pressure, try out different answers, and polish their delivery of the story in response to a “tell me about a time when”, gives them any advantage over someone who gets asked the question on the spot and has about 3 seconds to mentally sift through their prepared answers to similar questions and pick one, then try to adapt it on the fly to tailor it to the actual question asked, without having a chance to polish that specific delivery first?

      I mean…that seems to me to be a pretty clear advantage.

    13. smoke tree*

      I think it was reasonable of the employer to consider the LW’s behaviour unethical, and to have concerns not only about the fairness of the process but of whether they can trust the LW’s judgement and discretion in general. But I can also see how the LW might have considered it more of a grey area initially–although by the interview itself, it sounds like they should have come forward.

    14. CM*

      “But… I work in a technical field, and IME, I’ve never seen a *good* interview process where knowing the questions ahead of time would actually put a candidate at an unfair advantage.”

      On instinct, I have a hard time finding it all that unethical to look at the questions, when the kinds of interviews I’ve had have never been the kind where studying would give you an advantage. They’re asking you questions about YOURSELF… which you know the answer to. YMMV, but I wouldn’t feel particularly bad about interviewing against someone else who knew those questions ahead of time, because I don’t think it would make a real difference.

      On the other hand, though, I did once work at a lab where people interviewing for higher level jobs were asked a bunch of test-like questions about chemical compounds and how to do specific things with the lab equipment and, in that case, knowing the questions ahead of time would have mattered. BUT… in most circumstances I don’t think an interview is a test, so I don’t see that knowing the questions ahead of time constitutes cheating.

  10. HRJ*

    “I can’t speak to graduate assistantships in particular, but if this were a normal internship, no, you absolutely would not be expected to make up the missed hours.”

    I disagree with this. In my undergraduate internship, I absolutely would have had to make up the time. I was required to have a minimum of, if I recall correctly, 120 hours, otherwise I wouldn’t get credit for the internship or only partial credit and would be unable to graduate. Of course, it depends on the internship. Mine was flexible, and my boss made a joke at the end about how I couldn’t possibly have completed the hours I needed and would have to stay longer. So any time I missed in the middle could have easily been tacked on at the end. But not every internship is that flexible. Some have a set number of weeks or days for the internship and can’t have it go longer for whatever reason. So say you have to have 120 internship hours. The company agrees to a 12 week internship working two hours a day, five days a week. You miss four days due to sickness, you get to the end of your internship with only 112 hours, and you have to find another internship or get the company to extend it or you can’t graduate.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think this is where the type of internship matters. If a person has to undertake an internship for course credit or as part of their financial aid package, then make up hours are often required. But if it was a summer internship without a credit or financial aid component, it’s less likely you’ll be asked to “make up” days missed due to illness (especially if it’s fewer than 5 days out of office).

    2. Margaery Moth*

      Yeah, I’m not sure why “internship” and “assistantship” are being conflated here. My assistantship was 100% a Real Job that I would’ve had to make up time for. If I hadn’t, I’d be basically getting paid to do nothing, and no grad. has an “assistantship” that’s unpaid. That said, I’m unclear on this person’s situation. Are they already working overtime at no pay? But anyway, I think in general most graduate assistantships are going to have far more in common with a salary job than an internship.

      1. Foxtrot*

        It’s getting conflated because the OP refers to their post as an assistantship but also to themself (indirectly) as an intern (by referring to “other interns”). So the exact nature of their role is unclear.

      2. misspiggy*

        But in a salary job sick leave is counted as part of your work time, and you therefore don’t have to make it up.

      3. Chameleon*

        Whereas my assistantship was 100% a real job that we contractually got sick time for (and vacation). So YMMV.

      4. Amtelope*

        In a normal salaried job, you’d get paid sick time, not have to make up time you missed. A salaried job with required unpaid overtime but no paid sick days would be a pretty terrible job.

      5. Reba*

        It very much depends on school, department, and nature of the work!

        I had two assistantships at the same institution that had different rules. One hours-based (with an elaborate stone-age time tracking system) even though we got paid in lumps, not by hours worked; the other get-the-work-done based. When my spouse was a student they were part of a union and the rules were more similar across departments.

        OP 4 should have a departmental or university handbook for grad students. Look there! My other thought is that the “doing overtime without complaint” thing should stop — not that she should start complaining, but that she should let her boss know how much time she is actually working. It sounds like the boss may not even realize the overtime is happening? They need to have a conversation about the expectations for her time.

      6. epi*

        Yes, to be honest the fact that the OP conflated them contributed to my sense that there may be a misunderstanding on the OP’s part here. A grad assistantship is quite different from an internship in a lot of ways, including the compensation and the nature of your obligation to be at work. I am a grad research assistant and would definitely not refer to my job as an internship, for a lot of reasons. If the OP’s letter is confusing on this point, which I agree it is, it could be because the OP is confused about it too.

        In the OP’s place, I’d be asking the boss directly about the expectations around this. Their letter almost sounds like they are afraid to do this because of the boss’ reputation, but all that really matters here is how the OP gets along with them. Even the most intimidating faculty in my program have grad students they get along quite well with, and the OP is in a good position to be that person for their department head. They could think of it this way: understanding how university employment works is actually part of your graduate education, if you think you will stay in academia. It’s part of the organizational knowledge you’re supposed to be getting as a new person.

    3. Intern Manager*

      Chiming in to say that the interns I manage would have been required to make up that time *IF* they were doing the internship for credit. If they’re doing it not for credit, then they don’t.

      I am required to sign off on the number of hours they are here every week, and I do track them, because at the end of the term, I am certifying that they worked X hours here, under my direction, and learned A, B, and C objectives.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        I would make the do the work but I wouldn’t track each sick hour one for one and insist they hit the final number in time worked. Maybe I’d let them extend the internship by that week, but that can be tricky. I’d probably let them work on an assignment from home or something to make it easier to catch up. Otherwise it’s unlikely they’d ever be able to make up a whole week of the flu.

      2. EddieSherbert*

        I would add the disclaimer that *IF* they risk not having enough hours, they would have to make it up. this was undergrad, but for most of my internships, I was required to get like 100 hours for credit, but I ended up with like 160 hours or more, so it really didn’t matter if I ended up missing a day (and was able to stay on top of my work).

        To me it sounds like the OP is doing fine assuming her *scheduled* hours would meet her school requirements (and she does a lot of overtime).

        Of course, depending on the office culture and your boss… you may still have to make the day up. Sorry OP!

      3. OxfordComma*

        I was coming here to post this same thing. If it’s for credits, there may be an expected # of hours you need to complete.

    4. blackcat*

      As others have said, it depends on exactly the internship. BUT in this case, the OP has already worked enough extra hours to make up for it. So that particular point shouldn’t be an issue.

      1. HRJ*

        Yup. With my comment, I was less discussing the LW’s specific situation and more addressing the part I quoted from Alison’s response.

    5. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      I’m a graduate student, and I think the OP possibly muddled the question (the flu will do that to you) by trying to get across the power dynamic rather than what’s actually happening.

      If it’s some sort of research assistantship, that might mean that everyone in the group (OP and her “fellow interns”) needs to work a minimum of X hours a week in order to get the project done, so if the OP doesn’t make up her hours the rest of the lab will need to work absolutely insane overtime or necessary tasks will not get done, particularly if they’re also working the same amount of overtime as the OP when nobody is sick. If her coworkers can pick up the slack without too much hardship while she’s sick, or if it’s some kind of open-ended special project where it doesn’t particularly matter when things get done, her boss might just be a hardass and the OP can alternately suck it up for the good recommendation letter or push back, ideally by talking to the graduate chair or some other high-ranking professor who the chair will listen to.

      Sad to say, but I would personally just suck it up. Graduate school isn’t forever, many if not most professors (especially high ranking ones) are unreasonable in their expectations for number of hours worked by graduate students, and it would be to your advantage to have your boss think highly of you. I hope you feel better soon!

  11. Greg NY*

    #1: If it makes you feel any better, you most likely wouldn’t have gotten the job anyway if you were unwilling to take a pay cut even to move to a cheaper city. The salary for that job would almost certainly be partially shaped by the cost of living in that city, and unless this new position would have fetched a far higher salary in your current city (given that the responsibilities are just a bit higher, probably not), the salary may well have been lower. It may well have been that comment that made the institution disinterested, but if that’s the case, the fit just wasn’t there. Because in fact, you were honest, at least on that point.

    1. MK*

      I have to say, for me the salary comment would have been the one killing the OP’s candidacy. Having reservations about the relocation is not a bad thing; it shows the candidate is putting thought into whether the job would work out overall, much better than ignoring the issue and finding out you have it two months into the job.

      But, while there are many good reasons to expect a larger salary, the fact that you used to work in an expensive city is not one of them. Also, the OP put it somewhat obnoxiously, in my opinion. “You know I ‘ll be expensive because of my current location”? No, I don’t know anything of the kind, as your current location is not a selling point.

        1. Seriously?*

          Yeah. It sounded to me like she was trying to politely signal that she wasn’t interested unless they made a fantastic offer.

          1. LeRainDrop*

            Same, I agree. I also think the comment that you would be coming from a “blue state” to dessert city comes across as pretty condescending since the political leanings of your current state have absolutely nothing to do with home much you should get paid at a new job in a different location (in addition to the COL reason already discussed at several points.

            “Escapee from Corporate Management” wrote some great constructive feedback earlier in the comments, and I would support that, as well. Don’t beat yourself up over this. It sounds like this probably wasn’t something you really wanted anyway. Just use this as a whoops and you’ll be better prepared next time!

      1. Clare*

        I think it’s pretty common knowledge that salaries are at least partially basef on COL in that location, so someone working in NYC will be paid more than someone working in Phoenix. Making a factual statement about the difference in average salaries isn’t a personal insult.

        1. Yorick*

          But the COL in an area where the job isn’t located doesn’t affect that job’s salary. OP shouldn’t be any cheaper or more expensive based on her current location. That comment would make me think they don’t understand that salary is based on COL and that they’d expect an unreasonably high salary.

        2. MK*

          But this wasn’t an objective statement of fact about salaries in expensive city X, which wouldn’t have been relevant anyway; it sounds as a rather presumptuous assumption that of course they will have to match your higher-COL-salary if they want to hire you. Frankly, why would they? The only reason I can think of is that they want to draw more candidates to a not very desirable location; but that’s not actually tied to their previous location or its COL, it’s about incentive and it would be offered to everyone relocation, regardless of where they are coming from.

          1. Clisby Williams*

            That’s how I took it. The only way she’d be more “expensive” because of her current location is if the company is paying for the relocation. If what she really meant was, “I know I look like an expensive candidate, but I’m aware there’s a big difference in COL,” she could have said that.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          Sure, but this wasn’t a factual statement, it implied that OP #1 expected Lower COL Company’s offer to be in the range of the Higher COL Company salary without regard to the lower COL in SW City.

          Just as underpaid candidates shouldn’t have their new pay based on their current salary, OP #1’s current salary shouldn’t have any bearing on the company’s offer (her willingness to accept it? sure, but expecting them to offer a salary commensurate with another place’s COL is not reasonable). Ideally, they would have discussed salary range before getting this deep into the interview process.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        I disagree with your last statement. I think most people know that salaries are higher in coastal cities because of COL, and I don’t think pointing that out is obnoxious, but rather fact. I’d be honestly surprised if a hiring employer from Utah or Nevada wasn’t aware that a salary from Boston or New York was much higher based on COL alone. When I’ve had recruiters or companies contact me from LCOL areas, one of the first things they bring up is that they know my current location is expensive because of COL.

        Maybe the way the OP said it was a bit off, but it’s not wrong or inaccurate to point out. A hiring manager who reaches out to a prospective employee in a well-known HCOL area really should know the salary issue going in and not be surprised by it. Though, of course, anyone looking at a job in a LCOL area should also realize their salary probably won’t translate. It’s something both sides should be aware of.

        1. MK*

          Sure, but that realization that the salary won’t translate is exactly what the OP didn’t demonstate. They acknowledged the difference in COL and then said “you know I ‘ll be expensive”, basically saying that they expect a HCOL-level salary in the LCOL. I wouldn’t blame the manager thinking this person has unrealistic salary expectations and letting them go as a candidate.

          Also, are those managers who reach out to prospective employees, knowing the salary issue, offer them higher salaries just because of that? I can only see it happening if the candidate is very in-demand or if they have trouble attracting good candidates, but even then, it’s an issue of “we have to offer more money to get the people we want”, not tied to the candidates previous address.

          1. all aboard the anon train*

            No, I’m just saying that if a manager is consistently reaching out to candidates who live in HCOL areas or has a top pick who is from a HCOL that will move to a LCOL, they need to be aware of the salary differences. They don’t have to offer the same salary, but they need to be aware that a candidates may hesitate to take a pay cut because they’re used to a higher salary.

            1. MK*

              To be frank, I don’t see how this makes the OP’s comment appropriate or less off-putting than it sounds. If I walk into a luxury boutique, I am well aware the products are a lot more expensive than similar ones in regular shops. It would still be pretty obnoxious for a salesperson to point that out as they are helping me pick.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          It’s obnoxious because it’s irrelevant. LW won’t be living in Coastal City any more so what she’s being paid there has nothing to do with anything. It also sounds like she thinks the person she’s talking to doesn’t know this, which is pretty unlikely. It just makes her sound like a snob.

          But, frankly, maybe they’re better off without her if she’s going to start fretting ahead of time about leaving her Blue State, etc. I live in a Red State but, news flash, most metropoli of any size run Blue so the immediate area may not be as conservative as she thinks.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I think any resident of New York or San Francisco would need to pause before moving to Phoenix or whatever. I don’t think that’s snobby. It’s different. Car culture is different. OP also says they don’t like the heat. And many laws are decided at the State level, so you’re now compelled to follow them even in a liberal city. I just don’t want OP to feel lousy when she reads these comments.

            1. all aboard the anon train*

              Yes. I think there’s a lot of piling on the OP and I don’t think it’s fair to call her a snob for the aspects she’s considering. Her comment was not worded in the right way, but there’s nothing wrong with her mindset.

              1. MK*

                None of the piling has been about that, as far as I can tell, only about the salary issue. And it’s absolutely valid to consider these things when you decide about relocation, but I really don’t think it’s appropriate to talk all of them over with a hiring manager. Asking about car culture, ok. Bringing up political stuff (which I am guessing the blue/red state thing is about, no. Considering the OP wrote to ask whether her comments might have killed her chances at this job, it’s relevant to point out how she might have come across.

        3. Lil Fidget*

          I think there’s a way this conversation would have gone down, if it was casual (while driving) at the end of the day, that would be fine. Especially if OP had followed up and clarified that they were very interested.

        4. Holly*

          No, the point isn’t that she acknowledged the COL difference – it’s that OP seemed to not understand the professional norm that her current salary doesn’t make her more “expensive” – it would likely be adjusted for COL, and she would have to take a pay cut.

      3. Bea*

        I flinched at that line. There are places that don’t expect you to take a pay cut when you move from a higher COL but they’re the exception not the rule. Our salary bands aren’t about what you used to make going either direction.

    2. Lucille2*

      Agreed. It seems like the OP hasn’t considered that a pay cut to move to much lower cost of living isn’t always a pay cut. And there are other things to consider like commute time/distance, cost of utilities & groceries and public transit. Expensive coastal cities often have higher cost on everything. I relocated a new hire from expensive west coast city to inexpensive midsize city for roughly the same annual salary. The candidate was a bit unsure at first, but after some research on COL in new city, decided it was actually a pretty big salary increase.

      FWIW, everyone has reservations about moving to big desert city (like Phoenix). The climate is very different than what most are used to, and it’s not unusual to be considering whether or not it’s something you can learn to love or would just be the deal breaker.

      1. Bungler # 1*

        Hello all, red-faced OP #1 here. So the answer is, yes, my reply in the interview *was* as bad as I feared. Good to know for the future! I think I was trying to be witty and soften my concerns about salary by saying I’ll be expensive, but I see now how that phrasing is rubbing many of you the wrong way, and that this type of banter should be avoided. Alison’s advice for such a situation, to focus on the positive (of which there was quite a bit) and not talk about any reservations I have, feels like a good one, even if it feels like being somewhat untruthful. As I said, I panicked a bit, because after one of those all-day interviews, especially with some positive and some negative aspects, my head was in a bit of a whirl and I honestly didn’t know what I was feeling until I had some time to process it. But non-committal positivity sounds like a good plan! As does avoiding any mention of salaries, and if the topic comes up stifle any attempts to be witty!

        Thanks, all!

        1. MK*

          OP, I understand how one might make injudicious comments when your mind is whirling with information; it’s just that a hiring manager is the wrong audience for thrashing it out. And, yes, wit can come across the wrong way pretty easily; I found the comment offputting as written, though it’s possible the manager did catch your light tone and didn’t think twice about it.

        2. valentine*

          It can’t hurt to write them a positive email saying you’re still interested. They could put you back in the running or at least be left with a positive impression of you. You can ditch the bad feelings and feel good about applying there in future.

  12. Flash Bristow*

    OP #5 – I totally agree with Alison, turn it back on the questioner: “Why do you ask?” is a good one. I often get awkward questions as I’m visibly disabled, and while I can bat away “what’s wrong with you?” with “oh, nothing’s wrong, I’m having a great day!” sometimes I need alternatives if the hint isn’t taken. Particularly if I’m stuck with them (on the bus or whatever. Taxi drivers are the worst in my experience.)

    On a few occasions, when my attempts to dismiss the topic have been ignored, I’ve had to say “um – sorry, but how is this any of your business?” Not ideal to use with a manager, but
    do use it, if it gets that far and the topic is still being pursued.

    And then use the gift of silence. Make the comment / question, then let silence fall. Don’t feel you have to fill it; let her be next to speak. I doubt she will have an answer (other than eating her words!) but whatever she DOES say, be friendly back and liven the conversation up again so you end on a happy note.

    So for example if they say “oh. I was just making conversation” you’d bounce back with “hey, that’s cool! It’s just, so many people think they have a right to personal info – I’m glad you’re not one of them!” (and swiftly change topic breezily into something uncontroversial). Or if they huffily say “I’m new to the area, just trying to get info, that’s all” you can smile sort of sympathetically and say “oh I seeeeeee! Sorry, I’m so used to nosey parkers, my apologies! Is there something specific you’re looking to do here? How long have you been here?” or whatever. (So long as your follow ups aren’t as invasive as her original interrogation!)

    In this way, the awkwardness of your “er – wtf, lady?” is dismissed in your next sentence. But initially, let the awkward silence hang, until she speaks again. She may be your new superior, but she doesn’t own you or have a right to your private life! You’ll be doing everyone a favour if you can handle her questioning appropriately.

    Good luck!

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      “hey, that’s cool! It’s just, so many people think they have a right to personal info – I’m glad you’re not one of them!”

      This made me laugh. What a great comeback, I’ll have to remember that one!

      Also seconding letting the awkward silence hang. It’s the nosy person causing the awkwardness, not you.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        Honestly, once it got into weird questions like “do you own your home” and “is his dad in the picture?”

        I’d just give them a confused “What?” and make them repeat themselves while I continue to look confused and then say “Why?”

        100% return awkward to sender.

        1. Jadelyn*

          “Is his dad in the picture” was the point where I draw the line. How is that any of anyone’s business? Not to mention, a single parent might be a single parent for any reason from “my partner tragically died” to “amicable breakup but we don’t coparent” to “they were abusive to me/the child”. Do you really want to poke at that can of worms when you have no idea what’s going to come spilling out?

          1. Michaela Westen*

            IME people who ask questions like that are being judgy and trying to see if you measure up to their standards. Very few people do.
            I would deflect that on principle and if they pushed, I’d want to call them out.. though that might not be such a good idea if it was my boss! I’d find a way to set a boundary.

  13. Grad Student Worker*

    #4: If you have a union for graduate student workers, reviewing your contract and getting in touch with your rep should absolutely be your first call! All my RA and TA positions (at multiple institutions in North America) have been unionized and had strict rules about time worked per week and any unpaid hours were a huge, huge no (it’s not clear from your whether or not you were paid for this overtime, but I know how common it can be in these positions to do free work for the university because “everyone does” and the work “has to get done” and that sucks). This is not cool conduct from your program chair regardless of whether you’re covered by a union contract, but if it indeed is a contract violation it might be easier to frame your case for not making up those hours if you have your contract as backup. If you’re not sure it is absolutely worth calling a union representative to see if they can give you guidance on this⎯it’s highly possible your contract includes provisions for illness!

    1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

      ….Where are you? I’m a graduate student as well, and the expectations for my work are “as much as needed”- I’ve in theory heard of graduate student unions, but never experienced an institution with one. There’s no concept of overtime- many people in the lab next to mine work 90-hour weeks on a regular basis. This all depends on the particulars of the OP’s situation, which we don’t know.

      1. Grad Student Worker*

        This is referring to my experience in Montreal, Quebec and now California, specifically, although my undergrad institution in Ontario was also unionized. For my TAships especially my hours were always very regulated and there was an upper limit on what could be demanded of me within a week as well as a recommended average hours per week and a maximum number of hours on my contract (say, 200 per academic year for my old RAship, or 220 per quarter at my current TAship). On an RAship I would have the ability to be more flexible with the time until I hit the maximum, as log as I was working around the deadlines of a particular prof, but the contract we drew up at the beginning always included recommended average hours per week specifically because of institutional consciousness that graduate students’ primary responsibility is to their own work.

        This also is coming from an arts/humanities experience⎯I know the norms in STEM can be very different.

        Re: the “as much as needed” I have seen pressure to not log or be paid for extra hours, particularly among TAs, not so much by individual supervisors but as part of a larger institutional culture where people work the time needed to pull off the grading and responsibilities of the class, regardless of whether they’re exceeding their allotted hours for the quarter/maximum hours for the week. Obviously this is also different if OP’s overtime is paid or they don’t have those stipulations in their contract, but it’s a common enough issue that I thought it was worth flagging!

        But yes, there’s a lot about the OP’s situation we don’t know! The comment down below about speaking to the director of grad studies for their institution seems like it would cover a broader range of situations.

      2. nonymous*

        My undergrad and grad schools both unionized about 6 months after I graduated. West coast in early 2000’s and midwest ~2015. From chatting with friends, it definitely seems to be a regional movement.

      3. StillAChemist*

        It sounds like you’re in STEM, which tends to be way different – my grad dept/union rationalized this as us being paid 20 hrs a week for our RA, and the rest was our academic research time (clearly splitting hairs, but it allowed us to function). I was at one of the oldest unionized grad schools, but the NLRB rules changed recently and a lot of private schools on the East Coast are trying to get unionized to deal with this kind of thing.

        For what it’s worth, my instution probably would have required a student to make up hours (for an actual TAship with hours detailed in a contract) but also would have been understanding that previous overtime had been performed and that asking to have these hours made up in that light could lead to a greviance filing.

        1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

          That really is splitting hairs- what nonsense. I’m in a public institution as well, which probably also helps explain the discrepancy. Oddly, though we have rules about how many hours we’re required to perform per week for our tax-dollar-funded-TAships, TPTB don’t care who actually works those hours, so people swap fairly frequently, and nobody makes anyone “make up” hours.

  14. Knitting Cat Lady*

    #5: I’d probably go with the broken record approach and answer each question with:

    ‘Could you please explain how this is relevant to my work?’

    I can keep things like that up all day if necessary.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The problem with that is that it’s very likely to cast a chill over the relationship right from the start, and that’s not in the OP’s best interests. This is the person who’s going to be evaluating her, determining what assignments she gets, giving her feedback, deciding her raises, etc. It’s in her best interest to have good relations with the manager if at all possible. That’s of course unfair (because why is it all on her and not on the manager who’s asking intrusive questions?) but she’s going to be better served by an approach that maintains the boundaries she wants but still tries to preserve the relationship.

      1. Knitting Cat Lady*

        Ah, I’m starting from the premise that a good relation with someone like that is impossible for someone like me.

        I’m also German, we’re in general a lot more blunt than Americans.

        I also work for a big company. If my manager would ask stuff like this I’d talk to the Betriebsrat.

        1. Julia*

          I’m German, too, but I doubt I’d have the guts to say what you propose to my boss. Even Germans aren’t above hierarchies and having to get along. (Or maybe I’ve worked in Japan too long?)

          I’d probably deflect by saying something like, “oh, sorry, I really need to talk to you about the llama report”, but I’m sure there are better ways.

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, I don’t think this has anything to do with culture-related bluntness. I’m someone whose personality and general demeanour would probably allow me to get away with that script, but I’d only feel comfortable saying something like “What? Why??”, not something as icily confrontational.

          2. Knitting Cat Lady*

            Yeah, part of it is just me being me. I’m autistic and severely mentally ill. I’m fairly open about my issues, but getting drilled like this?

            Would kick the stubbornness that kept me alive so far into high gear.

            And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those questions would violate some kind of data protection and privacy law. Hence going to the Betriebsrat, which is the employee advocacy council.

            And while Germans used to be every bit as hierarchical as the Japanese this has changed. A lot. Especially among the younger set.

            And usually in a decent size group you have at least one person like me: Contrarian by nature, misanthropic and all out of fucks to give.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              This would bring my defenses up too, even though I’m also usually open.
              It’s because people like this are usually looking for ammunition to judge or abuse, IME.
              I would do whatever it takes to set a firm boundary and keep them out of my personal life, even if I ended up leaving the job. I get angry just thinking about it…

      2. JSPA*

        Hi Alison, if it’s OK to drop in a broader suggestion…

        Responses that would probably work (or at least, not get you fired) in a country where there’s both a fairly uniform understanding of managerial norms AND contracts AND strong worker protections AND broad privacy protections are so very different from responses needed when any of those are not in place.

        I’m sure there are all sorts of good reasons not to demand that people to state their country / region.

        But the advice might be more valuable if OPs indicated, at least in very broad terms, what sort of legal / cultural situation they’re in. (It would probably be educational for others, as well, to see not just that ‘norms differ’ but see the regional patterns.)

        Have you considered some sort of “opt in” pin system, that would indicate location in a very general way–maybe by home time zone, if that’s both telling enough and anonymous enough? Any other set of borders (except national ones) will probably lead to discussions about why exactly the divisions are where they are. Or is that too “data miney”?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think too data miney, and too complicated. I generally assume that people writing to me are seeking advice on the only cultural perspective that I’m qualified to provide, unless they explicitly state otherwise (and in which case I’d be less likely to answer because it would be out of my wheelhouse).

    2. Yorick*

      That might be ok if they were wildly inappropriate questions, but I’m guessing the manager is considering this a chat to get to know the employees. It’s perfectly normal to ask if someone has kids. It’s a little out there to ask if someone is renting or owns their home, but I think I’ve been asked questions like that at work and it didn’t feel that weird. OP can choose not to answer certain questions if they’re uncomfortable with sharing that information.

      1. Clisby Williams*

        I don’t think most of the individual questions would be weird if they came up normal conversation (like several people happen to be discussing the relative merits of renting/buying, and someone asks which you do). Although asking whether a son’s father is in the picture is a NO.

        To me, it does seem odd to be asking a whole bunch of personal questions in a get-to-know-my-employees interview, because it seems like that would be an ideal time to ask each one about how they came to work for the company, what their current role is, any suggestions they have for improving the department, …

        1. EddieSherbert*

          +100 to your second paragraph!
          (I don’t mind a couple basic personal questions – but as an employee, the work related stuff is what *I* really want my new manager to know about me!)

        2. The New Wanderer*

          Asking work-related questions to get to know new employees, exactly! A new-to-me manager once asked me to come up with a spreadsheet (since I didn’t already have one at the time) of my ‘greatest hits’ – projects I’d worked on, so he could scan it before our first 1-on-1 meeting and get a better feel for my skills, background, and experience. That worked great because we could go right into talking about my career goals etc. It wasn’t til several meetings later that we had any kind of personal small-talk, and that was after we had developed a kind of rapport where it wasn’t a cross-examination but friendly chat.

      2. Artemesia*

        ‘Is the father in the picture’ is a question that should never be asked in the workplace by a boss ever and there is no excuse for it at all. That question makes clear that this person is a major D canoe and that some sort of strategy of self defense is required.

        1. JSPA*

          Eh, if manager’s reason for asking was a prelude to offering greater flexibility, or if she’d been through it herself, it might be a sign not of doucheiness, but of bad boundaries / clueless kindness.

          So much safer to label the action (Highly Inadvisable and Not OK) vs labeling the person / interpolating Reasons ahead of the data. Especially for secondhand information.

    3. Echo*

      I agree with Alison – OP #5 will need to seem warm and receptive to start the management relationship off on the right foot. I think this is a good time for the AAM classic of pretending that your completely normal boundary is a weird personal quirk. “Oh man, I know this is a little weird but I’m one of those people who just likes to keep work and personal life separate. So I’m not really comfortable talking a lot about my family situation, but if you just want to get to know each other better, I can talk about favorite movies all day long!” or something like that.

  15. Reliquary*

    LW4 should see the Director of Graduate Studies about this before speaking to anyone else (including their grad student union rep, if they have one). I used to direct a grad program, and the most important thing when you are a new GA (RA or TA) is to protect yourself. The DGS will give you guidance, not just about how to make up missed hours (if you need to do so, and you might or might not, depending on the rules at your particular institution), but also about whether to approach the department chair (your supervisor) about this issue, or whether to let the DGS take care of that conversation for you.

    If the DGS is not helpful, then it’s time to see your union rep (if you have one), so that you can meet again with the DGS afterwards, but this time with substantive knowledge about the rules regarding GA hours and contract rules at your university. (Note that I’m absolutely recommending another consultation with the DGS before you see your supervisor. Your DGS should still advise you how to proceed, or have a conversation with your supervisor on your behalf.)

    Good luck!

  16. Kay*

    I really disagree with the answer in #4. In my experience internships would definitely expect you to make the time up. In my experience sick leave tends to not be used like that for internships or casual jobs.

    1. Winter Red*

      As you can see from the other comments already here, this is really not an absolute and depends on a lot of factors. The OP describes themself as an intern but also refers to the post as an assistantship, which has a very different connotation in most places. It really does depend on the particulars of their role, which they need to get clear on.

    2. pleaset*

      There is such a big range of internships – paid and unpaid, for credit and not for credit, those formally tied to a school program such as a graduate assistanship, etc – that I don’t think using one’s own experience to offer such firm advice is appropriate.

      Perhaps if you’ve had many graduate assistantships you could draw from your own experience in that way.

    3. Thor*

      That’s sort of the issue though, it’s unreasonable (barring outside restrictions like academic credit, ect), to expect that the lowest ranking people/least paid are expected to have to make up work that other people wouldn’t have to.

  17. A.N. O'Nyme*

    OP#2, if a student snuck into their professor’s unlocked office and looked at the exam questions, it would be fair for them to at least fail that exam, right? What you did is basically the work equivalent of that – and “but the prof didn’t lock the office” would not be an acceptable defense for the student either.

    1. Hiring Manager*

      With respect, I do see this a little differently. Where I work, it’s my job to secure private data so that unauthorized users cannot access it. Authorized users document compliance with out annual training program regarding access to non-public data; there’s no moral hazard created that could lead an inexperienced temp into a grey area where they should’t be snooping.

      If any employee at my shop did what the OP did here, the blame would be on me as much as them. I might not promote them, but I wouldn’t necessarily fire them either.

      1. Frankie*

        But in many other places there aren’t enough people to go granular with security permissions for each individual, or to grant temporary access within an hour’s notice and then revoke it, etc. Instead, people are given general permissions and expected to be ethical about it, and to possibly sign policies saying they’ll only use the information they need in the course of their jobs.
        I think you could possibly argue that it would be on you if you accidentally emailed a confidential file to the team. But someone taking advantage of lax or erroneous security permissions to hunt through files is responsible for that choice.
        In no workplace has the assumption been “if it’s technically/physically available to you you have the right to look at it and use it.”

      2. JSPA*

        Professors get reprimands for leaving doors unlocked and sensitive information unsecured, too. Doesn’t mean the students who take a quick snapshot of the exam that’s sitting on the desk, and spread it to their Greek pals, don’t get suspended or otherwise disciplined.

        There’s a whole chain of bad choices here, not just “taking a look.” There were several points where Intern could have come clean, and (while not getting that job) could perhaps have saved a good reference and a possible chance at the next job to open up.

    2. Anonforthis*

      Not the same since a student shouldn’t be in a prof’s office at all. Keyword you use sneak. Op didn’t sneak into an unauthorized area. They had legit access. Since op worked there and was allowed in theory it’s more You Can, But You Shouldn’t Have.

  18. Rez123*

    #4 depends on the internship. My internships that were mandatory part of the programme, we had to make up the hours. Either in the same place or in the next one. As an example, I was able to have my end date of my internship 2 says earlier than my friend since I had worked in the hours the year before.

    #2 I totally understand when curiosity takes over. Especially if you were not purposefully looking for them (not sure based on message). But it doesn’t matter that they were not protected, you shouldn’t have looked. Let this be a lesson.

  19. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    OP #2 – To be honest, I can see this happening to me when I was younger. School taught me to research everything. I would have assumed it was okay to read anything to which I had access.* I was terrible at speaking up in the moment and I was terrified of getting into trouble. I also knew absolutely nothing about how jobs worked from the side of managers and owners. Reading your letter made me nod in sympathy, because young me could easily have done this.

    We have all messed up and what you have here is a great opportunity to grow (although it might not feel like it). Learn why they responded the way they did. Learn what to do in the future when a similar situation comes up. Put yourself in their shoes – how would you feel if a friend came over, accidentally saw a personal letter and used the information, for example?

    I don’t think you’re a bad or unethical person. You did something unethical but it doesn’t define your character. What you do afterwards does. Take some time to reflect and see this from their perspective. After an appropriate period (maybe 9-12 months), send the company a note to apologise. Something like, “I understand now why you responded the way you did. I apologise for my actions and can assure you that I’ve learned from the experience and will act very differently in the future” (but tailored to you). Don’t get into explanations of what your thought process was at the time because they’ll read it as an excuse. A simple, direct apology is enough. It won’t help you get a job with them, but they will think better of you. And it’s a small world, you might meet or work with them in the future.

    We have all made mistakes. They hurt, but we can either learn from them or make them again. There was someone who wrote in a while back. He’d taken money from the company, tried to pay it back and it made things worse. I think the debt was something like US$20,000? He sent in an update and it had all worked out. He definitely won’t be making the same mistake again. So if you feel that this is really bad and you’ll never recover, try to remember that people have come back from worse.

    I’m not sure what you mean by the 18 flex hours – are you saying that you worked 18 extra hours and they didn’t pay you? If so, that’s a completely separate issue and they can’t withhold your pay.

    I highly recommend spending time on this blog to learn about how things work from a manager’s side. Good luck with your next job!

    * I do think the company should have done a better job securing their files – if it’s not protected, people are going to click, whether by accident or otherwise. But some places really aren’t great with security, and you have to use your own judgement, unfortunately.

    1. Ron McDon*

      What a lovely, considered answer.

      I too could see myself doing this at an earlier stage in my career and not yet knowing about office norms, the important thing is to learn from it and move on.

    2. Louise*

      Re Question 2 – Thank you all for your comments. I have apologised to my manager, however the questions were questions I had when I went for the job 2 years previously and my feedback which was also given to me 2 years previously was available so it was all done as a learning exercise. The job was hard, pressurised and I was told to read anything I could to learn the job properly. I am very aware of handling confidential information but as these files had been available for 2 years anyone could have accessed them. However, yes have learned my lesson and thanks again for your views.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Hi Louise, I appreciate that you came to explain! I’m concerned that you are still focusing on things like the files having been available for two years – it really doesn’t matter how long they were available. Similarly, being told to read everything you can to learn the job properly sounds more like it refers to training materials than to interview questions. I hope that you take some time to consider what Alison and others have said, because it sounds like you’re a conscientious worker who made a misstep, and this feedback is helpful to apply in lots of work scenarios.

        1. Lance*

          Yeah, I definitely agree about reframing their ‘read anything you could’ advice in particular. Interview questions aren’t going to teach you more about the job; they’re going to teach you more about the interview, which I feel is a very important distinction here. As mentioned, training manuals, online resources… those are the sorts of things you should be looking for in the future, not interview questions/results.

      2. Lilo*

        But you must understand why interview questions aren’t within the scope of material to “learn the job properly”, right?

        If you had gotten the questions from a job review website, this wouldn’t be an issue.

        It’s not having the questions that is the issue, it is looking at files beyond the scope of reasonableness.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Did you miss the part where she said they were the same questions she was asked in the previous interview 2 years ago, and included the feedback she’d been given at the interview 2 years ago?

          Holy shit. That company is terrible at interviewing.

      3. drpuma*

        Since many of the comments are focusing on the files, I do want to highlight what you should have done to make it right.

        Yes, letting your boss know ASAP would have been good.

        Worst-case scenario, speaking up during the interview, 1 or 2 questions in – “You know what? I came across some old questions when I was researching this position that I used to practice my answers, but it sounds like you’re still using those questions. How would you like to proceed?”

        99% of the time, what gets folks in trouble is the cover-up and not the crime! That’s what happened to you, and ultimately it’s the cover-up (and not the research) that this company views as most indicative of your character.

      4. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Thank you for dropping by to comment. You know, this changes things for me. They told you to read all you could, gave you access to all the files…and then got angry that you read all the files? I’m honestly not sure what they expected! Could it be that they were angry at themselves for not realising that information was public?

        You can still write an apology later, if you think it’s worth it. It can’t hurt. Either way, wishing you all the best for the next job!

      5. RegrettableProtests*

        I think it’s important not to think “the files have been available for 2 years, anyone could’ve accessed them”, because having the ability to access isn’t the same as permission to do so. You’re focusing on a technicality here, and that won’t serve you well in the future. Technically having access to the files isn’t the same as it being okay – Obviously, they weren’t okay with it!

        I honestly can’t think of a situation where snooping around those files would be fully acceptable. The level of how bad varies (obviously, as you can see in the thread), but having access to files doesn’t mean you should be looking through them all. Lots of companies just don’t password restrict access to non-confidential files.

        It does seem a little ridiculous since they hadn’t changed the questions from the last time, but assuming you had no reason to access those files, it looks bad that you were snooping through things that weren’t relevant to your work. I hope things work well for you in the future!

    3. MK*

      I agree that this isn’t an irredeemable transgression; the OP messed up, they lost the job as a consequence, they should know better from now on.

      I do not agree that “if it’s not protected, people are going to click”. People as a rule know better than to do that, the same way that they don’t look into their manager’s closed but unlocked drawers or go through files on other people’s desks. If it happens by accident, they stop as soon as they realise it and maybe disclose it if there is a reason to do so.

  20. Jiboashu*

    OP #2
    Hmm. In context, I really don’t think this the huge violation Allison and the employer are making this out to be. OP didn’t make the best choice, but bit of an overreaction imo.

    1) OP has been working in this job already. They’ve time they’ve put in already is equivalent to a full-timer. If this is a very specialised position can’t imagine the interview questions will give them secrets that they aren’t already aware of. If this isn’t a very specialised position and it’s more of a ‘biggest weakness’ questionnaire, that’s even less likely to some sort of advantage. Never mind that interview questions are sometimes given beforehand, available on Glassdoor, etc. Isn’t most interview prep essentially this but you don’t know the order of the questions ? If anything OP, this thinking would’ve made me not bother without even getting into ethics.

    2) So, the OP had access to this as part of their job. I understand why they framed the question the way they did, because what I’m reading here is the company’s privacy failure. Regardless of whether they’re an applicant, of they weren’t meant to have access, it shouldn’t have been there. The lack of changing questions coupled with that is not a good look for the company. They obviously don’t run a tight ship. Their reaction smacks a bit of ’embarrassed so turning to blame’.

    All that said, I wouldn’t have done this. OP, if somehow this happened again, rely on what you’ve learned in the job and keep emphasising that along with the usual interview prep. I wouldn’t have done this. However, I’m sympathetic and understand where you were coming from in this specific situation. I think the office is as much to blame.

    (btw is it common to interview for a position you’re already in? Why would they need to do a full interview rather than formality type?)

    1. Louise*

      Thanks Jiboashu – yes with this organisation even if you work in a position for years as a temporary and they want to make it permanent there has to be a formal interview process.

      1. Greenhouse*

        I also don’t think you messed up that badly, especially since they asked you the exact same questions as during the first interview.

        I honestly think that their process is nonsensical. Why is an interview necessary in order to hire you permanently if you’re going to be doing the same job? Your work performance should be enough for them to assess you.

        1. Lil Fidget*

          I was thinking, I’m not sure OP committed such a moral failing as the responses suggest. If I’m reading correctly, they didn’t know these questions would be reused. In that case, the moment to correct it would probably have been when you realized they were recycling the questions – but I also understand why that’s awkward.

    2. LGC*

      Eh, I feel like the biggest issue here isn’t that Louise accessed the information to begin with. It’s that when she was called out on it, her response was to blame management for being irresponsible and (apparently) to not acknowledge that she was wrong for accessing it.

      It’s a little bit if you accidentally leave your phone unlocked and your friends find your personal information. And then, when you confront them after they find out you write llama romance fanfic on the Internet, they respond, “Well, you should have just locked your phone if you didn’t want people to look at your llamafic!”

      Well, yeah. But also, we all know that people do private things on their cellphones. It’s just bad form to go snooping.

      1. Julia*

        While a rule of the internet says that pretty much any fanfic you can imagine exists, I got no hits for llama romance fanfics. Can anyone remedy that, please?

        1. ElspethGC*

          I bet it exists. Try fics for The Emperor’s New Groove, he’s already a llama for most of that film.

        2. LGC*

          I mean, probably not under that specific header, but I’ve been on the Internet long enough to know that it most likely exists, and where to find it.

          (…not that I would ever seek it out myself.)

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Yeah, I think that’s right — I bet the reaction was more about Louise’s response than to her actual actions.

    3. AMPG*

      I agree with this. I don’t think interview questions should be secret in the first place, and most standard interview questions can be guessed ahead of time, anyway. And if the culture of that workplace is that documents on shared drives can be viewed (but not modified) by anyone with no repercussions, then the OP was acting in accordance with the norms of the office. I do still agree that she should’ve flagged that she had prepped using the same question sheet, but I don’t see this as disqualifying.

  21. Kay*

    #4 – Asst prof here – in a soft money STEM dept but I assume this holds for hard money depts as well.
    I think there are two separate issues – one is the overtime, and one is the questions from your boss about making up time. Re making up time – is your chair concerned about actual hours (which would be odd in my experience) or tasks undone? It makes sense that they might be concerned about the work getting done – have you communicated with them that you are coordinating with other student workers to cover your workload in your absence? If not, I would do that, and explain that when you are back you’ll see what is undone and make a plan to get caught up.
    Re overtime – Most schools have very firm rules about how many hours a week students are allowed to work (19hrs in my current institution), with no overtime allowed – when you say you worked overtime, does that mean you went above this limit? If so, I would be very careful about how you discuss this with the chair. FWIW, I will say that many students hate these limits and some depts (especially ones where students can work from home) have a culture of students banking hours if they work “overtime” one week and then charging them in a subsequent week where they have less time to work, but I have to note that this is against the rules, and it may not be the case in your institution.

    1. Academic Addie*

      Asst. prof in a hard money STEM department here. I’m largely in agreement with this, but wondering what about the thesis. Is there a thesis project? My MS students have a set hours they can work a graduate (teaching) assistantship, set hours they can work for a research assistanship (doing my research for me), and set class hours. Then they have their thesis hours (usually 12/week). It all adds up to about 36 hours a week, but due to the nature of experiments, or exam times, maybe less or more.

      Could the advisor be asking about that? For me, time is very flexible. But for colleagues with field seasons or equipment that isn’t available 24/7/365, that’s not the case.

      1. Corporate Lady*

        I’m going to piggy back – does the adviser even know that overtime has happened? I don’t see in the letter where the OP mentioned these additional hours. It might be the supervisor just doesn’t know and would be fine with just letting things go considering the other effort.

    2. Seriously?*

      I think it depends in part of if she is paid or getting credit and then if she is paid, is she paid hourly. If she is paid hourly or getting credit then hours are typically tracked and she would need to either not get paid for the hours she missed or make them up. If she is being paid a set amount then she shouldn’t have to make up the hours considering how much overtime she has already put in. But if she is hourly then she needs to not work overtime anymore.

  22. Rebecca*

    #2 – I think you learned a very valuable lesson. Just because something is available for you to read if you stumble upon it, search for it intentionally, whatever, doesn’t mean you *should* read it. Case in point: I have access to shared files with other teams in my organization, because there are certain pieces of info they maintain that I need to do my job. But that doesn’t mean I can poke around to find other information that doesn’t pertain to my job. Not my business, not my circus, not my monkeys.

    Please use this as a learning experience and move on.

  23. MM*

    I most certainly was expected to make up the sick day I took when I was an intern. It was for college credit.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      A day yes, but I oversee interns and I wouldn’t expect them to make up the hours of a whole week during the same period. It’s probably going to be impossible for full time students to do that – you might as well fail them for getting the flu. I’d probably give them an alternate assignment they can complete from home, or see about extending the internship, or something.

    2. Lilo*

      I took a few for credit internships and was required to complete a set number of hours signed off, sick or no.

      The previous OT might compensate, but I wouldn’t bet 100% in it, particularly if it was undocumented. It feels unfair, but it’s best to make sure you get your requirements fully met.

  24. Cordoba*

    With #1, if it’s not a job you really need right now to put food on the table and not a amazing opportunity that will dramatically improve your life and career then I don’t see any reason to try to put a positive face on your reservations.

    I’d be open about the fact that I’m not feeling the area and that I am unwilling to take a pay cut. What’s the worst that can happen, they choose not to offer you a job you aren’t sure you want in a place that you don’t think you want to live? Eh, big deal.

    Better to just miss out on the job rather than get hired for something that will ultimately be a bad fit, or to have to go through a few rounds of salary negotiation before everybody figures out that it’s never going to work.

    Job interviews are similar to a first date, inasmuch as you want to put your best foot forward but don’t want to mislead anybody about what you’re actually like or what you’re looking for. If you hate dogs and go out with somebody who loves dogs it’s probably better to own that mismatch than to downplay it. Likewise, if you’re interviewing for a job that doesn’t offer the location or the pay you want it’s better to get that on the table early so people can figure out how to either address it or stop wasting time with further interviewing.

    1. Reba*

      This is similar to what I was thinking: Yes, you put a damper on the process, BUT that seems like it is ok.

    2. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah I wouldn’t beat yourself up about this too much OP. It doesn’t sound like you missed out on something that would’ve been a slam dunk. I hope you can find a challenging position in a location you’re more excited about. (I have passed on a big salary cut to move to a cheaper COL location myself, and I think it was the right call for me. I suspect I would’ve been pretty de-motivated by the combination of those changes).

    3. Michaela Westen*

      Also as a person who grew up in a fundamentalist city I know how much culture can affect your life. For example, all the potential SOs are the political/social/character/behavior opposite of what you’re looking for. That has a profound affect on your life and future.
      OP1 was right to have reservations about such a big cultural change. To me it sounds like she didn’t really want to live there, but that hadn’t surfaced yet.
      I moved to the big city as soon as I could, and I’ve made a point of living and working in inner city because that’s where I’m most comfortable. There have been times when I considered jobs in the suburbs, and looked at apartments that weren’t near transit, but I knew that lifestyle would make me miserable. I apply to jobs that are near trains so I can have the lifestyle that makes me happy.
      However, I’m not a big career person – maybe a career-oriented person feels differently.

      1. AMPG*

        Agreed – I live in a state that’s solid blue on the national level, but the actual town I live in is a deep red suburb and I’m seriously considering moving a couple of towns over at least partly because of that.

    4. Persimmons*

      Agreed. Learning a lesson by losing something you didn’t want sounds like a major win to me. There are much more painful ways for LW to have figured this out.

    5. smoke tree*

      Yeah, tactically it might not have been the best response, since it would be safer to give a reasonably enthusiastic answer to keep your options open with them. This did sound fairly negative. On the other hand, if these (fairly serious) reservations were at the top of the LW’s mind when they answered, it might be a sign that it really wasn’t the best fit.

  25. MMoray*

    For the grad assistant question, I think the real issue is that you’ve been consistently working extra hours. In my experience, grad assistantships are for a specific number of hours (maybe 15-20 hours) per week. This protects student workers from being overworked to the point of neglecting their classes, and it gives professors an easy standard to hold their TA/RAs to.

    Even if this professor is notoriously demanding, you should have set assistantship working hours (maybe M-F, 9-12). You shouldn’t be working outside of those hours except in highly unusual circumstances (and in those cases, that would be a favor you’re doing, not a requirement of the position).

    You need to find a way to draw boundaries with this professor. You can always bring up your class schedule as an excuse, and if they don’t listen, it may be worth (gently, respectfully) talking to their department head.

  26. Super dee duper anon*

    Le sigh… I’m probably going to flamed for this since I can already see it’s an unpopular opinion… However, barring additional info that changes the circumstances, I see nothing wrong with what OP #2 did.

    1.) Lurking through departmental folders/directories has been the extent of my training at my last three jobs. Hell, I just encouraged our intern to do that. So this is incredibly normal behavior.

    2.) It’s really very simple – if you don’t want something to be seen then you either password protect it or don’t save it down to a place that others have access. That was 100% HR or the hiring managers responsibility, and if I had been the their manager THEY would be the one getting a reprimand (if it were something that did truly necessitate secrecy, which I firmly believe this isn’t). Security procedures 101.

    3.) Interview questions are not state secrets. There are companies that send them out ahead of time and there are thousands of articles suggesting the most common interview questions. If I stumbled across interview questions it wouldn’t even occur to me that they were something that I shouldn’t be seeing. Salary info = something generally accepted to be confidential. Interview questions are absolutely not.

    4.) If anything, this would be a point in the OPs favor in my mind. The ability to suss out valuable information without explicit direction is a major skill I look for.

    If it had somehow been made explicitly clear to the OP that they shouldn’t be looking at stuff in that specific folder or that the interview questions were to be top secret – then that would change things a bit. As it was written though – the only person who erred here is the person who didn’t password protect the files they wanted to be kept private/saved them in a public directory.

    1. Super dee duper anon*

      To add: I work with sensitive, confidential personal data. If someone comes across data (whether by accident or by intention) that I’m supposed to be keeping private I’m getting fired on the spot and the other person is probably getting commended for exposing my last security procedures.

    2. Holly*

      The issue with #2 is not that the file contained information that is only confidential based on the person trying to view it and for what purpose. For example, if I’m a prosecutor, I’m allowed to access all sorts of sensitive files about certain individuals backgrounds like bail status, criminal record, etc. But what if my husband gets arrested so I use the system that I can validly access to get information about his case that a member of the public would normally not have? It’s extremely unethical and I would get fired. I’m looking for information with an improper purpose. That’s what makes it unethical.

      1. Greenhouse*

        I don’t think this is the same as reading interview questions that were the exact same questions you were asked during your first interview.

        1. Holly*

          The situation isn’t exactly comparable because interview questions are not as sensitive as say, someone’s criminal record. My point is that accessing something that isn’t “password protected” is unethical if you’re searching for documents and using them for an improper purpose/conflict of interest. It is common sense that searching for documents related to the interview process and then accessing those documents when you are a candidate is unethical not because the file is locked, but because you were using your position/access to internal documents to give you an advantage over other candidates.

      2. MuseumChick*

        Holly, I agree. It’s one thing to stumble across something without at first realizing what it is. It’s another thing to 1) Not alert your boss or whoever. 2) Use what you found when you know that it wasn’t intended for you to find.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      Re point #2, reprimanding the person who saved the questions to an accessible directory AND expecting people to not access materials that aren’t required for their work are not mutually exclusive. Our HR director would have expected interview questions to be secured, but I would also be concerned about hiring someone who felt that, if they had access to something, it was fair game to view.

      I work in legal, and we do a ton of security training on Day 1. Lawyers are generally terrible at securing documents within the network, and we explicitly tell people they are not to access files that are not required for their specific jobs. Perusing the network for interesting information (or information that benefits them personally) is Not Done and would definitely be a strike against someone’s judgment.

      1. Lilo*

        Lawyers actually have explicit rules on what to do it you are accidentally sent the wrong or excessive information during discovery. Maybe that’s coloring my perspective but I find the whole “not my fault if it wasn’t properly protected” perspective a bit abhorrent. Breaches happen, you have to be able to rely on your employees to have the ethics not to exploit them.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I think this is varying by field, but my experience has been that if you have broad access to stuff you don’t need to see 99% of the time (but no one wants to go through days of getting you access when you hit the 1%) then you need to do a reasonable job of creating the veneer that you don’t look at things that aren’t your business. And if you happen to catch something confidential that shouldn’t be visible to you, then you either alert your management to the security breach (several in-thread examples) or make sure that you in no way reference it. (e.g. Why John was out for a week in the middle of the Kitt project, even though you saw his manager’s note about the thing with his brother.)

          Maybe you looked at the history of the guinea pig grooming project to figure out useful background for your new gerbil grooming project, or to see how the company dealt with Utah State Level compliance of guinea pigs as you are learning about broader compliance issues. That’s very different from applying for an internal job and clicking on the Hiring For Llama Groomer folder that you can access but external candidates can’t.

        2. Anon From Here*

          There’s being sent something in error, and there’s accessing something on the network that you’re not supposed to be accessing or have access to. The first is something that the recipient can’t help. The second, even if it’s not deliberate, can be a “taint” problem when a lawyer or their practice group is screened from a particular matter that another lawyer or group is working on at the firm. Improperly handled, it can mean that the firm has to drop the entire matter.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Right, but there is a lot of gray area between an inadvertent production to an outside party or failing to properly implement an ethical wall. In my experience, there are a lot of safeguards and protocols against each of those things – because they introduce malpractice and client-relations issues – but not nearly as many in locking down each individual legal matter to only its team. The latter only happens when required by protective order or client agreement.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        I work in medical, and the HIPAA rules are very strict. Anyone who looks up patient information for reasons other than their assigned work is terminated. In some cases there can also be criminal charges.
        So I have access to patient charts and billing, and if I ever looked up a record for a personal reason, severe consequences!

    4. Det. Charles Boyle*

      I agree with you. I just don’t understand all the secrecy around the interview questions. Aren’t interview questions pretty much the same everywhere? Why are *these* particular interview questions so super-secret? I just don’t understand why this is such a big deal. Yes, if the OP had been accessing confidential client information without being asked or told to for her job, that would be unethical. But looking at interview questions seems pretty innocuous.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Yeah without having seen the file, I’m going to guess there’s a “tell me about a time you overcame a challenge at work” and “tell me about the time you had to get along with a difficult personality” :P But perhaps OP’s field is technical and these were literal challenge questions, like “create a code to do X” or the thing with the dollar and the pyramid or whatever.

        1. doreen*

          At my employer, maybe 20% are “tell me about a time” questions . The rest are “Here’s a situation- what would you do?” Having that sort of question in advance is a huge advantage over the other candidates who don’t have the extra time to prepare an answer.

          1. Lil Fidget*

            I guess what I always wonder is, how often in the job do potential employees need to make on-the-spot decisions and present a good front while doing that? I think that’s probably super relevant in jobs like media or maybe even senior management. But in most challenging job situations (frustrating coworker, conflicting instructions), I get some time to think about my best course of action and then implement it. I rarely have to proceed off the top of my head. Then again, I suppose if candidates have more time they may be able to think of the best textbook answer versus their actual instinct.

            1. Greenhouse*

              What makes these types of questions even more useless for assessing the OP is the fact that they already know how she will react in certain situations relevant to the job after working with them for a few years!

            2. doreen*

              How often you need to make on the spot decisions is going to very much depend on the job – and for the supervisory positions I’m involved in interviewing for , quick decisions are needed on a daily basis. For those jobs, I’m as interested in determining whether the candidate is comfortable making quick decisions as I am in what the decision is – I don’t want a candidate who gives me a textbook response regarding how to handle a bomb threat if she has to spend 15 minutes thinking about it. I don’t want the one whose first instinct is to call me ( an actual response). I want the one who immediately directs someone to call 911 and starts evacuating the building even if they don’t remember all the details of our written policy

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        I think it’s a sliding scale where different points are bad for different reasons. If the questions are so innocuous that anyone could guess them without knowing the field, then there is no need to do research on them, so this shouldn’t arise as a problem. Especially if she was asked those same questions when she applied for the contract position, so she could just refer to that interview (in her memory, not the company files) when considering what sort of “tell us about a time when you had to deal with a difficult font” anecdote would play best. If the questions are specific enough that you couldn’t just guess them, then advance knowledge is obviously a plus.

        For an internal candidate going against external candidates, using your access to research anything that directly touches the interview is going to throw a red flag–interview questions, files on the other candidates, files on the interviewer. In this case, either her responses made someone go looking for when the files were accessed, or it was really obvious in some other way. (e.g. The interviewer went to get the official interview files and saw that the last person to access them was OP; maybe figured they’d see if she addressed that in the interview. When she didn’t, she was crossed off.)

    5. August*

      I don’t know if I’d call it a point in her favor, but I do agree that what OP2 did isn’t that egregious to me. In almost every job I’ve had, my training has primarily consisted of digging through the shared folder and learning what I need to based on what I find.

      1. Lil Fidget*

        Others are saying above that OP’s response to the situation (not coming clean sooner, blaming management for not password-protecting the file) is more of an issue than what she actually did by retrieving the file.

    6. Lynn Whitehat*

      Yeah, this is pretty much where I come down too. I work in software engineering. Everyone knows there will be questions about data structures (but just stuff like sets and lists, nothing really wild) and recursion, in addition to the usual “tell me about a time when your manager made a decision you disagreed with”. It’s also all on GlassDoor, and there are books written on “cracking the software interview.” My company in particular is in the security sector, so shame on us if something we considered sensitive wasn’t locked up properly. (I realize this does not apply to everyone). Plus these are apparently the same questions she was asked two years ago for the temp position! So she could have just remembered them from before.

      I guess next time have the discretion to read the questions on GlassDoor from a personal device. But I’m really not feeling the whole “look up interview questions? How dare!” response.

    7. chi type*

      Agreed. Pretty much this exact thing has happened to me at my institution. If I’m interviewing for an internal position, I’m definitely spending time on their SharePoint looking at the “Llama Groomers’ Division Favorites” links and docs and if I saw one that said interview questions…I’d probably click on it.

    8. Katieinthemountains*

      Re: 1.) I assumed OP went looking for, say, a complete job description, or clues to portions of the job that would occur only at the end of the fiscal year/Q4/tax season if she hasn’t worked there a full year or if the temp position didn’t cover all aspects of the job. So I figured the file name was something like JobTitle or PermPosition but turned out to be interview materials.
      Re: 3.) These are questions OP had already heard at the first interview, so she couldn’t avoid that advantage. Plus, the lists online.
      I suppose it REALLY matters where that file was and what it was called (and maybe the industry), because in a lot of companies, this would get an, “Oh yeah, ha ha, we do have that file up. Well, your answers better be terrific!”

  27. MuseumChick*

    OP 2, this comes down to two over lapping issues: ethics and judgement. You should both unethical behavior and poor judgement in this matter. I work in field where ethics are so important you can destroy your entire reputation with something like this. When you work in a museum you are often left alone with high valuable (either historically, monetarily, culturally, etc) objects/documents. It is insanely easy to steal stuff like that. My employer needs to know they can trust me to always behave above the board even when no one is watching.

    Ideally you would have alerted you boss to what you found. For example, I once worked in an archive, as I was going through a box of documents I found piles of sensitive financial information including peoples SS numbers. I altered my boss immediately we documented everything and made plans to have the records destroyed. Your situation is basically the same, you found something you knew you shouldn’t have access to and used it anyway and are now blaming your boss for not having better security when in reality you are the one who chose to do something unethical.

  28. Delta Delta*

    OP 2 – Having worked in various jobs with and for people who have either no idea how to rename files or how to organize them, I can see where someone could encounter a document that isn’t normally meant for wide distribution. I can genuinely see a situation where OP was accessing files in the normal course of her work, stumbled upon a file marked “questions,” didn’t know if it was relevant to her work, opened it, and read it. I know, because this happened to me. Highly tech-unsavvy boss scanned a sensitive contract and instead of putting it in his own secure folder, he put it in mine. Then couldn’t find it, so he blamed the copier/scanner and did it again, this time scanning it to the right location. Weeks later I find a time-stamped PDF in my folder (201506071445 or something like that) and think, “huh, is this something I scanned?” I opened it to figure out what it was so I could archive it, and learned the sensitive information.

    If it was something like this, I can see how OP can and should be forgiven. She also should have said that she saw the document and wanted to flag the issue so the company could take whatever steps were necessary in the future with respect to protecting documents. If it was OP going on a hunt for the document to get a leg up, that starts to feel a little more like a judgment issue.

    1. Lexi Kate*

      I can see that as a plausible answer. I got from the letter though that she went to the managers folder and searched on questions.

    2. Holly*

      I think that would be a completely different situation – especially since the file was inadvertently saved to your folder, so you were doing due diligence by checking out what it was. Here, OP was using her unique position to search for information that would help her, which sounds like a conflict of interest and using her position for an improper purpose.

    3. Seriously?*

      It is very different. Accidentally reading something that was misfiled is different than looking up and studying a document to get an advantage in an interview.

  29. Waffle Fries*

    #5 With the exception of questions about the kids father, these are normal questions that most people ask each other when they are getting to know you. Does she come off as a firing squad asking these or was this a casual get to know you personally conversation. If its the latter I really think you need to look for another job because your personalities are not going to work out and its going to drive both of you crazy. This is the type of manager that wants to be invested in you as a whole. I really don’t see a way for you to not answer these questions when your new managers personality is to be personal and come out with a good working relationship.

    1. WellRed*

      I thought the question about owning your own home was also a bit weird. I have never been asked that, but I suppose it depends on context?

      1. Waffle Fries*

        Maybe its just where I am North Carolina or my age range but most people I have met usually tell you if they are renting or if they own their home. Here renting either means you are saving up to build a home or planning on relocating in the future.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          And if you’re renting without planning on relocating or buying a home you get judged, right?
          I lived in the same rental for 21 years and twice I was startled when I casually mentioned how long I’d lived there and got sudden, startling judgment in return. And this was in a big city where people are generally much more respectful than the Midwestern city I grew up in.
          Why was I (and still am) renting? Because I hate maintaining property. It’s a free country, right?

      2. Lil Fidget*

        Ugh, that question reads to me like they’re trying to get a read on your social class, so it would put my backup. But other questions like “where did you go to school” tend to have the same effect so I should let it go.

      3. Fergus*

        I can see if she asked, I have been thinking about moving out there or you owning or renting, and depends on answer, maybe a follow up with how do you like it, etc. If she is shot gunning all these questions in a row, a lot of red flags of maybe not working there, in this case it’s all context.

      4. tangerineRose*

        I agree that it seemed a bit much to ask if the employee owned or rented. I wouldn’t be thrilled to be asked that question unless there was context that made this seem reasonable.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      That list of questions is rife with points for discriminating against and employee and would raise a pretty big red flag for our director of HR that the manager was a liability. I have about 20 years of professional experience, and no one has ever asked me if I owned my home or whether or the level of involvement my kids’ father has in their lives. When considering the question list in totality, it’s problematic on a number of levels and indicates a level of nosiness that goes well beyond wanting “to be invested in [OP #5] as a whole”.

        1. JSPA*

          If someone decides to promote, demote and /or fire on the basis of these things, that’s just as much a violation as if they do it in the hiring process, no? If Manager is coming in to downsize and consolidate, and is digging for this information, it actually might be good to overshare; if people perceived as “likely to be less productive based on protected info” are fired or otherwise edged out en masse, that’s a lawsuit even in an otherwise “at will” state, I’d think (but IMNAL)

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Exactly. Actively seeking personal/non-work information about employees that doesn’t necessarily seem problematic in the day-to-day can bite you in the ass when you have to deal with personnel problems or layoff decisions. I read that letter and could hear employment counsel’s management training ringing in my ears.

      1. Waffle Fries*

        I agree the questions about the kids and their father and their involvement is over the line. But the others including about renting vs owning as long as they are conversational and not a firing squad are normal things you talk about when you get to know people. I’m not sure why you have never been asked this unless you have volunteer this information. Discriminating is taking a leap here, no matter how many years of professional experience you have.

        1. Perse's Mom*

          I’m pretty sure I’ve also never been asked if I rent or own except on tax forms. Where I live, sure. In a larger city, even what part of town (as in NSEW side of town). But never specifically whether I rent or own.

          And while this may have been intended as purely conversational on the new manager’s part, NotAnotherManager’s point is that some of that list of questions could easily be used to discriminate, and therefore are a sign of bad judgment on the new manager’s part. If OP’s coworker isn’t offered the same opportunities as others because new manager presumes she can’t handle it due to XY or Z she learned from this interrogation, that’s a big deal.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Because whether someone rents or owns their home are not often topics that come up at work? Kids, pets, mutual interests like the local sports team, sure – but when your list of questions veers into inappropriate, which the paternal involvement certainly does and the inquiry about homeownership could, it shades the entire rest of the list. It starts to feel less like a personal getting-to-know-you meeting and more like the Spanish Inquisition from a person with power over your employment.

          There is a difference between organically getting to know your team and sitting them down and asking them a bunch of details about their personal life in a one-on-one work meeting. People who want you to know will mention Susie’s soccer game or Bobby’s piano recital; people who are more private won’t and will likely feel uncomfortable about this sort of meeting with their manager.

          There is no legitimate reason to ask someone if their child’s parent is involved in their life. None. It casts a pall on this manager’s judgment and makes it harder to interpret the rest favorably.

    3. Not a Mere Device*

      A lot depends on whether there’s a back and forth. Someone who asks “Where are you from?” and when I say “New York” answers “Where in New York? I grew up in Queens” or “Oh, the big city. I’m from a small town in Michigan” is opening a conversation. Someone who throws a series of personal questions at me, without volunteering similar information about themselves or leaving room for digressions, is going to make me feel pinned down.

      I don’t think that was the intention of one of my relatives by marriage–but at the end of two days, I was feeling stressed, and also realized that I had learned absolutely nothing about her except for the subjective feeling that she was interviewing me to see if I was good enough to count as part of the family. In a more usual social interaction–whether that’s boss/employee, in-laws, or new neighbors–both people are talking about themselves. A manager talking to her employees is never going to be on an entirely equal footing, but if she wants to create some degree of social comfort, this is the wrong way to do it.

      1. irene adler*

        Sometimes the “where are you from?” question takes on a racist tinge. This can be difficult to distinguish between someone genuinely interested in an employee and someone wanting to suss out whether the employee is from a foreign country.

        Occasionally on a job interview, I will be asked “where are you from?”. When I answer with the California city where I live (which is found on my resume), I get, “No, no, where are you FROM?” as they point to my foreign-looking last name. Yeah, I know what you are asking about.

        1. Seriously?*

          Yuck. I would be temped to repeat that I was from California born and raised and then ask them where they are from.

          1. irene adler*

            Yep-exactly. I’ve repeated the CA city name.
            One time, at a panel interview, one woman asked the question. I gave my current residence. She asked again. Her co-panelist leaned over and, with worried expression, told her, “You can’t ask that!”.

            The woman’s response, “But I want to know. I’m curious.”

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yep. I know two people – both American citizens by birth, one of whom has never even been to her parent’s home country – who get asked this all the time in a way that is clearly intended to suss out their ethnicity, not if they are native to the DC metro area or a transplant. They both report that it’s surprising how many people refuse to take “North Carolina” or “Delaware” as an answer to that question.

        3. Jam Today*

          One of the best responses I’ve seen to this was from a Northern Irish woman on Twitter whose parents or grandparents are from I think Nigeria. Some guy would *not* leave her alone with the “where are you *really* from” line of questioning:

          – Where are you from?
          – Belfast.
          – But where were you born?
          – I was born in Belfast.
          – Yeah but where did you *come from*?
          – I came from my mother’s uterus — which was also in Belfast.

    4. EddieSherbert*

      I think it depends on if the manager was reciprocating and sharing information about their lives as well; if not, it was certainly feel unnatural to me.

      Also, in my area (Midwest) it would *not* be normal to randomly ask someone if they rent or own – unless it came up naturally… maybe if I mentioned my apartment complex? But even then I’d think it was odd if their response was, “so you rent then?” versus commenting on whatever I was actually talking about… So honestly, outside a conversation specifically about buying a home / moving and looking for a place / etc., I’d find it to be a weird question.

      1. tangerineRose*

        The “rent’ or “own” question seems very personal to me. It makes me wonder if the manager is trying to assign a status/class to the employee based on this type of thing.

  30. Jaybeetee*

    #5 – Holy crap! That boss was, like, reading off a list of questions bosses aren’t supposed to ask their reports. Asking someone whether or not they have kids, whether or not they have a partner, what’s up with the kids’ dad… is so inappropriate. Even “where do you live?” can get into dodgy territory in some cities, where neighbourhoods signify class.

    I like the advice to treat the more appropriate (less inappropriate?) questions as conversation, with “how about you?” at the end. But the partner- and kid-related questions, I’d probably look a bit surprised and ask why my boss had asked? And perhaps answer that there are certain things I don’t make a habit of discussing at work. Unless that boss has never worked before, she knows she’s being sketchy.

  31. mark132*

    @LW2 for me this would depend on how the information was stored. If it’s stored in something like confluence (a wiki like product) in an open searchable folder. I would see no reason to not read it. A major reason for products like that are as a searchable knowledge base. In the flip side in something like one drive. I wouldn’t read it, because I would assume it was accidentally shared with me. (Also in products like one drive and confluence for that matter you can see access logs).

  32. Not All*


    Based on my personal experience, I think your subconscious helped you dodge a bullet.

    2 years ago, I moved from a lovely liberal Pacific Northwest city with a great climate that was pleasant year-round to a super-conservative midwest city with a foul climate (million degrees with ungodly humidity in the summer and a never-ending round of ice in the winter). It was a bad, bad decision. I’ve lived in conservative areas before and not had an issue, but having Trump in office seems to have freed people (around here) to be as openly bigoted, misogynistic, and racist as they want. It’s a constant stream…from the conversations you can’t help overhearing at the grocery store to the random rants you get from taxi/Lyft/Uber drivers. It wears on me more than I thought because it’s just inescapable. I had thought I would adjust the the heat, but after 2 summers I still haven’t…which means I get a lot less exercise, pay someone to do my yardwork (even though I’ve always loved yardwork and gardening), and can’t take my dogs for walks because the pavement quite literally burns their paws & they’ll keel over from heat after 2 blocks anyway.

    The other thing I’ve noticed that surprised me is that even though my organization as a whole nationwide is very progressive, the most conservative employees have gravitated towards this location because it’s in such a conservative community they feel more comfortable here.

    There’s a LOT more to think about when selecting where you’re going to live/work than just the employer/job/cost of living. Unless you’re in a field where you spend basically all your waking hours at work, the community really does make a difference.

      1. Not All*

        Slowly! I had to do my 2 yrs here before I could even start looking and wanted to see if I could get used to it. I’m much pickier this job search since the next one I intend to retire out of.

        And honestly, in my federal niche, you get either a good office with reasonably sane, ethical management OR a good location, pick only one! The positions with both open up maybe once every 20 years and competition is fierce. Last job was great location to live…with management so egregious I was having the “is today the day I turn whistleblower” debate almost nightly. If I was closer to retirement I would have stuck it out anyway though! Man, I miss that area!

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Good luck! To me it would be worth putting up with some stuff in the job to have an area and life I like. :)

  33. Hiring Manager*

    I don’t really disagree with the consensus here regarding Question #2 and the lessons Louise learned, but I want to contribute this: Depending on the nature of the job being filled, holding secretly shocking interview questions to spring on the candidate suddenly has not, in my experience, taught the hiring manager anything useful. Alison herself has mused on this very blog about the value of sharing the questions in advance, and while I see the difference between giving all applicants the questions and Louise finding them, I wonder how much good it really does to imagine that you’ve come up with some clever question that will illuminate some quality the applicant does or does not possess.

    Given that Louise was already working there, of course she has an advantage over applicants who don’t. I can understand the employer firing her, but it sounds as if their approach might have just as much to do embarrassment with their own carelessness as horror at the breach of ethics.

    1. Holly*

      To me, depending on their office norms, there’s nothing careless about not password protecting documents related to an interview process. I have access to pretty much everyone’s cases in my office, nothing is supposed to be password protected. But if a friend was involved in a case my colleague had and I used my position to look up her case information, that would be unethical. The improper use of OP’s position is what’s at issue, IMO.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Paralleling this to the SATs: Those ask certain types of questions, and many practice tests are available online and in books. Including at the SAT site.

      If you had a high school internship and worked for the college board, you could look up the same practice material as anyone outside. If you went ahead and looked up internal documents about “October test” and used those to practice, thinking they were internal information about past October tests–and then you went to take the test and it was those questions exactly–well, that wouldn’t go over well if they figured out what you did without you volunteering it. Even if you thought you were using your position to access special research information that other candidates wouldn’t have–your position should allow you to do things like ask your colleagues “What do you recommend to test takers?” not to look at special practice questions outsiders not working there can’t see. There are a lot of ways that an internal candidate has advantages over an external one, but clicking on the internal folder about the applicant tests shouldn’t be one.

    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I would guess that the issue was less that the list contained gotcha questions designed to keep the candidates on their toes but rather a concern about parity if one candidate had information the others did not, particularly if the hiring process was challenged.

      Frankly, we don’t have a list of written interview questions for most jobs, so the specific scenario is a little foreign to me, but I understand that there are organizations that require all candidates be asked the same list of questions (and some that require the answers be scribed for the record). (I tend to seek the same information from each candidate, but there are times when a candidate will answer a question before I ask it, so it seems silly to ask a question they’ve already answered and, at worst, makes it seem as though I’m not listening to their responses.) I work for a private entity, and we just have to follow HR guidelines, which do not include set question lists.

  34. Spider*

    OP #5 — There are a few people I work with who aren’t malicious, per se, but can ask some really personal questions just out of curiosity and a lack of good workplace boundaries, so occasionally I’ll get asked things like, “So, are you married? … Why not?” and the like. Coincidentally (or not?), all of these people are women in their 60s/70s, and I’m a 40-year-old woman, so I assume there’s a subconscious maternal concern behind the questions.

    If I can sense that a person is not trying to put me on the spot, but is well-intentioned but just getting a little too familiar, I usually respond by asking the person (in a tone of awe and wonder), “Are…are you channeling my mother’s spirit?” and then laughing it off and changing the subject. No one’s yet pressed me beyond that.

  35. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*


    I’m curious what your experience was with this manager after you spoke with them. I can honestly see this from both perspectives; the manager was rapid firing questions or the manager was having a get to know you meeting with her new reports and it was taken the wrong way.

    I’ll share a story with you about the last time I took over a team.

    I had never met any of my new direct reports before. The first day on the team I scheduled 1:1 meetings with them. The intent of the meeting was for us to learn about each other, as questions of each other, I could learn what their role on the team was and they could get a sense of who I was. I tried every which way to make the person I was speaking with feel at ease (as much as they could with a new unknown boss) . For the most part we talked about the team, what they did, I tried to share things about myself and find out things about them. I’m sure I asked some questions like what was described in the OP in an effort to get to know them. There was a moment when I freaked out the first person I spoke with. I asked “Is there anything about you I should know?” After seeing the look of panic on their face I amended the question with an example of what I was asking. I quickly added “For instance I take a vacation day on Valentines day every year to celebrate my anniversary with my husband” After giving that example they visibly relaxed and either shared something* or not.

    Now did some of them walk out of that meeting feeling interrogated? I’m sure they did. I’ve met and managed people who would feel interrogated if you asked them what they were eating that smells so good or if it was raining when they got to the office. I wanted to give them an opportunity to let me know some things that maybe wouldn’t have organically come up or that they might not have been sure how to bring up. How many questions have we had here where someone asks “How should I tell my boss X?”

    I can’t speak to the conversation that the OP describes, as we are hearing a third hand account. But I wouldn’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that the manager sat them in a chair in an empty dark room with a lone bare light bulb shining in their eyes while firing off questions.

    *Examples of things people shared with me were they were a foster parent, took time off at short notice to do work on a parents house, usually scheduled vacations a year in advance because of spouses vacation schedule, wasn’t a morning person and didn’t like to be social before 10am, etc.

    1. Lexi Kate*

      Yes, as long as it was conversational and the manager was participating I don’t see these questions as out of line or off the charts crazy. Maybe the level of involvement with the kids father but that depends on their conversation and how it was going.

      1. EddieSherbert*

        This sounds totally fine to me (and I appreciate your examples of “something they should tell you” because I would also panic a bit at this question – am I in trouble? What did I do? Did you see me on AAM?! It was only for a few minutes! Haha).

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          haha… Yes I quickly realized the question came off totally different than how I intended it. It’s also an example of how this kind of conversation can be misconstrued or not apparent to the other participant.

  36. Heynonniemouse*


    I couldn’t figure out from the letter if the new manager is male or female. Those questions sound a whole bunch skeevier coming from a male manager to a female subordinate. (Do you have a boyfriend? Are you willing to socialize with colleagues? Yikes.) Alison might have more information that didn’t make it into the answer, of course, but this could be something that’s alarming rather than just socially weird.

    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Male or female boss I guess I’m not that concerned over the “Are you willing to socialize with colleagues” question. I can see a totally innocuous reason for asking it, in that maybe they came from a work place that organized a lot of after hours social times and/or it’s a good question to read the team.

      For instance if someone says, “Oh yeah, I play softball with Bob, Mary, and Wakeen from the team once a week” I would know a little more about the team dynamics. If I got an answer “No, we used to all belong to a curling club, but now that we’re older a lot of us have kids that take up most of our after work time” I’ll know I probably shouldn’t start planning a lot of after hours work events (not that I would anyway… but some managers do). The there’s the ever popular “Oh god no…” response which would tell me I might have some interesting drama or I have someone who prefers to keep work separate from social (and nothing wrong with that)

  37. OyHiOh*

    #5’s manager – is there any possibility that the manager is from a different culture? There are a couple regions I can think of quickly where there’s a ritualized greeting process in which the host asks many questions of the guest, questions of the sort most Americans would find deeply personal and/or invasive. If culture is in play, returning the question to the sender won’t work because you’ve just doubled the politeness factor but “why do you ask” should help. On the assumption that #5 is in the US/Canada/UK, “why do you ask” should help.

    1. Lil Fidget*

      Yeah good question! “Ah, Mr. Smith, I’m wondering if you’ve fathered any children and if so, what level of involvement you’ve had with each of them.” SMH.

  38. Sue Wilson*

    #2: Okay OP/Louise, from your newer comments, I actually see more about where you’re coming from. You felt that the information you accessed was about you, and therefore should be fine to look at…and I can understand why you might feel like the previous interviewers comments about your answers to those questions before might be okay to look at.

    But I think this is a lesson you can learn about asking. Is this information that people would be okay with you seeing outside doing your job? Or would it come up in the normal course of doing your job? If no, and you would still like to have the information, you can ASK that you be able to see it. If yes, then it’s probably fine to look at.

  39. LadyPhoenix*

    Op #2: It really does sound like you get you were wrong… but you don’t want to be th bad guy.

    You actively searched for interview questions and then found then. Then you try to justify it by saying the document wasn’t password protected. You knew and were horrified that they used the questions, but didn’t speak up.

    You need to realize that things should not be touched, even if there isn’t a padlock attached to it.

    It’s like finding a wallet on the ground and taking the money and credit cards—you know the stuff isn’t yours and you are doing something wrong. No worse, you were pretty much pickpocketing the person.

    So learn this lesson for next time—don’t ruin people’s trust for an unfair advantage.

  40. Justin*

    “I was applying for a job I had been in for a few months as a temp. I researched the files”

    This is a really odd statement. What were you “researching?” Does this mean you were snooping around, or were you looking in a place that you were supposed to look (or even told specifically to look) to find the job description or something like that, and they left the questions there by accident? Is the issue not that you were in this folder, but that you opened the document with the questions on it? Or were you not supposed to be in these documents at all? I’m just hung up on “researched” because the word makes it sound like legit preparation, but in this context it seems shady.

    1. Lisa Babs*

      I thought the same exact thing. “I researched the files” really isn’t normal behavior and from the context I agree most likely was unethical. It’s weird that LW2 makes it seem like normal behavior.

      The other statement that is puzzling is “They said they didn’t believe anyone else could have accessed the docs (which I don’t believe).” Why does the LW2 feel the need to blame the employer for the LW2’s own actions. And regardless of that, LW2 admitted to snooping. It doesn’t matter that it was accessible, or if they knew it was accessible. LW2 shouldn’t have been looking for it.

  41. zinemin*

    OP#1 — really, don’t beat yourself up. It sounds to me like your unconscious or your intuitive brain very quickly made the calculation and decided you did not want this job and you kind of blurted this out instead of waiting for your conscious brain to catch up. Possibly your unconscious made you do that in order to save you from a mistake. Your probably saved yourself and the company a lot of time and energy, because very very likely you would have come to the same conclusion anyway — in the worst case only after you moved, in the best case after a lot of agonizing and not understanding why your heart is saying no to an offer that might have seemed pretty good on paper after all…
    I’m speaking as someone who very slowly and painfully over years self-sabotaged her way out of a career, not understanding what I was doing and why and now realizing that some part of me knew exactly what it was doing. :)

  42. Jenny*

    For the person who snooped company files. Just know that they have trackers to see everything you do on your office computers. Nothing is secret on company property.

    1. WafflesForPresident*

      I know we don’t want to nit pick people’s word choices but really I think “snoop” carries a very strong negative connotation. I don’t think anything in the letter writer’s original inquiry suggests they were snooping in malice. Perhaps they were, but that’s not how they describe it, and we shouldn’t put that assumption on them.

      My interpretation was that they were researching the role by searching the company’s network drives (which anyone can do) and they were able to access these files. If the company didn’t want employees to access them then the company should added security requirements to access them.

  43. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

    I’m curious how they found out in #2’s situation.

    I guess it really doesn’t matter in the end, just wondering.

    1. Almond Butter*

      There are upgrades you can get or have your IT install that lets you know who last accessed the document. Some will keep a list of who has opened the document.

  44. Hiring Mgr*

    Maybe I am also unethical but I don’t feel like #2’s transgression is THAT big of a deal. There’s still alot we don’t know, but assuming this file was on some shared drive that contained relevant company information she was researching, stumbling upon this isn’t so shady. Should she have come clean at that point? Maybe, but if we are supposed to take OPs at their word, then she assumed that these were not the questions that would be used..

    I’m not surprised that she was disqualified from the process, but at the same time I don’t see it as some unconscionable breach of ethics either. Also, what is with the 18 hours you mention? Not sure what’s meant by flex time here, but if OP worked additional hours that haven’t been paid, they need to do that!

    1. WafflesForPresident*

      I should have read your comment before writing my own. I completely agree with you!

      If a file is on the shared drive then an employee should be able to safely assume they can access it.

      I agree the employee would have looked better if they’d immediately acknowledged that they’d accessed the questions and recommended rescheduling the interview. That would look much better to the employee. But for the employee to call the employee unethical is ridiculous.

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      I keep seeing people draw analogies to sensitive medical information, arrest records, student transcripts, and other things that are sensitive and protected under law. But interview questions are none of those things. Yes, if the OP had looked up her ex’s medical records just because she could, that would obviously be unethical. But “ooh, they’re going to ask where I see myself in five years! And some field-specific questions which are listed on GlassDoor, and which I kind of remember being asked before two years ago!” It’s just not the same kind of thing at all.

      I’m also not a huge fan of the logic that “we don’t tell people what they should and shouldn’t look at during on-boarding, because everyone should just know.” As this comments section shows, people do not all naturally draw the line in the same place. If it’s all that freaking sensitive, *tell people*, don’t assume they will all obviously see it the same way you do. And on-boarding is typically chock-full of information that should be obvious to anyone raised middle-class in the US, so what’s one more thing?

  45. spock*

    This was supposed to nest, not sure what happened. (And it’s not clear out of context, this was not aimed at you PCBH, but at someone asking what the acronym is)

    1. Jan*

      From what I read, they weren’t being rude, they only asked what PCBH stood for. Am I missing something?

  46. WafflesForPresident*

    For #2, I’m shocked that Alison and the commentators are calling the OP unethical.

    Perhaps my perspective is a result of my IT experience, but the company should have accurate and appropriate security measures on their servers. All users should be assigned to different security groups and should only have access to necessary information. It is totally understandable for an employee to assume that if they could access something then it must be ok for them to access it. They were trusting that their company had their security measure in order. The correct response from the company would be to say that the employee shouldn’t have been able to access those files, to reschedule the interview, and to have their security team do an audit of their server access rules. For the company to not have their security in order and then blame the employee is really appalling!

    Honestly, OP, you dodged a bullet.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are many, many companies that don’t protect every file like that and where it’s understood that you don’t go snooping in things not meant for you (and there are lots of accounts of that in the comments above).

      It’s really unhelpful to tell the OP that she dodged a bullet when she already sounds like she’s resisting taking accountability for how she handled this. She didn’t dodge a bullet. She did something unethical and was called out on it.

      1. WafflesForPresident*

        Again I have to disagree with the unethical assessment. That seems overly harsh.

        I can acquiesce that the letter writer was unwise but really that’s appalling that a company would not have appropriate security measures in order. In that sense I do believe the OP dodged a bullet. Data security is important and if the company is shirking that responsibility I’d be scared to access anything in a company like that!

          1. WafflesForPresident*

            I’m going to leave this here because I don’t think either of us will change our mind, but data security is really important and I wish more people would take it seriously.

            Yes many companies don’t lock certain things down, but then they have to take some responsibility when people access it. That’s why I am upset that they’re essentially shaming this employee by calling them unethical.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              I think this is the difference between ideal world and reality, though.

              Re your first point, data security IS really important, but there are stakeholders within my organization that simply will only do the bare minimum and their behavior will not change overnight. It does not help that, when IS talks about this, they do it from a very data-geeky point of view and not hitting on the points that would actually be relevant to the stakeholders. The systems in place for infosec are also clunky and hard to use, and the stakeholder see it as an inconvenience more than anything else. Both sides need to come together on the issue to do better.

              Regarding the second, I worked for a long time at an organization that treated the employees as though they were always trying to get one by on the employer – clocking out two minutes late, punch clock versus time entry in a professional environment, draconian rules about how time off could/could not be used. I prefer to work somewhere that can trust me to use ethical, professional judgment in a more open environment rather than expecting my employer to put up guard rails to wall off everything under the assumption that I cannot be trusted to keep my nose out of case materials that aren’t mine. Things restricted by statute or regulation (or personnel information) are programmatically controlled, but the rest is an assumption of professionalism of the staff.

            2. Someone Else*

              I think you might be giving more weight to the word unethical in this context than is maybe meant by a lot of the people calling it such. Do I think the LW did A Bad Thing And Should Feel Bad And Has Ruined Her Reputation In the Industry? Nope. Am I surprised the company did not want to hire her for this job after finding out what she did? Also nope. She’s not some giant villain, but she also did a thing most people realize they probably shouldn’t have. Either she found that they’d accidentally not locked down a folder they probably intended to, or she knew they didn’t intend her to look at it but chose to not lock it down. Whether that constitutes a major error on there part is not the point. “This isn’t locked up”=Of course I’m free to peruse is just not reasonable in most circumstances. In a hiring context the very simplest reason why is external candidates can’t possibly look at that, so it’s obviously not something the candidates in general are meant to have. Otherwise it’d be provided to them. I’d almost say it’s like…if there’s a shared fridge and you CAN reach in and take and eat someone else’s lunch, doesn’t mean it was put there for you to do so. And it’s reasonable to expect that employees understand that and don’t do it. And if you find an employee who does do it anyway, it’s reasonable to discipline them for it.
              What she did isn’t an ethical thing to do. It’s not the most unethical thing I’ve ever heard of, but it’s still unethical, so I don’t see much point in going out of the way to try to avoid calling it unethical. Maybe the distinction for you is more about whether she did an unethical thing vs she in an unethical person?

            3. tangerineRose*

              It might depend on company culture, too. I worked at a place where there was a lot of useful information in various places on the shared drive, and it was considered OK to go look at the files because you might need the information for work (most of us were too busy to look at the files unless we needed them). With that culture, I can understand how someone could be looking at something that didn’t really seem private, especially since these were the same questions that the person had been asked before. However, I can also understand why the employer was unhappy about it – this doesn’t sound like that kind of culture.

            4. JS*

              I agree with the point you are making but I also think there’s a difference in accessing public files for “Team B” and then accessing public files labeled “Your Bosses Name”. The first one I agree it’s not their fault if they have left it in a space meant for communal access. The second, unless your boss has given you explicit permission to access things in that folder for you and your team you shouldn’t be fishing it in.

              Most companies have super poor data security when it comes to internal access. I do think OP dodged a bullet in a way as I find it SUPER odd they would monitor access to the file but then not restrict access to the file in the beginning.

              1. NotAnotherManager!*

                Having had to Monday morning quarterback file access with IS, it’s usually sending someone on a directed search – look at activity on X file in Y location and give me an audit report versus someone staring at the monitor of all the file access/read/writes go by. Another big tip off is if someone accidentally saves the document, and you go to look at it and the last mod date is two days ago versus the year ago that it should be.

                It’s like surf monitors. No one is usually looking at every site you visit, but if your cubemate complains you’re looking at teapot porn all day, we’re going to peruse your history.

                1. JS*

                  I think the mod date would be more plausible and reasonable to be alerted by than ” look at activity on X file in Y location and give me an audit report” because if it’s that serious then the location should already be restricted/password protected especially for something like interview questions. It’s not like the person hacked into personnel/HR files (well I mean… we don’t know where they got the file but again assuming its somewhere they were supposed to be rather than an HR or their bosses personal folders).

                2. NotAnotherManager!*

                  On the file activity reports, here is what I typically see happen: Someone who went in search of something they shouldn’t have been looking at shares information they have no need to have with someone. It makes the person with whom they shared uncomfortable (or worse), and they tell someone else. This eventually filters up to management, and now I have to figure out who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. The fastest way to do that, is to see who’s been in/around the information source. That can be corroborated with chasing the rumor mill back to the source, but IS is faster and more objective.

                  I am good at securing files I created, but I inherited a host of documents from my predecessor that are inconsistently secured and, in some cases, secured in a way that *I* can’t access them (yet others can – it’s maddening). It has been a years-long scavenger hunt.

        1. NerdyKris*

          What if it was a mistake? What if the LW wasn’t intended to have access to that directory but it was missed? I’ve already posted this a few times, but if I leave a car door unlocked, it doesn’t make it okay to go into my car and dig around. If I leave my computer unlocked, that doesn’t absolve someone who decides to go read my emails. Those are two separate errors. The former doesn’t suddenly make the latter okay.

          1. WafflesForPresident*

            Neither of those are appropriate analogies. The letter writer did not go onto someone else’s computer to access information. They were given access to this information and they made the access on their own computer with their own credentials. Theoretically this is how they were discovered.

            A better analogy would be to give someone a key to a closet, tell them they can take anything they want, and then get mad at them when they opened some boxes in the back of the closet and take something from the box.

            1. NerdyKris*

              But what if that box wasn’t supposed to be in that closet? And I’ve never seen “take anything you want” as a policy in a workplace. It’s generally assumed “Within the context of your job”. For instance, I don’t have to sign out pens and printer paper, but I’m not supposed to be taking them home with me.

              Nobody would ever say “Go through every folder on the network out of curiosity if you want”. They’d say “Here’s where what you need is”, with the implied addition of “Don’t go poking around the other drives/folders looking for other information.

              I’m in IT. I have access to literally everything. With that access is the assumption that I’m only using it in for what I need to do, not that I’ll go snooping around everyone’s computer for stuff I can use.

              1. WafflesForPresident*

                But this employee isn’t in IT, they presumably don’t have access to everything on the networks. And there’s a difference between information that doesn’t need to be accessed and data the should not be accessed. The first can go on the public drive. The second should go on a private drive. The company should know the difference.

                Again, I agree that the employee should have immediately told their interviewer that they’d accessed the interview questions. However, it’s terrible for the company to take no responsibility and then to shame the employee.

            2. JSPA*

              More like telling them that office supplies are in the closet and that they should get what they need rather than asking–and then being peeved when they also wear the dress shoes that were in the box that’s also in the closet. If someone can’t see the difference, they’re not the person you want, regardless of why they did it (with intent / awareness or not). It doesn’t automatically make the OP immoral; but it doesn’t make them look employable at this time.

              1. WafflesForPresident*

                Thank you JSPA, that’s a much better analogy than mine!

                I think the letter writer is best off just moving on but I also think the company (or in your analogy the shoe owner) should take some responsibility for poor organization and they should not have called the employee unethical or disqualified them.

            3. Someone Else*

              I don’t think this is a better analogy. Using a closet, it’s more like “here’s the key to the closet, take all the hangers you need” and then it turns out there’s also a leather jacket in the closet and taking that too, because hey, it’s in there and you have the key. But you were given the key for access to hangers, not for anything that happens to be in the closet. In your analogy you even include a line that she was told it’s OK to look at everything on the shared drive (take anything you want). But in reality, she probably wasn’t. She was probably told here’s where we keep the blah blah blah you’ll use for doing JobThing1 and JobThing2 etc etc. And nothing ever said about “anything they want” (nor everything on the drive).

              1. JS*

                We don’t know what they had “permission” to access for their job function. I think your analogy is a bit off the mark as well since OP didn’t steal the document only look at it so its not a great comparison. Truthfully we can’t make a good analogy unless we know the OP went digging for interview files in places they shouldn’t have been accessing or if they just wanted to learn more about the history of what was done in the role before so they went digging through past files related to it in places they had permission to access based on their job function.

      2. Greenhouse*

        But why did the company need to interview her again anyway? Asking the exact same questions they asked her when they first hired her? They know how she works, they know everything that they would be trying to learn by interviewing her because she would be doing the exact same job for the exact same people!

        So yes, I also think she dodged a bullet.

        1. Lilo*

          Lots of companies interview people again. This isn’t abnormal in the slightest.

          For the sake of OP, this kind of response could hurt her long term. A lot of workplaces would have this reaction, she needs to learn that.

          1. WafflesForPresident*

            My takeaway from Greenhouse is that if the company is asking the employee the exact same questions years later then their hiring practices are flawed.

            1. Greenhouse*

              Yes, that’s what I meant, thank you. And also that an interview won’t tell them anything about her work they don’t already know. It’s the exact same position after all!!!

          2. Greenhouse*

            Lots of companies do many nonsensical things – such as not providing paid sick days. It doesn’t make it right in the slightest.

            Interviewing people again for the exact same position they’ve been doing for years asking them the exact same questions is nonsensical. The only thing that would change is her status as an employee, not her day to day responsibilities or work. They should have just offered her a permanent position instead of making her be a temp for waaaay too long and then asking her to interview again when that interview wouldn’t tell them anything about her that they don’t already know.

            They’re not a great company to work for.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Plenty of companies have overly rigid hiring processes and are fine places to work.

              The question here isn’t whether the company should have better protected their files; the question is whether the OP did something wrong, and she did.

              1. JS*

                I think that is because from the tone of the letter you assumed (and I as well initially after reading your response) that they went looking for an unfair advantage such as files on who else is interviewing, previous performance reviews from past people in the role, and yes interview questions. Also the fact they said “well it wasn’t password protected” as an excuse not to get in trouble for being somewhere they shouldnt have been.

                I don’t think its unethical to research the role in terms of past clients, projects, budgets, etc. I don’t even really think its unethical if the file were in “Our Teams Folder”, only if they went looking for it in places they werent supposed to be in like “Our Bosses Name Folder”.

            2. Lilo*

              There are also legal reasons you interview people. My company is bound by specific regulations as a lot ofncomapnies are bound by certain contract requirements (think government and contractor). I had to interview for my full job after doing the job temporarily for a year because my company was legally required to so so. I have done this multiple times (my work is public sector focused).

              This is not a red flag in the slightest. You often legally cannot just promote the temp.

  47. Michaela Westen*

    Does anyone else think of Seven of Nine re #5? This is almost word-for-word the scenes where the Doctor is attempting to teach her social skills.
    It may be social awkwardness, but I would also watch for signs of poor boundaries or control issues. I would set good boundaries right away in case she’s trying to intrude or be controlling.
    Also the questions about owning or renting and being a single parent could indicate judgment – which is another reason not to say to much about your personal life. There’s a judge in every office…

  48. ENFP in Texas*

    “I was horrified when I got to the interview to see they hadn’t changed the questions.”

    Why were you horrified? To me that says you knew you had accessed information that gave you an unfair advantage over the competition.

    “I didn’t say anything, as if I did they would have to redo the whole process, which took months to set up”

    This, I think, is the bigger error than using the info to practice in the first place. If you were horrrified that they were using the same questions, it was something you should have let them know.

    “and if I didn’t get the job then it wouldn’t matter.”

    What if you did get the job, and they never found out? Would it have mattered then?

    What if you had not seen the questions, but learned that another candidate had found the interview questions ahead of time and used them to practice, would you have been upset? Why or why not?

  49. Noah*

    If the internship is for school credit, you always have to make up your hours if you’ll be under the amount required for credit. Since OP has been working OT, she doesn’t have anything to make up, but the general statement about internships not requiring making up missed hours ignores all the internships that are for school credit.

  50. Lisa*

    #5 is interesting to me because these are all things I’ve discussed with past managers *once I became friendly with them.* I don’t mind that my manager knows that I rent, but I would be weirded out if they asked “do you own or rent?” in our first meeting. Alison is probably right that this manager read somewhere that it’s good to know these things about your employees, but perhaps it wasn’t specified that these are things you learn over time, if the employee offers up the information.

  51. Student*

    #4 – Former grad student here.

    First thing to know: Most graduate student positioned are not actual jobs, in the legal sense of the word. They are specially classified, legally, as fellowships. This legal chicanery is specifically done to strip graduate students of any normal legal working protections, and prevent you from being able to contest minimum wage violations. The basic outline of this devil’s bargain is that you are not an employee – instead you have a fellowship that gives you a specific stipend on a regular basis. Your fellowship cannot be revoked for you merely not working (usually the fellowship itself has specific conditions that are effectively work requirements, like “keep a specific minimum GPA” and “make sufficient yearly progress toward a degree”). Your regular fellowship payments can’t be reduced for you not coming to work, either, aside from the listed conditions that void the fellowship.

    There are exceptions to this, like hourly real normal jobs for grad students. If you have an actual time card to fill out, you might be a real employee. Those are rare, because then the school would have to worry about violating minimum wage laws whenever you work beyond normal. Most grad students who were covered on an assistantship, in my field back in my day, would’ve been break minimum wage laws if they were considered “employed” like a normal person instead of “on fellowship”. I don’t know for sure exactly what your school’s terms and rules are, so look hard at your own situation.

    As a student, you still get some limited protections from school-originated discrimination from your student status – but they are much less expansive than normal employment protections.

    From a practical perspective: No, you don’t have to make up your hours. Your prof can huff and puff, but cannot reduce your pay or really penalize you for occasional sick days in any way. He can be grumpy and difficult about it, and that’s about it. If you take lots of sick time, he could potentially decide not to work with you, and you’d have to find another advisor – but that’s a big headache for him to actually do, relative to you taking a sick day. Tell your demanding prof that you aren’t going to do extra time – as purely a negotiating/placating tactic, tell him that you put in extra hours recently (cite a specific example of a task you did on extra hours) and you’re taking your sick time out of that. Ask the prof if there’s some specific deadline he’s worried about making, and commit (if reasonable) to achieving that deadline.

    Don’t try to make legal arguments directly with a professor under any circumstance – if you think your prof is being unreasonable, discretely go to a faculty grad coordinator, school grad office, or school HR and ask about rules/expectations/norms instead (might also be in your grad program handbook). Your prof probably does not know the laws or the grad school’s actual rules, and doesn’t care about them – your prof will not actually suffer if he outright breaks the law, but you generally don’t have to go along with it. Go to the ombudsman if things seem outright crazy.

  52. JS*

    OP#1 – I honestly wouldn’t dwell on it too much. It could have been a number of things especially since you are an out of town candidate. It depends on the company but usually unless out of town candidates are far better than local they would not move forward. Especially since you were iffy on the town. It probably worked out the best for you in the end because you dont want to work anywhere you wouldnt be happy living.

    OP#2 – Not to kick you while you are down but from the tone of the email it sounds like you did this intentionally to get an advantage and it was something that you had to be intentionally looking for to access.

    I don’t fault you for researching the role internally to get a better idea of the long term work and projects the role has, I have done that before with internal applications. I don’t even fault you if you accidentally found it. However unless it was in a clearly open and public space (I mean in “Team B Folder” not “Your Boss Name Folder”) then you should have assumed it was off limits.

    Also I am curious as to how detailed the questions were to the role. The print out my company has for interview questions is pretty generic and bland and non role specific so no one really uses them. Unless you deliberately went into your bosses files I don’t think they should be upset about you seeing those and not reporting because it could have been for any role.But if it were role specific questions or brainteasers (if your company is in to those) then yeah ethically you should have said something if not when you found it then especially during/after the interview.

    1. Louise*

      Thanks for your comments – the files were just under a file called “Admin” and accessible to all. The questions were pretty generic and one was specific to the role which I hadn’t seen before. In preparation for an interview it is the norm to get a “mentor” to set practice questions relating to the selection criteria. Unfortunately I did not have a mentor. I thought the questions from 2 years previously would be a great help to prepare. I know there are many here who don’t agree but believe me, I have seen worse – like a colleague (pretty female) who did badly at an interview and went straight to the “male” manager’s office and cried on his shoulder. She got the job!

  53. LadyCop*

    #3 “so we are all visibly excited for her and do not mind spending way more than that”

    The skeptic in me can’t help but wonder if “we” in this sentence really means “I”. Not because I don’t think it’s important or doubt that Tywin isn’t the kind of person worth dropping $$ on…but I think it kind of could be seen from the opposite side the exact same way.

    I love Alison’s idea of drawing the line about gifting up (afterall that’s a part of what is going on here) but thought I’d add my two cents since I can’t be the only person who isn’t over the moon every time I have to cough up for -another- baby in the department.

    1. OP3*

      We actually means “we!” I promise. I had several instances of colleagues asking if I had heard the good news or simply walking in on excited conversations about the pregnancy. I have been asked, what are we doing for her? or are we all chipping on for a gift? Or something along those lines. I purposely did not bring it up at first because I do not want to pressure people.

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