I went on a job interview and the office was filthy

A reader writes:

I went on a job interview today and the office was absolutely filthy and so gross.

I met with the CEO in her office and while she seemed to be a nice lady, she looked very disorganized and kind of out of it. He hair was a mess and her fingernails were long and dirty. Okay, fine.

But the whole office was a mess. There was a dirty dog running around trying to get my attention, and there was a pile of gross-looking dog food with flies on it. I love dogs. But this dog looked like a stray just brought in off the street — not well cared for.

There was a candy dish on the CEO’s desk with loose M&Ms and what looked like half melted/mushed chocolate eggs. The woman who brought me up to her office even indicated that she was put off by it.

All up and down the halls were little compost bins, kind of like the kind you might keep on your kitchen counter, but there were literally over a dozen, maybe one outside each office and in all the common areas.

I’d actually had an interview with this organization a couple of years ago and they mentioned that there had been a recent fire. I figured the state of the place was due to the recent fire and they were dealing with it. And today in person the CEO kept referencing this “recent” fire. I mean, how long is that an excuse?

Of course I know this is just an interview and I don’t have to do anything. But this position would be the step I’ve been hoping for AND she said they would be contacting my references. All I can think about is how dirty the place looked and I was squirting hand sanitizer up to my elbows before I even got to my car. I can’t imagine bringing people in for meetings and being taken seriously.

So what can I do or say? Is there anyway to ask or talk about the cleanliness issue? Can I try to work out a telecommuting plan? Or do I just have to accept that unless I’m okay with working in this mess this job isn’t worth it?

I don’t think you should take this job.

The thing is, it’s not just that they have a dirty office. It’s that they’re apparently fine with working in squalor. And it’s not like it’s a temporary measure because they’d experienced some crisis; based on your interview a few years ago, this is just the way they do things.

And the CEO seemed out of it! That’s a big deal.

Even if you worked from home and never had to come into the office, I’m really skeptical that you wouldn’t still notice severe problems. In fact, I’m curious what you know about their work output — because do they really have it together in other areas? Are they really coming across as polished and professional and effective with clients?

As a thought experiment, I tried to decide whether there’s anything they could have said that would make me feel better about this. Like, what if they’d said, “We know the office space is pretty gross. We’ve had such a high influx of client projects this year that we haven’t been maintaining the space the way we’d like to. Right now we’re just really focused on work, but we’ll deal with the space later this year.” And … still no. Rather than expecting people to work in squalor, they could hire people to bring the space up to reasonably acceptable standards. Plus, you know that it’s been like this for at least a few years!

An interview isn’t just about them deciding if they want to hire you. It’s also about you gathering data on them. Don’t talk yourself out of what you’re seeing.

{ 301 comments… read them below }

  1. Sloan Kittering

    I assume OP would have mentioned it if the job was like, office manager, but that might be the only exception – if OP is a person who could come in and clean house, and has the full support of management in doing that. I could actually see that being kind of satisfying. But if they’re like an accountant or salesperson then no.

    1. Lance

      Even then, the fact that the CEO appears so disorganized would be extremely troubling; enough so for me to have zero, absolutely zero, desire to take such a job. Because like you’re suggesting, that would require full support of management, who appears to be perfectly content in the current conditions.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        I could imagine a CEO who was totally hopeless about such stuff and lived in squalor themselves but would happily defer to the office manager’s new regime of cleanliness. But without that buy in and commitment it’d be futile.

        1. Lance

          Out of curiosity, how would you go about trying to figure that out? In fact, would there be some tactful way to without the CEO saying ‘this will be part of your duties’?

          1. Sloan Kittering

            I mean, unless the job is “office manager” and the CEO says, “as you can see we are a mess and we desperately need an office manager to help us clean up,” I’d be skeptical.

            1. Anax

              Even then, I would never take this job. It’s been in this level of squalor for YEARS – which means there may well be some really gnarly damage to the building itself which may take years to sort out, even with perfect buy-in from all employees and anyone else using the space. (Unlikely.)

              I feel like any poor office manager in that job would be finding mold behind the drywall, persistent insect and mouse infestations, and broken or damaged furnishings for years. And I feel like this hypothetical CEO, who clearly doesn’t understand the labor involved in cleanliness and maintenance, would be breathing down their neck demanding to know why things aren’t fixed yet.

              No good, y’all. I grew up in a hoarder’s house, and even then, it was never this filthy. This just makes my skin crawl.

          2. AMS

            I once interviewed for a job like this – I forget what the title was, admin asst or something? Anyway, part of what they needed was someone to come in, literally clean closets, throw out old samples and paperwork, organize the things they needed to keep, basically impose rigid order on stuff. They were VERY up front about this, the manager showed me some of the spaces he wanted gone through so I would know what I was getting into. I wound up not getting the job and was actually really disappointed – the idea of cleaning out storage and imposing order sounded really fun!

        2. Antilles

          True, though even with that sort of CEO and management buy-in, it’d *still* be a tough lift. This isn’t a singular employee or issue, but instead appears to be a widespread and accepted part of the corporate culture. That sort of large-scale change takes months, even years, to fully take hold and truly become part of the new company DNA.

          1. Dragoning

            This reminds me working retail–in a chain you would recognize!–with the most disgusting bathroom and backroom. We got hammered on an inspection over it about a week or two after I started–and I had known the entire place was vile during my interview (the bathroom reeked of urine) but I was so unemployed at the time and it was my only lead.

            And yet even after we got our asses handed to us on the inspection and to have a full-store meeting about it before opening one Saturday, nothing actually changed–because the manager had no interest in scheduling anyone time to clean the damn thing. I bleached the bathroom occasionally during my breaks, but that was the only opportunity I had!

            1. Batgirl

              Some people genuinely believe cleaning is done by fairies.
              I love that a staff meet was supposed to solve it!

    2. Felicia

      Even if they were in a position to change it (office manager, or even a salesperson with additional “tidy this office under any circumstances” czar powers), it seems like the real problem is the CEO. If her basic grooming is unkempt and in denial about how recent this fire was, then no one can fix the problem. I can imagine that some places could fall into disarray and neglect, and they would be thrilled to have someone take charge of that problem, but they have to acknowledge that the problem exists. This almost sounds like dealing with a hoarder – they don’t see it as a problem, so they won’t give you permission to fix it for them.

      1. Creed Bratton

        Yes, and this isn’t just a disorganized leader. I’ve worked for several bosses who had piles of paperwork or lots of clutter – this just sounds nasty.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          Exactly. We’re not talking clutter here, we’re talking filth. Eww I feel a need to go douse myself in Purell just reading it.

      2. selena81

        She comes off like the worst kind of hoarder: someone who can’t even be bothered to keep their own body or even their own pet in good shape (confused people tend to watch out for their pets/children long after giving up on their own hygiene)
        Someone who will probably fight tooth and nail against any attempt at ‘unreasonable cleanliness’. Assuming there are several more people working there it is safe to assume someone else already tried to clean up and talk some sense into CEO, and failed.

        If the office was just a bit old or cheap then work-from-home would be a good fix, but it sounds like a bad idea to work for an office where you are deeply embarrassed about the actual physical office.

    3. KR

      I was thinking this. I’d almost be tempted to take the job and be like, but I want it in my offer letter that I will have a budget of X amount per month to have this place cleaned and x for the first year for renovations and fire repairs.

    4. Public Sector Manager

      I would love the cleaning up aspect, but given the condition of the office and the OP’s description of the CEO, how will this translate to work-life integration, PTO policies, raises, travel, work-from-home, etc.? I would hazard a guess that all those things would be disastrous too. Not worth it to satisfy the itch to reorganize the place.

      But if they wanted to contract out for an IKEA hack of their conference room, I would take that!

  2. 5 month mommy

    I feel like Monica from FRIENDS right now. I’m reaching for my scrub brush…I really want to go clean this office.

    1. NotAnotherManager!

      I do to, and I am not a terrible neat person. But I’m cluttered, not filthy (and there IS a difference).

      1. Mimi Me

        Yes, there is. I worked a part time job that was both…the clutter was everywhere (boxes piled in corners, piles of papers, old office equipment stored in empty cubicles) but it was also filthy. There was a layer of grime on everything I touched there, crumbs on nearly every surface, trash piled up in the bathroom, urine stains on the bathroom floor. The job was easy and it paid well but it wasn’t worth the feeling I got that I needed to bathe in sanitizer after every shift.

      2. Peaches

        “I’m cluttered, not filthy” +100000.

        Haha, I always say this about myself, too. There is absolutely a difference!

      3. Curmudgeon in Califormia

        Definitely. Some things re just not acceptable, no matter how much junk is around.

        I guess they decided to “economize” by not hiring a janitor.

    2. Lepidoptera

      I just scrubbed the crap out of my cubicle with Lysol wipes. So I guess thanks for the motivation, LW?

  3. The Original K.

    I tried to do Alison’s thought exercise too and I came up empty. You just … have to clean stuff. “We’ve been so busy we can’t keep the place clean” wouldn’t cut it with me, not when so many cleaning services abound.

    At first when I read the headline, I thought it was going to be a case where the office was messy, not dirty – like, folders and papers out, stuff strewn on desks, etc. (To me, messy is to dirty as trash is to garbage.) I worked with a very senior person who always had files and papers out everywhere – but she could tell you precisely where anything was, at any time. That was just her way. But garbage? A mangy dog? Flies? And I’d bet there were other pests too? Nah, I just couldn’t do it.

    1. SignalLost

      I’m with you on messy vs dirty, and a messy office is fine – it’s whatever to me, I’ll work in my untidy stacks and you work in yours – but the CEO seeming out of it is all the red flag you need. In case you need more, OP, you have all those compost bins as red flags, and you should imagine the dog carrying one in its mouth, and all the flies are tiny red flags as well. A CEO who’s focused but new to the job can change a culture of filth. A CEO who’s temporarily on massive doses of muscle relaxants but has someone in the interview to assist and acknowledges that up front is fine. A CEO who is both out of it and participating in the culture of filth is a huge problem, and I cannot construct a thought exercise that doesn’t make me want to run further.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        Viable compost bins:
        • Outdoors
        • Large tubs of dirt filled with worms, in which you bury your compost
        • A bin in the freezer, into which you dump scraps until you can take them outdoors
        • A bin with a sealing cap to keep smell in and bugs out until you can go dump it outdoors

        1. Anax

          I don’t think I’d want to see any of those in an OFFICE, though – compost is an order of magnitude harder than a refrigerator, and that’s a notorious zone of contention.

          Municipal composting or ‘taking your scraps home every night’ for me.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood

            Very few composting programs pick up daily, so I think Falling Dipthong has it right. (Doors#1 and #2 are our choices at home. Town does biogas, so they get what the worms can’t.)

          2. Ella

            When I was in an office in San Francisco we had a compost bin that worked quite well, mostly because we had paid cleaners and SF has a really good municipal infrastructure for recycling and composting. We had a bin (with a lid) in the kitchen that the building cleaning staff emptied into the outdoor compost bin every night, and then that outdoor bin was cleared by the city once a week along with the rest of the trash and recycling. That office had plenty of your standard issue fridge issues but never once had a problem with the composting bin. (The difference was definitely that the paid cleaning staff handled the compost but it wasn’t their job to clean the fridge.)

    2. Anonforthis

      Yep. We had a mouse infestation in our office building not that long ago, and the facilities manager was actually “encouraged” to retire because he didn’t address it fast/aggressively enough. I actually saw a mouse once in the building, and that was enough for me – I was on Team Exterminator immediately. Messy I can understand, but filth? Not so much.

      1. Anax

        To be fair… it’s possible for an otherwise-clean workplace to have occasional bug and mouse problems. We had occasional mice in my last workplace, which wasn’t fun, but didn’t seem to be otherwise indicative of poor maintenance.

        But it’s usually BECAUSE of places like the OP describes – if you have a thriving nest of filth, it’s going to spread into the neighboring buildings. This is an active public hazard.

        (And yeesh, with all that filth, I have to imagine that there are probably fleas too. My skin is crawling.)

        1. Mairsy Doates

          I hadn’t even thought about the fleas until you said that. Now my skin is crawling, too.

          LW, that’s just one more reason to heed Alison’s wisdom and avoid this job. This is the kind of filth that winds up hitching a ride home with you, in one form or another.

          1. Free Now (and forever)

            My last job forever was running a food pantry. We used to go to the area food bank twice weekly to pick up food, much of a which was stored in banana boxes which had folded brown paper in the bottom. One time we came back and my volunteer was in the kitchen washing some jars off when I suddenly heard a scream. I went into the kitchen. (I was going to write “ran,” but who am I kidding, with my bad knees, I can’t run.) She managed to stammer out that there was a mouse under the paper. Now if it had happened to me, I would have been just as terrified. But because it happened to someone else and I was essentially her supervisor, I grabbed the box and made for the back door as quickly as I could. That mouse made his/her way into the dumpster in the box. And that was one of the only times I violated the “break down all cardboard boxes and place them in the cardboard only dumpster”rule.

            1. TardyTardis

              That reminds me of the time a tiny little tree frog managed to sneak inside and everyone just stood around looking at it, and so I grabbed some tissue and put the poor thing outside near water. Seriously, people, cope…

      2. TardyTardis

        I remember our office had a mouse once (repurposed lumber mill from the 1920’s, the building engineer traditionally went mad because resolving temperature issues and venting was um, exciting)–and that’s when I realized trying to get rid of the stray cats outside had probably been a bad idea.

    3. Antilles

      I worked with a very senior person who always had files and papers out everywhere – but she could tell you precisely where anything was, at any time.
      I had a senior VP at my first job like this too. Every foot of his office was covered in several-foot high stacks of papers and books and files, to the point that the only way to get to the desk was basically through one tiny corridor with stacks of files on both sides that you’d walk through. It was so well known throughout our 1000-person, 30+ office firm that you could casually mention you worked in Bobby’s group and people from halfway across the country who’d never set foot in our office would ask if his office was really as messy as the rumors said.
      …But somehow, he knew where every single item in it was. And not like, a give-me-10 minutes and I’ll track it down, but that you could call him when he wasn’t even in his office and get exact directions. “Oh, the client sent an email about the Alpha Project that we finished three years ago? Blue binder in the stack of papers, on the left wall approximately halfway between the door and the window, about halfway down. Make sure to put the rest of the stack back on top, as it was.”

      1. AKchic

        My rule is: if you can’t find what you’re looking for in under 30 seconds, it isn’t filed properly.

        And yes, I may have things stacked on my desk, and it may look disorganized *to you*, but I can find it. I have a system that works for me, and you have no reason to be digging in my paperwork to begin with.

        At home, things are a bit more chaotic right now. On a good day, everything is in it’s place and easily findable (I have a brain injury, so it has to be). This is not the season for that (less than a month before ren fair, depressive episodes, pain flare ups, seasonal changes) so everything is a mess.

        1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

          Having had a brain injury and a stroke, I hear this. Problem is, my wife has different places to put things, and similar issues.

          Our sanity? Transparent boxes that stack, plus are labeled. We also have agreed areas for different types of stuff. Over the last decade I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on Really Useful Boxes ™ and I can find things easier. We’re still sorting and labeling, but just being able to see what’s where helps.

          Still have to chase down dust-bunny “eggs” before they hatch, though. (Dust bunny eggs are those little clumps of cat hair that acrete in corners that defy the vaccuum cleaner.)

          1. RUKiddingMe

            +1000 for transparent boxes.

            I have a closet that is larger than the first three places I lived…combined. It has tons of shelves and places to hang stuff (it needs it!). A long time ago I invested in transparent shoe boxes so I could easily see what was in each while keeping my shoes dust free. I have larger ones for boots. Of course they are separated by type, color, style (fringe, no fringe, animal skin, plain… and I need every single pair of them). They easily take up ¼ of the closet. Imelda Marcos had nothing on me!

            So mostly I got the boxes for shoes. It has morphed into clear boxes for so many other things. Sweaters? Check. Scarves? Check. Under the kitchen/bathroom #1/bathroom #2 sinks? Check. Stored under the bed stuff? Check…and on and on.

      2. Anne (with an “e”)

        I taught student like this once. To me his book bag looked like a small tornado had hit it. However, he could always locate anything immediately. He was actually quicker than some kids with very organized binders. It boggled my mind, but it seemed to work for him.

      3. jcarnall

        My style of organising my books drives my wife mad, but she has to admit that she only has to ask me “Where was that book you mentioned three years ago where the thing happened with the thing”, and I’ll go “Oh, you mean XOAIF by Sansa Stark, wait a minute – ” and while I couldn’t direct her to it, I can find it for her within minutes.

        I admit the flaws to this system, and try to avoid it at work since it’s hell on co-workers, but it works for me.

    4. nnn

      messy is to dirty as trash is to garbage

      This is really interesting to me, because I can easily conceptualize the difference between “messy” and “dirty”, but “trash” and “garbage” are completely synonymous to me.

      And even when I try to work the analogy backwards, I can’t think of an example of what would constitute trash vs. what would constitute garbage. (I’ve been googling around the idea, and the internet isn’t unanimous about where the line is drawn. I think there’s a linguistics thesis in here somewhere.)

      1. gg

        I’m sure there are regional variations, but to me trash is stuff you throw out, garbage is trash that contains/includes biological matter.

        1. ArtsNerd

          Whoa. This is the first time I’ve learned anyone other than my dad makes this distinction!

          He raged at me when I’d put “garbage” in the “trash” when I was a kid, and while it’s funny to me now, it was wildly confusing and frustrating at the time because I honestly didn’t understand what he was talking about them like they were different things.

          1. Research manager

            My mom uses a similar distinction too! Trash is what goes out to the bin for the city to collect. Garbage is what goes on the compost heap in the yard to be used in the garden once it breaks down. Plus there’s recycling too. My mom loves to garden and was an avid composter until she moved to an area with bears where you can’t have any kind of food scraps outside. Even fruit trees are discouraged there because they attract bears.

        2. Alienor

          Same – garbage is banana peels and dirty diapers; trash is paper and plastic wrappings. Garbage smells and trash is just mostly clean rubbish.

      2. Someday poet... I know it!

        I was just sitting here wondering the same thing. That in my vernacular, trash and garbage are the same thing. Even if I strain, I can’t think of anything that would be garbage and not trash or trash and not garbage. Even after reading the people that answered it below I’m not really getting the distinction unless garbage is compost and trash is non food waste?

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people

          I’m…trying to see it? I kind of can see it as “trash is something that should be thrown away, garbage is something that MUST be thrown away”. Like, maybe the trashy old bookcase with the woodgrain wearing through to show the particle board will end up in the shed with gardening stuff on it for a while, since it seems like it might be useful to have some shelves out there and we were going to throw it out anyway, but the entrance mat the cat just peed on is now garbage and should be gotten rid of this week.

          I don’t know that I’m strict in my actual usage like this, though. Garbage does somehow feel more urgent than trash, but I may just be overthinking at this point.

        2. RVA Cat

          Garbage is the kind of trash that needs to be in a lidded container because it smells or attracts pests.

        3. Jennifer Thneed

          Ditto, in my vernacular they’re the same. But at some point I got a book called “Worms Eat My Garbage” and then I learned that other people use them differently. (For me, if it rots, it’s “compost”. :-)

        4. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

          Trash is clean, garbage is dirty.
          Trash is dry, garbage is wet.
          Trash doesn’t smell, garbage does.

          Trash is the box the kitty litter comes in*, garbage is the used kitty litter.

    5. AndersonDarling

      The only statement I would find acceptable is “Our cleaning team lost their security clearance and we have been having a problem finding a replacement company with the necessary requirements.”
      I know there are some small companies that have to clean themselves, but this sounds like they would need need a cleaning team (I’d actually recommend a full on “Environmental Team” at this point!) due to the size.
      Thank goodness the OP didn’t see the bathrooms!

    6. RUKiddingMe

      Plus had they been so busy, with so much work, they’d be making money to pay for cleaning services…right?

  4. Elizabeth West

    Yikes.

    About ten years ago, I went to a local small business to fill out a job application and it was a lot like this. Not fly-infested or anything, but overall sloppiness and chaos. The only place they could put me while I completed the app was at someone’s insanely messy desk. I barely found any room to lay the paper on the surface. The few employees were really quiet and the whole place exuded an atmosphere of “We couldn’t care less.” I thanked the universe they never called me.

  5. e271828

    Squalor like this isn’t an accident—the flies and compost bins show that. It’s a choice. You do not have to choose squalor. You can call and tell them not to contact your references, because you’re withdrawing your application.

    1. Lady Phoenix

      Inaction is still action. The action is “I won’t do it.”

      They chosr to let garbage and pests invade this place, to let a mangy dog run around, and essentially be a biohazard. They chose to not hire any cleaning staff. They chose to let this place rot.

      So I think your choice should be simple, “If you don’t care about your job to work in a clean environment, then I fon’t care enough to sign on to this job. Withdraw my application.”

      1. Indigo a la mode

        The poor dog! It’s not his fault he’s a biohazard. OP, once you reject this company, please let someone know about the dog. Not being cared for, rotting food, lots of time in what sure sounds like a hazardous environment…he deserves better.

        1. Lady Phoenix

          Poor doggy indeed. Chances are he’s covered in parasites from the bad environment, rotten food, or no care (fleas).

        2. Venus

          Agreed. So many people were distraught at the situation where a dog wasn’t taken out very often in order to go pee, but this situation is different to me as it sounds like serious neglect – the dog doesn’t appear to have reliably clean food and water! I would be tempted to call someone from the city bylaw in order to have a chat with the owner.

    2. Felicia

      Yeah, what’s up with those compost bins? I can see a communal one, but having them for every office in plain view? It sounds like someone tried to address a problem but … honey, a lack of compost bins is not the problem you need to fix.

      1. Dust Bunny

        I’m wondering if somebody has an earthcare fixation. Like a floormate I had in college who had a “if it’s yellow let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down” approach to toilets.

        I grew up in an environment that draws a lot of hippie holdover types, and a small subgroup of those has issues with hygiene, related to a deep commitment to saving water and reducing garbage.

        1. earl grey aficionado

          I was wondering this too. I’m so curious about what sector, size, and niche this company is in that it’s been able to survive multiple years of this filth. I’ve noticed that strong convictions about environmentalism and health, while obviously okay and even desirable in reasonable doses, can spill over into massive dysfunction and obsession very quickly in both companies and individuals. If this is some kind of environmental or environmental-adjacent organization, I wouldn’t be surprised if that was part of why this hasn’t been addressed.

        2. TardyTardis

          We are pretty lax about the yellow and brown stuff (we’re not quite Fremen, but we live in a low-water environment), but I still scrub the damn toilet on a regular schedule. (grumpfs).

      2. Curmudgeon in Califormia

        Unless they put them out in the afternoon for the cleaning staff to empty, I wonder WTF they were thinking.

        My employer is big on being “green”. They have bins for Garbage, Recycling and Compost, and these are empties daily by the cleaning staff. They also want us to do that sick “clean desk” thing – nothing but a few trinkets left out on your desk at the end of the day. (I refuse.) The cleaning staff actually comes by and wipes down your desk twice a week! So green doesn’t have to mean filth.

        1. Kat in VA

          I would go crazy with the “clean desk” thing. I work in a company that deals with the federal government, so I can’t leave any ITAR-related stuff out, but “flipped over is good enough”. If I had to file everything away, I’d never find it again. Like others upthread said, it may look messy or unorganized to someone else, but ask me where the list is for the skip level meetings and I can put my hand on it in less than five seconds (I’m actually visualizing where that list is right now).

          1. Kat in VA

            edit – I don’t leave ITAR-related stuff out. I mean everything else, like notes for an upcoming project or someone’s phone number I scribbled on a Post-It note. Boy, I love me some Post-It notes.

      3. MsSolo

        Yeah, the only place I can think of where this wouldn’t make me freeze up would be the office on a local wildlife reserve, which runs on renewable energy and has compost loos (basically, no connections to any infrastructure at all) and the recycling gets taken away by a guy on a bicycle because it’s not accessible for vehicles. And that place is totally spotless, because every scrap of waste has a role to play!

    3. Observer

      I was thinking exactly the same thing. This is not an accident. And the CEO is not just someone who can’t get her act together, although I have no doubt that this is ALSO true. Compost bins are NOT an accident. Someone put them there!

      1. TootsNYC

        one of the most important pieces of wisdom my mom once imparted, when I couldn’t decide to accept a job (I kept dithering): “Not saying yes IS saying no.”

        Followed by, “Listen to yourself.”

        it would have been a fine job, but I would have had a very different (less glitzy) career, and I’m glad I didn’t take it.

      2. the_scientist

        I’m screaming (in a good way) over the fact that Rush actually got quoted here. Amazing.

        1. Not Maeby

          I agree! I read (sang) that hearing Geddy’s voice. I never cease to be amazed at this blog and its commentariat.

  6. SezU

    Compost bins at work?!?!? Maybe… MAYBE… one in the kitchen and it gets taken out to a larger bin (outside) daily but other than that…uh… nope!

    1. Sloan Kittering

      I’m confused about what kind of office needs multiple compost bins scattered about everywhere. That seems weird.

      1. Mim

        Yes, this. My workplace does compost, and takes it seriously. We have ONE bin, and it’s in the kitchen. It is emptied regularly and the only (slight) detectable odor is when you are standing right over it with the lid open scraping stuff into it.

        1. SignalLost

          For real. We have one in our kitchen. We use it for coffee grounds and the occasional vegetable. I don’t know how long it takes to fill it, but … I would be more comfortable with literally any other bin than compost in this office. What are you composting, people? Enormous sentient broccoli? Things that shouldn’t be composted?

            1. The New Wanderer

              Could be a thing in Washington State someday (there’s a bill in state gov’t about that)

            2. SignalLost

              It actually was; I noted the ambiguity when I saw it written and figured I was just gonna roll with it. (And FTR, I’m in Washington state, which is why it came to mind. :) )

          1. JM in England

            The restaurant at my current workplace lets people take the coffee grounds at the end of each day to use as fertiliser.

    2. SarahTheEntwife

      Yeah, we have one in our break room and it works great. But if you have one in every single office it seems either wasteful (emptying the bags every day for one apple core or banana peel) or really unsanitary if you let them sit around until they actually need to be changed. Or there are a lot more people per office than I’m imagining.

    3. in a fog

      To be fair, I live and work in California, and there have been small compost bins in my last two offices. They’re lined and have ventilated lids, and they’re emptied daily. I probably use them more than anyone at my current job, so it’s usually just banana peels and tea bags. It’s a good way to keep food waste and soiled paper products out of landfills.

      1. Sloan Kittering

        I definitely support composting! But having a bin in each office (for that one banana peel or whatever) means you’d better be really on top of emptying each and every one of them regularly, instead of having one central one in the kitchen that’s harder to forget. This office does not seem equal to that.

        1. in a fog

          No kidding! It does not seem like the kind of responsibility this place is willing to take on.

    4. Allison

      Probably food scrap bins FOR composting, not bins for processing food scraps into compost. I hope so. But I wish my company had food scrap bins in the kitchens! I hate seeing food scraps tossed in the trash when they could be turned into compost which could help the environment and reduce carbon emissions.

      1. The New Wanderer

        Yes, the little bins for food scraps are usually combined with yard waste and taken to a composting facility. We have the food scraps bins all over too now and they’re emptied out often enough that I’ve never noticed any odors.

        However, given the OP’s description, I wouldn’t be surprised if that office’s food scrap bins were actually composting by now…

        1. Allison

          Maybe, but they’re probably just really moldy and full of fruit flies. You need to add worms and turn the scraps regularly to make everything compost properly.

        2. pleaset

          I wish we had these in multiple places in my office. As it is, I have to head to the kitchen with meal waste – it would be so much nicer if we could toss stuff in bins around the office.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch

      There are multiplicities that will fine you for not composting and throwing away food scraps.

      But yeah, you have them in a dedicated bin, just like when you sort garbage, recycling, compost. And you take that out to the outside container with the garbage and recycling!

    1. Hooray College Football

      This. I worked in an office where roaches and mice (and even rats that had been displaced by nearby construction) were an issue. The roaches were the worst – they were in desk drawers and in the paper files themselves. It wasn’t a filth issue at least, but there were conditions in the building (water collecting in the crawl space) that I had no control over. I called the pest control contractor at least once a month to try to fix it. I asked for them to spray pesticide, but they wouldn’t due to employee health concerns. I left that job in 2015 and still keep everything in sealed containers. Ugh.

        1. Amy Farrah Fowler

          Yes, that makes my skin crawl. I am utterly terrified by cockroaches (mostly the gross tree roaches we get in the South – they’re like 3 inches long and fly!) I would nope so hard out of a place where I had to see a roach more than once a year. I can feel my blood pressure rising right now just thinking about it ~shudders~

      1. Anax

        Aren’t roaches THEMSELVES health concerns? As in, they can nontrivially exacerbate asthma and similar conditions??

        I would think there would have to be some way to handle it, even if it involved closing up shop for a week. Augh.

        (Obviously, not on you – this is rhetorical screaming at the contractor.)

      2. Glengarry

        At my last job that I left over two years I came in one morning to find a cockroach running around in my coffee mug. To this day, even at my new job that is so much more sanitary, I still take my coffee mug home with me every night. Just in case.

    2. Nana

      Had a friend who went in to interview at a law firm…which looked a little run-down. OK; furniture gets old; boss might be cheap. Went to sit down in reception…saw a roach…said ‘thanks but no thanks’ and skeedadled out of there.

  7. fposte

    This place sounds really sad, like the organizational equivalent of a person frozen by trauma.

    I have a pretty high filth threshold, but I’m with Alison that this suggests the office has just lost touch with norms in general, and I’d pass.

    1. The Original K.

      When the LW said the CEO seemed really out of it in addition to being unkempt, I wondered if something was going on there. My mind went to Hoarders; often the hoarder is triggered by something traumatic.

    2. Falling Diphthong

      I’m wondering if they had a person who organized practical things (like emptying the compost bins) who left, and it’s that, rather than the fire, that they just haven’t recovered from.

      (Typed as someone who often feels she’s behind her family’s belief that “recycling” = “leaving things you think might be recyclable on the counter near the basement until they disappear.”)

    3. Anastasia Beaverhousen

      Yeah, I can’t see how an office this filthy isn’t dysfunctional in other ways. Hard pass.

    4. Yarrow

      Exactly. I took a job where the office wasn’t as bad as this one, but my future boss was disorganized and flustered and the place was a junky mess. Surprise, surprise: her life and business were also a disorganized mess and nothing I did could help that. It’s the only job I ever quit without a backup plan. Go with your gut on this one. This is an organization in some sort of crisis.

    5. ArtsNerd

      Yeah, I think “sad” is the right descriptor here.

      I’m not a stranger to letting squalor collect around me, but that’s a) at home, b) a symptom of my depression, c) something I mitigate with a regular cleaning service that I prioritize in my budget, and d) at HOME.

      I hope OP lands in a good spot that doesn’t constitute a health hazard; that is not this place.

    6. the_scientist

      This is a succinct assessment. There is something incredibly….off….about an office that is operating this way, and I simply can’t imagine it being a functional workplace.

  8. 8DaysAWeek

    I am wondering if it is a financial thing that they can’t hire a cleaning service? If so, that would be a red flag. They may not be able to pay you or lay offs could be coming.

    1. Lurker

      Our office doesn’t have a cleaning service and it is not like this. The building staff vacuums, replenishes bathroom supplies, and empties our trash regularly. That’s it. Most of my co-workers clean or wipe down their desks on their own.

      1. SignalLost

        Same. We maintain our own spaces for care beyond vacuuming and trash, and have a rota for the kitchen and conference room.

      2. Dust Bunny

        We do have one, but even if we didn’t we’re perfectly capable of vacuuming, wiping down tables, and cleaning the kitchenette on our own. Yuck.

    2. Samwise

      If they can’t afford to hire a cleaning service, then everyone there can pitch in and tidy up. No excuse for the filth.

      If they can’t afford to hire a cleaning service to come in even once a month, though, their finances have to be in pretty bad shape…

      1. irene adler

        We always had janitorial service-always. Even when finances were so tight that the CFO rifled through desk drawers for pens- which she doled out one at a time.

    3. Cows go moo

      I work in a small office with no cleaners. We take turns vacuuming and dusting and wiping tables on a weekly basis.

  9. learnedthehardway

    If the physical space is that bad, just think about what else they are cutting corners on. That might be an exaggeration, but if a business can’t get itself organized enough to deal with hiring a cleaning service, how do they do at following through on client service? What about finances? What about payroll?

    Now, personally, I’m not the world’s greatest organizer, and my office looks like someone recently moved in and got interrupted by work (which happened, 3 years ago). But it’s clean. And we have cleaners.

    1. Bilateralrope

      What about any structural damage from the fire ?

      They might not even know if there is any. Let alone have plans to fix it.

      1. SignalLost

        Mmm, that would be pretty hard to hide, between building inspectors, city permitting, fire inspections, etc. The fire sites I’m familiar with have all kinds of red tape around occupancy post-fire. Unless it was a trashcan fire that got seriously blown out of proportion, the fire department should be on them like a ton of bricks, to say nothing of their insurer.

      2. Snickerdoodle

        I kind of don’t think there was a fire at all. I noticed there was a lot of description of bugs, etc. but none about smoky smell, which really lingers.

        1. Clorinda

          The description of ‘fire’ was incomplete. “We recently had to fire Melanie, and she was the only person who knew which end of the broom should touch the floor, so …”

        2. SignalLost

          It sounds like the fire was actually years ago. I wouldn’t expect the place to smell like smoke for more than a month; they’d get industrial fans in as part of the abatement post-fire. Smoke particles are super not good for your health, and I can see that business occupancy would require there be no trace of smoke. When my apartment building had a fire, by the time I could move back in, there wasn’t any smoke smell, and I was really close to the building that burned – like, my apartment was the next to go of it had spread. Took about a month to get power back, since they had to completely rebuild the electrical system (the main boxes burned and the apartments had to be brought up to code as a result; it was previously grandfathered in on the city code.)

  10. Bilateralrope

    If this were your first time there, I’d suggest asking a few questions about how long they expect cleaning up from the fire will take. But you already know that to be a lie.

    So I’d suggest one of two options:
    Turn down any offer if it comes your way. Dont give detail. Or tell them exactly how they failed the interview.

    Maybe contact your references to tell them that you are planning to decline any offer from this company. That way, they dont have to spend their time giving you a reference that wont help you.

  11. I edit everything

    If they offer you the job (or even if you want to bow out now), a straightforward, “I can’t see myself working in this environment” would probably get your message across. Especially if they’re hearing the same kind of thing from every candidate.

  12. pleaset

    “So what can I do or say? I”

    Tell them right away that you don’t think the job is a good fit, so they don’t contact your references.

  13. Former call centre worker

    I’m not sure why the presence of multiple bins is an issue. I mean, I’m guessing the LW is concerned they aren’t emptied frequently, but that’s reading between the lines.

    I’m with Alison though – if you don’t feel comfortable in the office then you won’t be happy working there and you’d probably have an uphill battle trying to change their culture.

    1. LawBee

      It’s not a huge leap to go from flies, a filthy dog with old dog food, a gross candy dish that is grossing out a current employee, and an interviewer who is not exhibiting the basics of self-hygiene to “these bins aren’t emptied on a regular basis”.

      1. fposte

        Right, I don’t think it was a condemnation of the practice of having multiple bins; it was the intersection of the mess potential of such bins and an office that would clearly be unbothered by such mess.

    2. Lepidoptera

      Well, if you happen to need a lot of compost bins in the workplace, that implies that everyone around you is consuming truckloads of produce on the regular. In that case, I’d wonder about both the bin emptying schedule and the state of the toilets.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      You don’t know why the presence of multiple bins is an issue? When did it start becoming acceptable to have ANY compost bins in an office environment? Every office I’ve ever worked in, people don’t clean up after themselves in the kitchen and there are science experiments growing in the refrigerator. There’s no way I’d be ok with compost bins laying around.

      1. KP

        I have never heard of a composts bin in any office — and momentarily in this thread basically almost gaslighted myself into thinking I’ve just been mistaken for decades about either what compost bins are or confused them for something else.

      2. Apple

        It’s perfectly normal for there to be a compost bin in many geographic areas.

  14. SarahTheEntwife

    I can think of scenarios like “there was a flood last week” where I would be completely understanding of weird messy workspaces, but even then that wouldn’t be this variety of mess.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD

        This. If the building’s a mess on interview day and the interviewer says “I’m so sorry for the mess, something out of the ordinary happened and we couldn’t get our cleaning crew scheduled until tomorrow,” that doesn’t feel like a deal breaker. But if a person with questionable personal hygiene waves a hand at the mess and says “this place was on fire once,” that’s a nope from me.

  15. RadManCF

    I have to wonder if that fire resulted from the squalor. It wouldn’t surprise me if that fire started in a compost bin. Wet organic materials will get hot as they decompose. There’s a reason farmers dry their gran and hay before storing them.

    1. Snickerdoodle

      I assumed that if the fire happened at all (it seems a little too convenient and tired of an excuse for the mess), it definitely originated in one of the many hazards described or one of the many more that didn’t make it to the letter. Piles of paperwork, who knows what next to an outlet, etc.

    2. LaDeeDa

      That was my first thought too! Did the office fire YEARS ago come from their inability to do regular maintenance and cleaning?

      1. Auntie Social

        Is this place triple net, so there’s no cleaning crew? Yeah, I assume it’s triple net, and no one likes to clean.

  16. MissDisplaced

    “So what can I do or say?”
    I’m not sure there is anything to say. It’s a slob fest. If you’re bothered by that, don’t take the job unless you can work from home.
    Unless of course, you’re being hired as the person will manage the office and hire a proper cleaning crew. I do suspect though, that this company would get someone like you, and instead of you doing your “actual” job, you’d end up being their free cleaning person as well. Don’t go there.

    1. Snickerdoodle

      Ew. Yeah. My gross old job expected me to clean the office kitchen. I told people they had to clean up their messes and take their leftovers home or they’d get thrown out. There was some pushback and whining, but after enough stuff got thrown out, they started complying.

    2. Fish Microwaver

      I don’t see why the OP can’t just level and say “I wouldn’t work well in this filthy office”.

  17. Rainbow Roses

    Ew. No. Run for the hills.

    Even if you think you’ll save the day and get the place spotless and everyone is grateful, do you want cleaning to be your responsibility forever?

  18. Butter Makes Things Better

    I worked in a law firm like this. Dried dog poop in the front hall, no semblance of basic hygiene by key people. What this is telling you is that the infrastructure there is so broken, maintenance of basic working conditions has ceased. I’ve little doubt that at least some of what it indicated at my old, crusty (eww) job is at play at Squalor LLC too. Pick your poison: 1) unpredictable, unreliable management; 2) lack of communication all levels; 3) a vast majority of employees hardly working because there was no meaningful supervision; and 4) the warping of any sense of office norms and setting yourself back career-wise because of a lack of effective professional coaching/mentoring/learning by example. (Key drawbacks to dysfunctional workplaces that AAM always talks about.) You will find your step up elsewhere, OP. Good luck!

  19. NW Mossy

    Yeah, there isn’t really a scenario where I can reason my way to this being acceptable. We all get that disasters happen, but if it’s truly recent and the situation left behind is borderline unsafe for human habitation, the overwhelming majority of normal businesses would do some combination of:

    * Filing an insurance claim and getting resources from their carrier to deal with the problem
    * Rescheduling interviews and other meetings with external parties or moving them to an alternate site
    * Finding temporary digs until repairs can be completed
    * Understanding completely if the situation is off-putting

    Sadly, I think you’re getting very clear signs that this isn’t a good place to work. The CEO seems to be at a minimum OK with the filth, but it’s somewhat more likely that she is actively contributing to it based on your description of her personal grooming. Given her position, the path to fixing the issues runs through her, and she may not be receptive to addressing it. There could be many reasons why, but that part’s less important than the fact of it.

    There are other workplaces, and the vast majority are clean and safe. Seek them, and let this one go.

  20. Zona the Great

    Remember the letter-writer who said that an employee was skeeved out by the roach carcasses? Not just some here and there but a lot of roach carcasses. We had to tell this LW (as kindly as possible) that that was not okay and she might consider further action instead of convincing the employee that this is how it was going to stay and not to be upset by it. I feel like that LW was thoughtful and aware. She would have responded well here. This boss will look at you like you’re a princess if she is truly okay with working in such an environment.

    1. Dragoning

      Oof, I remember that. They were in the KITCHEN, too, and in the employee’s work space.

      LW just said it was an old building, but no.

      1. Michaela Westen

        I live in a city where most of the buildings downtown are older than 100 years. The one I work in now was built in the 1930’s.
        The bugs in old buildings are controlled by professional exterminators doing what they do. Once in a while in unusual circumstances you might see a bug, but generally no.
        “it’s an old building” isn’t a good enough excuse.

    2. The New Wanderer

      I remember that letter – there were other cleanliness issues with the office too, which I think was in an old converted house with chronic pest (insect and rodent) problems. It’s amazing what people can get used to once they get past their initial reaction and then they start to feel like everyone should just get used to it too.

      OP, don’t risk becoming like that!

    3. fposte

      Heh, I had a completely different take on that old letter, because I work in a similar building to the OP’s there: it’s an 100+ year old rural building where the only way to preclude bug and mammal pests would either be to knock the whole thing down or to poison things so thoroughly the humans would die.

      But that is why we would not ever be allowed to leave multiple compost bins and dog food lying around.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah — I think you and I might have been the only ones saying that on that post and I recall thinking people really didn’t understand the realities of some types of old buildings.

        1. Harper the Other One

          I didn’t comment on that one, but I know exactly what you mean. We’ve lived in a house where the basement had a soil floor (I think it was 120+ years old) and there is just no way to keep critters out. All you can do is make it unappealing for them to stay.

          1. Anax

            Yep; I didn’t work in an old building, but I worked in a large building downtown which directly connected “townhouse style” to a dozen other buildings – mostly restaurants and bars, frequented by a lot of wild college students. There was no way we could completely avoid pests, even though our building was clean – there was SO much food for pests in the neighborhood.

            (And no way to move, either; it was integral to the business that we be within a block of [other location]. Much as we all would have liked to.)

            1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

              I worked at a mall in a location that was almost directly under the food court, and we’d get get pests wandering down fairly regularly, though these were always the LARGE roaches that usually inhabit sewers, not the regular household kind.

              We always knew when the exterminators had come by the night before because the backroom would be littered with multiple roach corpses. One day I made headstones for them all out of Post It notes.

          2. the_scientist

            My house has this as well and invariably as it gets cold our cat will bring us a “present” or two. But even in these situations there ARE things you can do to mitigate the issue – stop up holes, place traps, keep dry goods in sealed containers. We don’t just shrug our shoulders and say “oh well, it’s an old house.”

            1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people

              Yeah, I live in an area where There Will Be Ants. There’s no getting around it, everyone who lives within miles of here gets the little black sugar ants. I manage this by keeping food in sealed containers, vacuuming/sweeping/mopping regularly, only keeping food waste in one trash location rather than in trash cans in whatever room I’m eating in, and occasional pesticide use when the ants find the food waste trash or something else particularly exciting and invite all of their little friends for a big Ant Party.

              If I just left food debris everywhere, I would instead have tons of little ant buddies all over my house on the regular, but even someone who bleached all surfaces daily would still find a stray ant here or there. You can pretty much accept it or move, but nothing else short of a full Industrial Clean Room would probably keep them out.

              1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

                I live in the SW and I feel your pain. We can sweep and clean all the time but ants live here. And so do scorpions and roaches. They all get in the house at one time or another. All you can do is try.

          3. Jennifer Thneed

            Right! And when you find dead bugs you sweep them up. You don’t just let them accumulate and shrug your shoulders. (Signed, someone else who lives in old houses and likes it.)

        2. Curmudgeon in Califormia

          I live in a 100+ year old Victorian. It has bugs.

          We kill them. They come back from the filthy apartments next door, or out of the plaster in the walls (moths for days.) We kill them again, and again, and again …

          We can’t do too much with pesticides due to allergies, but we still find ways. We have enough cats that the mice seldom come inside, but we keep our dry food in heavy bins anyway.

          Some buildings have endemic issues like that. However, that’s no excuse not to keep on top of it to reduce the infestations.

          At least you can close the office for a week and have exterminators double tap it (first to get the live bugs, second to get the larvae.)

        3. EventPlannerGal

          I mean, sorry Alison, but that seems a little condescending. There were many people in that thread who also worked in old/historic properties who seemed like they were perfectly familiar with the realities, and were still taken aback by the “shrug! Mouse crap in the food prep area, what can you do!” attitude of that letter.

          (My first job was in a 12th-century Scottish castle. I currently work in a venue from the Georgian period and live in a 200-year-old building complex in a city notorious for its mouse infestation. I still did and do not expect to find mouse crap on the counters.)

  21. Flash Bristow

    Omg. Well, thanks for making me feel better about my home study! Too much stuff (in boxes) and not tidy, but no squalor or flies! Ugh.

    Seriously stay away. The end.

  22. Observer

    Unless you are truly desperate, don’t consider taking the job. Don’t try to negotiate a WFH arrangement – there is almost no way any management that allows this to happen is going to be reasonable about almost anything else. ESPECIALLY since they are still using the “we recently had a fire” excuse a few years on.

    1. Dragoning

      I’m pretty baffled OP even interviewed here again if it was like this the first time!

      1. Rob aka Mediancat

        I suspect the first time they bought the fire story, at least enough to give them a second chance.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      I don’t care how desperate I was, I’d never work in a place like this and I am nowhere near a neat freak. Working in an environment like that and finding it acceptable tells me it’s not the kind of place I’d want to work anyway.

  23. Chaordic One

    To be honest most offices are kind of dirty now a days, and that’s with janitorial and cleaning services. It’s some low wage outside contractor that has a high rate of turnover. In my big bureaucratic government office job, we call the janitorial service “Sasquatch.” There have been a couple of sightings, but we question the sanity of the people who claim to have seen it and there is no certainty that such an entity actually exists. (The H.R. department in another building is known as “Loch Ness.”)

    While certainly not the kind of filth described in the OP’s letter, I find that I have to bring a bottle of spray cleaner and paper towels to just about every job that I’ve had. In my current job I also bring a swiffer.

    1. Anonforthis

      I keep some Chlorox wipes and a little vacuum at my desk as the cleaning people never seem to remember to vacuum my work area (or anyone else’s, for that matter).

      1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

        My previous office was near an active construction site, and I had to wipe down my desk once a week because the dust got onto *everything*. If you didn’t do that, everything took on a gray cast…

    2. Anonya

      I agree that most offices aren’t cleaned enough (and I stock Clorox wipes), but that’s still worlds away from what OP is describing!

    3. Seeking Second Childhood

      I had some luck asking for old area to “get an extra vacuuming” …which was code for not bugging them that it doesn’t get done unless I ask… but new area we couldn’t even get them to do it before we moved in. I hadn’t thought of just getting one for the group!

    4. Triplestep

      My last job was in the offices of a hospital, and they were disgusting. The cleaning budget was saved for patient areas, which obviously needed to be clean. But it was at the expense of the rest of the place, and it was just icky.

  24. Snickerdoodle

    Ew. I got twitchy just reading this. I’m not a surgically immaculate person, but I’m enough of a neat freak to know I wouldn’t last five minutes in an interview and would also blacklist them in the future. Who knows what kind of germs or pests you’d be bringing home with you working there, not to mention I’m sure it smelled, and that would get into your clothes. Also, the CEO seeming out of it is a huge red flag. Whatever’s going on there is probably related to the grossness in the office.

    The whole story reminds me a lot of my toxic old job (I seriously wondered if it were the same place, except I don’t think that place had a fire), where the CEO was indeed “out of it” a lot because she was high as a kite because of her prescription pain pill abuse. She was disorganized, made lots of mistakes with her work, would ramble about nothing and forget what she’d said when she sobered up, and she would also skip showers and not flush the (only) toilet, etc. She drove off any good staff members they hired (e.g. yours truly) and caused a lot of work to be redone, plus she would try to generate busy work that nobody bothered to do because it wasn’t needed and she wouldn’t check to see if it had been done anyway. Or else she’d complain that people weren’t doing their jobs, and then we’d have to point out that we actually HAD done the work, only she never bothered to ask about it or check it. The icing on the cake was how the place had occasional pest problems which could ALWAYS be traced back to her and her habit of leaving food out or gross old clothes lying around. We especially loved the time a roach got into the office through the warehouse in the back, crawled all the way past the kitchen, trash cans, etc., into her office, and died immediately at her desk. It was perfect.

    I’m not suggesting that the CEO in the OP’s letter was a drug abuser, but it would explain the missing stair that is the squalor. At any rate, run, OP. What on earth does this place have to offer you other than compounding germ phobias?

  25. Superanon

    Hi OP, I worked for someone who was really messy. Extremely messy. Our office was rediculously tiny considering the staff we had and the equipment we had to house and the job we were doing, but we also had a lot of stuff in there. It was my job to keep the office clean, organize it, and keep some semblance of order in the place. Please do not work here. Maybe, maybe if you can negotiate a 100% work from home arrangement with all client meetings off-site but only if the pay and opportunity is amazing. I had to carve out my own space around my desk that was my little sanctuary of cleanliness and I still felt uncomfortable sometimes at work with how messy and dirty it was. I felt like other employees were judging me when it really was the dept head who was that messy & how cluttered it was was a mass improvement over how it had been. We had so much stuff in there that the office hadn’t been updated in years and was a cave of 70s decor. Clutter is one thing – dog food with flies and random compost is another.

  26. Lilysparrow

    Withdraw your candidacy.

    This place is not functioning. The people with authority to fix this systemically either don’t notice or don’t care, which means there are serious issues at the top.

    And the people who could fix this practically are too overworked, underpaid, undermined, or intimidated to act on basic common sense.

    It’s not just dirt. It’s a disconnect from reality, and you don’t want to find out how far down that rabbit hole goes.

  27. Cascadian

    I walked into an interview for a job I really needed, in an industry I was interested in, and the place was a mess. Merchandise tumbling out of half-opened boxes, random desks piled with even more random junk, an obstacle course down the hallway that presumably led to the owner’s office. I didn’t wait to find out. I actually did an about face and noped right outta there. The job would have entailed me trying to ride herd on that mess, in the face of much obstruction, and given I was leaving a nanny job I sure as heck didn’t want to nanny reluctant adults.

    1. Anonforthis

      I don’t blame you. I once showed up for a new job to an office full of boxes of employee files – it was dirty, no computer, no phone, no fax. The boxes actually covered all the furniture, so there was nowhere to sit. In retrospect, that was the perfect introduction to that job. I should have just turned around and left.

  28. Lepidoptera

    I know this is sad and concerning, but the idea of random stray dogs roaming the hallways and rummaging through compost bins is too hilarious. If your potential employer reads like a Dilbert cartoon, say no.

    1. Falling Diphthong

      There are wild dogs in Russia who take the subway; someone should get on the story of a dog just moving into a suite of offices with a lot of food leftovers lying about, managing to convey “I totally belong to one of your coworkers” whenever someone notices him.

    2. Observer

      Your last line made me choke on the food I was chewing. That’s an EXCELLENT line. I’m adopting it. I hope I never need to deploy it, though.

      1. Jennifer Thneed

        Truly! Somewhere I once read an excellent rule-of-thumb for interviews: if you see a few Dilbert cartoons on the walls of a workplace, that’s okay, but if everyone has multiple Dilbert cartoons up, that’s a really bad sign.

        (Plus, it taught to me generally look at the walls as I am led to the interview room. What do people put up? It tells you so much.)

  29. His Grace

    I would have thanked them for their time, and run like I stole something. A squalid office is unprofessional.

  30. Jaybeetee

    A lesson I’ve learned from many bad jobs, and many bad relationships (while not identical, it’s remarkable the similarities between dating and jobs in terms of one’s emotional life – but I digress), is that if you see one Huge Glaring Problem early on, usually there will be more to follow. It’s relatively rate to come across a job or dating prospect that truly *is* totally awesome except for that one giant issue that was immediately apparent upon the first encounter.

    That is to say, I doubt an office could get THAT dirty, but otherwise be a great place to work. Likely the longer you hang around, the more problems you’ll see. If you have the option to bypass this one, I suggest you consider it.

  31. Hey Karma, Over here.

    “But this position would be the step I’ve been hoping for”
    Stop. No, it isn’t. This place can’t take out its own trash. It doesn’t have a great position that will be a step up and a chance to learn and to grow. It has an open position with a cool title and a list of things that someone in that title would like to do.
    Maybe, once you were in, you’d have some sort of carte blanche due to the CEO’s apathy and be able to flourish and become a one person phenomenon, the real power in the company. Maybe, once you were in, you’d sit at your desk wondering if you were ever going to get follow up on the exciting work you were promised. Maybe, you’ll get a lung infection from whatever the hell is growing in the hall.
    Tell yourself there is no job. Because there is no job.

  32. LW/OP

    Maybe my description of the fog was too unforgiving. He wasn’t “mangy” or anything. Just… like he needed a bath and his mouth was all wet and he seemed to want my attention and I have shorthaired dogs who don’t drip on me when they sniff me and maybe everything else was kind of overwhelming me. I was honestly for some reason more bothered by the dog food for some reason.

    In the more general office spaces, it seemed cluttered, but not alarming. However this position would be spending a ton of time working with the CEO and that is definitely concerning. By out of it, she was very distracted and seemed unprepared. She was looking over my resume and application as if she were seeing it for the first time. It’s likely that someone else filtered the applicants, but I always find it annoying when my interviewer seems unprepared.
    Hiring a cleaning service is likely a budget issue, but I agree that this is just one of the things you figure out. I have freelanced in offices without a daily cleaning service and it was not like this. It also made me concerned about what else they might be going without. For instance, would I have all of the equipment I needed to do my job? Or would I be expected make miracles happen with cardboard boxes and tape?

    I guess too having interviewed there a few years ago and seeing the same things made me realize this was a real problem. I mean, catch me on the wrong day and I might have dirty fingernails or a stain on my shirt or even a rip in my pants or be running late. On some days my dirty dishes are piled in the sink and my trash probably should have gone out yesterday.

    I was thinking about letting my references know that they didn’t need to spend a lot of time on this but I was worried that this would seem flaky. This job search is frustrating and emotionally exhausting. I really didn’t want to get into the specifics with my references.

    I think I knew the answer to this before I even asked. On paper, I really like this job. But in the day to day, I can’t see it happening. I was kind of spurred into a panic because she said she was going to contact my references. Truthfully, when I left the office and was talking to a friend, I had to admit that was hoping she was just being polite and that it would go nowhere and I’d never hear back. This is definitely a case where the employer failed the interview.

    (and yes, I assumed there were likely other critters in the office as well)

    1. fposte

      “Just… like he needed a bath and his mouth was all wet” sounds like every Lab or hound I’ve ever met :-).

    2. Dust Bunny

      Um, dog food should not have flies. Feed the dog, pick up the food if he doesn’t finish it.

      1. SusanIvanova

        From what I’ve seen with my dogs, you have to be *seriously* overfeeding for them to not finish it.

        1. Dragoning

          Or, you know, it has flies.

          I know dogs sometimes eat worse things…but sometimes they don’t.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy

          Or else it’s crappy food. When I adopted the elder hound from my now-husband, his leaving the state and my arriving had about a two week gap between, during which she stayed with his brother, who is an irresponsible parasite and fed her Old Roy. Just left a big bowl of it down all the time for her, and she ate as little of it as she possibly could. :P As soon as I got in town and got her back on a decent food, she went right back to hoovering it down without even any noticeable chewing and hoping for seconds.

      2. CommanderBanana

        Wait, people have dogs that don’t immediate eat ALL their food as soon as you put it out? And then pout like they haven’t just been fed? I’ve got to meet these dogs.

        1. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

          I free fed my HUsky and did that for my Irish Wolfhounds as well. They paced themselves, never overate and only got a hair overweight when they were older (as in 65-70 in human years). The Siberian Husky nibbles at night mostly. He also talks to his food, so I wonder…

          1. I Don’t Remember What Name I Used Before

            I’ve free fed all my dogs and cats and- same.
            One of my cats was actually quite overweight when I adopted her, and went down to a normal, healthy weight with free feeding.

            1. Asenath

              I used to free-feed my cats, and then went to feeding them strictly measured portions after the vet said Cinnamon needed to lose weight. I even fed them separately for months so Cinnamon had only her allocated amount available. I don’t think she lost a gram. Cats – mine at least – graze; that is, there is usually some food left in the bowl for a period of time. My sister’s dog, on the other hand, eats anything that doesn’t fight back, and her food bowl is empty, clean and practically polished minutes after the food lands in it.

              Either way, there should not be flies hovering over the food. That’s a very bad sign. If no one notices that, are they noticing if the dog has fleas? Or noticed when it needs to go out.

        2. critter

          *raises hand*

          One of our dogs has to have everything perfect before she’s comfortable eating. If she doesn’t love the food, she won’t eat it. We took her camping with us once… she refused to eat anything for three days straight. We bought her some fish (we were camping at the beach, so it was fresh, just caught that morning) and cooked it over a campfire for her, even, and she wouldn’t eat it.

          As soon as we got her back home, we fed her immediately, even though we were worried she’d still be anxious from the trip. Nope, she gobbled it right down.

          Come to think of it, my dog wouldn’t do well in that office, either. That same camping trip was how we found out that she refuses to relieve herself unless she’s far enough away from the house/tent. Apparently, “far enough away” for this dog is 50-70 feet, the length of the super-long chain we had to get for her so she wouldn’t feel like she was leaving a mess.

          1. CommanderBanana

            Mine are both rescues with food insecurity – one was living off of whatever she could catch in a forest and was about ten pounds underweight and the other belonged to an owner with dementia who had stopped feeding her. Fortunately they don’t food guard, but they clean their plates!

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.

      If I can add, don’t tell your references your opinion of this place. You never knows who knows each other. I’m only putting this in your head so you don’t get caught off guard if a reference calls you and says, “CEO called me about you. Is she still a flake?”
      Having a chance to see two years down the road in this place, or rather, two years back, is a gift. Use it.

    4. Me

      If you don’t want the job (I really hope you stick with that assessment), I would just call and withdraw yourself from consideration.

      Then your references don’t have to be bothered and no one is wasting their time (you, your references or the company) pursuing something that is not going to happen.

    5. Anax

      That dog might be a perfectly normal dog – but imo, dogs who are going to be good office pets need to be held to a higher standard. A lot of behavior – like barking, licking strangers, or digging through trashcans – would be reasonably normal at home, but they aren’t fair to other coworkers.

      That dogfood sounds gnarly as heck, and this is well beyond “having a bad week” levels of gross. The job is not worth it.

      There’s also a nonzero risk that this place would actively make you ill – fleas, mold, cockroaches, etc. can have very real health effects, and that’s DEFINITELY too much to risk for a job, however good it looks on paper.

    6. CommanderBanana

      OP, run away! I don’t think I can link here but go to CaptainAwkward.com and search for “Cosette” to read a column about someone who had a hoarder coworker. If your skin is crawling in interviewing there you should under no circumstances work there. It sounds horrific.

      1. MsSolo

        This was reminding me more of the CA where the LW’s husband was fixated on how climate change was the root of his depression and therefore a reason why he shouldn’t work to help himself, and emotionally abusing her to participate in an aggressively environmentally friendly lifestyle while he lived off her labour.

    7. Sara without an H

      I’ve forgotten who said this originally — the commentariat may know — but it goes something like: “When somebody shows you who they really are, believe them!”

      Believe the CEO. If she’s disorganized and unprepared to interview a candidate for what sounds like a key position, she’ll be equally disorganized and unprepared in dealing with daily operations. You don’t need this job.

      And I’m sorry for that poor dog.

      1. LJay

        I think it’s usually attributed to Maya Angelou. I don’t know if she actually said it or not, though.

    8. Meißner Porcellain Teapot

      “I was thinking about letting my references know that they didn’t need to spend a lot of time on this but I was worried that this would seem flaky. This job search is frustrating and emotionally exhausting. I really didn’t want to get into the specifics with my references.”

      Except, you don’t have to get into the specifics with your references. As a matter of fact, less is often more. Just write them a quick email:

      “Dear Jane Smith,

      I wanted to thank you once again for agreeing to be a reference in my on-going job search. As it stands, conmpany X, which I recently interviewed with, has indicated that they would be performing a reference check soon. However, I have decided not to pursue their offered position any further and I have already contacted them to withdraw my candidacy. I wanted to inform you of my withdrawal in case they do still contact you.

      Once again, thank you for your assistance.

      Sincerely,
      OP”

      Done. And of course, do write an email to the messy office from hell to let know that you are withdrawing your candidacy.

  33. CR

    When I was a nanny I was desperate and took a job in a dirty house. Not messy, dirty. The fridge was full of rotten oozing things. I ran the dishwasher one day in a desperate attempt to tidy the kitchen and was reprimanded the next day for wasting water. The children were crawling around in filth. The dad told me the children rewore dirty clothes multiple days in a row like it was a perfectly normal thing. I quit after one week.

    1. Anonforthis

      Oh man. I don’t think I would have lasted more than 5 minutes, so my hat is off to you.

    2. Anonymous 5

      Yep. Took a babysitting job in similar squalor (though I think it may have been more mental illness at play than a conscious decision to forego things like bathing/dish washing, so I have sympathy for the family). Couldn’t deal with more than a couple jobs’ worth. It’s been a quarter century (!) since then and I still get twitchy if I smell similar aromas to what the house had.

  34. Introvert girl

    As an asthmatic and person with allergies I wouldn’t been able to finish the interview. This is really bad. It’s not even worth trying to work there. People must be getting sick all the time.
    This is not a step up for you, it will leave you frustrated and not happy.

  35. The Man, Becky Lynch

    NO.

    I have literally worked on what I coined the “dirt farm” and it was not that wrecked. It was in the middle of a pasture and we had a cute little cabin for an office that our foreman built. It was dusty and we had cats but I would be damned if it was anything like you’re describing. Especially given the grizzled look you describe of the CEO.

    I’ve worked for men who would come into my office covered in sawdust and it still wasn’t just straight up filthy because that grime takes real dedication to build up. A fire? We had a fire before too. It doesn’t result in our CEO looking like Pig Pen.

    1. Me

      Yes there’s dirty, which is what I was expecting in the letter, and then there is filth which is what was actually described. Hard pass.

  36. GAG

    Really on in my career, I went in for an interview with a hiring manager, the person from HR told me that their conference rooms were under renovations so I would be meeting with the hiring manager in their office. I walked in and was hit with the smell of hotdog water (like when people boil hotdogs and leave the cooling/cold pot on the stove) and feet. I am super sensitive to smell, so I was having a hard time not gagging. At one point he called me around to his side of the desk to show me something on his screen– when I looked down I noticed the carpet under his chair was covered with finger and toenail clippings!! I covered up my gagging by pretending to sneeze. GAG! It was disgusting. I declined a second interview.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood

        Yup. I couldn’t even stand hearing someone on the other side if the cubicle wall clip his fingernails — and I knew they were going in the trash can! (And although I’m no Martha Stewart, I think I have to go vacuum under my bed now.)

    1. Curmudgeon in Califormia

      Oh, gross. Didn’t they know how to use a freaking trash can? Plus, toenail clippings? *shudder*

      There are some things you shouldn’t do at work. Cutting your toenails is one of those things.

  37. Granny K

    I worked at an office that was attached to a rental warehouse. I literally wiped grit off my desk every day. Some of the work schedules of some of the guys were so extreme they didn’t have time to bathe. You could smell them coming. If you saw my house, you’d know I’m not a picky clean but if people can even be bothered to bathe, it can negatively affect their morale and yours. Run, do not walk away.

  38. Alfonzo Mango

    A cluttered and unkempt office can lead to a fire, or at least exacerbate one.

    Hard pass on this, OP! Trust your gut.

  39. iglwif

    That sounds … like someplace you do not want to work, even remotely. And I am very much not a tidy person and not even that great at cleaning, but flies on the dog food and an interviewer who seems unaware of the squalor around here would be a bridge to far for me.

    I’m not 100% sure what the issue is with the presence of compost bins; although an individual bin for each office seems A Bit Extra when you could just have one or two central ones, I can imagine a situation where an office has discovered that the system that works is to make every employee responsible for their own daily compost and then have it be part of some person’s job to go around and empty all those individual compost buckets into the office green bin the day before garbage pickup day? Some cities will fine you for putting too much organic waste in with your regular garbage, and maybe that was happening because people were unwilling to walk over to wherever the central green bin was to dispose of their organic waste, and were dropping it in their office trash bin instead?

    Anyway if it were just that people had individual compost buckets (as long as they were proper ones with lids etc and there wasn’t an active smell) that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me, but the rest of it, NOPE.

  40. stitchinthyme

    I worked in an office that was part of a postal processing facility. It was dirty, buggy, depressing, and had very poor temperature control (it was 85 degrees at my desk, winter and summer). I dreaded going in there every day just because of the dinginess of the place. You spend a good portion of your waking hours at your workplace; trust me, it really makes a huge difference if that place isn’t a totally depressing environment.

  41. Tammy

    When I was a self-employed consultant years ago, we had a client who was like this. In fact, the first time we went to his office for an all-day series of meetings, my ex-spouse (and business partner) and I had to run to the store for supplies to clean his bathroom, so we could use it while we were there without becoming ill. (You bet we billed him for the supplies and the time we spent on that chore!)

    It turns out his slovenly office was emblematic of a lot of problems with how he ran his business, including some pretty shady stuff. We ignored the warning signs, and worked for him for a while, but then he started pulling the shady stuff on us. We fired him as a client, and ended up writing off about $15,000 that he owed us. He declared bankruptcy right after that, and we discovered our $15K was a drop in the bucket, and that he owed all sorts of people money. I think the total was well north of half a million dollars.

    When an office is full of red flags, you should definitely pay attention to them!

  42. Traveling Teacher

    I’ve posted this story before, but the dirtiest place I ever worked (as part of my assigned rotation) was a school in a seriously disadvantaged area. The FT teachers there were hanging on for dear life, and I didn’t blame them. The cleaner was not “responsible” for washing the teachers’ dishes, so once the bottle of dish detergent ran out in mid-October, people just…. Stopped doing the dishes. The sink was pulled high with coffee mugs and plates with rotting food. And it stayed that way for months.

    I brought in my own instant coffee, dish detergent, mug, and sponge, and kept it all hidden on a high shelf at the end of an abandoned corridor, only using the electric kettle on the breakroom.

    In January, the school inspectors were coming, so someone brought in gloves and removed all the dirty dishes from the sink, putting them in the open cupboard unwashed, and draping it all with a sheet. The head teacher brought in plasticware for the day.

    The food-encrusted dishes stayed in the shelf, and more piled up in the sink until someone taped up the faucet to prevent people filling the sink-dishes more water to get scummy.

    Finally, in June, the previous cleaning woman retired. The new hire, an industrious woman who whipped the place into shape, saw the state of the sink and would not stand for it. Even if it wasn’t her job to clean it, her “mother would be ashamed of her laziness.” I learned this because I found her bleaching the filthy sink, the dishes, anything she could get her hands on. She saw my mug and dish of personal cleaning supplies when I arrived early and told me in a marvelous mix of Russian, French, and English that I was the only one who had any sense of the lot of them and that they probably didn’t have the sense to wipe their own rear ends.

    All this to say: if no one is cleaning, it’s probably because the place is basically a dumpster fire of problems you don’t want to get involved in…

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      This reminds me of the hoarders where they had their water shut off and they were still using the toilet…which meant there was a literal mound of feces.

      I would just throw away crusty dishes, I cannot believe they just piled up. I actually did it when I was moving and in a depressed state months ago. I just threw things away and got paper plates because I was too mentally exhausted with life but I found a compromise. Like you cannot reuse those dishes anyways, so why bother? Just throw them in the trasssssssh.

    2. Anonforthis

      Jesus Christ. How hard is it to buy a little bottle of dish detergent and wash up after yourself? Good lord.

      1. Autumnheart

        IKR? People leaving dirty dishes and food scraps to get moldy for MONTHS? What is wrong with people?

    3. Grand Mouse

      Honestly… I work in cleaning and I have been told not to clean people’s dishes. If it got that bad I think I would be compelled to do something (at least for the smell) but as a general guideline I do not want to do people’s dishes. Reason: I don’t want people to think the cleaning fairy will handle things they should do themselves. And I am backed by management, also not wanting to encourage dependence. The admin don’t clean people’s dishes either.
      Also as a cleaning person, I think I would really struggle there. It is soul-killing seeing people not adhere to basic levels of cleanliness, like missing the toilet and leaving sanitary supplies on the ground. It feels disrespectful to me and other people.
      Further addendum: I woulda thrown it all away.

  43. Me

    It’s not a stretch to imagine what the cause of the fire may have been…

    An entire company of people willing to overlook filth, not dirty, filthy, clearly has questionable priorities. Find someplace else.

  44. Jin

    Oh God. This is so sad, like really depressingly sad. Consider your mental health, LW…as someone with a history of depression/anxiety, this kind of workplace would make me just. shut. down.

    Actually, consider your health in general. If you were able to see flies (!!), think about all the pests (and allergens) that you AREN’T seeing. What kind of gross things hiding in the carpets or cracks might you be bringing back to infest your own home? At minimum, any pets you may have will almost certainly get fleas.

    There are better things out there for you, LW. Best of luck with your job search; I hope you find something that fits you soon.

  45. HardwoodFloors

    Alison’s comment about what could they say made me think of, “We are so excited that we just hired ‘SuperClean 24/7 company’ that starts tomorrow and the dog is going to the vet and doggie day care.
    But they didn’t, so run.

  46. JM in England

    Late to the party, so apologies in advance if anyone has already posted something similar.

    It is readily apparent the CEO does not realise the importance of the maxim “First impressions last!” and that it cuts both ways when it comes to job interviews. After all, it’s drummed into us jobseekers!

    So OP, withdraw your application yesterday and leave a review of this company on Glassdoor so that nobody else has to interview in such filthy conditions. Also consider reporting them to your local environmental health authority….

  47. voluptuousfire

    Bleh. Reminds me of the time when in college I interviewed for an answering service and they said “oh it’s a smoking office” and I was like “that’s fine.” I go for the interview and it was disgusting! The place reeked of cigarette smoke and there was even nicotine deposits on the walls. They didn’t have any windows open and it was just gross. Ashtrays all over the place, overflowing. I had to wash my clothes once I got home to get rid of the stink.

  48. amp2140

    Just to note, the compost bins are a new thing now. To save money and “reduce waste”, companies are reducing the number of locations that janitorial staff are required to empty the trash, and having employees use the compost bin as a holder for personal trash until you empty it in the communal trash.

  49. Toomgis

    I have a semi-related question: I’m trying to help my mom hire an administrative assistant for her office, but her office is SO messy. It’s a small business attached to a factory, so it’s unavoidably grimy (because the factory is dirty), but overall the office is just extremely disorganized and paper piles are everywhere (but not dirty – there’s a cleaner that comes once a week). If I phone screen candidates, is this something I should bring up? And if so, would it be just to warn them, or to make sure they’re comfortable working in mess? Part of their job will be to try and organize the place, so I guess it’s relevant to the job. I just worry that we’ll scare people away with the mess.

    1. Asenath

      I think you need to mention that the office needs a lot of organization. That will help you distinguish between applicants who expect to walk into a functioning office, and those who are willing to start from scratch. There are people out there who would like the challenge of organizing an office, and you can also point out that they can set up their own systems from scratch which might appeal to them. I’m not sure you should emphasize that it’s clean, unless they ask whether they will be expected to do cleaning in addition to administrative work. Anyone working in an office attached to a factory knows it’s not going to be the same as an office in a high rise containing only offices, but if you have it regularly cleaned it should be acceptable. If you’re too eager to talk about cleanliness (as opposed to the level of work expected to organize the files and administrative procedures) it might backfire and make them assume the place is filthy instead of messy, otherwise you wouldn’t be talking about cleaning so much.

  50. FiredAHorder

    Ok kids, gather around for this story. I was head of HR for an engineering firm of about 900 employees. One Monday morning I got a call from our vending machine supplier. He said when he stopped by on Sunday to restock the machines he saw a person ducking, hiding, and running in the darkened 3 story building.
    For the previous 2 months, I had been receiving complaints from people that their desk snacks had been stolen and their desks seemed to be disturbed.
    When I reached out to leaders to see if there had been anything unusual or anything of concern happening, a leader told me he moved a level 5 engineer to an empty area of the building 3 months ago because the rest of the staff was complaining about his area- the smell, the clutter.
    I went to investigate.
    Sigh. What I found was a large office that had an interior closet attached. The office was a disgusting mess, but the attached closet— had an engineer living in it!!!! He had an army cot, a crock pot, a dorm fridge, and a microwave, and shelves full of Costco sized cans of beans, tuna, chili, etc.
    I asked security to pull his exit/entrance badge scans—- he hadn’t left the building in MONTHS!!

    I brought him into my office, to ask what was going on. He at first denied it. Said he was there at odd hours because we are a global company and often need to connect with our Asian corporate office, but he wasn’t working on any global projects. He finally admitted he was living there. He was using the corporate gym to shower. He was fired. When we cleared out his office and weird bunker/storage closet it was SIX pallets of stuff. We had our warehouse guys drop it off in his driveway. I drove by 4 months later, and it was all still there.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood

      I think I’d watch that movie. Wouldn’t want to live it, mi b d you, but there’s definitely a train wreck level of can’t look away.

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?

        I was just thinking this would make one weird movie…you can’t make this stuff up. Reminds me of a friend who said they found out his clergyman had been stealing food from the kitchen at their house of worship. Not just a snack or even a meal here and there, but grocery-shopping the fridge when it was stocked for events. The clergy gig was only part-time, and he’d lost his full-time regular job.

    2. Washi

      “drop it off in his driveway”

      …I was assuming this guy was homeless (not that that would make it ok) but he had a home to go to this whole time??? wtf??

  51. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    I once interviewed for a manager’s job at a large state agency – and the place was, probably similar to what OP saw, a DUMP.

    And their computer facility was also a DUMP – something like I’d never seen. And running inefficiently.

    And there were subsequent horror stories about the people I interviewed with. Bad vibes all around.

    Do not walk. RUN like hell. Away. As fast as you can.

  52. I coulda been a lawyer

    “An interview isn’t just about them deciding if they want to hire you. It’s also about you gathering data on them. Don’t talk yourself out of what you’re seeing.” Exactly this. The few times that I’ve talked myself out of what I was seeing, I was beyond miserable.

    1. Who Plays Backgammon?

      I am going to carve your words in stone so I remember them. So so true. Sometimes you’re over a barrel, but even then, sometimes the answer to a job is No.

  53. Tiara Wearing Princess

    Stray looking dog, flies in the dog food, multiple compost bins in a hallway, unkempt CEO with dirty fingernails?

    This sounds like a place run by someone who has a mental disorder fit for the show Hoarders.

    You say this would be a good career move. Would you want a prospective employer to see your surroundings if you worked there?

    Run, LW, run.

  54. Sarah

    Hm. I think I could have been a VERSION of that hiring manager, so I can give my perspective. I worked at a small non-profit for a while that was based in a rather decrepit community center that had a leaky roof and a mouse problem at certain times of year, (it was provided rent-free, which saved on costs, right when the organization opened, and it allowed us to be close to the individuals we were serving, which was really key to our mission). There was a period of time when we were entirely funded on seed funding and project-based grants – ie, really not a dime in the budget for something like building maintenance or cleanup. We were having enough trouble getting computers for every staff member and literally keeping the lights on. We were in a funding environment where program funds were plentiful, but unrestricted dollars were virtually non-existent. It was a youth organization, so we also had teenagers in and out of the space constantly, and we fed them snacks and dinner at our programs so… It was a serious struggle to keep the space looking presentable. While we didn’t have something as crazy as a dog running around (!) our kitchen and public areas definitely were sometimes at non-ideal levels of cleanliness when we interviewed people.

    But when I was interviewing, I always acknowledged the problem, explained why it was like this, and brought it up up front. It was, in fact, one of my stock interview questions – “we work in this space, this is why it is like this, it is a new organization, we have 50 teens in and out every day, at this point program staff is required to do their own cleaning blah blah blah, we want to change it but it is not something that gets fixed overnight, how do you think you would do working in a space that has a certain level of inherent chaos?” People’s responses were always very interesting. I’m sure we lost some good candidates because of the chaos, but, well, it really was something that we couldn’t avoid at the time, and we couldn’t promise to candidates that there weren’t going to be hot cheetos ground into the carpet sometimes. If you couldn’t grin and bear it at least a little, it wasn’t going to work out. So we ended up with a very rough and tumble staff who could deal with the building and its problems and work to make it liveable while we got the funds together to have actual regular building maintenance.

    But we were always aware of the problem and working on it. We in management did a lot of the REAL dirty work ourselves to keep it off the plates of our employees (I was mouse killer in chief, our CEO cleaned the grease trap, etc etc.). But everyone chipped in. What really weirds me out about the OP’s story is the dog. We would never have intentionally introduced something like a dog into the space to create MORE mess. It was bad enough as it was!

  55. What the What

    I left a job recently where cleanliness was not a priority. The bathrooms were filthy and it was very noticeable especially with white metal stall doors and white tiles. The stall doors had years of handprint buildup that could’ve been removed with a little elbow grease. I had to ask that someone’s traces of vomit be removed from one of the stall walls after I’d noticed it had been there a few weeks. Carpets were rarely vacuumed. It was embarrassing. I feel like the lack of care for the buildings stemmed from the slapdash and poorly planned decade-long cycle of cost cutting.

  56. jcarnall

    I have a dust/dust mites allergy.

    I suspect I wouldn’t even have been able to finish the interview without going into a massive choking/coughing fit, and I’m pretty sure I would have withdrawn my application by text message from the street outside, assuming I could have texted while coughing.

    (I’ve coughed up phlegm so hard durig an allergy attack that I have broken small blood vessels in my eyes. It’s not fun to watch, but it’s really not fun to live through.)

    Run, do not walk, to the nearest shower.

    And I’m fairly sure you need to report the dog to whatever your local version is of animal cruelty: sounds like extreme neglect.

  57. Argh!

    Not only would I not take the position, I’d contact Adult Protective Services, the Health Department, Animal Control and the Fire Department! Something is very, very very wrong there.

  58. Working Mom Having It All

    The only way I wouldn’t run screaming is if this is an admin/office manager type role where your job would be keeping most of this stuff in check. Like maybe their office manager quit months ago, and nobody is doing that now? So the place has completely gone to shit? And if you were in that role, you would have a degree of control over the squalor?

    If not, yeah, gross.

  59. Bulbasaur

    Re: “the step I’ve been hoping for”

    I’m going to go out on a limb and say it almost certainly isn’t, even if it might look that way on paper.

    Some things are bad enough to be deal breakers in their own right. If the office had a big swastika flag on the wall at reception, that would be a no. If it was your dream job in all other respects? Still no.

  60. T3k

    Geez, I’ve worked in some not so sanitary places, but at least we kept the place as reasonably clean as you can get with them (like stables, there’s going to be dirt, hay, bugs, and horse crap in the barn but at least we mucked and swept the floors clean everyday and kept it out of the lounge areas).

  61. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome

    NO NO NO NO OP you will NOT take this job.

    I am in the hospital right now (6 days running) with walking pneumonia from working in an office very similar to what you are describing. Run, do NOT walk to just about any other job. The gank that hangs around in the nooks and crannies just can’t be cleaned and it shouldn’t be your job to do so. And if you do so, who knows what kind of bacteria you will kick up. If you are immunocompromised AT ALL it could prove deadly.

    Just my 2 cents but if I could go back a month and NOT have that job I would in a heartbeat. I had to be revived via CPR in the ambulance last week. No job is worth that.

    1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome

      I also have cellulitis on my right calf from banging my leg against some nasty dirty furniture in the office. Looked fine, wasn’t. So I’m also battling that right now. Not worth it, not by a long shot.

  62. Formerly Frustrated Optimist

    This job search is frustrating and emotionally exhausting.

    I so feel you on this. I think this is why you initially felt the need to even write in to AAM, even though you know (as evidenced by your follow-up post) that you can’t work in an environment like this.

    Throughout my three-year, 146 application search, I had plenty of moments where I felt so defeated and when my judgment became clouded, that I can see where you can start to rationalize just about anything.

    The fact that this office was *so* out of control with the filth, though, is almost like the universe was *helping* you make the decision/come to the realization that this job is no longer a viable possibility.

    I’m so sorry. I hope something better comes along soon!

  63. Who Plays Backgammon?

    Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. This place sounds like it has serious health and safety issues (like, the DOG???? the compost bins? the old melted candy?). You DON’T want to work in a pigsty. It affects your morale even if you try not to let it. And if that’s what they look like on the outside, you don’t want to think about what they’re like on the inside. And as bad as this sounds, esp. the CEO, then the idea that it’s up to some admin to fix it is ridiculous. An admin or office manager is not a hazmat worker. If the place is between admins, the CEO can pick up the phone and call in a cleaning crew to keep the place presentable.

    Twice I’ve taken jobs where the place was not just cluttered with signs of work being done, but a complete pit. The first one (I was very young at the time) I needed money for a specific purpose and planned to stay only for several weeks. Even in that short time, I went crazy. The boss would lose files of cases with court dates looming. I’d find them and give them to him, and within days he’d be moaning that he had to find the Jones files because a deadline was on top of him. When I left, my replacement was an older lady with significant experience and she clearly thought of me as a flaky kid, and by golly, SHE was going to get that place running right. Later I ran into someone from the office who said the lady had bailed after 2 months. The second pit, let’s just say all that mess hid a multitude of sins that had accumulated over 20+ years and the PTB wanted it all to stay buried. When I started cleaning and organizing, they decided I had to go. THOSE were just places with mountains of paper, and that was horrible enough. Even if the job itself would be a significant step for you, consider the reputation this place might have in the industry.

  64. Jana

    If you don’t absolutely need this job, I think you should run the other way. This is one of those things that job hunters sometimes encounter at the interview stage and are tempted to look over, but in retrospect realize was a major red flag. It seems unlikely that the only problem at this place is cleanliness. But, honestly, even if that is the only issue, that’s a major problem that can have far-reaching effects: clients, funders, potential partners, etc. are not going to take this organization seriously once they see the office. Take your disgust with the work environment as a sign to move on.

  65. Gramarye

    I cannot fathom this place. How can multiple people accept this level of filth? Honestly it would almost make more sense to me if the LW had been magically transported into a horror movie. I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it end with, “I tried to leave but all the exits have disappeared and there are no windows. They tell me I’m hired now. I’m writing from my new cube’s computer, which is smeared with something old and brown: Alison, what do I do?”

    1. boop the first

      Yikes, it’s probably just one bad detail among others! If the CEO is this bad, she’s probably bad in other areas as well, and when the boss is unpleasant, employees stop caring about the health of the business. They’d just hope to get another opportunity to watch it burn down.

  66. boop the first

    The environment has such a HUGE effect on the work experience, don’t downplay it in your decision making! I did the same thing in my job right now – it’s a dump, with low health-inspection scores online, and I thought, I’ve worked in nastier places, it will be okay. It’s still true, that I’ve seen dirtier, but it’s like night and day walking in to work. Neutral/pleasant disposition immediately turns into depressed loathing upon crossing the threshold. The health inspector said she was coming back 4 months ago, but she didn’t. You may not want to know this, but places almost never get shut down as long as there is hot water and working refrigerators. Not even if there is mouse poop all over the floor and shelving. Your office will never be cleaned, even if it were an industry that’s regulated.

    Also, doesn’t compost start fires? Piles of paper? It’s way likely that the mess pre-dated the excuse.

  67. Bananatiel

    So, just to echo other people that have experienced this– I haven’t, but my mom has. I think she thought she could change the culture by taking the job and tidying here and there… yeah, it’s been over a decade and that’s not the case. I have no idea how she maintains her sanity. She has to regularly do deep cleans of the fridge because if she doesn’t the smell becomes unbearable and it’s close to her office (people BRING IN expired food!). She used to clean the bathroom but it has gotten so bad in recent years that she only uses it in absolute emergencies and otherwise GOES HOME to use the bathroom on breaks– thankfully she’s only a very short drive away.

    One person can’t turn the tide– it’s not your job and you shouldn’t have to anyway!

  68. Jennifer Juniper

    They actually had a stray dog??? In a dirty office?

    Don’t take that job. Otherwise, you could come home with fleas, mange, and Lilith knows what else. Also, if you have animal control/ASPCA in your area, please, please, please report that company for animal cruelty. The poor dog should be getting fresh food daily, at the very least.

  69. Even The Trees

    I’ll be “that person” who is worried about the dog :( I hate seeing animals mistreated, neglected or abused. Dogs are so loyal and forgiving. This one sounded like he was starved for attention. Honestly, I think this warrants some sort of intervention, but I understand not wanting to get involved with this just because you interviewed there. It sounds like this woman is going through a mental health crisis and her business & pet are suffering.

    You didn’t mention how old she is but early onset dementia can manifest as early as 59. If it bothers you at all, there are agencies that can check in with her to see if she needs help. At this rate she’s going to lose her business and it doesn’t sound like she has anyone in her life looking out for her, she could end up homeless.

    I know I’m just speculating, but this is so eerie and strange.

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