interviewer asked me to pick up his lunch, coworker comments on my appearance, and more

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

1. Interviewer asked me to pick up his lunch

I applied to a “hostess” job at a dental office and I had my first interview with them last weekend. When I asked what they were looking for in a hostess, the owner/ doctor told me calling the job that was a trick to get the right candidates in for an interview — it’s really a receptionist position.

I was invited to a second interview. When I got there, I filled out the regular interview forms about prior employment. Then, when the doctor finally called me to come back to his office, he said, “Oh, I’m so busy. Did you eat? Can you run to the diner and grab me French toast?” followed by very specific instructions. I don’t know the area but he told me to put it in my GPS. So I did. Seven minutes there, waited 30 minutes for food, then seven minutes back. When I walked in with the food, I waited another 10 minutes, then they brought me back and the doctor said that was the interview and I passed. No talking at all. He said he was going to send me a link for some kind of online tests.

This doctor seems to love testing applicants. Should I run the other way or keep going?

Run. First he had people come in under false pretenses (what if you didn’t want to be a receptionist and took time off work for this interview anyway?). Then his idea of assessing people is to see if they’re willing to do a personal errand for him when they’re there for a business meeting — he put you in a position where you had no choice but to agree if you wanted to stay in the running for the job, which is an abuse of power. He’s not respectful of candidates, and he’s probably not respectful of employees.

2. My coworker comments on my appearance — a lot

I work part-time at an office as a summer job in between graduate school semesters. It’s one of those places where the staff is like “family,” which brings up a lot of different issues. The issue I’m dealing with now is this: one employee, Brenda, who is a lot older than myself, tends to comment on my appearance. A lot. It’s summer, so it’s hot outside, but it’s air conditioned in the office and I run cold, so I wear pants and long sleeves or a sweater. It is now pretty much guaranteed that Brenda will grab the sleeve of my sweater and say, “why are you all bundled up like it’s winter?!” and make trivial comments like that.

It gets on my nerves but has never bothered me this much until now. The other day, I wore a summery dress since I was going out after work (yes, I froze all day in the office). Brenda then started commenting on the “plunging neckline” (it wasn’t), and how flattering it was, and how I need to show off my goods more since I’m young and won’t have them for long. Then, I saw her out this weekend and I was wearing shorts, so of course she said something along the lines of “look at you, in shorts!”

I know she’s coming from a motherly place and probably thinks she’s flattering me, but I find it not only annoying, but now uncomfortable. Why do people think it’s okay to comment on each others’ appearances to begin with, and how do I get her to stop without pissing her off? She’s kind of moody to begin with. I have about a month left there before the semester begins. Should I suck it up? I just can’t imagine saying anything about someone’s appearance other than “love that outfit!”

A lot of times people do suck up this kind of behavior because they feel rude pushing back against it — but Brenda has crossed the line from annoying into utterly inappropriate. She 100% should not be commenting on “plunging necklines” or telling you to show off your body (!).

Even before those comments, it would been reasonable for you to say, “You comment on my clothes a lot and I’d rather you didn’t.” You can definitely say that now. And if you get any more line-crossing comments from her, you can look shocked and say, “Wow, that makes me really uncomfortable. Let’s not talk about my body or my clothes.” (And because I know this will come up in the comments: You’re entitled to be even more direct than that — as in “that’s inappropriate, please stop” — but the reality is that most people will feel too confrontational saying that so I’d rather give you language you’re probably more likely to use and that will still get the job done.)

3. My current and former coworkers keep complaining about my employer

My small (around 10 people) department has gone through a number of changes in the past two months, including two people leaving within two weeks. This is due to a number of personal and professional development issues that are mostly the fault of our moderately sized company, with a side of a boss who can be a micromanager. Both coworkers who left continue to tell me about how much better their new jobs are. I’ve basically stopped responding to texts/emails with content like that, but it doesn’t stop them from “just mentioning” job openings in their respective companies.

One of my current coworkers is on the brink of a mental breakdown because of how she’s treated by my boss. To a certain extent, she’s correct that our boss treats her differently, but there’s also tension between my boss’s management style (the “do what I say when and how I tell you to” style) and the way my coworker wants to be managed. This coworker treats me like her therapist because she hasn’t found anyone affordable/trustworthy yet. I’ve tried to give her tips from your blog on how to talk to managers, but she hasn’t used any of them.

How do I deal with criticism from my current and former coworkers towards the place I still work? For the record, I’ve always been fine with my manager’s style and understand criticisms of our company’s policies. It’s not that I don’t see where they’re coming from – it’s just making it hard for me to actually feel like I’m doing something valuable when everyone else has bailed. (And just in case your advice is to jump ship – I’m working on grad school admissions in a totally different field this year.)

Tell the former coworkers directly that the criticism of your employer is making things harder on you: “Hey, I’m really happy for you that you’re in a job you like better, but I’m still here — and it’s making things harder on me to so frequently hear how awful it was here and how glad you are you left. Could you rein in that part?” (Honestly, these friendships may not survive once they move past that stage anyway — friendships with coworkers often turn out to be mostly confined to the time when you worked together and could discuss work all the time.)

With the current coworker, you absolutely can’t let her treat you like a therapist — that’s bad for you and it’s not helpful to her either (especially to the extent that it’s letting her put off finding an actual therapist or avoid taking more concrete action). You can tell her directly, “I’m finding it’s really hard on my mental health when I’m talking about work problems so often, so I can’t be your sounding board on this stuff anymore. But I’m sorry you’re having a tough time and I hope things get better soon.” It really is okay to set boundaries like this — your mental health matters too.

Read up an update to this letter here.

4. Should we announce my promotion at a group meeting?

Do you have any thoughts on the best way to announce a promotion to a group of coworkers? I am being promoted from the team lead to the manager, and one of the people currently in a level 1 position is being promoted to a team lead. These changes are being made to fill a manger vacancy on my team, so everyone knows that position is open (and can probably guess I am getting it) and therefore knows the lead position is probably open.

My boss wants to announce this change in a big group meeting. I don’t think if that is the best path because a lot of people on my team think they are in the running for the team lead position. Even thought we did not hold interviews for the position, telling them in a group settings feels like letting a bunch of people know (in front of their coworkers) that they did not get the job they wanted. Do you think individual meetings would be a better option? That was my first thought, but my boss thinks it’s being overly handholdy, especially considering no one is technically being rejected for a job.

Definitely don’t do the group meeting announcement! Some people are going to be really disappointed, and it’s not kind to give them the news for the first time in a setting where they’ll have to process their initial emotions publicly.

If they’d formally applied for the position (it sounds like they didn’t?), it’s also disrespectful — your boss would owe them the courtesy of a direct conversation letting them know they didn’t get the job before the news gets announced to everyone. That’s a key part of handling people’s interest in a promotion — you’ve got to talk to them face-to-face if you’re turning them down and be willing to offer feedback about how they could advance in the future.

In this case, I can see where your boss is coming from because it sounds like the process wasn’t that formal — but given that you and she both know they were interested, she really should be talking to them individually first. It’s definitely not overly handholdy to treat people’s professional aspirations seriously and respectfully. The question for her shouldn’t just be “do I have to do this?” but “is it likely people would appreciate this?” and the answer to that is yes.

5. Resume templates that list references

I’m considering purchasing a resume template from a popular e-commerce website. It’s curious to me, though, that almost all of them contain a section for references that is embedded within the resume, and not just as a separate document for references. I thought it was an outdated practice to include references on your resume, but pretty much every resume template that I’ve seen has a section for this. What are your thoughts?

Yeah, you absolutely should not list your references on your resume. First, they don’t belong there, so it’s extraneous info the employer hasn’t asked for (and it always comes across as a little dated when candidates do this). Second, and more importantly, you want to know when your references are going to be contacted; you want to be able to prepare them, you don’t want them contacted for jobs you’ve decided you’re not interested in (because of reference fatigue), and you want the benefit of knowing when your’e at that point in the process with an employer.

Unfortunately, a huge number of reference templates out there are really bad. You actually never need to purchase a resume template; your resume need not be especially fancy. Clean, clearly organized, and easy to understand is all you need; more than that is generally wasted effort (or in this case, money).

{ 459 comments… read them below }

  1. Fortitude Jones*

    Honestly, these friendships may not survive once they move past that stage anyway — friendships with coworkers often turn out to be mostly confined to the time when you worked together and could discuss work all the time.

    This is the truth. I never did the complaining about old job while at new job to former coworkers (I mean, what was the point? I escaped, so I won), but my “friendships” with former colleagues eventually ended a few months after my departure because we had nothing in common other than the job. With that out of the picture, there was no need for me to keep in touch with them. OP #3, take comfort in knowing that this kind of thing will taper off once your former friends get over their own baggage about the company. More likely than not, your conversations will become few and far between and then will just…cease.

    1. Avasarala*

      Agreed. Even in good circumstances, proximity is 50%* of the relationship (the remainder is 25% values/vibes and 25% hobbies/interests). Once that proximity is gone, you have to replace it with effort. So you need to have really good vibes with someone or both be passionate about a hobby in order to keep seeing each other.

      *citation needed

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      I’m always a little baffled by colleagues who say “let’s keep in touch” or “don’t forget to email us when you’re gone”. I get that part of it is social convention, which is cool, but I once had a colleague who emailed me two months after I left asking for an update on what I was doing. Since I was taken three months off between one job and the next (burn out), my answer was sitting at home in my underwear eating my weight in Pringles which wasn’t something I fancied sharing.

      I think out of sight, out of mind is a good attitude to adopt here unless you’re actually proper friends outside of work.

      1. diplomat*

        There are advantages to staying in touch with former coworkers even if you are not friends with them. Have you never heard of networking?

        1. Foreign Octopus*

          I have heard of networking (and thank you for the snark in that comment).

          My background is that I’ve moved from job to job that are more or less unrelated to each other. I don’t have a career, but rather a series of different jobs so the need to stay in touch with someone from the office has never been necessary to me.

          I suppose networking seems a little disingenuous to me, and I realise this is definitely a me thing; it just feels weird to keep a relationship ticking over on the off-chance that you might need something from them one day. I suppose I’m lucky that I’m in a position these days that I don’t have to worry about that, but it just strikes me as odd.

          However, the point of the letter was about something completely different and I’ve accidentally derailed here with my comment. Apologies.

          1. Elizabeth*

            Totally understand your perspective, and I’m so glad you haven’t needed to network since you prefer not to.

            Networking was hard for me to learn, but Ramit Sethi’s writing on the topic really helped me change my perspective (also, Joe Sweeney’s networking book is a fun read). They helped me to think about networking as having more positive human connections so that we can all help each other – paying it forward. People love to help other people and give them advice – and if you take some of their advice and let them know how it went, they feel edified for having helped you – and they want to continue helping you. It becomes a cycle of helping. It can extend to other people, too – maybe you have a friend who wants to make a career switch, and you introduce the friend to your networking contact in that field to learn more about it; maybe the networking contact has an old coworker who can tell you what it’s really like to work for the company you are hoping to apply to and can give you some advice; maybe you introduce a networking contact to the hiring manager at your workplace – or to another networking contact who is hiring.

            In other words, meeting a new person is not mainly about whether they can help me get a job in the future – it’s about forming a positive relationship so we can each help more people in the long run.

            1. Fortitude Jones*

              But do you actually need to keep in constant contact with former coworkers for this networking to take place? Because I usually don’t keep in touch with anyone, but if I know of an opportunity somewhere and I need a reference or an introduction, I reach out to old colleagues I haven’t spoken to in ages, and they gladly do it for me even though we don’t have a current relationship. I guess I’m nice enough to people when we work together that they don’t mind me dropping off the face of the earth when we’re no longer obligated to see each other 8 hours a day and then popping back up when I need a favor, lol.

              1. Outside Earthling*

                I think this is a really good point. I wouldn’t feel the least bit aggrieved at someone popping up unexpectedly months or years later with a request for a work favour, especially if things were cordial with them in the past. I’d feel worse if I thought someone was just keeping our relationship ticking over on standby just in case. I mean i’d understand it and not things badly of them but i’d still rather they didn’t as my enthusiasm for keeping work acquaintance relationships alive is generally limited.

              2. Oxford Comma*

                I have some people in my network who are really good about dropping an email every 3-6 months asking how I’m doing, what I’ve been doing and they share some general stuff. “I took some time off to recharge and I just renewed my certification for Teapot Manufacturing Oversight.”

                I’m more likely to remember people who do that when opportunities come along.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            I’ve noticed you don’t really have to do a lot to stay in touch. You might run into a former colleague by chance, chat a little bit, and one of you will know of something to help the other.
            Most of the people I know don’t go to lengths to keep in touch, but we’re happy to see each other if we happen to meet.

          3. TootsNYC*

            it just feels weird to keep a relationship ticking over on the off-chance that you might need something from them one day.

            I agree. And I’ll also say gthat anybody who has ever worked with me and been on good terms can pop back up out of the blue and say, “I’m applying at your company–do you have any insight?” or “I’m going after a freelance assignment; what should my rate be?” or “Do you know Susie Q.? I’m interviewing with her tomorrow” or “I just got laid off and I need to find a new job–is there any help you can give me?”

            They don’t have to have coffee with me, or make chitchat, in order to tap into that professional goodwill.

        2. Mayor of Llamatown*

          Often, “Let’s keep in touch” means “let’s keep up this network” rather than “Let’s be best friends and go out for brunch”. Even if people think they mean the latter, they eventually end up meaning the former.

          Networking relationships are different than friendships and it’s more acceptable to keep loose connections and contact someone only in the context of “What are you working on?” or “Here’s a thing I could use your help with”. Conflating the two confuses the nature of the relationship. (She says, speaking from experience.) It’s one of those subtext situations.

          1. Mayor of Llamatown*

            Addendum: some people really do mean “Let’s be friends and meet up casually”. I have former coworkers who have turned into friends too! It’s just important to recognize that people don’t always mean that sort of “keeping in touch”.

      2. Mel*

        I left a job about a year ago and I’m still friends with a former coworker. We get together every couple of months and share funny memes in between.

        We do talk about work still, but we both worked there for a very long time and since we’re actual friends now, I do care about how things are at work for her.

        Through her I also know that other former coworkers (both those who have moved on and who haven’t) get together once a month to hang out in the evening!

      3. Quickbeam*

        I kept in touch with some key people from old job to maintain visibility in the industry. Those occasional lunches led to a wonderful job 25 years later that I’ll retire from. I’d have never gotten it without networking from my old colleagues.

      4. Oilpress*

        I disagree with the out of sight, out of mind attitude. If I took that attitude with my friends and ex-coworkers then I would have very few friends at all.

        A little bit of effort to stay in touch is nice, especially if you were talking daily in the past.

    3. Daisy*

      I became actual proper friends with someone from my last job (catsitting for her right now!) and I still have to to sit through a lot of complaining about the job I left 6 months ago. Sometimes I like it (hooray, not my problem anymore!), sometimes I change the subject.

      1. wittyrepartee*

        My friend is roommates with someone from her former (extremely toxic) office. She loves hearing the gossip. Then again, her office had this weird dynamic where the only thing that the boss was able to do well was to choose great people. So her coworkers were mostly amazing, but the management was abusive.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Ugh, that’s the worst. I hope you can use Alison’s script to make that stop.

    4. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      Of all the jobs I’ve had over the years, I’ve made one real friend that I still see. The rest fade in time because sharing a workplace isn’t much of a foundation for lasting friendships.

    5. HelloooooFriday!*

      Reading all of the comments, I feel like my experience is unusual. I worked at the same company for 9 years and it’s been 10 years since I worked there. I still regularly interact with at least 30 people I haven’t worked with a decade ago through facebook, chat, etc (Many of us live in different states now, including myself). I even got invited to one wedding about 5 years ago and another 2 years ago. The former CEO of the company gave me 5k (no strings attached) to go back to school (and he offers this to everyone who worked with him).

      Places I’ve worked with since I tend to keep in regular touch with 2-3 people from each place.

      1. Antilles*

        Yeah, the former is definitely unusual. It sounds nice, but it’s definitely not the norm to still be in touch with plenty of people from an ex-job, especially a decade after the fact.
        The latter is much more the norm, I think – you stay in touch with a couple people who you connected with well and had some form of non-work connection (favorite sports team, hobby, kids the same age, whatever), but only a couple. Then everybody else at the ex-jobs just fades into the mass background of “people I used to know but haven’t talked to in years”.

      2. Marmaduke*

        Your first experience sounds a lot closer to what I’m used to, but I think that might have something to do with my field (behavior therapy). Something about a job that requires connecting deeply with clients, and includes physical and emotional trauma, seems to lead to closer bonds than an office job.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Same, same. The group of friends that I had when I was married, I had all met in some capacity through my first two US jobs (either we worked together, or it was someone my coworkers introduced to me) and I only lost touch with that group after my marriage ended – the rest of the group still keeps in touch. I have several close friends from my first Big Company job 15-20 years ago. Plus a few people from the jobs I worked after that. Up until ten years ago, when I joined a large social org and a meetup group, all of my friendships were in some way work-related. I’ve been to coworker weddings too! Have dated/am dating former coworkers, too. The funny thing is that I am not even that social in the workplace. I am not one of those bubbly people who are always organizing or joining work outings. The friendships just somehow happened through working together.

      4. starsaphire*

        Similar experience – I worked at ToxJob for seven years some fifteen years ago. Still very close friends with several people I knew there. Taking a road trip with one of them next month, in fact. :)

        I suspect it was because that job was extremely toxic and we all kind of got an “together in the trenches” mindset while we were there. But also, my life would be very different and less awesome without those people.

        I imagine we’re probably the exception that proves the rule, though. :)

      5. ThursdaysGeek*

        This week it’s time to meet for breakfast with co-workers from a job I left in the late 80s. We’ve become friends because we meet nearly monthly. I also meet for lunch with co-workers from previousJob (which I left 7 years ago), and PrevPreviousJob (which I left 11-12 years ago). Some of the people who come to lunch are people I barely knew as co-workers, but they’ve become friends over the years of meeting regularly.

    6. Booksalot*

      It’s true. One of my “first FT job” colleagues was one of my bridesmaids, and we STILL lost touch.

    7. Elizabeth West*

      I rarely stay friends with people past our employment together. There are exceptions, of course, but with the advent of social media, it’s more like Facebook friends. I did stay in touch with AwesomeBoss from Exjob after she retired, my supervisor and one coworker at OldExjob, and an old boss from out of state who is rarely on FB. But that’s it. I don’t have a lot in common with 80% of my former coworkers here anyway.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I tend to stay friendly with former coworkers, rather than friends. Like, we comment on each other’s social media pictures and we’re happy to see each other at industry events, but we don’t typically seek out each other’s company in our day to day lives.

    8. JSPA*

      If they are, in part, reaching out in case OP#3 wants to join them in jumping ship–and if they’re real friends, this may be so–OP can probably put an end to it with the old, “I’m happy you’re in a place that’s excellent for you, and I’m also happy that this job meets my current needs very well, for the moment, given my longer-term plans.”

  2. Gingerblue*

    #1: I’m more amazed than I really should be that you had another letter about an interviewee being asked to pick up lunch to link at the bottom of the post. Just. People. Why.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m pretty annoyed at the dentist (not quite enraged, but definitely on a high simmer). He sounds like an impossible and obnoxious person to work with. His entire interview process is based on dishonesty (i.e., “tricking” applicants), being disrespectful of their time, and then testing their limits around professional/unprofessional tasks.

      Run, OP#1, run!

      1. Willis*

        Yeah, I feel bad for the existing staff that have to assist with these “interviews.” I can only imagine them rolling their eyes at his stupid french toast test. (Although I don’t think his first trick is very good…a dental office hostess just sounds like you’d be working reception anyway but that this guy has a pretentious name for it. Like, what else would that even mean?)

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            And you’ll probably be expected to wear shoes and makeup at a level irrelevant to your actual work tasks. Ick.

              1. SaffyTaffy*

                “The right candidate will have little experience in healthy workplaces, be desperate for a job, and be someone I want to harrass.”

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Shoes yes. But I’m with the General — a “hostess” may well be told to wear heels.

            2. AMT*

              Yeah, I don’t want to have someone’s bare toe in my mouth while I’m getting my teeth cleaned. Shoes, people!

              1. ACDC*

                It’s not like any part of anyone’s foot goes in your mouth while your getting your teeth cleaned, even with shoes on…

        1. Daisy*

          I don’t really get the outrage about his calling it ‘hostess’, I have to say. Obviously it’s basically a receptionist- what else could it possibly mean at a dentist’s? Why would you be happy being a hostess there and not happy with being a receptionist? It’s not a trick so much as his saying how he sees the job. It’s like those ads for ‘Programming ninja’- you can think it’s a bit silly and not apply, but you can’t turn up and say ‘what do you mean, I can’t use my throwing stars?’.

            1. Ella Vader*

              In my jurisdiction I think it’s illegal to advertise for jobs with gendered titles/descriptions. I might be tempted to report that ad.

          1. EPLawyer*

            Because hostess has a specific meaning and it is NOT receptionist. What in the wide world of sports is a hostess for a dental office anyway?

            1. MatKnifeNinja*

              I know some very high cosmetics dental clinics that hostess as a job title wouldn’t be surprising.

              The clinic is not going to hire my frumpy, dumpy, old, non cute behind to snooze potential clients with chai tea, and make nice small talk. They will hire a very sociable, much younger person.

              This particular dental clinic and a very posh cosmetic surgery center has decent size ads in the local paper. They have a picture of all the staff, and the receptionists look straight out of Vogue magazine.

              So…the hostess is the meet/great sales type person, and answer the phone. My own dentist does not let the receptionist schedule appointments. It’s done by billing/and whatever else that person does.

              1. Slow Gin Lizz*

                Thank you for this description. I was also wondering what the heck was a hostess at a dentist’s office.

              2. Michaela Westen*

                That’s what I thought too – hostess/receptionist at one of those big cosmetic dental centers that advertise.

            2. Daisy*

              The word ‘hostess’ suggests that you greet people, answer the phone, show them where to sit, tell who they’re seeing that they’ve arrived. Can’t see how that functionally differs from a receptionist.

              1. Demon Llama*

                Well, for one thing, it implies a female-only requirement, as other people have noted. Receptionist is a gender-neutral term.

          2. Anononon*

            Do you really not get the negative connotations of “hostess”? Not only does it mean women only, it sexualizes the position. I know I’m not the only one who pictures either a super feminine, made up 1950s housewife or a Japanese host club hostess.

            1. WellRed*

              Have you not been to an American restaurant? I wouldn’t have applied to be a hostess at a dental office (too weird), but I would have guessed it would be something like a receptionist

            2. Le Sigh*

              This seems a bit much. It’s clearly a receptionist job and the dentist is weird, so that part is off, but hostess is a real position (and not a vamped up sexy one) at many run-of-the-mill American restaurants. It’s the person who is at the front-of-house and seats customers, runs point, etc.

              When I picture a hostess I usually think of the front-of-house person at a posh restaurant or my friends, who weren’t old enough to serve at 15 but could get hostess gigs at Ruby Tuesdays in high school.

            3. Daisy*

              But ‘hostess’ was the word on the advert, not the other way round. That info was all there to begin with.

            4. Michaela Westen*

              I always picture the hostess at one of my early jobs. She was tall and slender with fluffy blonde 80’s hair and wore a long semi-evening dress. This was at a chain restaurant. I’m pretty sure the long dress was the uniform provided.

          3. Observer*

            Well, the owner actually SAID it’s a trick. It’s not a hostess job, it’s a receptionist, which is NOT the same thing. And what did he use to “trick” people into applying? A very gendered role with a LOT of baggage. Like the expectation that someone should look a certain way, dress a certain way and interact in ways that have nothing to do with normal reception duties.

            1. Daisy*

              Right, I imagine he wants a polished, greeter-type, old-fashioned air-hostess style receptionist. Which I think the word ‘hostess’ gets across pretty well.

              I can understand why someone would be annoyed about the word ‘hostess’ in a vacuum, but I don’t understand really what’s *deceptive* about it here. People keep explaining to me why they dislike the word ‘hostess’- but that’s the job OP applied for, not the other way around.

              1. Observer*

                But that’s not what the job is supposed to be ACCORDING TO THE BOSS. He wants someone who will do all receptionist duties, but doesn’t want to pay that or have someone who actually knows what a receptionist gets paid and what the typical duties of a receptionist does. And he wants someone with qualities that are not legal to demand, because they have nothing to do with the typical duties of a receptionist.

                The key thing you are ignoring is that the boss admittedly LIED about this in order to TRICK people. Given that reality (and the “interview” he pulled for round 2), it’s perfectly reasonable to see nefarious intent in his choice of lure.

          4. MCMonkeyBean*

            I think I agree. I mean it’s an odd choice and definitely unnecessarily gendered, but from the letter it seems like he was having applicants who were surprised when it turned out to be a receptionist position and I’m not sure what else they could possibly have expected.

          5. Rusty Shackelford*

            Honestly, it never would have occurred to me that “hostess” meant anything other than “we want a charming female receptionist.”

          6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m irked (not outraged) at the trickery more than the job title.

            1. Daisy*

              Right, and I’m saying I don’t understand what the ‘trickery’ is. I can’t imagine what else a hostess at a dentist’s office would be, or what the OP thought it would be that it wasn’t.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          I picture someone in a ’60s airline stewardess outfit, circulating with a tray of frozen hors d’oeuvres and some expresso.

          Of course, most of us don’t eat or drink coffee at the dentist’s office.

        3. L Dub*

          Okay, I’m glad I’m not the only one that cringed about the dentist calling it a hostess role.

      2. MatKnifeNinja*

        I applied at an doctor’s office as a receptionist. Receptionist can equal servant, especially when it’s a private practice. My experiences was circa 2000.

        I had to go to the post office to get stamps and buy an eight pack of pop for the office. I was given money. The post office and party store was about a 3 minute walk away.

        I was offered the job, but turned it down. He had three family members working there, the pay was garbage, and I knew I’d be doing all the scut work.

        Doctor’s practices are small businesses. Small business can be weird. My last dental cleaning, the workers were picking out an anniversary flower bouquet for the dentist’s wife. I guess if you got time to lean, you got time to do stuff under “anything else that needs to be done”.

        French toast fetching is pretty mild on the shenanigans scale. My one friend would have to bring her boss’s car to get detailed twice a month. Why you would pay an RN wage do to minimum wage stuff is beyond me.

        1. wittyrepartee*

          But getting the French toast as your only interaction during an interview is SUPER WEIRD.

        2. Another HR manager*

          I have always worked at small offices. Running errands – such as picking up office stamps and office beverages – is not a put down, it is just one of the many pieces of work. Personal errands – french toast! and car detailing – are another matter unless you are hired as a Personal Assistant.

          Was the flower bouquet from them or for the dentist to give his wife (big ugh if the latter)?

      3. JSPA*

        Reminded me of the process pimps (supposedly) use to decide if a woman might be bendable to his will. Also now PUA behavior. Taking his interview tips from PUA advice is certainly not the only explanation for why he might do this! (If it were just the sandwich, I’d say, Medical Role + hunger = reasonable request.) But if the end result is similar on the receiving end, that’s warning it could become unhealthy, fast. Especially as the “interview” can only have been about her looks, her biddability, and her willingness to overlook his boundary-pushing.

        1. Aquawoman*

          This is an interesting observation, and yeah, it’s sort of grooming/testing behavior to weed out people with healthy boundaries.

      4. Grace*

        He’s also treating the interview process as entirely one-sided. He probably thinks OP should be thrilled that they passed his test and are getting an offer, despite not getting the chance to ask any questions about the job/office.

      5. Tom & Johnny*

        I also have to wonder what it says about him that he chose a specific highly gendered word in order to ‘trick’ the ‘right people’ into interviewing for the role.

        Who is he tricking? Who are the right people?

        More importantly, why would the right people be ones who are trickable?

        None of this bodes well, when combined with them implications of the word ‘hostess.’

        All of the above puts me off this person entirely. Before we even get to food fetching.

    2. JustAThought*

      If it isn’t out of your way or any real inconvience to you LW1, I run by that office the next time you are near and ask who you need to speak to about being reimbursed for the food you purchased for the guy.

      1. Devil Fish*

        If it isn’t out of their way or any real inconvenience, I would love it if LW1 continued with the interview process just to see what happens next. (Obviously not if they’re working another job or have any other serious commitments that would be impacted, but I’ve totally been to an interview so completely beyond belief that I went to the next just to see if it could be topped—and yes, yes it could.)

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Ooooo boy… please OP1 come back and tell us that you were given cash to take to the diner for his order. If you just paid for someone else’s meal, that’s a million shades of wrong and I’ll say RUN FOR THE HILLS. (After leaving an invoice.)

        1. Antilles*

          I was wondering that too. I assumed she was given cash upfront, but given this guy’s overall attitude of “testing” applicants, that’s probably a shaky assumption.

          1. ChimericalOne*

            Yeah, I’d have thought the LW would’ve mentioned it if she’d paid herself rather than been given cash. That would not be my first assumption.

      3. ChimericalOne*

        I think she would’ve said “My interviewer had me *buy* him lunch” rather than “My interviewer had me *pick up* his lunch” if she’d paid herself.

      4. irene adler*

        Plus reimbursed for the time spent on the errand. Looks like it took nearly an hour to complete. And most delivery folks receive tips. So there’s that too.

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      I would really, really love someone to push back on this one day. Obviously, if you need the job then don’t, but if you have other options then I would absolutely love to hear what happens when something this ridiculous is pushed back on.

      Fortunately, I’m in a position where I could do that. I think I would have said something like if you’re hungry, we can move the interview to the restaurant but I would already have internally noped out of the entire process from that single request alone.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Yeah, someone who gloats over “haha I tricked you” in an interview is not someone I want to work for. It’s that, and the general attitude, that are the real red flags here.

    4. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      My first thought reading this morning was, “oh, I remember this letter.” Wondered why Alison was repeating. I scrolled down looking for Alison’s revisiting disclaimer to see if she was on vacation. Not there. Weird. Wait. Wasn’t the other a doctor? Omg. There’s another one!
      Did the dentist read about the doctor and think, “that’s a great idea!” ?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Oh lordy, bad managers perusing the AAM archives for ideas on how they can top themselves.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          They’ll kill themselves trying. “Oh, I’ll top the french toast dentist.” Oh wait, here’s one even worse! And here’s one worse than that! And another one! Let me try to top them all!” :D

      2. Vemasi*

        I think the other one might actually have also been a dentist… not sure.

        Are doctors/dentists sharing this among themselves as a hiring tip? Or does someone at a conference recommend it???

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I think they just live in a bubble. All their adult life they were focused on getting through medical or dental school, and now they’re setting up their practice with no experience of normal workplaces.

      3. WantonSeedStitch*

        I wonder if this points to a certain mentality among medical professionals who also are in charge of their own business. I used to work for a former trauma surgeon who set up a medical software company. When we went out to a restaurant as a group, he would always order a diet Coke with lemon AND lime on the side. He explained to the employees that this was his test to see how good the server’s attention to detail was, and said that he based his tip mostly on whether they got it right or not.

        OH GOD I am glad I got out of there.

      4. bonkerballs*

        Wasn’t there also a vet one where the vet left the applicant alone at the office for a couple hours?

        1. Kathleen_A*

          I’d forgotten about that one. It was actually a chiropractor, but it isn’t clear to me if the interviewer was the chiropractor or someone else in the office – an office manager or something. I’ll try include a link in a second post.

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      If only we had a way to know but… I’m betting the dentist so regularly asked the outgoing receptionist to do personal errands for him that it’s WHY they left for another job.
      (Rom Com trailer: “I didn’t take this job to be a restaurant hostess! I QUIT!”
      Cue clueless dentist listing receptionist as “hostess” to avoid the same problem in the future. Enter our fearless job applicant OP1…)

    6. MicroManagered*

      Also how weird is it that one was a dental practice and one was a doctor’s office?

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Especially as those are places where you usually want phone/desk coverage.

        1. Tiny Soprano*

          And you’d 100% get in trouble for missing calls while you were literally OOO picking up your boss’s stupid toast.

    7. Trek*

      I had this image of myself sitting there as the dentist told me I had passed the test after picking up his french toast. I can see myself saying ‘Really I passed? I would have thought spitting in your food would have put me out of the running.’

    8. Mkitty*

      I like to think that I would agree to pick up the food, then leave and not return. : )

        1. Rob aka Mediancat*

          Depends whether she paid for lunch, or he did.. Walking off with his money might get her in legal trouble.

    9. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I’m not surprised – and yet, I am – when I hear about people who test candidates like this. They think they’re clever in how they hire. They smile triumphantly and congratulate themselves when someone ‘passes’ their extraordinary test, when in reality the poor candidate is just trying not to make waves. It’s a lousy way to treat people anyway, but especially candidates – and ESPECIALLY if they really, urgently, need the job. You can probably figure out why I feel like this.

      OP, you deserve better and this man is, well, a jerk.

      1. Snickerdoodle*

        Oh my God MAKE WAVES. It’s unlikely these terrible interviewers will learn anything, but at least word of mouth will ensure that no decent candidate gets suckered into working there.

    10. Snickerdoodle*

      Seriously. I would have just left, probably without even a courtesy “This isn’t going to work out.”

  3. stephistication1*

    Op 3: Reminds me of when people move away to “bright new/popular city” and go on and on about how much better it is. We get it an congratulations but not everyone is in a position to make such a huge change.

    When a close friend of mine started up with “how they couldn’t imagine ever moving back home…l I reminded them that some of us still live here and are very prosperous. Not everyone has to make the same moves.

    1. government worker*

      All due respect, but that’s not the same thing as saying “I left this workplace and I’m happier now, you should get out.” Your friend can feel happy about her move without it being an insult to you and your choice to stay.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I think here though it’s the wording of “couldn’t imagine ever moving back home”, which verges away from “I love this place! I’m so happy!” and into “[Homeplace] was awful! I can’t believe people stay there!”, which can easily be applied also to Job Places.

        With most things, you can be happy about the Thing without needing to compare it to other people’s Things.

        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          But even saying “couldn’t imagine ever moving back home” is not saying Place A is so terrible idk why people live there. It is saying Place A was terrible for me I don’t want to live ever again.

          I lived in a particular city a few years ago, I enjoyed my time in the city. It was a small city, but still plenty of nightlife to explore, various hiking trails, and wineries. I made friends with several people who grew up and lived in the city, some of them did not like living in that city and wanted to get out. I did not take them wanting to leave the city as a referendum on my choice to move and live there.

          I also have a friend stayed in a very small city where we both went to school. The friend has built a very successful business and life in the small city. While I enjoyed my time in that city and enjoy going back to visit (both city and friend), I would not want to live there. Choice of living is a very personal, I would never want to live full time (I enjoy visiting) out in a rural/country area, but I can understand and don’t judge people enjoy living in the country.

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I do not. You are right, being lectured repeatedly how much “better” something is does get annoying.

              1. DAMitsDevon*

                I don’t know if this is just a thing about New York City, since it’s so big, but I have noticed that people who still live in my hometown will kind of do the reverse of what everybody is talking about and will tell me,”Oh, I love visiting New York, but I would never want to live there. It’s so dirty there! It’s much nicer out here.” And it’s like, cool, I didn’t ask for your opinion on my new home, and I didn’t give you a whole spiel of why living in this small town isn’t for me anymore, but thanks.

                1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                  I have to admit I have used similar phrasing. I think I said “I love visiting NYC, but don’t think I would want to live there.” To be fair I was talking with a coworker who had just moved back to my city from NYC and we were talking about similarities/differences in the two cities and what we liked about each. I purposely avoid saying that phrase when ever someone tells me they are from NYC.

                  But I have gotten similar responses from people who live in the suburbs of the city I live in. “Oh your city is so crowded, there isn’t a lot of space/no backyard, traffic is so bad, I would never live there.” I have never taken it personally, just them expressing their opinions.

                  Often times what they say is factually true and I agree with them, but I have a completely different perspective. Where I live is crowded (compared to suburbs, but not to NYC) but the crowd is what I like. I don’t have a backyard, I have many backyards that are a lot bigger with more activities, movies, music, Shakespeare in the park. Traffic is bad, but I don’t have to drive I can take public transit and watch Netflix. I usually don’t give my reasoning why I prefer my city because it feels like I am defending/justifying my living choices to them and I don’t do that for anyone. I usually just say, “there are some drawbacks but overall I enjoy a lot of benefits city A has to offer.”

                  I admit at times I do wish I lived in a big suburban size house in the middle of the city. But that also means bigger time/money cost for maintenance, cleaning and upkeep. But overall I really enjoy and prefer where I live.

      2. Cranky Neighbot*

        Agreed. I recently made a big move for a new job, and I’m happy about it. I’m enthusiastically positive about the new city and new job. It hadn’t occurred to me that anyone would take this personally.

        1. CMart*

          Well, and I’m sure there’s plenty of people who move on to new jobs and are enthusiastically positive about the new place without disparaging their old place.

          But I think stephistication1 is talking about a different thing, probably the same type of personality as OP3’s former coworkers. I grew up in and still live in a perfectly nice suburb of a major city and my God, the amount of pity/condescension I received from my peers who moved downtown was unreal. City (and “city living”) was just so much more authentic and had so much more culture and they could finally breathe now they they’d “escaped” our home city full of yuppie phonies and blah blah blah. They’d send me apartment listings and complained loudly any time someone who lived in the ‘burbs wanted to have a gathering because why would anyone ever go back there when you could do things in City?

          It’s exhausting and can make a person feel very defensive about their choice to stay in a place. Whether that’s Shiny New Location or Shiny New Job.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Where I live the yuppie phonies are trying to take over my wonderful big city. I wish they’d go to the suburbs!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      I don’t know. I complain about CurrentCity all the time. For those who love it and want to stay here, it’s fine, just not for me. Almost everyone agrees that it’s not for everyone and I did give it a go. They also can’t deny that there isn’t much, if any, job growth here.

      1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

        Um, I live in a place not too different from yours, and I’ve sort of noticed that you complain rather disparagingly about where you live. Not all places are for everybody, but I don’t particularly enjoy hearing you rag on a place so similar to my home, you know?

      2. Michaela Westen*

        No job growth is an excellent reason to move to a better place, even if everything else is great.

  4. Massmatt*

    #1 the dentist is a lying jerk, and a loon besides who doesn’t respect people. Bullet dodged!

    #2 your coworker is being incredibly inappropriate, and getting away with it under the “mom” guise. If a guy had said to “show off the goods, you won’t have ‘em forever!” would you make excuses for him?

    1. Avasarala*

      Definitely agree that #2 is getting too motherly, to the point where it seems like she just wants to comment about OP’s appearance no matter what she wears. A sweater? “All bundled up!” A dress? “Plunging neckline!” Shorts? “Those legs!” Pants? “That butt!” It’s not even about what you wear, OP, she just wants to tease you in that familiar (familial?) way. It’s something you can tolerate from Grandma but it’s incredibly inappropriate to do to a coworker, and I wonder if she is crossing the line with anyone else (teasing young men about playing video games instead of doing their own laundry and so on).

      If you don’t feel comfortable going the cold route, I think you could still push back with a smile, “Yikes, you sound like my mom/grandma! Can you dial it down to coworker-level instead, I like it so much better that way!” and if she comments again, “This is the kind of thing I was talking about, can we just not comment on each other’s clothes? It kinda weirds me out, and I’d much rather talk to you about your garden!” (or other safe topic that you have in common or that she can go on and on about instead). Hopefully closing with a reaffirmation/redirection will head off any moodiness, though of course you’re not obligated to. But sometimes I find that extra sugar makes it easier for me to say, and easier for others to hear past their hurt feelings.

      1. Zipzap*

        I like your scripts as well as Alison’s. And I would not put up with constant commenting about my appearance even from a relative let alone a coworker. It may be Brenda’s awkward attempt to be sociable or she may know it’s out of line and do it anyway, but the LW has every right to tell her, in whatever way she thinks best, to knock it off.

        1. valentine*

          It’s something you can tolerate from Grandma but it’s incredibly inappropriate to do to a coworker
          Grandma would also be gross and way out of line and assigning hobbies to men isn’t comparable to sexualizing a female coworker on sight.

          1. Avasarala*

            I feel like this mischaracterizes what I wrote? Being generous, I would say that I don’t think Brenda is trying to sexualize OP, but to encourage her and tease her a little. I know many people whose attempt at building camaraderie with someone they don’t know well is to default to gendered or other stereotyped teasing: if you pay for your boyfriend they tease him for not treating you, or they tease you about making your own money.

            It sucks because it’s along gendered lines, or defaults to stereotypes, but the reason they do it is that teasing someone requires a level of intimacy/familiarity, so using a “common topic” lets them kind of fake that, and basically jump to a closer level of intimacy. Someone who knows you well might tease you about buying [your favorite thing] so instead they tease you about [what they guess is true for you].

            The reason I think this is relevant is that when you shut this down because of the stereotypes, it shuts down the relationship as well. I did it this way for so long and struggled to figure out why I was making people feel awkward or halting the conversation. Nowadays I find it’s more effective to divert the teasing and affirm the relationship–it stops the gendered teasing and doesn’t confuse or ruin the relationship, because Grandma understands that she can tease me about how much stationery I buy instead of how I look.

            And of course, disclaimer that this is not something I recommend for severe harassment or unsafe situations, it’s just what I’ve found works with a certain type of well-meaning older lady.

      2. Mel*

        She sounds like a friend’s mom to me. She always used to comment on how we looked and it was the MOST uncomfortable

      3. AKchic*

        I am motherly. I do not make comments about my “kids” in regards to their appearance or clothing (unless they have an obvious stain, crumb, hole or other malfunction that needs to be addressed, and then I do so discretely with them).
        What Brenda is doing is not “motherly”. It is creepy. It is sexualizing. It’s also controlling. By making those kinds of comments, it’s a way to subtly control what the LW wears and how she wears it. Either she “rocks the boat” and tells Brenda to stop making those comments and sets a hard boundary and enforces it; or she adjusts what she wears to try to limit what Brenda says about / to her (thus giving Brenda some control).

        I hope LW does stand up and shut Brenda down. Brenda needs to be made to understand that her comments are gross.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I suspect no matter what OP wears or does, Brenda will still comment. She will never be satisfied with what OP wears. It seems to have gone beyond that into focusing on finding something to comment about and make OP uncomfortable. If it wasn’t clothes, it would be something else.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I wonder what would happen if OP went to work in a burqua, or hijab and caftan? Brenda would probably comment on her face or eyes or hands…

            1. AKchic*

              I think it would devolve into something vaguely racist and even more “you need to flaunt what the good lawd gave ya”. She seems very much concerned that LW isn’t aware of her “good fortune” and needs to be showing more.

        2. Tom & Johnny*

          I have to agree. The ‘motherly’ front on Brenda reads as an attempt at plausible deniability.

          “Oh don’t mind me and the snarky, underhanded, passive aggressive, suspicious, or creepy things I might say! I’m just so maternal. You know I just want the best for you!”

          Now my shoulders are up around my ears.

    2. Gazebo Slayer*

      Sooo right on #2, and LW and Brenda both being female doesn’t change this – lesbian and bisexual women exist, and unfortunately a small but definitely non-zero percentage are creepers.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Yeah. I’m not seeing this person as motherly. I think it’s OP’s 1) age difference perspective, 2) willingness to see this obnoxiousness coming from a good place.
        This woman has always been this way. Her similarly aged coworkers either told her to stop, have naturally changed their clothing styles over the years thus losing her interest or moved on.
        But it’s not mother, helpful, polite or necessary. You can tell her to stop commenting on your clothes. Good luck!

        1. EPLawyer*

          I wasn’t getting a motherly vibe from this either. I was getting a horribly creepy vibe. No mother I know talks about her kid showing off her goods. It’s usually more along the lines of cover up.

          I don’t know why Brenda does what she does, other than it is not coming from a motherly place. But guess what? You don’t have to know the why to want it to stop. Just use Alison’s scripts, repeat as necessary.

          Oh and when I worked in offices, I just kept a sweater on the back of my chair. When I was cold, I put it on. That way I didn’t have to freeze all day if I wanted to wear something weather appropriate in summer.

            1. Allison*

              I thought the same, or at best, she’s trying to live vicariously through OP and her young body. Maybe she really regrets covering herself up when she was younger and “had the goods” and now she’s overly focused on making sure other young ladies don’t make the same mistakes. That doesn’t make it okay, but that might be her motivation, or close to it.

              And some women think the best way to bond with and relate to other women is by commenting on (both complimenting and criticizing) their appearance, because that was their experience growing up.

              1. emmelemm*

                Definitely agree that this is a way that some women see as bonding with other women. That doesn’t mean it’s good or appropriate, but she may not mean anything nefarious by it.

            2. CommanderBanana*

              I worked with older women at more than one job that made inappropriate/weird comments about my clothing, weight and body, like constantly comparing themselves to me, pointing out that I always wore X or Y, or just outright being shitty to me because I happened to be younger than they were and they felt bad about themselves. It sucks and it’s hard to handle gracefully because it’s often done under the guise of ‘concern’ or ‘compliments.’

              1. Allison*

                Oh, did you get a lot of “must be NICE to wear stuff like that” or “must be nice to eat whatever you want” or “must be nice to just leave work and do whatever you want, I have kids to pick up so I could never do that” and it’s like, they’re being judgmental but also really want you to know they resent you for being young.

                1. CommanderBanana*

                  Yeah, and it was really frustrating because 1. it’s inappropriate and 2. there’s just no good way to respond to it. Like, yes, we look different. Sorry?

                2. Gazebo Slayer*

                  I’d be tempted to say “So what do you want me to do about it? What is the point of that comment?”

                3. Michaela Westen*

                  They resent you for being young and you haven’t made the mistakes that led them to be so unhappy.
                  When I was young I had more than one middle-aged colleague who said “I have three kids – one’s eight, one’s ten and one is forty-three”. It made me very cautious about marrying and having kids. I didn’t want to end up miserable like them.

          1. Henrietta*

            I used to work with someone similar who commented in a similar way. This woman was also a mum and grandma but I felt it was more and age thing. At that time I was the new girl and also a few decades younger. Now years later (and not so young!), I don’t get these comments at all from anyone. I wonder if it is similar with OP, where the commentating woman feels superior in age to OP and so she carries on with condescending comments. In my case I put up with it but on reflection, I wish I had put a stop to the comments. I would be polite but firm and follow Alison’s script.

        2. it's me*

          I don’t think it’s motherly (well, not all that motherly) or (particularly) creepy. I think she decided for some reason that LW has low self-esteem (because that’s what… wearing long sleeves and pants in the summer indicates…?) and needs encouragement. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing it at all.

          1. Michelle*

            Actually the LW said “it’s air conditioned in the office and I run cold, so I wear pants and long sleeves or a sweater. Has nothing to do with low self-esteem. Brenda just needs to stop. IF the LW had low self-esteem Brenda commenting on her appearance all the time would not help.

            1. ChimericalOne*

              it’s me wasn’t saying that the LW had low self-esteem or that Brenda’s approach would be helpful if she did. it’s me is just adding a perspective on Brenda’s potential motivation/thought process, as other commenters were above her. Saying, “Brenda probably thinks X” (paired with “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing it at all”) is not the same as saying “It’s probably X” or “Brenda is right to do this.”

            2. Observer*

              Sure. But remember, BRENDA is not cold, so she’s probably thinking that OP is just using that as an excuse. It’s quite likely that she’s thinking the equivalent of “Hey, girl! You’ve got the goods! Don’t be stupid like we were and cover up – show off while you have a chance!”

              That’s not to say that Brenda’s behavior is OK here. It’s totally not. This is a classic case of “intent is not the issue – impact is.” And, it’s totally not necessary to see this as coming from a place of creepiness and nastiness to be able to look at this and say “NOT OK, BRENDA! TOTALLY NOT OK” and to recognize that this is not just a matter of the OP being “sensitive.” This is outside of any norms of reasonable behavior. And it should be called out that way, without reference to her motivations. Because all that does is side track the conversation from the fact that the behavior has to stop.

              1. OP #2!*

                OP 2 here!

                This is more along the lines of how things are going with Brenda…more of a “show off while you have the chance,” with a small side of creepiness, so everyone else is not wrong. It’s really hard to tell her to stop because her personality is so ingrained in the workplace culture here. She would be really offended if I said even so much as “please stop,” let alone “this is harassment!”

                I honestly have never faced sexual harassment at work and now, even with this kind of weird situation which I can’t figure out is legit harassment or not (even though you all say it is!) I have so much more understanding for how hard it is to come forward. You can really upset the status quo, no matter how problematic it might be. Even with all you saying she’s in the wrong here, I’m still doubting myself! Ugh. Thank you all for your encouraging words, though, I do need to do something about this ASAP.

                1. Observer*

                  Yup, it really can be hard to go against the status quo. I think it can be really useful to choose to assume good intent while focusing on the fact that her behavior is nevertheless not appropriate.

                  That’s why Alison’s scripts are good – they don’t assume ill intent, and focus only on what she is doing. Another script you could use, for when she grabs your clothes – Jump back and say “I really don’t like being touched. Please stop.”

                  There is a good chance that she’ll push back with some variant of “I just meant…” or “I didn’t mean anything.” By focusing on her ACTIONS not intent, it makes it easier for you to push right back “I get that. Nevertheless.” Because it really doesn’t matter what her intent is. She needs to keep her hands to herself, and her mouth shut about your looks (and finding a guy etc.)

                2. Avasarala*

                  Agreed with Observer. Sometimes for me it’s not helpful to draw a line between “legit harassment” and “minor annoyance” because it makes my brain think “legit harassment”= something I have a right to complain about and “minor annoyance”= something I have to put up with and shouldn’t get upset about.

                  You can get upset about minor annoyances, and still do something about them! You can have a tiny pebble in your shoe and decide to stop and dig it out, even if you’re 2 steps from home. If it’s not helpful to label the situation or determine its severity, save it for later! Instead you can focus your efforts on what you can do to make yourself more comfortable. Good luck!

          2. valentine*

            I think she decided for some reason that LW has low self-esteem (because that’s what… wearing long sleeves and pants in the summer indicates…?) and needs encouragement.
            But everything she says is negative. OP2 just can’t win with her because there is no winning. It’s like existence shaming.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              “everything she says is negative.”
              Oh, this rings a bell. My verbally abusive father did this. No matter what I did, he found reasons to criticize and punish.
              It sounds like Brenda is way too focused on OP and her clothes and body. If a man was doing it, it would seem like flirting.
              Since OP hasn’t spoken up about this before now, it might throw Brenda when she does. Brenda might become flustered, or OP might need to repeat several times to get the message across.

      2. Washi*

        I mean, maybe, but I think we can also take OP at her word that she’s getting a mom-vibe from the coworker, rather than sexually creepy.

        I had a couple of older coworkers who liked to position themselves as the Wise Elder and trying to connect with me through this kind of teasing/passing on wisdom. It was irritating and clueless but it doesn’t have to be creepy.

        I think Alison’s scripts are great. I tended to just go “mhm”+ subject change and engage as little as possible, but if you want to say something (which you are totally within your rights to do!) Alison has some great options.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          Agreed. “Vibe” is much, much easier to read in person than it is to read from a snippet of an interaction told over text. Let’s trust the LW on this.

      3. Granger Chase*

        Yeah, I definitely didn’t get the motherly vibe either. I am thinking OP and I are probably close in age, and I will say that I have had some coworkers that tended to mother me a bit. But they never tried to get me to expose more skin or talked about my body in such an inappropriate way.

        This reads as pretty clear sexual harassment to me. It has escalated to talk about specific areas of your body that is making you uncomfortable. This coworker has touched you while saying you need to expose more skin. It has now expanded to happening outside of work.

        I think you should follow the scripts provided and, honestly, I would consider using the more direct ones. I know you said this workplace says it’s like a “family” (barf), but can you think of someone above her in the hierarchy who would take these complaints seriously? And see it for what it really is and not “misguided attempts at being motherly”?

        1. ChimericalOne*

          When I worked in a blue collar environment, I saw “mothering” done in that way. I don’t think it’s a good idea for a work environment, but it’s perfectly legit to read this as a kind of teasing (and one that some people wouldn’t mind). Women would joke that a given outfit they were wearing was “showing off the twins today!” (etc.) and make similarly good-natured (but highly personal) comments to each other about their outfits. Think manufacturing, trucking, etc.

          Again, I’m not saying this is something that the LW should tolerate. But it can definitely be a kind of “mothering” when older women tell younger ones to “get out there” and “show off what you have” so you can “catch a good one” while you’re still young. If that’s what the LW perceives this to be, we don’t need to tell her that her perspective is wrong to give her advice on handling it.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          This reads as pretty clear sexual harassment to me. It has escalated to talk about specific areas of your body that is making you uncomfortable. This coworker has touched you while saying you need to expose more skin. It has now expanded to happening outside of work.

          And if you were going to go to HR, this is exactly how I would describe it. Without naming names. “One of my coworkers talks about my body in a way that makes me uncomfortable, even touching my clothing and saying I need to show more of my body.” Because without the context of “oh, it’s just Brenda being motherly,” it’s quite obviously inappropriate.

      4. Cranky Neighbot*

        Yep. There are also people who use this kind of behavior as a form of aggression that has nothing to do with their orientation or attraction. (Just something to keep in mind if you’re ever seeing harassment when you’re sure attraction isn’t a factor.)

      5. Eirene*

        And unfortunately a small but definitely non-zero percentage of straight women are creepers too. It’s not about sexual orientation.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yes, quite so – what I should have said is that it’s possible that Brenda is attracted to the LW (and creeping on her) and it’s also possible that Brenda is not attracted to her but is using sexual harassment as a form of aggression (as pointed out above).

  5. pentamom*

    #1 is definitely a messed up situation, but what would a “hostess” be at a dental office that is significantly different from a receptionist? I’m not familiar with that concept. If I saw a listing for a “hostess” opening at a dental office, I’d think, “Fancy word for receptionist.” It would make me think the listing was somewhat pretentious, but I wouldn’t be blindsided to discover that it was, after all, a receptionist position. Is hostess in this kind of setting actually some kind of real position, and if so, what does it entail?

      1. Avasarala*

        Wow that is fascinating. I can see the “guest-focus” aspect of it but t’s not like the host/hostess at a restaurant is a Walmart greeter–they’re checking people in and managing reservations and assigning people to tables. It would be like if the restaurant host/ess had another host/ess who greeted people and gave them drinks while they waited to speak to the main host/ess about their reservation.

        Sounds like the issue is wait time and instead of hiring more staff to actually cut down wait, they hire someone to keep you busy so you don’t notice the wait as much.

      2. Foreign Octopus*

        What happened to calling a spade a spade?

        I wonder if this makes any actual difference to the patients coming into the office or if they really just don’t care.

        1. Antilles*

          Not only would the patients not care, I’d bet the patients don’t even *know* that the title is different. In all my experience with dentist/doctor offices, I don’t remember ever seeing any indication of what their title is. At most, there might be a sign for “reception”, but not something identifying whether the individual people are titled receptionists, assistants, hostesses, etc.
          …I’m actually thinking right now and I don’t know what the title is at the dentist I go to. She introduces herself with her name and the dentist himself just uses her name and not a title (e.g., “I’ll see you again in six months, Sarah can schedule your appointment on the way out”), so while I’ve always assumed the title was receptionist, I don’t actually know that.

        2. Tom & Johnny*

          This reads to me as one of those inflated titles given at medical offices that attempt a spa-like vibe. The kind of doctor’s offices where they want the patient to feel like they are a guest being checked in by front desk personnel at a fancy hotel, rather than by the the traditional medical biller/receiptionist/overworked front office manager.

          I find these kind of doctor’s offices really off putting and tend to avoid them. But yes, some patients feel cared for and special. I suppose.

      3. Asenath*

        Oh my. I particularly don’t like the “standing” bit, but maybe that’s because I don’t like standing for long periods, and have often thought it rather unnecessary that for some jobs employers require employees to stand their entire shifts.

        And I don’t really see what’s special about having a “hostess”. Do they not have enough people on the reception desk? At the clinic I go to, I walk in, and within a second or two one of the women at the reception desk will ask me how she can help me. Of course, that clinic hasn’t two different waiting rooms to choose from, offer refreshments, or offer help in hanging up my coat. There’s no need for a special person to greet me at the door.

        As for OP, I’d have assumed that “hostess” was merely a fancy name for “receptionist”, so I don’t see that as a trick. I’d probably have been so flabbergasted at being asked to collect food that I might have done it, but I would have withdrawn my application afterwards. Is that the only duty they expect from their hostesses?? I’d expect the dentist to provide a list of duties, the pay scale, benefits…all the usual stuff you want to hear about when looking for a job.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          The spa I’ve gone to here has a similar job to this one and yes, that person does have to stand all day. I could not do that either. If I moved around a lot, it wouldn’t be so bad, but standing in place becomes painful after a while.

      4. Seeking Second Childhood*

        That’s just odd. If I go to a new doctor/dentist, I don’t stand around flapping my hands in need of a hostess. I look for the window(s) and get in line. If there are two windows, I pick the one labelled “check in for Dr. X” not the one labelled “check out” or “Dr. Y.”

      5. Birch*

        Yeah that’s really just another receptionist. Which is good–you should have enough receptionists if you have a ton of patients who need paperwork and checked in. But I could see this getting weird quickly.

        I used to live in a country obsessed with take-a-number machines. At the bank, the post office, the doctor, the pharmacy. I loved it. The doctor has an electronic check-in, too.

      6. Arjay*

        They have a setup similar to this at the imaging center I use, but I’ve never thought of that first person as a “hostess”.
        When you go in, you stop at a podium (she has a tall stool though, she doesn’t have to stand) and check in with just your name and the type of appointment you have. She gives you a beeper, and when it goes off, you then go to a specific (numbered) station at the registration desk to provide your insurance card and all that info. Then she gives you the beeper back and it goes off again when your imaging tech is ready to take you into the back.
        I think the idea is both to provide good service and to protect your privacy. This makes sure you’re in the right place for starters, and then you aren’t standing in a line overhearing the people in front of you at the registration desk.

    1. Mookie*

      I don’t think the LW was blind-sided at all. She used his word, a “trick,” which was in response to a pretty normal interviewee query. He could have left the title alone, not mentioned his clever “trick” at all (the implication being that a receptionist isn’t going to work out for themself what jobs to apply to, irrespective of the stupid titles), and would have looked slightly less like a complete prick here.

      1. valentine*

        the implication being that a receptionist isn’t going to work out for themself what jobs to apply to, irrespective of the stupid titles
        I read the trick as he thinks receptionist work is so negative he has to lure people into it.

        1. Tom & Johnny*

          Yes exactly. I mentioned upthread that I have to wonder what it says about him that he chose a gendered and specific word in order to ‘trick’ the ‘right people’ into interviewing for the role.

          Who is he tricking? Who are the right people?

          More importantly, why would the right people be ones who are trickable?

          None of this bodes well, when combined with the ‘female ready and waiting’ implications of the word ‘hostess.’

          All of the above puts me off this person entirely. Before we even get to food fetching.

      2. AngstyAdmin*

        The issue lies less with tricking people into applying to the position, but who he’s trying to trick OUT of applying – which would be men. Doc wants his entire applicant pool to consist of pretty lil’ ladies, all vying for the enviable position of fawning over him and tending to his every whim.

        1. AKchic*

          This is my interpretation too. He doesn’t want a “yes man”. He wants a cute lil filly who will gaze adoringly (or at least fake it, like all the women he’s been with) while he monologues, and fetches his files, and runs his personal errands, and don’t forget to pick up that food order! Oh, and do make sure to have a light, airy lilt to your voice and a slight twinkle in your eye. Don’t forget to have a knowing smile all for him, now.

          *sigh* There are reasons why I am so glad I am of the age where I no longer have to suffer fools.

    2. Devil Fish*

      I’d never heard of it either, so I asked Google and was kind of surprised to find dozens of spun articles implying this is actually a thing in some places where reception is overworked but they don’t want to hire enough people to do the full job, so they hire someone with less skills at lower pay—this is yet another great sign for LW1: this job requires more skills than they want to pay you for!

      From an article: “The patient hostess greets the patients, checks them in via computer, and then seats them in the appropriate lobby seating area. Once the patients are seated, my hostess offers them a refreshment of coffee, tea, juice, or bottled water.”

      1. Edith*

        Ah yes, coffee, juice, and tea—three things you should totally consume immediately before you see the dentist!

        1. Avasarala*

          Yeah…what?? I’m not in the UK or US but I’ve never been “seated” or “offered a drink” in a doctor’s or dentist’s office. I go to the counter and the person behind it checks me into the computer, and then tells me to sit down until my name is called (by the dental hygienist or nurse or doctor).

          I’m having a hard time picturing what other skills are needed that you could outsource to someone who isn’t the receptionist, aka whoever is checking people in on the computer. Or a sign.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Yeah, my dentist’s office has a water cooler in the waiting room, but none of the receptionists has ever made a point of offering me anything. And frankly, I don’t expect them to. I’m here for a medical appointment, not a spa day. No matter how nice the first employee I talk to is, I’m still at a place I don’t want to be for something I’m pretty sure I will find uncomfortable. Let’s just get this over with, shall we?

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              See here the dentist, doctor, emergency room, imaging center, and dealership repair waiting rooms, etc. allll have coffee (Keurig, Nespresso, etc.), tea, chocolate, water, juice, soda…and snacks. Gratis.

              They always offer me something or at least point me towards it. Maybe it’s location? Or I’m just spoiled? I mean that’s probably ⅓ of the reason I will never change my medical people.

              1. Avasarala*

                I suppose it’s nice to have, especially if someone is waiting for you and not undergoing anything themselves. And I certainly see why it would be at an auto repair shop or hair salon or similar wait room.

                But the dentist? I always try to brush my teeth before I go, just so there’s not food bits in there blocking them from doing their job and grossing them out.

                PLUS I don’t think ANY of those places need a separate person to tell me to use them. So that’s why this dude’s idea of calling what is basically a receptionist position (or a specialized receptionist?) something else in order to “trick” the right people to apply is so weird. Who would apply to be a receptionist and not a hostess or vice versa? And if this is such a standard thing as to have two separate code names, why switch them and who is he trying to trick?

                Honestly that’s my biggest red flag in all of this. This dude is bragging about intentionally misleading candidates, to candidates, and all over something that isn’t a thing in the first place. “I switched your peppermint gum for spearmint gum, ha!” What does he gain by admitting this in exchange for the trust he loses, and what does that say about his judgment?

              2. Oxford Comma*

                But at a dentist’s? I would have thought they would vastly prefer not to have to examine people who have just been eating and drinking.

          2. londonedit*

            I’m in the UK and I’ve never heard of this ‘hostess’ idea here. At every dental practice I’ve been to, there’s just a receptionist – you check in with them, they tell you to have a seat in the waiting room, then the dentist or dental nurse comes to call you for your appointment when they’re ready. No ‘being seated’ or offering of drinks beyond maybe a water cooler where you can help yourself.

            1. UKDancer*

              Also UK based. My dentist is in an old house conversion so the receptionist and waiting room are in what was the lounge. I think there’s a water cooler but that’s it and I wouldn’t really want to eat or drink before seeing the dentist. My GP actually has self service check in now so you check yourself in mostly rather than speaking to anyone and I think there’s a water fountain. The only place with really good snacks is the blood donation centre for obvious reasons (yay orange and mint club biscuits).

              The only other health place with drinks and snacks is the walk in travel centre I’ve gone to for vaccinations in the past where they have a cappucino machine and cold drinks. I think the private health sector does a lot more of that sort of thing as a rule than the NHS.

              1. Doubleblankie*

                My dentist is private (in the UK) – they have water and a coffee machine, but absolutely no need for a ‘hostess’, it’s very much self-service. It’s also a private house conversion so there’s a few sofas and a TV (which apparently always ‘has to be on’ even if you’re the only person waiting and don’t want to watch it, but, you know, first world problems).

                That hostess job sounds really weird, and I bet the OP or whoever took the job would end up being a poorly paid receptionist / PA / dogsbody. As everyone else has said, RUN!!!

              2. londonedit*

                True, I’ve been to a couple of private healthcare clinics and they do have very smart waiting rooms with tea and coffee and biscuits. But I’ve still never seen a ‘hostess’, you’re still just checked in by a receptionist and advised to go and take a seat in the waiting room. They might say ‘help yourself to tea and coffee’ but that’s about it.

          3. Jaid*

            My dentist’s office has a coffee, tea, and hot chocolate station. I may misremember crackers.

            But then, people may be accompanied by significant others (or children) who would appreciate the drink and a snack. They do have a children’s play area…

          4. doreen*

            In that article, the “hostess” does all the “checking in” parts, while other people behind the counter are calling insurance companies, answering phones, collecting payments, whatever. The idea is that instead of having four people behind the desk all doing everything, you have one specifically dealing with patients arriving for their appointments and the waiting room- asking if their insurance is still the same, taking care of update forms, directing people with kids to the waiting room on the left and those without to the one one the right , turning the TV on or off, etc. All things that front desk staff currently do, depending on the practice. Meanwhile, the other three handle the phone calls and collecting payments and settling up follow-up appointments. It’s still the same number of staff- but when a new patient gets there, she won’t encounter having to wait for two staff members be done on the phone phone and another to fix a billing problem before being checked in.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              But all of this fails if the hostess is sent out for an hour to procure French toast.

        2. Essess*

          Agreed. Drives me crazy at my dentist that they have a coffeepot in the waiting room and ask if I want some. Yes, I want some but I just scrubbed my teeth for the dentist so why would you want people to dirty them again just before you are going to start cleaning them? And deal with coffee breath??

        3. MostCake*

          For the last 15 or so years.. each one of my dentist, doctor, and veterinary offices has at least started out offering bottled water or more as a self-service perk. Let’s see how it’s panned out: Doctor’s office offered water and sodas and cookies. Just fizzled out after a couple of years and the fridge has been removed. Dentist: Offered bottled water, sodas, beer, and wine. The beer, wine, and sodas lasted mere months. You could still ask for a bottle of water for about five years. Now if you ask for water, they squirt some in your mouth with the hygiene gun. Vet’s office: Bottled water and Keurig beverages. Both still there. But animal service prices have nearly doubled, so there’s that. All in all, I’ve only ever availed myself of a couple of bottles of water at the dentist and a cup of coffee at the vet a few times. None were served by a hostess though.

      2. Elsewhere1010*

        I’ve experienced a hostess in a doctor’s office. I saw her assist people with paperwork, verify their contact info, and keep the patient informed on the doctor’s schedule whether they were on time or running late, and how long the expected wait time. No refreshments, though.

        1. pentamom*

          Which is exactly what a receptionist does, hence my bafflement at either LW or the owner, or both, thinking that it makes any difference what you call it.

          1. CMart*

            Titles do matter at a certain level, they influence perception and attitude of the person who holds that title/the people who use it. See: restaurants referring to their patrons as “guests” rather than “customers” – probably doesn’t make a lick of difference to the customers, but it is intended to have the staff act in a more gracious way than would perhaps be expected.

            And so too, having one of your receptionists specialize in “hosting” can change the mindset to being people-focused rather than process-focused. The host is supposed to make people feel comfortable and welcome, help them settle in and get prepared for the appointment. The more traditional receptionist is there for the logistics, the booking of appointments, the processing of paperwork, the fielding of phone calls etc…

            And even if it’s the same person doing all of those things, thinking of your job to be people-first (host) rather than process-first (receptionist) can really impact someone’s behavior.

      3. Michaela Westen*

        This sounds like something designed to appeal to rich people. At a certain level of wealth, people expect to be spoiled rotten and have every whim catered to wherever they go. This sounds like it’s trying for that market.

    3. Blossom*

      So, I mentioned this above too, but “hostess” basically implies that the post-holder will be female. Is that not a bit dodgy, legally? I think it would be in the UK, at least – it should be advertised as “host/hostess”.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        I’m pretty sure it would be dodgy here in America–don’t know about anywhere else!

      2. Aspie AF*

        Seems dodgy in Canada too. Even if it isn’t, advertising a non-gendered job with a gendered title would be enough of a red flag in itself.

      3. Tom & Johnny*

        It is definitely ethically dodgy, whether or not it’s strictly legally dodgy.
        When combined with ‘tricking’ applicants, it for sure says tons about that dentist’s ethics

    4. Not Me*

      I worked at a small doctors office years ago that wanted to be more of a boutique office that patients would enjoy hanging out at, it was a spine and spots medicine practice. We essentially had a small, plush, comfy coffee shop in addition to a doctors office. I had trouble finding receptionists that could also assist with the lounge area and ended up posting the job as a “hostess” and got better qualified candidates. That was at least 10 years ago, so this isn’t anything new.

  6. Lena Clare*

    Is Barbara jealous or something? I like the scripts Alison provides. Would you let us know how you get on? I’d really like to know that it worked.

    Even though you’re not going to have to put up with it for long, it’s a good idea to cut it off now, so it doesn’t happen again to others but also so you are in a better position to stand up for yourself in the future (and yes, it’s ridiculous that you have to be the one to go through the discomfort of this, given it’s caused by Barbara in the first place – I can’t abide having to do other people’s emotional labour).

  7. Les*

    Calling it a “hostess” job may cross the line into gender discrimination. Receptionist is gender neutral.
    It suggests this Dentist has some pretty rigid thinking about gender roles in the workplace.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Ooooo…. I didn’t even see that snd I’m usually pretty much the first one to be all “wait a minute…”

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It just seems so bizarre to me. I have only heard of “hostesses” at restaurants, bars, etc. I have never heard of a medical office “hostess.”

    3. Devil Fish*

      Google says it’s a thing in certain kinds of dental offices (the ones where the receptionists are too busy to always be available for a lot of one-on-one with each patient, so they hire someone to do just that part, at lower pay).

      I’m sure the Dentist did it on purpose to get women to apply though, even if it is a common title in that area, because women are generally easier to convince to pay less for more work and he was intentionally advertising a higher level job under a lower level title.

    4. fposte*

      It’s quite likely to be an office small enough that discrimination law wouldn’t apply.

  8. Agent J*

    OP #4: You say no one is “technically being rejected” from the team lead position but a lot of people thought they were in the running for it. This kind of hairsplitting is what can really ruin morale in a team. Sure, you can be technically in the right and then alienate several members of your team by not acknowledging their interest in and qualification for the position.

    Which leads me to my next point…if there was no formal interview process and a lot of people thought they were in the running, how was the team lead chosen? Was it communicated that certain people were in the running and why? Even if you and your boss don’t want to get into the nitty-gritty details, some explanation in a one-on-one meeting seems better than a general group announcement that leaves room for assumptions and gossip about how the new team lead was chosen. Yes, it’s extra work but I think your team will be better for it.

    1. Blossom*

      Definitely agree. Something similar happened in my team at a previous job, and I found it really upsetting and discouraging. It was a little different in that the job had “technically” been advertised internally, but the rest of us were only told about it two days before the deadline, and not encouraged to apply. It certainly firmed my resolve to leave that job once my ducks were all in a row.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      “…if there was no formal interview process and a lot of people thought they were in the running, how was the team lead chosen?”

      I think it depends on the role. In my department, promotion to department manager or a lead would require specific experience and knowledge. It’s not really something anyone on the team could apply for or even be qualified for without years of experience. We would generally approach someone on the team for the promotion, or advertise externally.

    3. DaisyGrrl*

      Agreed. Something similar happened at my work, only as far as I could tell there was no plan to tell anyone about the promotion (I think it was a bump from analyst to senior analyst). I saw the promotion notice online (government, everything’s public), and raised minor heck about the lack of disclosure to the team. The management team was proclaiming how open and transparent they were in their hiring and promotion decisions, so the way this promotion was handled was inconsistent with their stated values.

      Far more time and effort was spent dealing with the fallout than what management would have spent telling people in a timely fashion, and letting analyst-level employees know one-on-one about the decision. And yes, morale was impacted.

      1. Michaela Westen*

        This is another instance of the people who are talking most loudly about values, are the ones who are doing the opposite.
        Like those anti-gay politicians who get caught in the men’s room…

    4. Lily Rowan*

      Yeah, agreed. A similar thing happened to me one time — a peer was announced as the Interim Boss after our boss left, and I didn’t even know that was available! I would have put myself forward! But I’m not as aggressive as the peer, so was waiting for some kind of offer or posting or something. It did not feel great.

  9. MamaSarah*

    I am actually totally creeped out the dentist scenario from LW 1! This is person you trust to take care of your teeth…I want nothing but honesty and professionalism from my dentist at all times.

    1. Mookie*

      Good point. This is the kind of person who disrespects his staff and will probably be comfortable with clients doing the same. Why would anyone knowingly walk into this situation, unless they were absolutely desperate?

      1. Mookie*

        By “knowingly walk into,” I mean, move on in the hiring process or accept an offer. The LW wasn’t to know what an ass this guy is when she accepted the interview.

    2. government worker*

      You’re “creeped out” by this dentist? Why? This seems like an overreaction to me. Perhaps the dentist is a bad manager and/or overly hung up on hiring gimmicks, but there’s nothing in this letter that indicates they would or would not be creepy about your teeth.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        Some dental offices use anesthesia for certain procedures. If there is any chance that I’m going to be in an impaired state while a person is around, I want that person to be someone trustworthy, not someone who thinks it’s fun or “innovative” to play mind games with people.

        (I’m not trying to imply that this dentist would assault anybody, I’m just saying that people can be super vulnerable during dental appointments and we’d all like to think that the people whose care we are under while we are vulnerable are a trustworthy sort of person)

        1. government worker*

          Oh yes, when determining which dentist to see, we always have a clear and accurate understanding of their hiring practices and trustworthiness.

          1. WS*

            Personally, I find the way the dentist treats staff members to be highly indicative of how they’re going to treat me when I’m in pain or scared. My current dentist is respectful and kind to his staff, and the same to patients. I may not know his hiring practices but I can easily see his employment practices.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              Agreed. The one who was …impolite… with his staff in hearing of a patient I know is also the one who left that patient mid-root-canal with mouth propped open for long enough that the Novocaine started wearing off. And didn’t check Novocaine status before starting with the tools again so the patient had a burst of severe pain.
              (Yes it’s an outlier case…but extreme cases exist, and cavalier/careless about staff would be at least a yellow flag to me.)

            2. Birch*

              This is such a good point. My childhood dentist was BELOVED by his staff and clients alike. You can tell so much by how people treat their employees, who have in some ways even less power than clients, who are at least paying for services.

          2. Massmatt*

            What a sarcastic comment.

            No, we don’t often have much information about the hiring practices and trustworthiness of our dentists, or any service provider, unless we look. In this case, the OP has given valuable information about THIS dentist, and Librarian and others have responded that they would not want this person as their dentist.

            You are free to assume that someone’s reprehensible, disrespectful, and bizarre behavior is completely separate from their competence and ethics in performing their job, and hire them. IMO people are not usually so compartmentalized, and someone as out of bounds as this dentist has shown himself to be is unlikely to be a good dentist.

        2. CheeryO*

          This is a stretch. A lot of dentists and doctors are egotistical asses, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t ethical and competent.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Medical professionals deal with people, and people are not impervious to being hurt or angered by words or attitudes. I’ve switched doctors because my old one said some things that infuriated me.

            Also, being an egotistical ass does in fact interfere with a medical provider’s performance – they’re likely to disregard patients’ pain, reports of symptoms or side effects, or not care how a proposed course of treatment would be difficult or impossible given a particular patient’s lifestyle and resources. Also, patients are less likely to be truthful with a doctor or dentist they find intimidating or judgmental.

          2. Observer*

            There is a ton of evidence that Gazebo Slayer is right about this. I’m not going to repeat it. But it’s true.

        3. nnn*

          Even anesthesia aside, I feel vulnerable when I’m in a dentist’s chair, like the dentist is the one in the position of power. Even when the process goes smoothly with a caring and trustworthy dentist, I have to sit very still and let them do unpleasant things to me. My health and aspects of my appearance that influence how people perceive my credibility are dependent on this process, and I have to pay significant amounts of money for the privilege.

          I don’t want to be at the mercy of someone who treats others poorly when he’s in a position of power!

        4. IrisEyes*


          Also dental fraud exists. If he is playing fast and loose with hiring practices what’s to say he doesn’t do the same with his billing practices? (see Is Dentistry a Science in The Atlantic)

      2. Observer*

        Because he’s a liar and a jerk?

        He lied about the role that he was hiring for – even if you don’t have an issue with the choice of title, putting something in to “trick” people into applying is shady as all get out. And then he was a total jerk about the “test” that he pulled on the OP. Hidden test are bad in any case, when it’s a test to see if you’ll just accede to any boundary crossing request, it’s gross.

      3. Tom & Johnny*

        Correction in case what I’m saying is misread. Your incredulity reads as rather disingenuous. I don’t imagine you’re unaware of that.

    3. OhGee*

      Yep, that situation sounds highly likely to be abusive. It seems like the dentist is looking for submissiveness and compliance.

      1. government worker*

        Are you serious? “My dentist has weird hiring practices, has likely never been trained on hiring practices and has a penchant for sweet breakfast items” = likely to be abusive? Come ON.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          He sent OP on a mission for lunch. He may have thought he was checking how well she could follow detailed instructions and handle the unexpected–and maybe that’s not super terrible if it were one piece of the interview. But that was the entire interview.

          What he was actually testing is how well she responds to being told to do something outside office norms, without pushing back.

        2. Observer*

          Not just “weird” hiring practices. Practices predicated “tricking” people and looking for compliance with unreasonable demands.

        3. Tom & Johnny*

          Hmmm. Why yes! Would you like to join me? Let’s take a tour of the red flags for a potentially abusive and boundary crossing employer, shall we? Please step into my buggy.

          At our first stop, we have an employer who posts a specific and highly gendered title. Why might one do that? Now now! Unruffle those feathers of rebuttal. Consider the red flag that he posted a gendered title because he intended the applicants to self-sort themselves in a gendered way. If you are determined to be uncertain of that, please come along to our second stop.

          At our second stop we will take a moment to pause and marvel at the glaring, electronic, sparkly red flag of an employer who admits the gendered title he advertised with “was a trick.” You don’t say!? Now why was it a trick?

          Well, this brings us along to red flag number three. Please stay with me. You see, this is a person who believes that potential employees must be tricked in order “to get the right candidates in.”

          Ah ha! So! We have an employer who has now stated that he believes “the right people” are ones who are trickable! He wants employees to first self-sort along gendered lines into trickable ones, and those are “the right people” for the job. This is red flag number four. Please add it to your growing collection as we move along our journey. We are not done.

          We have now reached red flag number five. In case you were uncertain at the conclusions drawn in flag four, we behavioral have evidence of it in flag five.

          Please observe as the employer proves to himself the ‘trickablity’ of his candidates. He does this by lying to them (he is not hungry), sending them on a personal errand which they cannot refuse without also taking themselves out of the running for a job they may need (preying on their economic vulnerability), and then revealing his “gotcha” afterwards in the guise of congratulations for having gotten the job (what a practical joker!).

          You must admit red flag five is a pretty big honker of a flag, so let’s see what we find if we move it out of the way ever so slightly.

          Oh! We have red flag number six! The inevitable conclusion that this is a person who thinks himself Very Superior, Very Worthy of having non-employees run his personal errands, and overall just Very Clever Indeed! I daresay he was congratulating himself for pulling off that ruse! In addition to congratulating his new prey at self-selecting themselves into the role of prey.

          Now, let us leave this terrible place while we take the time to contemplate the nature of one’s apparent inability to gather those red flags up, when several of them were quite obvious don’t you agree?

          Barring one’s ability to gather those red flags for oneself (which doesn’t speak well of one’s observational skills and subsequently raises the question of one’s sincerity) let’s contemplate the decision to deride others for having noted red flags. Instead of choosing first to pause and examine whether they might perceive something one doesn’t see. Self-reflection and self-examination of one’s abilities is a hallmark of intelligent maturity, wouldn’t you agree?

          Last but not least, let us finally observe the decision to contrarily attack and oppose what reason and a short tour of human nature quite clearly exposes as obvious red flags for a boundary crossing personality, which means a potentially abusive personality.

          Now, why might one wish to be contrary about such obvious hallmarks of this employer? That is the question I will leave you with. Please accept this as your final red flag, the seventh, which is for you.

      2. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        I agree. This honestly seems typical behaviour for doctors and dentists, in my experience. OP should definitely leave an online review about what happened.

      3. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I don’t see how sending an employee out to get lunch is abusive. As long as the dentist is paying the person for their time having to run out and get lunch is not an abusive practice. At least this way the dentist is being explicit about the kind of work that is going to be required of the person hired in the position. If OP does not want to work in a job that requires them to run and get lunch, that is their prerogative then they should withdraw. But sending the host/receptionist to get lunch does not seem out of line. Alison has said many times some peoples time if more valuable than others in a work place. If the dentist is in a busy office, the dentist could spend 30/45 running out to order lunch bring it back and eat, or they could spend that time seeing one or two patients.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          But sending an *applicant* out to get lunch is not so legit. The employee is getting paid for performing this service. The applicant is not.

          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            I agree that sending an applicant out to get lunch is bad hiring practice, but I don’t think it is abusive. Maybe we are using a different word for the same thing. If I were OP I would withdraw my candidacy from this job. But OP spent about 54 minutes (7 there, 30 min wait, 7 back, and another 10 minute wait) that is not an unheard of amount for an “interview.” Do I think the dentist used the interview time wisely no, but I do think there is a difference between a bad boss and an abusive boss. At least this way OP was good information to turn down the job if this is not what they want to do.

            1. knitcrazybooknut*

              It may not be an actual red flag, but any inappropriate use of power is a pink flag for me.

            2. Massmatt*

              you shifted the goal posts with your initial comment saying sending an employee to get lunch is not abusive.

              This is not the situation, the OP was supposedly being interviewed, and the sole criterion in the interview (aside from the OP’s appearance, I suppose) was fetching him breakfast.

              This goes beyond poor use of his interviewing time, he is using an interviewee to perform errands. Would it be OK if I just had someone get me breakfast every day under the pretext of it being a “job interview”?

              1. CmdrShepard4ever*

                You are right I did sort of move the goal posts a bit sending an applicant to get lunch is different from sending an employee. But if the dentist thinks that the biggest job duty of the host/receptionist position is getting lunch, it is up to the dentist to decide that. If the dentist really wants to make sure they hire someone who is really good at bringing back lunch, having them do a trial run is not the worst way to go about it. I have gotten lunch for myself/others and forgotten to check the order to make sure it is all there, or to get utensils, napkins etc. I am not saying what the dentist did was good, far from it, I agree with everyone that it was bad, and as a candidate I would be put off by it, but I don’t think it was/rises to the level of abusive.

                The dentist is using an interviewee to perform one errand (getting lunch) not errands. If they were having interviewees, go get lunch, then pick up dry cleaning, take the dog out for a walk, and pick up their kids from school I would call that abusive.

                Talking about moving goal posts the letter did not state the dentist having someone get them breakfast every day under the pretext of it being a “job interview”. If there actually was no job position to be filled and the dentist was doing this yes I would call it abusive. But if the dentist does have a position that needs to be filled and they bring in 3 people to “interview” and pick up lunch and ends up hiring one of them, while bad it is not abusive.

                TLDR: What dentist did is bad, but not abusive.

                1. Observer*

                  Nope. If you think that getting lunch is the most important item on your task list, you TELL the candidate that and then ask them to go for lunch (giving them the money for it.) You do NOT create a secret test and ask someone to do something that is wholly unreasonable. Because it IS wholly unreasonable to send someone who you do not employ to get you lunch. The boss was only able to do that because of the power imbalance here. There is no doubt that it will be worse for an employee.

            3. Rusty Shackelford*

              The problem isn’t the amount of time as much as it is the task itself. I think it’s generally understood that, other than for certain occupations where the applicant knows what will happen ahead of time because it’s an industry standard, you just don’t have people perform actual job duties, unpaid, as part of a job interview.

              And of course the other part of the problem is that the boss considered this little game the entirety of the job interview. Applicant has questions? Too bad.

          2. bonkerballs*

            The applicant also wouldn’t be getting paid for a regular interview.

            Honestly, absolutely none of what the dentist did was abusive. Poor hiring practices, yes. But there was literally not a single reason OP couldn’t have simply laughed in his face and left.

        2. Tom & Johnny*

          Because she was not yet an employee.

          She was performing the work of an employee, at personal risk. If she was in a wreck on the way to pick up the lunch, would she have been covered by the employer? Would she have received worker’s comp?

          Yes that is an extreme scenarios but extremes happen. Which best practices are meant to avoid.

          The normative best practice being NOT sending a NON-employee on an employee-level job errand. Especially one the employer has admitted he ‘tricked’ into applying in the first place.

          Honestly this would-be employer is a class A, level one, jacka**. And it is a marvel to behold the extent to which commenters in this thread seem absolutely determined not to admit that. It’s incredulous.

          By which I mean it cannot be credited with sincerity.

    4. LadyofLasers*

      Now I’m thinking about the Dentist song from Little Shop of Horrors… I kinda feel like this guy could relate to this song :D

  10. RUKiddingMe*

    Re: OP2
    Wouldn’t commenting on OP’s neckline, “goods” etc. move it into SH territory. I mean of course if she’s told *once* to stop and then continues. And touching her/het clothes? Kindergarten 101: keep tour hands to yourself!!!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      It’s certainly on that spectrum, and if it continues after OP asks her to stop, it will almost certainly cross over. As MassMatt points out above, if we imagined a guy doing it, many of us would swiftly call it out as SH.

      1. Ethyl*

        It reminds me a little of the woman who kept harassing the LW about their tattoos a couple weeks ago. It absolutely wound up on the harassment side of things and it did NOT go well for the harasser (gotta love a satisfying update!). I think especially since she is touching/grabbing LW’s clothes (that made me physically recoil!), it’s past time for LW to say something.

    2. Half-Caf Latte*

      Yes I grew up when the “That’s sexual harrasment and I DON’T have to take it” commercials were all over, and I can 100 nail the tone and delivery harking back to those. That’s what I’d do.

  11. RUKiddingMe*

    OP1: Ruuunnn! If this is how he treats applicants I can guess how he treats employees.

  12. K.A.*

    #2: This is definitely not coming from a mothering place — not at all. Your coworker sounds obsessed and crass.

    1. Anonny*

      I was thinking – that behaviour is super creepy, and if your mother does that kind of thing, Jesus Christ!

    2. Tyche*

      Yeah, it doesn’t feel motherly at all.

      If my mother, or another motherly figure in my life, said something similar I would be totally creeped out…

      1. Lily Rowan*

        My grandmother was a little like this, but not even as much as this coworker! But she would say something about my cute butt or something sometimes.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          This. It’s definitely a cultural thing. In some cultures, mothers wouldn’t dream of making comments like that. But in others, it’s absolutely common for mothers (or older women talking to younger ones) to say things like, “Get out there & show off your goods so you can catch a young man!”

  13. Less Bread More Taxes*

    #5 – in some countries, listing references is the norm. I lived in Ireland for a bit, and people I knew just listed them at the end. I didn’t understand it and never did so myself, but I guess in other countries it’s more common to bother previous bosses without the employee’s consent?

    1. Rebeck*

      Absolutely standard in Australia. Ads will mention how many references are required (generally 2 or 3). I wouldn’t dare withhold references in an application here – it would be akin to not answering the selection criteria (ie, proof that you can’t follow instructions/pay attention to detail.)

      1. Lonely Aussie*

        I’m glad you said that. I’m in Aus and need to write a resume. I wasn’t sure if it was a cultural thing or a universal no no

        1. ConfusedKiwi*

          I’m in New Zealand and for the first time this year have applied for a job without references on my CV. I had to provide them to a government department and they actually had a specific webform I had to fill in with references once I got to the reference-checking stage – so I think maybe it’s just getting to changing here. Another point on the spectrum.

        2. WithADeee*

          Yes, another reader from Aus here and in agreement that it is very much standard/expected here that references are listed at the end of your resume. As noted earlier, many job listings will specify how many references you are expected to provide, but it would be unusual for a potential employer to contact a referee until after an interview.

          1. Vaguely Sauntering*

            I’m in Aus and in 16 years of employment (permanent and IT project contracting) have never listed referees on my resume. I note they’re available on request.
            It’s never been advised to me by HR or agencies as an issue.

            I also hire and interview several times a year. Listing the referees isn’t a norm I see on applicant resumes either.
            Field: Corporate, IT/ Projects if that makes a difference.

      2. Massmatt*

        I am curious whether because of this, employers are inundated with calls to provide references compared to the US? Do Australians adhere to the convention of only contacting references towards the end of the interview process, and simply want them up front on the resume?

        1. Armchair Expert*

          My experience is that my referees have been called after I’ve been interviewed*, but I think that the calibre of referee affects how likely I am to get an interview. If they can see up front that I’ve listed direct supervisors and bosses, it’s more likely to give them confidence in interviewing me – interviewing me without knowing if I even have legit referees would be a potential waste of time. Like that LW the other day who interviewed someone only to then find out that she refused to provide a single reference – that’s a waste of time that could have been avoided if listing references was a norm.

          *I also think that Australia has less of a tendency to go through multiple intensive interviews, if that makes a difference. I’ve been customer service, admin and white collar professional, and only once have I ever had two interviews for the same position and that was because one of the three firm partners was unavailable for the first time slot.

    2. londonedit*

      It used to be fairly normal in the UK, I think, but in recent years (decades?) it’s stopped being a thing that people generally do, so continuing to list your references on your CV will make you look a bit out of touch. Here, generally employers don’t ask for/check references until they’ve offered you the job, so there’s no need to list them until you’re asked to provide them.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Agree with you and Bagpuss that nowadays it’s “references available on request”, and you would not expect the request before the job offer (which would be made “subject to satisfactory references”).

        I think in some industries we’re moving away from formal references anyway, because so few employers will give more than confirming job titles and dates. Certainly my last two jobs were secured on word of mouth / professional reputation – though it is a reasonably small field in my region so it’s rare to take a non-entry level job without knowing someone else in the building who can vouch for you.

        1. londonedit*

          Yes, it’s always odd to me when people here talk about ‘background checks’ when they get a new job. I’m sure there are UK industries that conduct full background checks (and of course jobs that involve working with children and vulnerable adults do require DBS checks) but in my experience and industry, if anyone bothers to contact your references at all it’s just in a ‘can you confirm they worked for you in this capacity’ sort of way. No credit checks or criminal records checks or anything like that, unless you’re in an role where those would be relevant to the job.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Right! I’ve had DBS checks to work with children, spouse had security checks to work airside, and I have a feeling there might be some kind of credit check before you can take up some financial positions, but most jobs have no checks at all.

            Add that to strong workers rights and you can get stuck with some right doozies!

          2. Massmatt*

            Contacting references and background checks are different things. The first is calling people you provide. The second can take many forms, including verifying degrees and certifications, employment history, and yes, checking criminal and credit history. There have been moves here in the US to restrict checking credit history for non-finance jobs.

            IMO far too many places conduct drug testing. This might make sense for pilots and law enforcement officers, but why do major employers like Home Depot and Wal-mart test all their rank and file employees? I don’t care if the person stocking shelves gets high on the weekends.

    3. Bagpuss*

      UK here. It used to be absolutely normal to include them on your CV but it’s much more common now to see something like ‘references available on request’ now.
      However, I wouldn’t see it as bothering previous employers without consent- you are giving consent by giving the details.
      My experience was that they would not usually be contacted until after an interview, so typically only if they were planning to offer you the job.
      I think it’s still fairly common advice to include them – we recently advertised for an office junior and I would say that about 90% of the applicants included their referees on their CVs, so maybe schools are still recommending it? (The majority of applications were from school leavers looking for their first full time job)

    4. mcr-red*

      I live in the U.S., and every job I’ve ever applied for always asks for you to send a cover letter, resume, and references. From fast food jobs to you must have a 4-year-degree or higher professional jobs. So I was a bit baffled by this advice.

      1. Another Academic Librarian*

        I was baffled too. But then again I work in academia, where (in my experience) you are expected to include the names and contact info of your references with your application, either at the end of your CV or in a separate document submitted at the same time.

        1. mcr-red*

          I just messaged a friend of mine who hires people – and actually checked with me about someone recently, as in, “Hey, I think you know this person, I got their resume, would you recommend them for this role?” and she was like “I have no idea why they’d say that, I always want references.”

      2. Massmatt*

        Interesting, I don’t think I’ve seen it except on terrible online job application systems. I have never given references up front, some jobs never asked for them and a couple asked after an interview but so far as I know never checked them.

        1. mcr-red*

          As far as I know, all those jobs also never checked them, as even ones that I received job offers, I have never been told by a reference, “Oh good luck with the possible job!” So no idea why they want them.

  14. government worker*

    I’m going to take a contrarian position to Alison’s advice about the dentist.

    As others have said, there’s not a huge discrepancy about hostess/admin roles in the job as described. Those who would be willing to be a host but not an admin, please elaborate on the distinction and why you’d pick one over the other.

    I legitimately don’t think it’s problematic or demeaning for support staff to pick up meals for their superiors, when asked. Assuming the LW didn’t have to pay for the French toast out of pocket, what exactly is the problem here? Picking up meals is part and parcel for these types of positions. I don’t understand the outrage.

    1. Avasarala*

      I think the issue is that LW wasn’t staff yet so it’s kind of presumptuous (what if LW doesn’t get hired?), and this was a kind of impromptu test that replaced all other parts of the interview (is that the main job duty here?), and that it seems like there are lots of other tests to come (does this guy have reasonable expectations of his receptionist? sounds like no).

      1. government worker*

        We hear about short assignments during the interview process all the time, though. When it’s a reasonable and/or short skills test, no one calls the hiring manager “creepy” (referring to a comment above, not you, specifically) or tells the applicant to “run”. I’m having trouble seeing how this is any different.

        If the LW doesn’t want these sort of tasks to be a requirement in her job, she should rightfully remove herself from the applicant pool. But I sincerely don’t see the difference between this and any other unpaid skills test.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          But this is a terrible assignment to give someone at an interview. The kind of tasks you should be assigning are the things this person will be spending the bulk of their time on. Will the person have to send out emails to customers? Have them write a sample email. Will they spend most of their time alphabetizing stuff? Give them some things to alphabetize.

          Buying the boss lunch (as the entirety of the job interview, no less) is a terrible skills test. Because even if she’s the best at it, it will take up at most, 40 minutes of every work day, and she’s going to have to do other, office related things with the rest of her time.

          It’s a “jump when I say jump and ask how high on the way up” kind of test, and it’s a terrible way to determine how good the candidate will be at the actual job.

          1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

            Yes, a highly specific lunch order at a diner that you have to drive to along with the wait for the order, tells me that the dentist doesn’t value the time of his employees.

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            Yes, it’s bizarre for most of the job interview to be spent by oneself in one’s car, or sitting around a diner by oneself waiting for them to make French toast.

            And if the order is correct, either the diner got it right or the job applicant really went to the mat making sure of each detail–you don’t know. Since usually takeout orders are carried out already boxed and bagged, the first is the most likely.

        2. Avasarala*

          I guess I just don’t see “go get me lunch” as a skills test. What skill is being tested? Remembering orders? Driving? Having cash on hand? Are any of those necessary to being a receptionist in a dentist office? Is that the best use of interview time? Plus he didn’t test any other skills like using a computer or entering records.

          I don’t know if it’s “creepy” but it definitely seems to me less of a skills test and more of someone taking advantage of an interviewee’s time, money, and desire to please.

          1. government worker*

            Literally all interviews are “taking advantage of an interviewee’s time, money, and desire to please.” That is by nature what an interview is!

            My point is that singling out one component of a job is a skills test, however mundane you may determine that skill to be. As I said before, if that’s something the interviewee deems beneath them, they could find a different job that doesn’t subject them to like, breakfast servant to a hungry dentist. It’s not an indictment of character to want an employee who can be front-facing and also pick up French Toast.

            1. Avasarala*

              Hm, I disagree! I would say in principle an interview is a business meeting, where two parties discuss a potential exchange of money for labor. But since one party needs money to live (insert rant on universal basic income here), the power is a little imbalanced because one party needs the deal to work out more than the other.

              And I think we are coming to the impasse of “can someone do this (legally, physically, actually)” vs. “should someone do this (ethically, morally, practically)”. Sure, this dentist could determine that he wants to pay someone to pick up French toast for him daily, and decide that the best way to do that is to make them do it in the interview. He can decide to call that position “hostess” or “French toast associate” or “neurosurgeon” or whatever he likes. But should he? Is that respectful of the candidate’s time and status as a party to a business meeting? Is that in line with professional norms so he can compete with other dental offices for the best candidates? Is that method going to get him someone with the skills he actually wants? Is it indicative of how a person who is responsible, kind, and generous behaves towards people they have power over? I would say no.

              1. government worker*

                What I said: what’s the diff between a hostess and admin position, anyway?

                What you said: let’s call it a neurosurgeon

                What I said: if picking up breakfast is a component of the job, it is a skills test

                What you said: who is really to say what a dentist really needs to be competitive in the job market?

                1. Ethyl*

                  That is ……not remotely what happened.

                  Can I ask — why are you pushing back so hard on this? And don’t you think there may be a reason why you are the only person doing so?

                2. Ico*

                  Can’t reply to Ethyl anymore, but probably because this comment section can be quite hostile to people that disagree. It would be taking things to the next level to then use that silence as evidence that a dissenter is wrong.

                  Of course people here are massively misrepresenting what the dentist did – he wasn’t gloating about tricking the applicant like some have said, he was probably saying it was a “trick” to get the results he wanted, like you’d say making an online reservation is a “trick” to limit your time waiting in a line.

                  I also really doubt this indicates he’s willing to abuse his patients while they are unconscious, either. Unless I really care about something, though, I’m not wading in to say anything against even the worst excesses expressed here.

                3. EventPlannerGal*

                  I think you are being deliberately obtuse in order to get a reaction, but for the record (as a former receptionist) there is a difference between an admin and a hostess, or a receptionist and a hostess. In my experience, roles advertised as “hostess” are usually intended for women, carry specific standards of personal appearance and presentation, and are limited to greeting customers, serving refreshments and so on. Reception and admin roles may well include all of that but often involve a lot of administrative work that people looking for hostess jobs may not be looking for, and those roles are gender-neutral.

                  Essentially, if someone looking for a receptionist advertises for a hostess to get the “right kind of person”, that strongly implies to me that they want a receptionist that is female and pretty.

                4. Lucette Kensack*

                  Ico/government worker (are you the same person?), you can’t reply to Ethyl because the website only allows so many levels of “nesting.” Notice that o also couldn’t reply to you, and you can’t reply to me.

                5. Michelle*

                  I’ve been an admin for 17 years and have never been asked to pick up lunch for my boss.

                6. Tallulah in the Sky*

                  Lucette Kensack > Just because two people have the same unpopular doesn’t mean they’re the same people. Let’s not diminish people’s opinion by doing that.

                7. Ico*

                  I know why I couldn’t reply – I was indicating who I was replying to since the threading wasn’t going to do that for me. And no, we aren’t the same person.

                8. Ico*

                  Thanks Tallulah. Although to be clear, my opinion is only that the dentist is someone with questionably effective hiring practices and not someone who is actively deceiving applicants or abusing patients. Doesn’t seem like that should be too unpopular. :)

                  I can imagine saying hostess might appeal to a different set of applicants that wouldn’t have considered being a dentist’s receptionist, like people that may be interested in a higher-touch customer service role but not in making appointments. Whether this helps him find the people he wants… eh, that’s up to him I guess, but I’m sceptical it makes a big difference.

                9. Librarian of SHIELD*

                  @Ico: the way the OP tells it, the dentist straight up tole her he was tricking her. How can you read that and say he’s not being deceptive in his hiring practices? He told a successful applicant that he was tricking her the whole time and he was proud of it.

                10. Avasarala*

                  Oh, that’s not my understanding of our conversation at all! We must really be talking past each other. Here’s how I read it:

                  GW: What is the difference between hostess and admin? And what is wrong with picking up breakfast as a skills test?
                  A: What’s wrong is it’s not appropriate for an interview.
                  GW: It’s basically just a skills test though.
                  A: What skill is being tested though?
                  GW: It could be anything that the employer determines is appropriate.
                  A: Well sure, but that’s not the brightest or fairest way to go about hiring someone.

                  Hope that clears something up for you!

            2. londonedit*

              An interview is meant to be a two-way business conversation. The interviewee is meant to use it as an opportunity to see whether the job and workplace would be a good fit for them, as well as the employer using it to see whether the interviewee would be a good fit from their point of view. Even for an entry-level job. Sending an applicant off on a ridiculous errand isn’t a ‘skills test’, it’s a power play and it comes off as demeaning. It’s not at all the same as testing someone’s writing skills or giving them a set of tasks to prioritise.

              1. Yvette*

                “Sending an applicant off on a ridiculous errand isn’t a ‘skills test’, it’s a power play and it comes off as demeaning. It’s not at all the same as testing someone’s writing skills or giving them a set of tasks to prioritize.” Thank you!!! That is exactly how I felt about it, but was having problems putting succinctly.

                1. Tallulah in the Sky*

                  And this doesn’t mean that an employee getting his boss lunch is demeaning. But doing this to a job applicant ? Who probably took time off or PTO ? And that was the whole interview ? Nope, not the same. Don’t compare what happened here to the scenario you provided (support staff picking up meals for their superiors).

              2. Carlie*

                Exactly! The candidate was given zero information about the job duties, the work environment, etc. Not even time in the office! All she got was a couple if minutes of the boss being disingenuous and then gleeful about his “trick”. That is no way to run an interview.

            3. Tallulah in the Sky*

              “Literally all interviews are “taking advantage of an interviewee’s time, money, and desire to please.” That is by nature what an interview is!”

              If you truly believe that, I understand why you have no issue with what the dentist did.

              To be clear : the dentist didn’t test her ability to fetch his lunch, but how compliant she would be. He didn’t say “An important part of this job is to get my lunch, and I’d like to test your ability to do so.” He asked her if she was hungry, told her he was busy and to get him lunch. He told her she was being tested after she came back with his lunch. He tested if she would follow a stupid order without complaint. She passed.

              I agree that we can’t know for sure if the dentist is just an idiot who can’t hire properly, or if he’s someone who actively searches for submissive employees who will say “How high” when he says “Jump”. But the kind of behavior he displayed is used by abusers to find their victims.

              Either way, he’s an idiot or an abuser, so the advice to run far from this employer is a sound one.

              1. Ethyl*

                “the dentist didn’t test her ability to fetch his lunch, but how compliant she would be.”

                OMG YES that is exactly it, thank you.

              2. Kate R*

                Perfectly put. The responsibilities the dentist seemingly wants handled aren’t actually that outrageous, but then TELL job candidates that’s what you’re looking for. Instead he decided to be deceptive about it, so in the limited data the OP has about the dentist, he’s dishonest and manipulative. The problem isn’t the job. It’s the employer.

            4. EventPlannerGal*

              But it doesn’t sound as though it was being presented as a skills test. From the OP:

              “he said, “Oh, I’m so busy. Did you eat? Can you run to the diner and grab me French toast?” followed by very specific instructions”

              He wasn’t saying “I want to see how good you are at fetching lunch so please complete this test”, he just asked someone who does not yet work for him to fetch lunch and then revealed that it was a test. (and also apparently the only test?) To me that seems more as if he’s interested in how willing applicants are to complete seemingly arbitrary tasks, rather than if they’re some sort of lunch-fetching prodigy.

            5. Oxford Comma*

              An interview should be a two-way process. The applicant is interviewing the potential employer as much as the employer is interviewing the applicant. In my experience, everyone is making the sacrifice of some time in order to determine if this is going to work for everyone concerned.

              A skills test would have been having her type or do something in Excel. A skills test is not “go get me my lunch.” Moreover it was not presented as a skills test, and other than the OP filling out some paperwork, it was the entirety of her second interview.

            6. Genny*

              The hostess/admin thing is a bit of a red herring. It’s a minor red flag, but probably not something in and of itself that would make me withdraw from the process.

              Sending an interviewee to get lunch is a major problem though. There’s nothing wrong with asking support staff for that (provided you’re paying for their time and the food), but it’s inappropriate to do it in an interview because it doesn’t give the interviewee the chance to ask questions or otherwise observe and assess the hiring manager’s behavior.

              It’s not a skills test because those typically gauge someone’s proficiency (how good at Excel/editing/presenting info/etc. are you?). They’re a waste of time in gauging a binary (can you send an email/pick up a lunch order/arrive on time/etc.). There are better ways of getting at that information then having someone do a skills test.

        3. Peacock*

          Every time I’ve had an interview that involves a skills test I’ve been aware that it is a skills test while I’m doing it. Sometimes, I’ve been told in advance that there will be a test, but in every case, at the interview itself they provide a short explanation of what the test involves prior to taking the test. The dentist did not inform OP that getting his French toast was a test until afterwards, and THAT is what makes it weird.

          1. londonedit*

            Absolutely. The whole point is that he sprung the ‘go and get me lunch’ thing on the OP with no warning, and then played a ‘Ha ha! IT WAS A TEST, LOL’ move when she got back. It’s like when people ‘prank’ others by making a statement and then when someone responds with ‘Oh, really?’ going ‘HA HA NO, FOOLED YOU, YOU’RE SO STUPID I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU FELL FOR THAT’. Except this was an interview situation, not a prank. Which makes it extremely weird and power-trippy. It’s a world away from saying ‘This job involves spending a lot of time putting our files in order, and it’s very important that they’re done accurately, so we’re going to give you a few files to reorganise as a short test at the end of the interview’.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              And then the test was done. Skills like “greet people when they walk into the office” and “point out the counter for them” and “offer them coffee” were not assessed.

            2. Massmatt*

              There was a great Monty Python sketch where the job applicant is confronted with more and more outlandish questions and situations. Finally he asks “did I get the job?”

              Their response “We filled that position MONTHS ago! Ahah ahaha!”

              Viva Monty Python.

        4. Lucette Kensack*

          I tend to agree with you about the hostess/receptionist thing (aside from the gendered language), and I agree that assignments during an interview process make sense.


          1) The assignments should be fake — not actual work. The OP ACTUALLY picked up his lunch; that’s work she did for the dentist and she should be paid for it. (An equivalent assignment might be, idk, printing out a google map of directions to the place and using an online ordering system based on his detailed request, or something like that).

          2) An interview test shouldn’t be a surprise.

          3) The test shouldn’t take the entire interview. She didn’t get a chance to ask amy questions or learn about the role. It was all about proving herself rather than being a two-way conversation.

        5. Rusty Shackelford*

          This wasn’t a skills test. This was more like, you need some copies made, so when someone comes to interview for a job, you send her to make your copies.

        6. Decima Dewey*

          So for a skills test the dentist doesn’t want to know if the applicant is familiar with the computer portal that handles appointments, billing, back and forth with various dental insurers, etc. but if the applicant can run to Neighborhood Place and get him an order of French toast?

        7. Observer*

          A lot of short assignments are not appropriate, either. But at least they are PART of a larger interview, the person is (generally, in reasonable places) warned in advance and they ARE TOLD that it’s an assignment.

          The test here was not whether the OP can get a fussy order. The test is whether the OP will accept a demand that is unreasonable and boundary crossing. Remember, the OP was not told that their capacity to handle detailed orders is being tested. Instead they were told that the boss is busy and hungry, so they – who owe the boss NOTHING as a non-employee is expected to run his errand. Really? Do you just grab the first person who comes in your door to do your errands? Do ask any vendor who walks in your door to bring you food?

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      To me the issue is not the job duties described, but the dentist’s odd attitude and desire to “test” interviewees. For example. I would have no problem being told that the job included picking up the boss’s lunch. But it’s weird that he got her to do it under the guise of “oh, have you eaten?” and then revealed that it was some kind of test, I guess to see if she would do it? Similarly, even if there is little difference between “hostess” and “receptionist”, it’s weird to mislead people and then tell them that it’s a “trick”. It’s a strange way to approach interviewing that seems like it’s mostly designed to make the dentist feel smarter than the applicants – “haha I tricked you!”, even if the tricks are small and stupid.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Also, I’m not sure if you realise this but a receptionist job (especially in a smaller office) often involves a ton of administrative work, whereas from the sounds of it a hostess in this context is limited to checking people in, offering tea/coffee etc. If someone was looking for a very casual/low-investment job, they might specifically be looking at hostess rather than receptionist. (It’s also far more heavily gendered and similar roles I’ve seen are often heavily judged on looks, which makes the “trick to get the right people to apply” part really sound to me like he’s looking specifically for a pretty female receptionist who’ll fetch him lunch.)

        1. Batgirl*

          “he’s looking specifically for a pretty female receptionist who’ll fetch him lunch”

      2. knitcrazybooknut*

        I also question what would happen if the OP had said, “Yes! I’m glad you said something; I’m STARVING.” and gotten food for herself as well. My guess is that the interview would be over right there!

        Maybe this is the tact to take if anyone reading encounters this interview question in the future.

    3. Princesa Zelda*

      It’s not that it’s necessarily demeaning for *staff* to run an errand, if something comes up in the course of the job — it’s demeaning for *interviewees*. You’re not working for them yet, not being paid for your time, and you’re supposed to be having a business conversation. This wasn’t an office coffee run or “hey Stan we’re out of envelopes and need to mail these YESTERDAY,” this was a job interview.

      1. hbc*

        Yeah, that’s the main issue for me—an interview skills test isn’t supposed to provide benefit to the employer beyond assessing the candidate. Otherwise, it’s just unpaid labor.

      2. BRR*

        I didn’t read it as the dentist was asking the LW to run an errand. I read it as the dentist was testing for attention to detail by giving specific instructions (which I’m dying to know how an order of French toast can be that unique). I want to be clear that I think the dentist is awful at hiring. But I don’t think the LW was just tasked with an errand.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          But how would he know that the order being correct was due to her attention to detail, rather than to the diner handing her a bag with the correct order?

        2. Psyche*

          If he didn’t want this errand done then he could have given her a task on a computer to test for attention to detail that didn’t waste her time driving and waiting for the food to be made.

        3. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I don’t think this dentist put all that much thought into it. He seems like a guy who’s really proud of his “innovative” hiring technique. Throughout the OP’s description of the events, he just seemed so pleased with himself, like, “who needs those old boring job interviews? I’m going to be unique!” He’s like interviewers who ask you what kitchen utensil you’d be, but times 1000.

    4. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      I can’t tell if you’re serious or just wanting to get a reaction from people, but the outrage is because dishonesty and disrespect are wrong.

    5. Psyche*

      It wouldn’t necessarily be a problem to have a staff member pick up lunch if that is a part of their job. However, the OP is not a staff member. She is an applicant. He is not paying her to do any work for him therefore he should not force her to be an unpaid delivery person.

      Skills checks are acceptable in interviews but they should not involve unpaid labor to help the company. Someone interviewing for an editing job may be given a test article to edit. However, that article should not be one that they are currently working on and plan to publish with the applicants edits. Similarly, they could have been given some sort of test task to check for attention to detail. In this case, he had the OP do a task that would otherwise be paid and he benefited from it for free. That is very sketchy and unethical.

      1. Jackalope*

        I will add as well (as some others have pointed out) that an interview goes both ways. The dentist didn’t give her a chance to ask her own questions in return, get a feel for what she would be doing (since as someone else pointed out this would be a small fraction of her day even if she got him lunch 5 days a week), didn’t discuss salary, etc. Those are all things she has a right to expect would be included in the interview, and not giving her a chance to do so is disrespectful.

    6. Peridot*

      Are you being contrarian just to be contrarian?

      I feel pretty confident in saying that job interview should not involve lying or misdirection from either side.

  15. V*

    LW4: Your manager should do both. First of all, one to one conversations with people who were in the running letting them know they did not get the position, focussing on them (eg what do they need to do / change if they want to have a greater chance of being successful in applying for a similar role next time) so not even mentioning that it is you who has got the role at this stage. I would also then do separate one to ones with anyone who will now be reporting directly to you to let them know it’s you and give them a chance to discuss this in a safe space. And then after that, a general group announcement to make sure everyone knows and the topic is out in the open. There is no such thing as too much communication (unless you are a job applicant, haha).

    1. Rebecca*

      I love this comment about discussing in a safe space and providing feedback, that’s key to office moral and keeping people engaged. A while back, a higher position was going to open up in my company outside of my department. I had the skills to do the job and really wanted a change from my current role, and so I approached my former manager about it. She said she’s pass that along to the other manager. I hadn’t heard anything, so I went back to her again, a few months later, and she said no decisions had been made. Soon after that, we were all called to a staff meeting where they announced that one of my coworkers was promoted to the position I had asked about. It was hard to keep my composure, smile, and congratulate her, I have to admit. It turned out, my manager wanted me to stay in her department. I wish she would have told me prior to the meeting, this still leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

      1. Agent J*

        I think communication makes all the difference. Inviting me to a conversation vs. making a decision that I’m super invested in (i.e., promotions) and telling me on the back end is always going to feel off.

    2. Beatrice*

      This is exactly how these announcements are handled at my current employer, and I agree it is the right thing to do.

      Also, we have very, very clearly communicated delineations between which positions that someone can be promoted to non-competitively, and which must be posted for all to apply for. Non-competitive promotions are usually changes to levels within the same role (i.e. Teapot Analyst to Senior Teapot Analyst), but someone going from an individual contributor role to something with some level of supervisory responsibility would *always* have to go through a competitive process to get there, even if they’re an obvious best choice.

    3. Dana B.S.*

      Yes. I once accidentally told a counterpart that I got a job that we both applied for. He asked and I thought he had heard he’d been rejected and wanted to know if I was the one selected. Turns out he asked because he hadn’t heard anything. I felt awful. (This was for a same level position in a different department with a new manager at least, but still awful communication by the recruiter & manager.)

  16. Ethyl*

    LW 3 — with the current coworker who won’t stop using you as their unpaid therapist, a script I got from Captain Awkward that I’ve had luck with is “oh wow, that sounds really hard, what do you think you’ll do?” It really helps short circuit the complaining in my experience, and it helps you to be a less attractive audience for the feelingsdump.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m normally a fan of that, but in this case I wouldn’t use it because it invites further conversation when the OP wants to stop it entirely.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        It *can* work if the other person doesn’t really want to solve their problem, they just want an ear to vent to. Sometimes when you stop saying “oooh, poor thing, that’s awful” and start saying “yeah, so what are you doing about it?” they decide it’s not much fun complaining at you.

  17. hellophoebe*

    My biggest concern with #1 is after you’d taken the lunch test (which, if it was a skills test as some others have argued, should have been presented as such rather than a bait-and-switch) is the “you passed!” response, as if the interview is purely a one-way assessment. A really important part of any interview is the chance for the interviewee to ask questions and assess whether the employer and the roles suits their need as a potential employee; any employer who doesn’t understand that is someone who doesn’t respect or value their employees.

  18. Gazebo Slayer*

    #1: I might respond to the comment about the supposed “plunging neckline” and the advice to show off my goods because I won’t have them for long with a cold and shocked “Oh my God, Brenda, did you just comment on my breasts at work?”

  19. Rexish*

    #2 argh. I hate this personality type. My collagues don’t comment on looks, but to anything that is out of the ordinary. I usually come to work at 9am. If I happen to come at 8am then different people will ome by my desk with this over the top “omg, you are here? areyou feeling well. hehehe”. It’s so f-ing annoying. I don’t have advice but usually a ´sarcastic “decided to swich it up” helps for a while.

  20. Cheryl*

    OP1, I’ll go against the grain and say go for the job. You didn’t really seem to have a problem with any of it. You went to the second interview after finding out the position was different from how it was advertised, and then you went and got the food order. You don’t even seem too bothered by it – you’re not writing to Alison to complain but you genuinely seem to be considering going further in getting the position. So why not do that? Maybe this really is the job for you.

    1. Adlib*

      Hard disagree. Just because the tone of her letter didn’t sound agitated doesn’t mean this guy isn’t a complete nightmare, and he crossed so many lines of decent employer behavior in this interaction. There are so many red flags here that Alison pointed out, and that’s what the OP was looking for confirmation of.

    2. Rugby*

      This is an odd interpretation of the letter. It is not at all unusual for someone to continue with an application process while wondering if the process is normal or not, especially someone who is relatively inexperienced. OP was obviously bothered by it enough to write to Alison and ask for an outside preservative.

    3. Leslie Knope*

      My reaction was the same. I mean, I’d ask more questions but it doesn’t give me HUGE red flags.

    4. Observer*

      The OP wrote in because they sensed that something is wrong.

      Why on earth would you encourage someone to get into an abusive situation? If some guy had slapped her, and she was trying to decide whether it was REALLY bad enough (he did REALLY mean it, he’s sorry, blah, blah blah), would you say “Eh, why not stick with it and see how it goes? You went out with him a second time after he told you you look like slut. You’re thinking about going out with him again. So, not such a big deal. Maybe he;s the guy for you.” Would you say that if he “only” called her a bunch of demeaning names? I would hope not!

      The same thing is going on here. The guy is showing his true colors. The fact that the OP is not sure that this is really a problem doesn’t mean that it’s not really a problem. It just means that she doesn’t recognize the signs of an abusive boss. And that’s not a good reason to encourage her to take the job. On the contrary, because she hasn’t developed the skills that could potentially help her to protect herself.

  21. Seeking Second Childhood*

    #5 if you really hate doing layout, consider how many come for free with Microsoft Word. (Some libraries have that available on public workstations so you don’t even have to have it yourself.)

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      (PS Do focus on their simple designs…some of them are so fussy that I’d cringe if I had one come to me from an applicant.)

    2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      OP5, there are plenty of free resume templates on Word, the internet, etc. Don’t spend money on a template, especially one that lists resumes (definitely not standard in the US).

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        In fact, AAM has discussed resume formats and contents many times. Look up some of the posts–they are incredibly helpful and will show you what really matters to most hiring managers. And they are free!

      2. Falling Diphthong*

        Yeah, I can see buying a template if you need specific legal language, like a lease or an addendum to a will. But not something that just needs to be easy to read.

  22. Banker chick*

    # 1

    I totally understand that many admin positions run errands. I work in a bank and while I don’t run errands, we get many admins who come in to do their employer’s banking and say they are off to the post office or wherever and then getting the boss lunch or whatever. And that is fine as that is what their job entails and they have agreed to it.

    But this tricking someone who doesn’t even work for you yet is a different story. He should have told her it was a “test” and that picking up lunch could be a part of the responsibilities of the position. And it certainly shouldn’t have been the whole interview. As stated, a proper interview is a two way street where both parties decide whether they want to continue the relationship. Sounds like the dentist thinks he holds all the cards and is going to decide whether she works there or not. Actually he can say she “can” work there but she needs the information to decide “if” she wants to work there. And I think she has it. If she isn’t given the opportunity to ask questions(whole interview was getting lunch) and is tricked into running errands under the guise of a “test” when she doesn’t even work there, you can only imagine what he will think is appropriate when she IS an employee.

  23. Adlib*

    #5 – Alison is right. My husband had his resume “done” by a professional service despite all of my protestations not to! He’s a smart guy, and I said it was completely unnecessary when he could get it done. He overpaid, forgot to cancel his “subscription”, and so we wasted a few bucks when it wasn’t even needed. Oh, and he never used it. (I’m still a little salty about it, tbh.)

  24. Blue Eagle*

    OP#2 – What I would really like to do after she makes any kind of comment on your clothing is to look directly at her chest area, pause, then say, “every time you make a comment about my clothing, it makes me wonder about your clothing”, pause “what’s the story on that dress/blouse/sweater” pause “my sweet grandmother had one just like it” pause “oh, never mind”.
    A younger me probably wouldn’t actually say it, but now that I am a manager if I heard one of my co-workers continually commenting on the clothing of another co-worker I think I actually would say it.

    1. Sharrbe*

      Exactly. I wish that I could redo some experiences from my youth. I once had a supervisor tell me that I needed to dress more appropriately for work while she was wearing sweatshirt that was coated in dog hair. Not just one or two hairs, it looked like her husky had been sleeping on it for a week. I kept myself from laughing out loud, but in retrospect I really wish I did. And walked out. It was an incredibly toxic job anyway.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        Reminds me of the time I was reprimanded for wearing peep toe heels with dress slacks and nice top because they were “sandals” while my utterly slovenly coworker who regularly came to work in a threadbare sweatshirt (so full of holes you could see skin) covered in pet hair and muddy tennis shoes was considered suitably dressed to meet clients.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Wow, that’s so bad on so many levels. I would not do business a 2nd time at a place with your former coworker!
          Reminds me of the cold, stuck-up sneering man who was rude to me behind the counter at the library – while he was dressed in a faded, holey t-shirt. Riiiiiight…

  25. Almost Friday*

    RE: #4

    I agree that announcing someone’s promotion when you know (or the company knows) others may have wanted the position isn’t the respectful thing to do. That’s a one-on-one conversation.

    I’m curious, though. What if you’re announcing a promotion for which no one on the team would be qualified and they all know that? This happened recently. We announced a promotion to the whole team. About three weeks after I started my new job we promoted someone from my team who was clearly the only choice for the role given her knowledge, experience and current role; no one on the team was remotely qualified and they knew that (or I thought they did). However, one person was very upset about it to the point of crying all day. Apparently this person thought she was on that same career path, though when I explained the role to her afterwards it was very clear she wanted and was following a different path, and she had absolutely no understanding of the role to which the other person was promoted, but yet she was very upset. I was told ahead of time she would be upset; however, I had no idea the magnitude of the reaction that happened. Also, it wasn’t my choice to announce it in a group setting. Had I know the extent of the reaction from this person, I would never have done that.

    1. DaisyGrrl*

      If management knew that someone would be upset ahead of time, presumably because they wanted the promotion, then I think it’s worthwhile to talk to that person before the general announcement (not necessarily communicating the promotion, but stating that a decision had been made and it was not them). Even if they’re not qualified and it’s obvious that there’s only one qualified candidate, having the conversation in advance can head off some of the upset.

      I think being upset is often less about the specific promotion decision and more about a person not having a clear idea of what their career path looks like at that company and what they need to do to move up. If they feel that there’s some support for career development and they’ll advance when the time is right, there’s less concern when others are promoted.

      If the person is known to generally be unreasonable and upset over perceived slights, then that’s a whole different conversation.

      1. Almost Friday*

        “If the person is known to generally be unreasonable and upset over perceived slights, then that’s a whole different conversation.”

        This is exactly the situation.

    2. Agent J*

      If they knew she was going to have an outsized reaction, whoever chose to announce it to the group should have asked you to talk to her privately first—if for no other reason than to allow her space to react without the group present.

      I know work is not supposed to be personal but often times it is or it feels like it is. We shouldn’t have to handhold people at work but if it avoids awkward moments and big emotional reactions like this, I say take the little extra time to meet a person where they are.

      1. Almost Friday*

        I did talk to her privately before the announcement, and it was still an all-day emotional event.

      2. BadWolf*

        And emotions are weird.

        Several of my coworkers were assigned to new teams. A coworker was put as team lead in the restructure. I feel sort of slighted that I wasn’t asked to be team lead. I don’t want to be team lead, but I feel like I should have been considered.

        Sort of like when you weren’t invited to an event that you didn’t want to go to, but now you’re second guessing why you weren’t invited.

    3. MOAS*

      Hmmmm I’m curious about that too. Mine was announced via email and in a group meeting.

      The thing was though, while there were others in my position who could’ve been promoted, it meant going in to a different path (tax vs bookkeeping/payroll/etc) so no one else wanted it I think. so no one else was in the running. I was assured that the likely candidates were spoken to but they declined…. although I am now wondering if someone felt bad about it.

    4. CM*

      I don’t think it’s possible to judge ahead of time whether people want a certain job or think they ought to have a shot at it, which is why, as a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t suddenly announce a promotion to the whole team, even if it seems obvious to you that nobody else was a contender. It might not be obvious to them.

  26. S*

    #2 imagine if a man was telling you you need to show off your goods more while you’re still young. The comments she’s making a wildly inappropriate and it’s not ok because she’s an older woman that appears grandmotherly to you. She’s creepy. I would shut the comments down, if she feels hurt and stops talking to you as much that’s a bonus.

  27. Stitch*

    Can’t second the “run” part enough for LW1. My dad is a doctor and would never treat his reception staff like that. I have held personal assistant jobs where getting lunch was part of it and even for those jobs the way he approached it was weird.

    1. Asenath*

      What struck me as really odd is that getting lunch seemed to be the only job duty. I’d have expected a description of several job duties at such an interview.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Exactly! It seems like he wants a pretty young woman to go fetch his lunch each day. Which, okay, at least advertise it as “personal assistant.”

        If someone is off fetching the boss’s lunch, then she is not greeting clients, getting them settled, or offering them expressos–i.e. all the normal hostess duties. It’s a hostess with a single guest to cater to.

      2. Arctic*

        I think the idea is she has to be willing to do anything he says no matter how weird or outlandish. Not the lunch part, specifically.

  28. Booksalot*

    I would have FAILED the French toast test, because I would have thought that I was supposed to talk a dentist out of eating sugary garbage for a meal.

  29. The IT Plebe*

    I can’t imagine what a paid template would have versus the numerous free options that are built into MS Word or Google Docs. Save your money or use it toward hiring someone to look over your resume instead.

    1. Yvette*

      You can just Google sample resumes and get plenty of ideas. Even career or situational specific ones. Not to copy word for word, but most clothing retail positions have similar duties, most entry level clerical jobs have similar duties, a resume for a recent college graduate is often structured differently than one for an experienced professional, etc. It can remind you of all the aspects of a job/situation and ways to succinctly describe/present them.

    2. Librarian Laura*

      Jumping in here to add that before you considering paying someone or a website for a resume template, check out your public library! Ours has Career Transitions, which allows you to create a resume and download it – as well as cover letter templates. We also have and they offer resume and cover letter review and feedback.

  30. WinnaPig*

    I think your step-up approach to replying to these inappropriate comments, or any others, is good. If someone comes out with a super strong reply after putting up with it for a while with no response at all it could end up backfiring if the person gets their back up and lobbies others, which they likely will.

  31. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #1 – you’re a better person than me, because if my interviewer asked me to go get him some food, I’d say no. You are there to interview for a job, not run his personal errands. Run away…far far away.
    #2 – I think most importantly you need to change your way of thinking about this co-worker. She is not being “motherly” by commenting on everything you wear. It doesn’t matter if her intentions are good, she’s being completely inappropriate. I would be a little more direct and matter of fact than Alison suggested “You’re always commenting on my clothes and I need you to stop.” Saying “I’d rather you not” gives her a choice. She’s a boundary crosser and needs to be put in her place. You may be short term, but by establishing boundaries with her, you may help someone else in the future who encounters the same thing.

    1. Observer*

      I think most importantly you need to change your way of thinking about this co-worker

      That’s actually the LEAST important thing here. The WHOLE issue is that the behavior is totally inappropriate. The CW could have the best intentions in the world, and it would not matter! The behavior still needs to stop. So why waste the effort on intent, which you can’t prove anyway and will just detract from the conversation.

  32. Spreadsheets and Books*

    #4 – this happened to me. A director on our team left, and her departure led to a lot of shuffling. I was passed over for a promotion that everyone else on my team thought I deserved. I already knew I didn’t get it, but I didn’t know about some other moves on the team until they were announced in a group meeting. It was not a great moment, and I don’t suggest this strategy.

  33. Important Moi*

    I am bemused at the number of commenters who “know better” than LW#2 about how to interpret their co-workers behavior.

    1. Not Me*

      I don’t think it’s so much knowing better than her, it’s pointing out a lot of us try to excuse this type of behavior as not being as inappropriate as it truly is because it’s uncomfortable to confront it head on. It feels better to think “she’s just being motherly” instead of “someone is making me uncomfortable by talking about my body and I need to make them stop”.

    2. Michaela Westen*

      Going into denial with “she’s just being motherly” or “he’s just blowing off steam”, etc., etc. makes it seem less threatening.
      But it’s important to understand a real threat. People stay in denial until something bad happens, when it’s too late.
      It’s possible this woman does have good intentions – but the level of boundary-crossing indicates otherwise to most of us.
      For her to have good intentions, it would have to be in a culture where this type of communication between women is common, as others have mentioned.
      Even if it is a cultural thing, OP is uncomfortable and she deserves to be comfortable and respected at work, so this has to be addressed.

      1. bonkerballs*

        It’s also important to understand that not every slight or uncomfortable situation is a threat, something this comment section often has a problem with.

        Not to mention, OP is the one who knows this situation and this woman best. So maybe take her word for it that motherly is the best way to describe it, and not dismiss her as being “in denial.”

        1. Michaela Westen*

          What if she’s wrong? What if she doesn’t have enough experience to recognize a real threat?
          We have to mention it just in case. If we didn’t and it was a threat, there could be consequences.
          Knowing that it *could* be a threat empowers her to see it if it’s there. She’s still the person who makes the evaluation and proceeds accordingly.

  34. Adlib*

    #4 – Yes, definitely tell people separately. I’m adding to others here who have had bad experiences with this. I had a boss at one time show me and another staff member a new layout for the office by walking us around it to show us where our spots would be, which meant losing my private office. It felt like a demotion (in retrospect, it was), and I would have liked at least a separate heads up. Fortunately, he apologized later (because I’m bad at poker faces, but working on it).

  35. Steve C.*

    I would phone the dentist’s office from the restaurant to let him know that not only am I withdrawing myself from consideration, I am eating your french toast right now.

    1. irene adler*

      If it was the doc’s money, then yes.
      Otherwise, I’d return with an order of French fries.

      Then when called on it, I’d explain that French fries are as similar to French toast as hostess is to receptionist.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        Or “huh, the diner advertised French toast, but it turned out to be French fries. Why would anyone be so dishonest?” Probably too subtle, though.

  36. Liza*

    OP5: If the resume templates you’re looking at are outdated enough to include a “references” section*, I wonder if they also include an “objective” section. As Alison has said in a number of other posts here, objectives don’t belong on resumes anymore either. You can replace an objective with a summary that shows the reader what you want them to get from reading your resume.

    * As the Australian commenters above pointed out, it is still customary to include references in some countries, but not in the US.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Eh, I still seem some employers asking for references upfront. Some nonprofits and academia for sure. Perhaps the template includes the section in case you need it.

      1. P peace*

        It happens, that’s very true. But for many stated reasons, asking far ahead for them should not happen. There are situations where a person’s references might even change.

      2. Oxford Comma*

        We want them up front. It’s usually either a separate sheet though or there’s a space in the portal for them.

  37. CommanderBanana*

    I think we’re all ignoring the most important part of LW #1’s letter – who orders French toast for lunch? I’d need an immediate nap.

    1. Essess*

      I was thinking similarly… except I wanted to know what type of dentist would be eating sweet sticky tooth-dissolving syrup in the office. :-D

  38. Argh!*

    Re: No. 3

    I disagree with saying anything about your own mental health. Saying you’ve helped as much as you can, and now it’s time for her to move on would be better. She’s all about herself, so make it about her! LW can say that the talk is distracting, or “I empathize but I want to focus on the positive.” That would create a work-related boundary, not a mental health issue or guilt-trip.

    I am having trouble keeping things positive where I am, and I’ve become that complainer who I never thought I would be. It’s tough once that habit has begun, but it’s absolutely necessary. What started (for me) as validation after years of keeping quiet about my toxic boss wound up in an unhealthy level or workplace complaining. I have talked to the appropriate people in HR, and to my boss’s boss, and my boss just sucks and won’t change. Many of us hate it here, but I’ve decided to keep the venting to a minimum – enough to support each other but not enough to detract from work.

    1. Michaela Westen*

      When I was working for an unbelievably bad person, I vented into a word document in my home computer every Friday. Maybe something like that would help you?

  39. Jennifer Juniper*

    OP2: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Brenda’s behavior is crossing the line into sexual harassment. She’s actually ogling you and telling you to “show off the goods.” If Brenda was a man, I’m guessing that Alison may have told her to report this to HR. If

    1. Granny K*

      Just because Brenda is a woman doesn’t mean she’s NOT coming on to the OP. In fact, I might tell her ‘you know, in addition to not dating at work, I’m heterosexual, so I would appreciate it if you’d stop coming on to me.’ Whether or not she’s gay, she’d probably stop after that.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        I said something similar once to a coworker who commented on visible panty lines. I turned around and said, “Why are you staring at my ass? I didn’t know you swung that way!” She turned back around and shut up.

  40. Allison*

    #2, a couple of years ago I had a colleague who noticed I wore red a lot. It’s my favorite color and looks good on me, I don’t think I’ve ever worn it excessively a-la Elle Woods but I wore a red dress or skirt more days than not I guess. Anyway, every day it would be either “Allison, you’re wearing red again today!” or “Aw Allison, no red today?” It got old fast. Really fast. And I recently realized that over time, I’d been phasing the color out of my work wardrobe, opting for more neutral colors instead, and subconsciously I think it’s because of this guy making a big deal out of it, even though he’d left the company years ago.

    I often wonder, when someone comments on my clothing, is it really a compliment or are they just letting me know they’ve noticed my attire, and if I was trying to get away with a bad wardrobe choice, I’ve been spotted, and I’d better get my act together and stop wearing this. Not always, sometimes someone says they like my dress and I believe them. But when it’s a constant, daily pattern of “ohh, I see you’re wearing that dress today,” it makes me wonder, y’know.

    So, OP, don’t let this woman put you off from wearing what you like. Let her know that while you’re not sure of her intentions (they could be positive or negative, it doesn’t matter), you don’t like it when she makes these comments and you want her to stop. If she genuinely feels your work attire is unprofessional, she’s free to take it up with your supervisor, but the constant commentary is unwelcome.

    1. MissBliss*

      Red is my favorite color and I am wearing it today, too! I have at least 2 red shirts and a red pair of pants, so they get a lot of play during the week.

      1. Allison*

        I recently ordered a red skirt and I’m keeping my eyes open for a red work dress. I’m bringing it back into my work wardrobe, because I look and feel awesome when I wear it.

  41. Budgie Buddy*

    People: “If you’re so COLD or whatever in this delicious refreshing air conditioning, just throw on a light cardigan!” (it is always “just” it is always “throw/toss” and it is always “cardigan.”)

    Also people: “LOL why are you all bundled up though?

    No further advice for OP 2, just sympathy. Brenda is annoying and inappropriate (especially with the advice to “show the goods.”)

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      I’m surprised Alison didn’t tell the OP to report that nasty little comment to HR. Ick.

  42. animaniactoo*

    For LW3 – if it hasn’t been mentioned already in the above comments, it’s also perfectly fine to set a boundary of “I get that you’re frustrated, but unless you’re going to do something different, I would rather not hear about this again. I’m available to help you figure out what you want to do, but not as someone to just vent to on a regular basis. It’s bad for my own ability to manage my mental health about managing the job and my workload.”

    She doesn’t have to try your suggestions necessarily. But you can definitely say that she should be attempting something different and you’re not available to listen unless she does.

  43. Josie*

    I live in S. Florida, and I always wear dresses because they are much more comfortable for me. But when it gets cold, I wear pants and we have lady who always makes a BIG deal….awkward….UM, it’s cold and I’m wearing pants, so…yeah….we’ve been over this…..

  44. Josie*

    That demist is just a TOTAL whacko…it’s not the one who murdered Cecil the lion, is it?

  45. CoffeeinanIV*

    For OP #2, I have also experienced unfortunate attention to my body. Mine was specifically tied to weight loss that I wasn’t comfortable discussing (depression). The only thing that worked for me was to completely stop acknowledging the comments and move on to something else. It forces the person to stop because they’d be incredibly weird to circle back to the topic.

  46. Zennish*

    Whenever I see “The staff is like family” it automatically reads to me “The staff is batcrap crazy and has no sense of personal boundaries”… but maybe that’s just my family.

  47. leskat*

    Absolutely, DO NOT announce this promotion in a group meeting. And I say this from experience. I work in a group of 20 people and last year, unbeknownst to anyone, one person was promoted to a supervisory position and it was announced in a meeting that had nothing to do with promotions or direction of the company etc. It came as a complete shock and surprise. Three of my coworkers had believed that they were in consideration for this promotion, although the opportunity had never been announced to the group. They had just assumed that because of their seniority, one of them would’ve been approached about it and given the opportunity to “apply” or make their case. One of my coworkers was so upset about this sudden announcement that she ran to the bathroom in tears, soon to be followed by another woman in tears, as well. The whole group was in stunned silence. It’s been nearly a year and people are still salty about how this was handled and delivered to the group.

    1. a1*

      They never spoke up about wanting a promotion, and just assumed they’d be in consideration? That seems to be the mistake there. Don’t expect people to be mind readers. I’m sorry they were so blind sided and hurt, but it’s at least partially on them, imo. If there’s a vacancy, or a need, and it’s something I’m interested I talk to my manager about it, even before there’s an open req, (because sometimes there is not one, as is the case here). I don’t wait for someone to “know” I’m interested. Even if I don’t get this position, then they know what I’m interested in and maybe something down the line opens up and they consider me or even create a position for me specifically (as has happened). But if a promotion opportunity exists, I don’t speak up, and someone else gets it I can’t be mad at anyone except myself, no matter how it’s announced.

      1. leskat*

        Yes, I can see your point but to defend my coworkers, no open supervisory position was ever mentioned or posted. In a group of only 20 people, there aren’t many moves to make and in the past people tend to move up very slowly and primarily on the basis of seniority. All three of these people had said they had talked about their ambitions to move up in their yearly reviews with our manager, but none of them were notified that a position was opening up. Positions like this open up maybe every 5 years or so here, so to not have it posted was a massive oversight. It’s not like you can wait till the next quarter and a position will arise again, that’s just not how this company is structured. And because the group is so small, you can only have so many supervisors or leads. In short, people did speak up, but weren’t notified that a position was available when it finally arose. And that’s where the shock and anger came in when it was casually announced during a break in technical presentations.

  48. Nacho*

    I’m surprised to hear people don’t list their references on their resume. Every resume I’ve ever seen has them listed at the end.

  49. Mophie*

    LW #4- Absolutely do NOT announce this is a meeting. I had experience with this. There was a reshuffle that that leadership kept secret and as part of it they brought someone in to lead our group. I didn’t know the position was open and everyone was told about it in a group meeting.
    The funny thing was, I wasn’t even sure I wanted the job, but the fact that it wasn’t announced and I didn’t get the opportunity to make my case was upsetting. The fact that I wasn’t considered made me rethink how I was viewed in the organization.
    If I wasn’t the most qualified for the job, I could expect that. But I was the only person in our group qualified for the potential promotion. If they didn’t think I was qualified, the proper response would have been to tell me that and help me figure out how to get to the point where I could be or let me know that it would never be in the cards. It might be considered “handholding,” but it actually is managing your people well and taking an interest in their development.
    I don’t have a good poker face. So my boss called me in the next day and asked what was up. I said I was disappointed in not being considered and if this was how I was viewed in the organization, then I probably needed to look elsewhere because I didn’t want to stay somewhere that didn’t see me a leadership material.
    I then got calls from multiple levels of senior leadership telling me I was valued, and offering necessary leadership training, etc. If they had done that before the announcement, I would have thought “this place cares about my development.” Instead, i was resentful until I left. And they still haven’t replaced me, because the position was so specialized.

    So long story short. If you value your employees and want to retain them. Take the time to tell them before the announcement.

  50. Database Developer Dude*

    I’m wondering why the heck someone would ask a job seeker to pick up lunch for them. If I were in hiring, I’d never do this. It’s so far beyond the pale that I’d be afraid of having my food tampered with because someone was that passive aggressive about it.

  51. workerbee2*

    #4 – I would think it was really weird to be called into a meeting with my boss specifically to discuss how I didn’t get a promotion I never applied for. You can’t know who had (reasonable or unreasonable) expectations of being offered the position and who didn’t so I think you’ll need to meet with everyone on the team. I would let everyone know that you’re going to schedule individual meetings to talk about their professional goals and how you may be able to give them the kinds of work and experiences that would help to advance those goals. Then during those meetings slip in that there are going to be some changes on the team and while there was a team lead position available, you’re unable to offer them that position at this time. If you let the whole team know that you’ll be meeting with everyone, that will likely help to lower expectations for people who were hoping to be offered the position.

  52. SantaFay*

    OP Number 3: did you and former coworkers hate / make fun of your current employer? If yes, maybe they feel that bashing it (with & to you) is just an extension of the rapport y’all used to have.

  53. LK*

    #2 – My co-worker comments on my appearances – a lot.
    I do believe that this form of talk is out of line for the work-place, even between two women. I think that for that reason this woman might think that what she is saying is ok, as already mentioned, a “motherly” insinuation to the situation. However, in the work-place, comments about specific appearances can make people uncomfortable, and not just he person they are directed at. I think that too, the people around the situation can be made uncomfortable by a conversation like that. I think that it is well within your rights to say something about how that makes you feel uncomfortable or rather how you would prefer not discussing appearances. I think that if I were in that situation I would say something like, “I appreciate your intention, but I would prefer not to make conversation around that topic. How I dress, is what makes me feel the most comfortable and confident and I would appreciate it if that was left to me to decide.” If pressed further I would say, “You comment about my body often, I understand might mean it to be flattering, but it does not have that effect on me, it actually makes me very uncomfortable. I would appreciate if you could stop.” I tend to stray towards the polite side, since you will have to continue this working relationship, but I think in this way you can also open her eyes to understanding a bit more about others as well as increasing her emotional intelligence.

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