job candidate says she has to work for us secretly

A reader writes:

We held an interview with a candidate for a part-time position who had been out of our line of work for 10 years. I interviewed her because she had some other things on her resume that seemed really interesting (she has been running a local online platform for 10 years with one other family member, so she has lots of social media and other outreach skills). Still, we are a quickly-changing industry and it is unusual to grant an interview to someone who isn’t up on the latest developments. So I thought she would be overjoyed when we decided to check references and most likely offer her the job.

She told us she could not provide any work-related references — none at all — because (a) the ones from our industry were too old; and (b) it was important that nobody she deals with via her current business knows she would be also working for us, as they had to be under the impression that she is at her online job and available to them at all times. She offered us two personal references, both close friends. We asked again for anybody who could speak to her work ethic, attitudes, demeanor, etc. (a vendor, for example, if she’d rather not have customers know). She again refused. So we moved on with another candidate.

The other candidate is great, but I can’t help but wonder how she thought this would work if she did in fact get the job. Is it normal for people who are running small businesses and have a side job to maintain a sort of cordon sanitaire between their two jobs? She did not even name her business on her resume — just put “family business” and mentioned the key elements of it. I figured out what it was as I am interested in the topic her online platform covers. They have 23,000 followers on Facebook so I’d say very solid for a local, niche platform, but she’s not running Microsoft. Why the secrecy? Would people she deals with for her online business care if she had a job with us a few days a week? How could it possibly be damaging?

The best explanation I’ve come up with is that she is embarrassed that the business is not as profitable as she would like, which I assume is why she interviewed with us. But that is such a normal thing in family businesses, it’s hard for me to see how it could be important enough for her to lose a job over. What’s your take?

Yeah, something isn’t right here.

One possibility is that she’s lying about her role in the business. You were able to figure out what business she was referring to, but it sounds like there’s no evidence that she works for it, or that she plays the role there she claimed. And refusing to allow you to speak to anyone connected with it ensures you can’t find that out. For all we know, it might not even be her family. She could have no connection to it at all.

Or maybe she did work there but flamed out in some spectacular way, and that’s why she won’t let you talk to anyone connected with the work — she embezzled, or set the place on fire, or posted videos of their largest client’s drug-fueled sex romp all over social media, or anything that would make her conclude she needed to keep you from speaking with them at all costs.

Another possibility is that she’s telling the truth about her work, but is just shady. After all, she was apparently planning to lie to people at her current business (the family member who runs it with her and her customers) so they’d think she was still available to them at times when she’d be working to you. Or she was planning to continue to be available to them while she was supposedly working for you, meaning that she’d prioritize that work over the work you would have been paying her to do. Either way, she’s basically announcing — to you, the person she wants to hire her — that she lacks integrity.

And a final possibility is that she’s really out of touch with professional norms and the work world. This one seems like it’s true regardless of what else is going on, because refusing to provide any references who could speak to her work and just offering up close friends and thinking you’d be okay with that speaks to a real lack of understanding of how this works.

It’s also notable that she also declined to provide references from her previous work in your field a decade ago, claiming they were too old — because while that’s older than would be ideal, that would definitely be better than no references at all, and it sounds like she didn’t even put that option on the table. There’s likely a reason for that.

It’s impossible for us to know what’s really going on, but everything about this situation is screaming DON’T HIRE THIS PERSON, so it’s good that you didn’t. And it’s not that people can’t be in tough situations where they don’t have ideal references to offer. They can. The issue here is the extreme shadiness of all the details.

{ 265 comments… read them below }

  1. Construction Safety*

    To her, it’s more important to appear successful than to be successful?
    Perception is reality?

    1. JokeyJules*

      Or using the salary from job #2 to make it seem like job #1 is successfully operating and paying the bills to gain interest from perspective clients?

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        That’s where my mind went. The old saying, “follow the money.” She doesn’t want clients to know she needs a second job.

    2. Kathleen_A*

      That’s a perfectly good theory, but still…

      I wanna know whyyyyyyyy! For real, I mean. And chances are I never will.

  2. Nora*

    All kinds of red flags here; you unequivocally did the right thing not hiring her, no matter what the explanation is.

    Sounds to me like her business is an MLM and if she admits that she has to have another job that would ruin the facade that is used to recruit people.

    1. JokeyJules*

      I hadn’t thought of an MLM! it would likely be too identifying for OP to mention what kind of MLM it was.

    2. londonedit*

      I thought MLM, but the OP says they looked up the business and could see that it was legit?

      1. Bilateralrope*

        Maybe OP thinks MLMs are legit.

        I know I only started hearing how bad they are this year. I hadn’t even heard the term multi level marketing.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I would bet money she’s working “part-time” during hours when she’s paid to be at her full-time gig, as evidenced by her comment about needing to appear “available” when she’s clearly not. I had a coworker who did this, and he’s still defrauding our old employer.

      Old Shady Coworker would disappear in the afternoons for 2–4 hours, saying he was visiting clients (this was normal for his role and expected). But his vehicle logs never matched where he said he was, the clients complained they hadn’t seen him in months. Turned out he was working a second paid job as a tutor while claiming he was at work for his primary, full-time job.

      OP is super lucky to have dodged this bullet.

      1. Willis*

        This is what I was thinking. Maybe she is getting most of the money from the family business with the rationale that she’s the one working full-time at it, and she doesn’t want others to know she’d be taking a part-time job.

        I don’t understand why she’d basically admit to the OP that she would be available to do her other work while being paid by the OP though!

    4. OP*

      Original poster here! Definitely not MLM. This is a very respectable business that does tons of great work locally bumping visibility for their niche industry. I love her online platform and use it frequently. But there is certainly some sort of facade/face-saving element going on here I just can’t figureout.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Maybe the candidate needs medical benefits and the best way was to get a job. But family member/business partner was against the idea.

        1. Devil Fish*

          This makes the most sense to me.

          I’ve known a few people who worked for family businesses where the owner was independently wealthy enough to not see the problem with mandating their employees couldn’t have another job while also paying below market rate for the work and failing to provide any benefits “because we’re faaamily—we help each other!”

      2. CM*

        Other than being visible and having followers, do you absolutely know the business does something that makes money? If it doesn’t, this could just be a simple situation where the business is failing and the applicant doesn’t want you to talk to anyone so you won’t know. Most businesses fail, so it shouldn’t mean you can never get a job again if people find out, but there’s a huge stigma, so I can kind of understand trying to spin it as a success and not have people look too deeply into it.

      3. Carmen Sandiego*

        I have had two co-workers at previous jobs who worked full-time for us, but in addition also got themselves another full-time job that had flexible hours or where they worked remotely (in both cases they believed one of their jobs was “easy enough” that they could handle both). It didn’t work out well for either of them because they both got caught working for one job while they were supposed to be available or working for another. Neither of them had seen anything wrong with doing that even though everyone else was appalled. I think it’s possible that kind of thing could be happening here.

  3. I should be working*

    Run. Fast (if you hadn’t already moved on). There’s really no reasonable reason I can think of that a person would act like this while trying to get hired, and the fact that they think you’d still hire them if they did also comes off as somewhat delusional which is itself not a great quality for a hire.

    1. starsaphire*

      Yeah, with that rigorous a secret-keeping boundary, the first thing I’d wonder as their boss is what secrets they were keeping from ME.

      Bullet. Dodged.

      1. GCox*

        That’s how I took the line, “they had to be under the impression that she is at her online job and available to them at all times.”

        1. Clay on my apron*

          Yes, because not mentioning your other job isn’t enough to appear to be available at all times. For that to work you actually need to BE available at all times.

          Also, it’s just Too Much Weirdness that she thinks this is a normal way to behave in an interview. What other stuff would she have sprung on OP once she started working there?

          1. Myrin*

            Yeah, that’s what I’ve been thinking. I actually tend to believe that there isn’t much secrecy to be found here and the reason she gave OP for her refusal was genuine, but in that case the problem she anticipates isn’t going to stop existing once no one was asked for a reference – while on the job OP offers, she still would not be available to her customers, whether these customers knew about the second job beforehands or not. (Unless, like others are saying, she’d planned on indeed being available for her business’s customers while on the clock for her job with OP.)

            1. Daisy*

              I agree with you, I think she gave the real reason – the appearance of availability, maybe with a side of not having people know she needs to have another job. It’s not great reasoning if you really need another job, but I’m not quite sure what’s so strange about it that everyone’s putting on their tin foil hats.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      That was my first thought, too – I’ve known a few people who ran time-consuming side-hustles while onsite at their Main Job.

      1. TardyTardis*

        We had someone who did this on company computers at old ExJob. She ended up being escorted out.

    2. Pilcrow*

      Thinking this as well. I seem to recall there was a letter a few months ago where the LW’s co-worker was going to do something like this in a finanacal sector job. He was planning to be remote and access company 2’s system with company 1’s equipment while on the clock for company 1.

      My most charitable reading is she’s promised exclusive availability to clients and now has a conflict. Still shady.

      1. Pilcrow*

        Found the one I was thinking of from February 27, 2019: “my coworker plans to work a second job during our work hours, without telling our boss”

        The mention that the second job was for a financial firm is in the comments. OP’s user name was “k_pedia”.

    3. Itsjustanothergirl*

      Definitely agree here. I worked with a woman who left work early three times a week for a standing chiropractic appointment. What we found out later was the “appointment” was actually her shift working for a chiropractor. So, she was getting paid at our company to work at someone else’s where she was also paid.

      Be glad you escaped someone who seems that sketchy before even getting hired.

      1. Clay on my apron*

        I can imagine her waving and calling out cheerily as she left the office: “going to the chiropractor!” Not a lie, technically.

        1. Half-Caf Latte*

          Friend of ours is a physician. Has definitely used the “i have a doctor’s appointment” to get out of things (socially, not at work).

          They like to point out that every appointment for the rest of their life is a doctor’s appointment.

    4. Le Sigh*

      What I can’t figure out about this is if you’re already being this shady, why not just get some friends to pretend to be references?

      I mean you *shouldn’t* actually do that, but seems like you could pull this whole ruse off much more easily with a few faked references, rather than hoping the company will take you at your friends’ word that you are what you say.

      1. B'elanna Torres*

        Maybe her friends aren’t willing to be as shady. I don’t know if I could do it, even for a friend, unless I thought it was for a really good reason. Her likely reason isn’t compelling.

    5. Working Mom Having It All*

      It’s a part time position. That’s literally how part time jobs work, though.

      I agree it’s weird that there needs to be this level of secrecy (though I tend to think that it’s a lack of awareness of workplace norms), when lots of people cobble together a living with multiple gigs. Especially if you run a small business. Also, she should be able to speak to how she will do both things, if she doesn’t plan to step back from her main job at all. Even if this is not unusual, it still needs to be managed.

      But I don’t find it sketchy that she is planning to get paid for two jobs at the same time, because basically zero part time jobs pay a full time living wage. The folks hiring for this part time position surely must know that they are only getting this person for *part* of the *time*.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Right, but if OP’s workplace thinks they are getting an employee from 2pm – 6pm, and the employee’s other job thinks that she is available for client interface between 10am – 6pm, then there are many hours when she is giving each one half her attention at best. If I hire you for 20 hours, that means 20 hours at 100%, not whatever you feel like doing.

        1. Working Mom Having It All*

          Oh, for sure. This is what I mean by “it still needs to be managed”. Once hired, each job would need to have fixed hours, and the other job would not have access to her when she’s on the clock for another gig.

          As someone who’s done a lot of freelance stuff, I could even understand not having fixed hours, but it being a task or deadline based arrangement. I did that for years when I had one part time job with fixed hours, and a second part time job where I was responsible for writing a certain number of pieces with specific deadlines. However, I didn’t work on my writing deadlines on the clock for my job with actual hours and gave both jobs 100% in a way that worked for everyone.

          It doesn’t speak well to this person’s ability to manage a workload like this that she’s not willing to communicate at all about it, with either party, or speak to how she will handle it.

      2. MsSolo*

        I think the problem is not that she’s planning to receive a wage from two places, but that’s she’s planning to receive a wage for the same hours. If you’re working multiple gigs, it’s normally 16 hours for employer A, 16 hours for employer B, 8 hours for employer C, etc etc, adding up to (usually more than) full time, not working 16 hours a week and claiming pay from all the jobs at once!

      3. Myrin*

        I’m pretty sure Murphy means “literally at the same time”, as in, she’d be sitting in front of her computer at OP’s company’s premises, but instead of doing work for OP’s company, she’d answer questions sent to her main business’s customers.

      4. Le Sigh*

        I agree with you on those points, but I think this is what’s giving a lot of people pause: “it was important that nobody she deals with via her current business knows she would be also working for us, as they had to be under the impression that she is at her online job and available to them at all times.”

        So, if her current business thinks she’s always available, does that mean that work takes priority, even if she’s at her part-time job? There are some employers who forbid other employment, so maybe that’s the case, but I’d be curious in her case what happens when her other job demands her attention while at this job.

  4. Lance*

    To be honest, I’m a bit more suspect of her current work than the lack of references. She refused to say what it was; how much did she actually tell you about what she does for them? Because, especially for a social media platform, her ‘helping run it’ is vague as vague can be.

    Something is definitely going on here, so I absolutely agree that not moving her any further in the process was the correct decision.

    1. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

      I mean, I’m less concerned about that, because you should be able to tell in an interview if a person actually did the work you’re talking with them about, or if they only read about it or are making things up. If you’re even a bit thorough, it should be obvious from an interview.

      1. Clay on my apron*

        That’s true if you are really familiar with the skill set. I’ve often encountered people who were hired as the very first Llama Groomer at the company and was interviewed by people who had never seen a llama up close. Sometimes the Llama Grooming candidate even sincerely believes that they can do the job. But the company doesn’t have anyone who can screen out the fakes.

      2. hbc*

        I had someone who was very good in the interview (and later in the workplace) about parroting back team actions, decisions, and rationale. If he had participated in a project, he could tell you exactly why certain choices were made, to the point that he could walk you through what “he” did very convincingly. “I decided to sort the camels for grooming by the number of humps, because Arabian and Bactrian have different coats, and humps are easy to see on a visual inspection for even an untrained sorter, which kept our costs down.”

        Problem was, he had zero ability to actually make those decisions himself or think outside what he was given. As in, would try to sort alpacas from llamas by humps, would need to be helped to google different traits, wouldn’t consider whether we might have to train people in this situation. I’m sure he told all the interviewers after we let him go about “his” streamlined alpaca/llama sorting program.

    2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had to sign an NDA forcing to keep their mouth shut, but at least this person should be able to briefly explain their tasks and responsibilities. I’d be cautious.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        I’ve had a large number of jobs where I needed to sign NDAs. They typically don’t extend to your resume.

        I have seen job listings where the company is confidential, but you typically find out what the company is when you’re contacted to set up an interview. And none of these jobs would want you to keep the company confidential on your resume, it’s just to avoid lookie-loos and media leaks. It’s the entertainment industry, so if a journalist sees a big movie hiring locally on a job board, they will be able to find out information about the project that might still be under wraps from a PR perspective.

        I’ve even been in a situation where I don’t want to use my current job as a reference for office politics reasons, and even so it wouldn’t involve this level of secrecy.

        Even as someone who’s dealt with weird confidentiality stuff from a hiring/employment perspective, due to working in a sensitive field, something is rotten in the state of Denmark with this one.

      2. Tyche*

        In every job I’ve been working in my industry, I had to sign a NDA, but I could talk freely about who was my employer, and my tasks and responsibilities.
        More often than not, a NDA is about clients, R&D work, technologies or practices etc., I never encountered a NDA that blocked me from stating my employer!

        1. Megster*

          There are jobs where you work for a cloaked company (meaning you sign an NDA and agree never to reveal your employer’s name). Most of them are around DC, though – and it’s not super common. Not really relevant here, but I thought it was interesting!

      3. Sk*

        I’m on NDA’s pretty frequently in my profession. We just blur out identifying information, or say “confidential” instead of naming the project/institution. It’s never been a problem when interviewing as far as naming the company I’m employed at or having references. Presumably my references are also on the same NDA’s, or don’t know about the projects because I followed my NDA. I guess there’s exceptions to everything (military comes to mind as a possible exception), but the work I do is often government related or high profile clients.

    3. Laurelma*

      I am getting so jaded. I think she is completely lying. Maybe it’s an on-line call girl ring? I doubt she is working for the employer that she’s mentioning.

      If OP was interested, she could call said employer and ask to speak to so & so. Than just hang up if she comes to the phone. I would do that for curious sake only. I would want to know if she is lying about being employed by them.

      It smells fishy, it is fishy.

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        Huh. Aside from the fact that OP figured out what the company is implies that this isn’t the case, but yeah, I could definitely see family business being a cam girl setup or something. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, and I do think this stuff requires some sensitivity when you’re looking for non sex work. And that might contribute to some of the weirdness. Especially if you’ve been out of the workforce aside from work of this nature for a long time. I can even see not wanting to provide older references for non sex work, if those people now know that she’s a cam girl, and she’s worried about it poisoning the well.

        Then again, I think the best way to do this would be to get a side gig at somewhere like Starbucks or a temp agency that can provide you with solid recent references that aren’t connected with your sex work.

        Also, needless to say, you can’t be “always available” for that sort of work if you’re also hoping to get a straight job on the side!

      2. bookishnewbie*

        I don’t want to get too off-topic, but speculating that the interviewee might be a cam girl seems like a massive leap. Would you immediately speculate that a male candidate was a sex worker in a similar situation? I know it’s moot because the OP has already weighed in to confirm that the interviewee definitely works where and how she claims to, but I didn’t want to let this slide. Also, I don’t want to stigmatize sex work either. But this seemed like a really uncalled-for, gendered, and (in this specific context) somewhat insulting theory to leap to.

      3. Gay Tridentine Catholic Buzzcut Rastafarian*

        At the risk of possibly veering off topic (which is not my intent), I like the cut of your jib. #itsmellsfishy #itISfishy

    4. LawLady*

      And I commend OP for not moving her on despite probably dying of curiosity about the situation. Prudent!

    5. OP*

      She definitely does the job she says she does. She is prominently listed on the website. It is a small team, and as far as I can tell she and one other family member are the only full-time people and everyone else works freelance or occasionally for them. The interview also brought out some good insights that I think would be hard to fake. In all, she seemed really great.

      1. Aglaia761*

        Since she’s so prominently featured on the site you found, I wonder if she’s put herself out there as an example of how to be successful at “niche industry” full time. The fact that you mentioned an online platform and that she had freelancers or other people working occasionally for the company tells me it’s something that can be done remotely. So if she was found to work part time for someone else, her credibility and expertise would be shot. Especially if there’s no way to play off the part time job as “consulting”

        However the fact that told you she has to be available to her current clients at the same time she’s supposed to be working for you is a huge red flag to me. I mean, why on earth would she say that out loud to someone?

      2. Sinister Serina*

        Ah-she doesn’t want her family member to know she’s doing this and needs/wants another job. That’s why you couldn’t talk to anyone-her family member would find out and she apparently really doesn’t want that. her friends won’t tell, that’s why she said you could talk to them. I won’t speculate about why she doesn’t want the family member to know-probably because she said she would do it full-time and needs to have the appearance of doing it full-time while also having another job.

      3. Aaron*

        My experience is that small family-run businesses are more likely to have a distorted view of what sort of things need to be kept secret. I worked for one such business where the owner forbade his employees from discussing their 10% employee discount (because his competitors might find out) and another where schedules were posted up one day in advance “for security.”

        In addition to the other issues, your applicant might be keeping unnecessary secrets just because that’s how the business operates.

    6. Anon for this*

      To be fair, I’ve done similar but only because 1) the side job approached me about working for them and 2) the main job is in a conflicting industry where even bottom tier positions sign NDAs. BUT I did check with both jobs if I could do side job and as the side job knew my real name, could easily find me on LinkedIn and see who I work for (and in the industry it’s actually backed up where you can see one’s name in credits to actually confirm it as well).

    1. Czhorat*

      That would explain it; in Witness Protection one would have no history and nobody to contact. It’s part of what makes it hard to live with.

      1. Clorinda*

        Shouldn’t the new identity include a plausible backstory and some references that go to a caseworker? Otherwise it wouldn’t be very effective, would it?

        1. Czhorat*

          From what I’m told you don’t get the support/backstory/fake work history you’d expect. There’d certainly be no way to create references.

        2. Dagny*

          At least back in the day, they refused to provide fake references and suggested that the witnesses build credibility in their new communities with volunteer work.

            1. Dagny*


              The idea is that you would volunteer with a church or food bank or whatever, and then when you apply for jobs, you list your supervisor in those roles as professional references.

        3. Liane*

          They might not. Identities from his years as a CIA agent created big problems for a community college professor of mine–that’s his side of the story anyways. In 1989, a couple years after I graduated, he had to resign after Florida passed a law requiring public college/university faculty to provide full proof of credentials–and he could not–because his degrees had been earned under another name due to his previous CIA career.

          I’ll link an article in a reply–but if it intrigues anyone, let’s wait until Friday to talk about it–not that I know much more)

      2. Kiki*

        I’m thought being in witness protection meant you got a fake job history with fake references and contacts that are managed by the program. It’s still difficult to be a super competitive candidate because nobody will have heard of your past workplaces before, but I’m pretty sure they do set up fake contacts.

          1. Kiki*

            I guess it makes sense that creating a network of fake jobs and companies would probably compromise a lot of people.

        1. Delta Delta*

          There’s a podcast called “Criminal” that did an episode on the creation of the witness protection program and had some information about this. It was really interesting.

        2. HumbleOnion*

          I’d imagine that in the internet age, setting up fake workplaces wouldn’t be sustainable. It’s so easy to research candidates & companies on social media platforms. Granted, I don’t know how many people enter witness protection each year, but it seems like it would be very difficult to create fake internet work information for all of them. I’m picturing them all working for Vandaley Industries.

        3. Cathy Gale*

          ABC recently did a news feature about how children that go into witness protection have incredible difficulty getting jobs, and that their fake IDs often make it impossible for them to get things like driver’s licenses.
          Children of Witness Protection Struggle to Reclaim Identities

  5. Heidi*

    I wonder how she was planning to hide her employment with you once she started working. Her online business colleagues would eventually figure out that she wasn’t “available to them at all times” because she would be working for the OP. Plus, would she expect the company to hide any evidence of her employment on social media or company websites? This whole deception sounds unsustainable. You did the right thing, OP.

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      Exactly. Even if everything she told you is 100% true, this part is completely unsustainable. How could she possibly expect Employer #1 to never find out about Employer #2? Or at least, to never have questions about what she’s up to? Then also, asking you to be complicit in her lie to Employer #1 in some fashion.

      I mean, there’s also no way that everything she told you is true, and I guarantee you did the right thing by not hiring her. But even taking her at face value is impossible. I’m so curious as to what she’s thinking here, and how she expects this to work out!

    2. Dust Bunny*

      . . . unless she continues doing that other job on the OP’s time. And possibly with the OP’s resources (Internet access, etc.).

      1. Regular, but anon for this*

        Bingo! I’ll be honest, I’ve approved community/hobby posts on work time, but it takes 10 seconds, and I more than make up for it working late and through lunch. She’s probably planning a much less responsible, and much more intrusive, version of this.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Yes, this – I think she would be “available at all times,” because she’d be doing that job while sitting in your workspace.

      3. JSPA*

        I actually can see this working, and without subterfuge (at least, not at the part-time job), depending on the nature of the part-time job.

        Let’s say that the full time job involves some work that’s flexible, and some that’s “on demand, as demanded, when demanded.” And also, some thumb-twiddling, waiting for those demands. If the breakdown is 1-3 hours of “as demanded,” and 2-5 hours of “moderately shiftable” per day, that means she can pack all of the “shiftable” into 3 days a week (counting saturdays, which she likely does, already). That leaves 1-3 hours of “as demanded.” But even people who respond “on demand” do things like eat, commute and go to the toilet. So, “immediate” probably functionally means, “will get back to you and start working on your problem within an hour (max 2 hours).”

        Which means that if she does an hour before her part time job day starts, then works 9 to 11, then clocks out for lunch, and catches up for an hour with the online job (as needed), then works noon to 2, then clocks out for another hour and catches up with the online job (as needed), and works 3 to 5, then checks in and figures out if she can work another hour at her part time job, or needs to clock out and in again…she can actually (with discipline) functionally cover both jobs.

        This of course presumes that the part time job is the sort of job where she can clock out and in (or otherwise take breaks) and that it’s OK to catch up for an hour in the evening, as needed, or take some work home, or come in for an extra half day on a different day of the week, ideally somewhat flexibly.

        It also presumes that the part time job is something that she can do in two hour chunks.

        Finally, it presumes that her name and picture could be left off the company website and directory.

        It’s then between her and the family partner whether she’s really holding up her end of the “full time” description. My guess is, she’s checking messages sporadically until midnight, and again at 6 AM, and is bored stupid for hours at a stretch in between, and sees no reason that she could not handle a part time job that’s “chunkable” at the same time.

        It does misrepresent to the clients of the full time job if they’re given to understand that they had to wait for an hour because so many people are clamoring nonstop for the service. But frankly, that’d also be true if she were re-watching G.O.T. and letting the messages pile up for an hour or two. So the new employer is not directly complicit. That’s between the double-timer and the family company.

        I actually have huge sympathy towards someone who’s underemployed at a family company and can’t leave until they build a recent resume and make contacts outside of that family company. If there are other family problems, or plain old company problems compounded by family responsibilities, that gets miserable, fast. I’m not sure how forthcoming you can expect someone to be, in that circumstance, either.

    3. OP*

      Yes, this was one of my questions! She must have noticed that we are all listed on our website! Was she planning to refuse to be listed there? There are just so many details that don’t add up.

      1. Myusername*

        This has been talked over times before, but that part on its own I can see being a real request.

      2. wittyrepartee*

        Yeah, that part I can imagine someone needing for non-sketchy reasons. For instance: if she had a stalker.

      3. Properlike*

        Question: did you meet her and see ID? Because I wonder if she’s really the person listed on the website.

        1. Beth Jacobs*

          OP did an in-person interview. I’d assume the website includes a photo (it’s standard for the industry). I think that’s good enough.

          Honestly, I might be slightly weirded out if I was asked to show an ID to my interviewer. I understand a receptionist signing me into a large building, but at the interview itself? Strange.

  6. Detective Amy Santiago*

    This makes me feel like she has a FT remote job and is planning to try to double dip.

    1. Midwest writer*

      Haven’t there been a couple of letters along those lines in the past? Or maybe just comments on Open Friday threads, about co-workers who were working two jobs at the same time? How do people think that’s sustainable?

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, we’ve had letters and comments both about it!

        I mean you can string them together sometimes, see PCBH’s comment about a former colleague that does it as well. It’s so risky that you’ll get caught even before burnout sets in.

        People live in their own heads and tend to think they’re more capable than they really are is really what it boils down to.

  7. Bostonian*

    Even if you put aside all the secrecy and the things you can’t know about this person’s work history, there is one piece of truth that points to you doing the right thing by not hiring her: She essentially said she would be working for you and her company at the same time without them knowing, while still always being available to them, which means everything Alison mentioned: She would either be working for them while “on the clock” with you, or having to lie to them.

    1. Antilles*

      And laughably, she was telling you that upfront. Hey, just so you know, I’m planning on doing something wildly unethical and actively lying on a daily basis. You’re cool with that right?
      Wait, what? No, I’m not okay with that. The door’s over there, don’t let it hit you on the way out.

    2. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

      Eh, I have a hard time being mad at this. Sounds like the other job is crappy and also only part-time, but expects her to always be available? If the second job blows up in the candidate’s face the first time they’re not available because they’re working for OP is very much in the “candidate’s problem” category. I can’t really be mad at people who lie to their employers when those employers are unreasonable jerks. The fact that they were honest about it to OP is a good sign, imo. (I’m not saying I would absolutely hire this person, but if I were at the stage where I were otherwise ready to make an offer, this would all be things I would want to dig into more, not prima facie evidence that the candidate is immoral or dishonest.)

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Leaving the ethical issues I aside — which I think are significant — this person is saying she’s going to do work for another employer while working for the OP, and it sounds like she will prioritize that work over the OP’s work.

        1. Arctic*

          But it’s a part-time job. Of course, she’s going to be working for someone else. And, of course, her full-time job would take priority.

          1. NerdyKris*

            Being on call 24/7 is not the same as working two jobs. The candidate is saying that she’s expected to possibly do work for her full time job even while on the clock for the part time job. The alternative is that she’s lying to her full time job about being available. Either one is a serious ethical concern.

            People having two jobs is fine. What is not fine is doing work for one of them during hours you’re supposed to be working at the other.

          2. smoke tree*

            But it seems pretty likely that her plan was to try to do the two jobs simultaneously. As in, during the hours she’s supposed to be working for the LW, she is actually working on the online business.

          3. Rusty Shackelford*

            I don’t think the problem is the other job taking priority. I think the problem is the likelihood that the applicant would be on call for the other job while she is literally doing the new job.

            1. Arctic*

              I’m not sure if that was in separate communication but nothing in the letter indicates that. She just said that her clients have that impression.

              1. NerdyKris*

                Then she’s lying to her other job and possibly committing fraud. Which means she’s perfectly fine doing the same to you.

          4. boo bot*

            I actually think that, taken alone, the “available at all times” thing could turn out to be non-shady, depending on the circumstances.

            If she’s expected to be doing time-sensitive things in those hours, then obviously it’s not feasible or ethical to double up. But it could also be more of an optics thing, where she can do the actual work anytime, but her clients (or her family) will assume that she’s not able to prioritize their work if she’s known to have another job.

            I know that’s not how she phrased it, but “available at all times” is one of those phrases that means wildly different things depending on who you’re talking to.

            That said, the way she presented all this is worrying. If she were going to be managing both jobs, being transparent about it would be pretty vital, and she’s been just the opposite.

            Plus, there’s a limit to how much you can ask an employer to go along with the secrecy – you can ask that your picture not be used for the company billboard, but you can’t ask them to disavow you if your identity is compromised.

        2. OP*

          This was certainly one of my quandaries. Her job would have been public-facing and we can’t have someone calling out all the time if something comes up with their other job. What if a client from her family business texted her while she was on the clock with us? Would she stop helping the client here in order to help the client she considers more important?

          1. Working Mom Having It All*

            It sounds like this might be a problem inherent to hiring a part timer in this position, if you are looking for someone who is well-qualified for the role. Unless you’re looking for a college student or someone who is semi-retired, by definition, if you’re hiring someone part time, you are probably looking for someone who wants a side gig. Side gigs are, again by their very definition, not the employee’s main priority. Now, it’s fine to expect that the person you hire is 100% working for you during their work hours. And it’s sketchy as hell that this person couldn’t make that assurance to you and indeed kind of implied that they won’t be doing that as a condition of taking the job.

            But, yeah, if what you are looking for is someone who has a full time small business doing this kind of work, but who can handle your business on the side… their full time small business is always going to take priority. Even if they say in a job interview that they will balance both. Because one is their main focus, and the other is a side gig. They shouldn’t be taking client calls during your work hours, obviously. But, yes, you are probably going to end up with someone who might call out sometimes, or might say “hey I need to leave at 5 on the dot because I have a client meeting for my other job at 5:15” or the like. Because they are a part timer, and by hiring and paying someone part time, you are resting on the fact that this person has other work.

            Is there a way you could hire someone full time in this role, or do something like hire someone semi-retired or a student looking to go full time after graduation?

            1. Observer*

              Why? The problem is not that the employee is going to be part time, so not 100% available. But that they might become unavailable during the time that they are being paid to be available

              Also, trying to keep the name of the person in a public facing job secret is a total non-starter.

              1. Anon for now*

                Yeah. It doesn’t sound like the OP is looking to be able to ask for unexpected overtime. They just need someone who can commit to a set schedule. I supervised someone who was part time. She was a student and her priority was understandably school, but when she started calling out all the time to study for tests or go to an optional school event, we had to let her go because we needed someone to actually show up.

      2. Observer*

        It doesn’t matter if the first job is good or bad. She made a commitment, and either she needs to honor it or quit. Worse, she is telling the OP that she’s planning to maintain availability for job while working for OP. What is remotely ethical about that? And why would any reasonable employer hire someone who intends to work a different job while on the clock?

        1. JR*

          I think it’s the clients from her own business (and maybe her business partner, who is her family member) that she’s worried about – she doesn’t want them to think they aren’t her top priority at all times. But of course, OP needs OP’s job to be her priority during the hours she agrees to work it…

        2. Working Mom Having It All*

          I think the implication is that it’s OP’s company that is hiring someone for a crappy part time job. Not that the other job is the crappy part time one.

          1. OP*

            Is that the implication? This is an excellent part-time job. We pay 10% above our industry average, plus a percentage in lieu of benefits for part-timers. Most of our employees are full-time, permanent employees, and there are opportunities for part-time staff to move into those positions; for people who don’t want any more than their part-time job, there is no pressure to move up or into a full-time role. This is an excellent opportunity. I am still quite shocked she died on the hill of not providing references, but like a lot of people have said, if we had in fact moved forward there would have been other problems, like wanting secrecy about her employment with us, and responding to her primary job when on the clock with us.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I’m more impressed that she told you what she was up to. I’m also confused?

    I have this side work, and I can’t tell you what it really is or connect you with another human being who can vouch for me professionally because I need them to think I’m available all the time. But I want to work for you.

    So what does she think of you then? You’re going to take a backseat? I mean… I’m shocked she proposed this arrangement at all!

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      Someone needs to pull together all the “Okay, this person is really a spy, right?” AAM letters into one giant fanfic.

  9. Falling Diphthong*

    Or she was planning to continue to be available to them while she was supposedly working for you.

    Yeah. The way to create the appearance to her old boss, coworkers, and customers of still being always available is to be, you know, always available to them.

  10. Czhorat*

    Maybe she’s planning on opening being a spy and secretly working a mundane job. Everyone else does it the other way, so this would be a neat reversal.

    In any event, pretending that you’re 100% available for something when you also have a part-time gig elsewhere is simply dishonest, and I agree with Alison that if someone starts their relationship with an admission that they’d be lying it should be very hard to trust them.

    I’m in the AV industry, and there are handfuls of people who have their own production/DJ/photography/etc side jobs. On LinkedIn, for example, they’d list both. Unless you’re in direct competition (which would create other issues) this is really fine and normal.

      1. L. Lane*

        OP, you wouldn’t happen to be the editor of the Daily Planet, would you? Perhaps the employee needs a flexible job with press access for her superhero work. No one will ever notice that she’s gone because you’ll just assume she’s at the other job. And the website is a cover produced by her buddies at Wayne Enterprises.

    1. boo bot*

      I wonder if her family is making this weird. The overall situation seems so normal to me. I understood it to be as you’re describing – she’s got her own side company and she needs another job, it’s not something that should require secrecy. It makes me kind of wonder if there’s a small family-business dynamic involved, where she knows the hours will work out fine and she can do both jobs, but she’s going to get a ton of grief if she’s upfront about it.

      That said, if I’m going to speculate wildly, I vastly prefer the un-secret agent scenario!

  11. Phony Genius*

    Is the job description for a secret agent? Is it for a hit man or other mob-like job (a.k.a. “family business”)? If the answer to both questions is no, then this is the wrong candidate for the job. Or most jobs.

    1. Moray*

      Anywhere she sat when she came in for the interview? Check for the hidden listening devices she planted.

  12. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    You’re dodging a storm of bullets here not just a single one.

    I’ve worked for multiple companies at once and the correct thing to do is always be transparent. That’s so strange.

  13. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

    I am actually going to disagree here a bit. I don’t think that Alison is necessarily wrong; I think any of those things are entirely possible. But honestly, it is not at ALL uncommon for people who are piecing together incomes from multiple jobs to keep those jobs as separate as possible, for a lot of reasons. Most commonly is just that your other part-time job resents not being your #1 priority, so they have blanket policies saying you can’t work for anyone else while you work with them. Which is a crappy thing for employers to do, but a *lot* of them do it. If she signed an agreement to that effect, then she’s doubly desperate for them to not find out about you.

    I agree that it’s less than ideal that she couldn’t offer references from the jobs 10 years ago, but that’s not surprising at all; she might literally not know who she could put. I don’t even have 10 full years of work history yet and I could not tell you the last name of my first couple of managers. I wouldn’t know how to find their information if I tried!

    If she seemed like a really exceptional candidate, I would have tried to dig deeper. The scenario I paint above (part-time employer that won’t let you get another part-time job + job from 10 years ago that you can’t get any references for) is possible enough, and benign enough, that I would be uncomfortable rejecting the candidate purely on that basis, especially if I were otherwise ready to make an offer.

    1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

      I disagree. I have worked multiple gigs at the same time–many entrepreneurs do before their start-up can generate sufficient income. Hiding that information is considered wildly unprofessional. The person who does that often ends up losing out on multiple jobs.

      One other point: as a hiring manager, it is not my role to dig deeper on an exceptional candidate. What often makes the candidate exception are clear items that make the hiring manager’s job easier, not harder.

      1. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

        I guess we disagree on what makes for good hiring then!

        In a tight labor market, you can either try to compete with the very best talent (with the expensive salaries that come with that) or you can seek a competitive edge by hiring high potential people who other actors in the market are underestimating. It’s riskier, sure, but it comes with many human and monetary benefits!

        I don’t think that hiding side gigs is universally considered “wildly unprofessional.” A lot of businesses have rules about it, or get uptight about it, to varying degrees. Most people I know that have side hustles have considered them to be none of their primary employer’s business.

        1. Observer*

          Hiding that information to the point that you are lying – either to the OP or to their current employer / customers *IS* wildly unprofessional.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          The problem is that the refusal to provide any sort of professional reference makes it impossible to tell if this is really an exceptional candidate or just somebody who can put on a great act for 45 minutes in an interview. She’s refusing to help the employer find out if she’s really the best candidate for the job, so the employee has no way of knowing, and is probably better off with someone who’s a safer bet.

        3. SarahTheEntwife*

          If she had a sided hustle and just didn’t list it on her resume or mention it once she was hired, that would be 100% non-sketchy in the vast majority of cases. But here she’s talking about it as her only job experience but refusing to say what it is or offer references from it.

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        This heavily depends on the industry.

        In tech, sure, this might fly because everyone is somewhat on equal footing, and there’s at least an illusion of startup culture and that people work their way up. So it’s normal for your boss to “understand how it is” in this regard. They either were once in your shoes, or there’s a culture of acting like most people were once in your shoes.

        But if we’re talking about service industry jobs, the culture is that everyone is expected to pretend that they somehow subsist on a single 15 hour a week job folding sweaters at the mall, and indeed this sweater folding job is their primary focus in life, and they are available to fold sweaters 24/7 and usually at short notice or no notice at all. You can absolutely end up between a rock and a hard place if you need to use that sweater folding job as a reference to get a pizza delivery job which will also have the same demands on your availability (24/7, no notice, minimum wage 15 hours a week), and also surmises that pizza delivery tips constitute a living wage.

        Thank you for listening to my TED talk, and yes, Marx is spinning in his grave.

    2. Lance*

      Would digging deeper be worth the time/energy, though, if you have other good/great candidates to choose from? I get where you’re coming from, that there could be issues such as that that she can’t disclose… but then it’s still on her to do everything in her power to provide some sort of work reference, or something of that sort, rather than passing on personal references and apparently refusing everything else that might possibly serve as such.

      1. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

        That’s the thing, though; we’re in a very tight labor market. Great people don’t grow on trees. I suspect this candidate had some very good things going for them if OP was offer-ready on a candidate that hasn’t worked in the field in 10 years. Especially if you’re talking skilled work in a part-time job, that’s probably a very small labor pool.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          See the tight labor market and economy right now is why I don’t trust this person enough to keep digging or giving her a shot. There’s less reason for reputable skilled employees to be skittish about their other revenue streams. Great people rarely have to lie or hide things either.

          Unless this was your only candidate available, there’s no reason to suddenly give her more bites at the apple to get around her sketchiness.

          1. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

            I think that first paragraph you’ve written is very dangerous thinking!

            Just a couple jobs ago, I was in a situation where I had to make a lot of decisions about whether or not to lie to prospective employers… because I had been in a workplace with a sexual harasser who held a lot of power, in a complicated situation. This person had been my boss and was the main person who could have been able to speak to my work in that job. And he was simply not a person whose name I could put in as a reference, and for a variety of reasons I couldn’t really be honest about why. It worked out fine for me, but if you read accounts of people who have complained about harassment and discrimination, they often include phrases like “then I was unemployed for 3 years and my career never got back on track.”

            I get feeling good about eliminating fraudsters and liars, but you should do so with full awareness that, in an employer-controlled labor market that devalues candidates at every turn, there’s enough reason for great people to lie that you should be aware of the possibilities.

        2. Observer*

          If she were that great, she would be able to come up with SOMETHING – and her current employer would be at least as worried about losing her (a known quantity) as you say an employer who knows nothing about her should be.

    3. Myrin*

      If I’m reading the letter correctly, the prospective candidate co-owns the business, so if there is indeed such a blanket policy of “no other gigs!”, she herself would be able to change that (and I doubt there’s any such rules, anyway, since it seems like the only other person working with her is her one family member).

      1. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

        I’m not convinced she has any ownership stake at all. It says her resume notes a “family business” and lists topline details. Lots of people work for their parents’ business without having any ownership or power at all.

        Family businesses (as we’ve seen on AAM many times) are often a mess. Your belligerent-ass father employs you part-time, and you’re trying to get another part time gig, and suddenly he’s telling you you’re not allowed to have side employment if you’re gonna work for him…. just one of a thousand ways I can see this going.

        1. Myrin*

          I assumed OP knows the “ownership” part for a fact since she found out by herself that “[candidate] has been running a local online platform for 10 years with one other family member”; it seemed to me like there must be some kind of “about us” page or “our business’s history” or the thing is called “Isabella & Candice’s Crotcheting Supplies” and the candidate is Isabella, something to that effect.
          But of course, stuff like that can be faked, too, and candidate might just be this business’s face without much actual involvement at all.

        2. Observer*

          So we’re totally getting into AAM FanFic here. This kind of thing does happen, but absent evidence it’s not a reasonable assumption to make

          Also, if this kind of soap opera is what is going on, the OP needs to be OUT of this, since it’s clear that the candidate hasn’t gotten her boundaries set up. And she would certainly be doing work for the other job in order to keep her unreasonable parent in the dark.

        3. pope suburban*

          Frankly, my first thought about the “family business” was that it was a dysfunctional if not outright abusive environment. People living in unsafe or precarious situations often do need to resort to fairly extreme measures to create a safe exit. I hope I’m wrong; if I’m not, then I hope this person gets out safely. But ultimately, that’s not something our letter writer is obliged to investigate or get involved in solving. This was really weird behavior and I couldn’t fault anyone for opting to proceed with another candidate. It’s one of those situations where the “why” ultimately isn’t super-relevant.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            There’s really nothing in the letter that would indicate that, and I feel really uncomfortable with the idea of speculating on this job applicant’s family situation with no evidence at all.

        4. NothingIsLittle*

          Sure it might be possible, but that doesn’t make it plausible. It’s certainly possible that she’s a fantastic candidate in a bad situation that she’s trying to circumvent. However, is it likely that someone in that position would obfuscate her current situation and give no references, nor alternatives to traditional work references? Absent specific evidence pointing to it, I don’t think so.

          I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt, too, but if you take the letter at face value the evidence pretty clearly suggests a situation that would be disadvantageous for OP and the potential employer. In a tight labor market, why risk wasting resources on someone who can’t provide alternatives to or sufficient explanation for avoiding regular business practice? The likelihood of someone in the situation as explained being a quality investment seems low unless you’re extrapolating very generously.

    4. WellRed*

      The thing is, the candidate was already a stretch candidate, not an exceptional candidate.

      1. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

        But OP was ready to make an offer! They clearly thought she had a lot to offer on merit.

        1. WellRed*

          Fair point but I am not sure on how the OP could have “dug deeper” at this point. The candidate flat out refused to provide professional references of any sort and that’s unusual enough that most employers wouldn’t bother.

    5. Czhorat*

      She can’t offer ANY professional references. That’s a big red flag.

      No vendors? Clients? Even peers? Nobody she’s encountered on the job? That’s definitely sketchy.

      1. Former manager*

        I got an application like this once. For every job listed, the question “may we contact this employer?” was marked “no.” And when we asked for references the applicant refused. We removed the person from our list and continued on with our process. If I have no verifiable information on your work habits, I’m lacking one of the most important pieces of information I need to make my decision.

        1. Ophelia*

          Right – it’s one thing not to want to contact a current employer (or to check the “no” box when you don’t know the interviewing firm’s processes, especially early in the hiring process), but no references at all is super-weird.

    6. TootsNYC*

      she might literally not know who she could put. I don’t even have 10 full years of work history yet and I could not tell you the last name of my first couple of managers. I wouldn’t know how to find their information if I tried!

      I’ve started advising my daughter to keep copies of staff lists for every job she’s had, so she can find people later if she needs to.

      It’s one of those housekeeping things that never got mentioned to me when I was younger. I mean, I did update my references list every time I changed jobs, but it would often be useful even to have coworkers as references. People die!

      1. Delta Delta*

        This is a really good idea. Thinking back on my own life, I recall that three jobs ago I worked with a woman whose name might have been Carol, or it might have been Judy, but I know she worked in accounting, I know she was great, and now I can’t remember all the details about her. Had I thought to keep a list I’d be in better shape, memory-wise.

      2. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

        This is one of the under-recognized benefits of LinkedIn. I try to connect with (at minimum) my manager and peers at any given job. Then as we move on, we’ve all still got that method of potentially figuring out where everyone is now when it’s time to ask if people can provide a reference.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Though I cautioned my daughter–you can’t count on LinkedIn always being there.

          So, use it now to gather those names and contact info, but keep them on a hard copy in a folder with your resumé from all your past job searches.

          1. Czhorat*

            That’s very cautious of you, and probably smart.

            Then again, as a property of Microsoft I doubt that it will disappear without warning anytime soon.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I update my resume preliminarily for each job, with the company/contact info necessary each time.

        Then again if I ever forgot my references/bosses over the years, I’d need to retire since that kind of thing doesn’t tend to fly out of your head when dealing with such small organizations like I do.

    7. Oxford Comma*

      I know plenty of people who have been applying for jobs and felt they could not ask anyone in a supervisory relationship to them for a reference, but have still somehow managed to find a few people to serve as professional references. Sounds like the OP was willing to be liberal with that and got shut down and offered two friends.

      Right there, that’s a red flag. A pretty big one.

      1. TootsNYC*

        especially because the OP seemed to be pretty clear that they’d have taken a colleague.

        Sometimes I put more weight on a colleague than on a boss; there’s always the “exaggerating for a friend” possibility, but I’m fortunate to know a lot of folks in my industry, so that helps me assess credibility

        And in my field, colleagues are the ones who see your work up close; a boss doesn’t always.

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        To me, this is the real crux of it. While I can imagine myself in the rock/hard place situation of only having my current job as a good reference, but not being able to use them as a reference because of politics or optics, at the end of the day, either I am going to do anything I can to come up with some kind of professional reference, or I’m going to understand that I’m probably not an attractive candidate.

        I think this person made a lot of mistakes in applying for this job, and probably didn’t do any of it maliciously, but at the end of the day I think OP made the right choice not to hire.

    8. BRR*

      This is a good point. It’s sadly common for businesses to employee you part-time but have full-time expectations. But even with that, I don’t think the LW should be investing a lot of time in this. These red flags combined basically erase all of the candidate’s recent work history (not counting what the LW found out).

    9. Detective Amy Santiago*

      If she has a job with a rule that she can’t have a second job, why would you want to hire her? She’s clearly willing to be dishonest and sneaky. That’s a strike against her, no matter how good of a candidate she might be.

      1. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

        Because employers who have rules against their part-time people taking second part-time jobs are crappy employers, and most people (especially those working in part-time positions) simply do not have the ability to just go get another job. I cannot fault someone for lying to an employer that puts them in that position (especially given that this other employer is an actual family member of hers, so, a relationship that she’ll have to continue to live with long after she’s not working for them anymore).

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s ignoring a huge piece of this, which is that she’s telling the OP she plans to continue to do work for that employer during that hours that she’s supposed to prioritizing the OP’s work.

          It’s also ignoring the fact that she presented all of this nonchalantly without explanation or context, which puts a very different cast on it than “I’m in a tough situation and here’s how I’m trying to navigate it.”

          This is not someone the OP can responsibly hire. Not even close to that.

          1. Close Bracket*

            she plans to continue to do work for that employer during that hours that she’s supposed to prioritizing the OP’s work.

            Oh, I didn’t take that away. When OP said, “nobody she deals with via her current business knows she would be also working for us, as they had to be under the impression that she is at her online job and available to them at all times,” I took that to mean customers, suppliers, whomever, needed to have the impression that the candidate was sitting at her computer with bated breath at all hours of the day, waiting to take their calls and emails. Not that the candidate was *actually* going to be at their computer taking calls and emails while working for OP, just that the impression needed to be intact. I know of (and previously engaged in) side gigs where this was the case—maintain impression, but reality can be different, as long as work gets done on time.

            But yeah, candidate should have given references from 10 years ago. Unless those people are dead, they can still speak to OP’s performance at those jobs.

            1. NerdyKris*

              But the implication of “available to them at all times” is that if they do call she has to drop what shes doing at the part time job to handle it. Or at the very least, she’d be constantly keeping an eye on that job’s emails and phone calls while working, which is essentially no different than constantly checking personal emails and texts from the perspective of the part time employer.

              1. Close Bracket*

                The implication of *actually* being available at all times is as you say. However, she just wants to maintain the perception that she is available at all times. We don’t know what it means for her to be available at all times since we don’t even know what the business is apart from it being a platform with users. Could be that being available at all times is easy to fake.

                1. NerdyKris*

                  In that case she’d be lying and possibly defrauding the other job, which raises the question of whether she’d do that to her part time job as well. So you’d still have massive ethical issues.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          As you note, it’s a tight labor market–if your employer demands that you have to give them full-time hours for half-time pay and you can’t have side gigs, you can quit.

          That would be the normal thing with this hypothetical draconian employer–candidate would offer the sideways references but ask that OP not contact her current boss, and would quit the crappy job once OP hired her. She’s been very clear that she instead plans to continue on with the crappy job while working for OP and maintaining full availability for the other gig.

          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            Unfortunately, for people in a situation where they have to string together multiple jobs, “just quitting” isn’t always an easy option. The labor market may be tight in general, but that doesn’t hold true in all places (think rural areas) or for all people (people with significant barriers to employment like disabilities, few in-demand skills, a poor work history, or a criminal record).

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              (This particular person’s case, however, sounds like something much sketchier.)

    10. Fae*

      Yeah, I’m kind of with you on this one. My first thought was her family member she works for/runs the company with was like the ones Captain Awkward gets letters about and the job candidate just wouldn’t feel safe if the family member found out. And then for the jobs 10 years ago, I could supply (multiple) references from my campus job but if you wanted references from my co-ops? I ‘d be screwed, I can’t get a hold of any of those people.

    11. Observer*

      Nope. Big time.

      If she signed an agreement, why would OP want to get involved with that? And what other agreements would she be willing to abrogate? I’m not defending those agreements, but it doesn’t make it ok for someone to breach it.

      The scenario you paint is also not plausible, based on what the OP was told. And it’s so totally not benign that I wouldn’t touch it with a 10 foot pole.

    12. hbc*

      It’s not just “part-time employer that won’t let you get another part-time job”, though. It’s not having a single person who has seen you work to vouch for you. There’s not a single former client who wouldn’t run off and tattle to the current boss? Not a current one who’s not a demanding snot about being available 24/7? Not a former coworker who sympathizes? Not even a vendor who’s got some self-interest in keeping a good relationship with the candidate?

      I can think of a couple of dozen people who I would trust to give me a decent (if non-ideal due to time or position) work reference and not rat me out. I’m not sure why the interviewee couldn’t, but it sure isn’t up to the OP to do all the work to find someone or whatever else you mean by “dig deeper.”

    13. OP*

      The other employer is literally herself. She and one other family member run that business. This is known among people who use the platform (I checked). So it cannot be that the other employer is telling her she can’t work elsewhere.

      1. Close Bracket*

        The other family member could be telling her that she can’t work elsewhere, and then she can’t use them as a reference. Who knows. I actually took it to mean that users of the platform need to think she is always available to work on the platform and she doesn’t want it to get out that she isn’t, including by telling her family member that she has another job (that will be hard to hide over the long term).

        Even so, not giving the references from when she was in the field before? I would want that even if she was giving her family member or a supplier or something from her current gig as a reference, even if they are old.

    14. Lilysparrow*

      So your definition of a “great candidate” is someone who claims to be in a similar line of work, but with absolutely no details about their specific experience, and no way to verify anything they claim about themselves?

      With those kind of standards, I’m very surprised that you find the labor market tight.

  14. Lora*

    More red flags here than a May Day parade in downtown Leningrad. More red flags than Tiananmen Square on PRC National Day.

    Is the day job for your direct competitor? I mean, that’s the only reason I can think of that someone wouldn’t want their day job to know who else they were working for. I know a LOT of people in my field who have side gigs – heck, I know some VP level folks who have side gigs just doing things they love, like teaching sailing or motorcycle safety or portrait photography.

    Although now that I think about it, there was one notorious incident where a small startup (Sirtris) had come up with a drug that was also a natural product (as in, purified molecule from a plant source) and after many attempts to sell to various Big Pharma companies and being told repeatedly that their work was all Journal of Irreproducible Results, they were finally bought by GSK against the advice of the GSK internal staff. As usual, the Sirtris founders were brought into GSK at the VP level and given what amounted to a sinecure. The drug and its related candidate molecules all failed clinical trials repeatedly, at great expense; the Sirtris VPs were then discovered to have been hawking their molecule to herbal supplement companies, against the very explicit terms of their IP handover to GSK. It was quite the scandal at the time. And again, there were a LOT of red flags that drove away other investors, quite apart from their lack of actual data that wasn’t garbage…are you sure this person isn’t secretly Elizabeth Holmes?

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      More red flags here than a May Day parade in downtown Leningrad.

      Thank you. I am going to start using that!

      1. Lora*

        I keep thinking of other examples now: other than MLM folks who were already mentioned, there was a distant relative who managed to get fired with extreme prejudice from every job she had, leaving a trail of bad references and furious ex-colleagues in her wake; a colleague’s wife who had owned a business that was sued into oblivion for screwing over their biggest customer (it made the local paper due to being involved with a minor league sportsball team); a relative’s bookkeeper who embezzled from the office discretionary budget for over a decade; a colleague who had been on multiple PIPs at every job he’d had, and “does side work” would have been the last straw.

        Others have mentioned that she could be in an abusive situation, and that is obviously horrible…but there are side gigs and freelance jobs you can get with only personal references, or with a portfolio as a demonstration of your work quality. This just isn’t one of them.

  15. Delta Delta*

    Echoing everyone saying “run!”

    Also, thank you for teaching me the phrase “cordon sanitaire.” It’s a lovely phrase and I’d like to try using it sometime.

  16. Unluckycat40*

    Another possibility is that she needs to keep that job and she is afraid of losing it while still being in a selection process.
    When I was younger I got an interview to a big NGO in my city. It went extremely well: they immediately told me I was on board, let me chose the area in which I was more interested in working and that they would have been in touch in the next days.
    Next day I was fired on the spot by my boss because I dared looking for a job elsewhere. They reached him for references and he did not take it well.
    And then I was reached by the NGO telling me that due to budget they could not hire anyone. I got extremely angry and told them they made my life miserable and that they should be ashamed of their behaviour.

    1. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

      Yes! There is an entire sub-economy of people who work for absolutely terrible orgs, or terrible individual people, but the reality is that they have to pretend like they don’t work for terrible people because otherwise they look “suspicious” like the candidate in this question.

      Most employers are happy to say “pass” on someone risky, and that inevitably includes people who are “risky” because they have some factor in their job past that makes them look that way for reasons that are entirely not their fault. When your options as a job seeker are “lie” or “put the truth and cross your fingers it doesn’t wreck your entire livelihood” you’re gonna lie a lot more often than you would probably prefer to.

    2. Naomi*

      I’m sorry that happened to you, and it was crappy of them to reach out to your current boss without checking with you… but presumably you’d have quit your job if you were hired by the NGO, right? It’s common for people not to tell their current boss they’re job searching for just this reason, but hiding a job search is short-term; your boss will find out when you give notice that you’re quitting. It’s not sustainable in the long term to have a second job you have to hide from the first one.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        Yes, but if Unlucky had a job to go to when they gave notice it would not have been such an issue if their jerk boss fired them for daring to resign. This scenario is why people are nervous about references that aren’t on their list.

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        The common wisdom is not to alert your boss or give notice until you have a job offer in hand. The NGO did a shady thing, even if it was probably in ignorance or wishful thinking that most managers are good people who understand this sort of thing.

      3. Unluckycat40*

        Fact is I was working and bringing tons of resources from my projects but when the time came for people to be officially hired, that boss hired his wife first, despite her not doing any work for the company, while keeping me as a fake external part-time expert (I was there every day from 9 to 5) and still keeping on paying me irregularly. Of course I wanted to quit, but there were not many possibilities in my city or country, so I was really counting on getting that job at the NGO.
        I had no problem with them checking my previous employers, but I could not pas over the fact they did a selection process while not being sure about if they could hire someone new or not. They made me lose my job and be unemployed. We get no benefit in my country, I almost become homeless.

    3. Polymer Phil*

      I had a coworker whose job hunt was revealed to our HR manager by an indiscreet reference-checker. I have a very low opinion of the company as a result.

    4. Observer*

      That really doesn’t explain what is going on here though. It’s one thing if the person said “please don’t reach out to my employer, but here are some other people who can talk to my work.” But what she said was “I’m going to pretend that I’m not working for you even after you hire me.” Very different thing.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      That’s so awful! Which is why I prefer to deal only with people who don’t just call up your references without any discussion first. This doesn’t sound like you even gave them references, just your work history and they took it upon themselves to call up your current boss. W.T.F.forever. I’m glad you let them know they harmed you because they clearly weren’t thinking at all when they pulled that move.

    6. smoke tree*

      Even if something like this is in play, the candidate really didn’t do herself any favours with how she handled it. She could have provided references from her previous work in the industry–old references are better than nothing. She could have tried to find someone who could speak to her current work who she could rely on to be discreet. Or she could have at least been candid with the LW about being in a difficult situation with regards to references. I’m sympathetic if she was in a tough spot, but given the details mentioned here, I can’t see how any reasonable person would have felt good about hiring her.

    7. OP*

      In retrospect, there is one other red flag I didn’t think about too much at the time. Some of our questions were about handling busy times (it is a public-facing role) and she very capably gave several examples of being able to handle people who were demanding, working with multiple people simultaneously. All that’s good. But then when we asked about what she would do to fill down time, she kind of laughed and said there was never down time at her business. If there’s never down time… she doesn’t have time to work for us.

      1. Czhorat*

        That’s also a dodge; everyone has down-time.

        Good answers are,

        “catch up on administrative chores”
        “read up on industry news to keep current.”
        “Contact industry peers on social media to keep an active network”
        “Send followup thank you/catching up notes to former clients. Other general non-urgent correspondence”

        Those say that they productively use the time between rushes. “Haha, what downtime?” either means that they’re disorganized and jumping from one fire-drill to the next OR are ducking the question because they spend downtime surfing Facebook for cat videos.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It’s not true that everyone has downtime, many people have jobs that stack their duties so high that there’s never a downtime, they’re constantly playing catch-up and are supposed to be at 100% capacity at any given time. Been there, done that and got the ef out of there due to the physical deterioration of my body and mental issues it caused.

          However the OP is totally correct, if she has one of those jobs, then she absolutely cannot be working a side-job at the same time.

        2. Oof*

          I wouldn’t consider 1 & 4 to be downtime though – they are still important parts of my job. I wouldn’t say I had any real downtime – at this point it’s “periods of normal workload” that I look forward to. :-) I still have time for a few side gigs from time to time. I call those hours “the weekend”!

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        Eh, honestly if I were interviewing for a part time side job and got a question in my interview about how I handle down time, that would be a huge red flag for me. It implies that either there will be very little for me to actually do, or that there’s some kind of “if you got time to lean, you got time to clean” mentality, which, no, I’m not a teenager, this isn’t Wetzel’s Pretzels, just… no.

        It really feels like there’s an expectations mismatch here. You can’t really expect someone to have copious professional references, be willing to blow up their current job, have complete loyalty to your company over any other work, AND it’s a part time, customer facing, “you got time to lean, you got time to clean” type work.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          We ask this question of part time library employees. If your job is to cover the customer service desk 18 hours a week, there will be moments in between customers when you may or may not have something else to do. So, is the person going to goof off on twitter, or are they going to learn how to use the library’s electronic resources, or are they going to read reviews for new releases, or are they going to stare blankly into the distance until another customer appears? It can be a relevant question for part time, customer facing positions.

          And OP isn’t expecting “copious” professional references. The applicant couldn’t even offer ONE.

          1. Working Mom Having It All*

            A lot of part time customer facing jobs require no professional references. Maybe if they have no resume and no way of proving they have the qualifications to do this work? The OP mentions that they know that the person is already skilled at the job they are hiring for. (Even though I agree it sounds like this person has a lack of professional norms about things like listing the name of their company on their current job.)

            This job is either a casual low-stakes part time side gig where you’re expected to fold napkins in your down time, OR it is a job that requires a lot of experience, special skills, and the ability to thoroughly vet a person’s professional history. It can’t really be both.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              This job is either a casual low-stakes part time side gig where you’re expected to fold napkins in your down time, OR it is a job that requires a lot of experience, special skills, and the ability to thoroughly vet a person’s professional history. It can’t really be both.

              You don’t know that at all. You’re inventing all kinds of scenarios about OP and their company that’s not specified anywhere in the letter.

              I’ve worked with part-time librarians. These are people with Master’s degrees who have to have some pretty strong experience in their field. They just happen to work 20 or 30 hours a week instead of 40. There are, in fact, part time jobs in the world that require experience and references. If references are important to the OP, I’m going to trust that they know more about their own company than random internet commenters do.

            2. OP*

              This is a skilled position with a specific skill set and professional qualifications. I’m gonna offer up “dental assistant” as an analogy. The fact that it is part-time and public-facing doesn’t mean it’s a crappy job. As I mentioned elsewhere, we pay very competitively–because we are fussy about who we hire, yes–but that makes our jobs quite sought after in our industry.

        2. Willis*

          Uh, but it’s reasonable to expect 1-2 professional references and that they prioritize your work while you’re paying them!! Expecting someone to be available and focused to work for the hours you’re paying them and not answering emails or whatever for another job is hardly unreasonable. I don’t get all the comments here suggesting that the OP has unusual expectations or is somehow demanding unreasonable levels of loyalty.

  17. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Just a thought…she might be in an abusive situation and trying to get an income separate from her family in order to get out. But I do agree that it’s probably not a good situation for the OP to get involved with in any case. If the candidate had been more forthcoming it wouldn’t look so shady.

    1. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

      But if the candidate had been more forthcoming, would it have helped? Even in considering that this is an abusive situation that isn’t the candidate’s fault, you’re still OK with saying that you wouldn’t want to get “involved.” This is how individual abuses become structural biases; it’s not (this theoretical) candidate’s fault that they have been abused, but they’re being specifically discriminated against in jobseeking, in a country where not having a job typically means really bad outcomes for your life (and certainly makes it harder to remove oneself from an abusive situation!)

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Unfortunately abusive situations can turn into workplace violence, and while I can have all the empathy in the world for the person in the abusive situation and want them to get help, I wouldn’t want to be the boss or business owner in the secret job that may become a target of the abusers wrath.

  18. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    I see a case of possible domestic abuse.

    She may be in a position where she cannot let her family know that she’s making outside money because that puts in her in actual danger — and it follows that she would want to make outside money that they don’t know about, so she can get out.

    1. Observer*

      As I said upstream, total AM FanFic here.

      In any case, if this is the only way she can handle it, the OP needs to be out of it. In general, it’s legitimate for a business not to want to start with potential violence. When the potential victim is actually hiding it, it’s even worse, because the business has no way to protect itself.

      And in the meantime, the candidate has given a story that says she’s ok with lying about her employment and that she intends to work another job while on the clock with the hiring company.

      1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

        Fair enough, but let me posit this: if she comes from an abusive family, would she necessarily have the sort of critical thinking skills you describe?

        I’m not going to debate whether the company should or should not hire her. I can understand, though, why she might actually be naive enough to “be honest” with her new employer, as far as she can, that she will work another job (that she’s going to hide the new job from). Sure it’s misguided, but if you’ve always worked in a toxic, abusive family business, how would you know otherwise? There would be no one to show you what’s naive and what’s honest in real life.

        1. Observer*

          So? That’s not something the OP or their company is in any way equipped to handle. And it means that the employee does not have the wherewithal to do the job.

          Again, this is all a major stretch – you’re adding layer upon layer to the point of ridiculousness, in my opinion.

    2. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

      This was one of my original thoughts when I saw the headline.

      And it would be too bad if that were the case, because it sounds like there could have been some room to discuss accommodations had she disclosed the bare bones of it.

      Perhaps a question … after all of the normal “why are you not giving me a decent reference” questions are exhausted … could be something like “is there a safety or legal reason you can’t provide a work reference?”

      At least that would have closed the loop on some of the what-ifs.

  19. Phoenix Programmer*

    You made the right call!

    Could there be a benign explanation? Sure. But it’s on the candidate to smooth over any concerns by offering alternative professional references.

    If you were super impressed with the candidate I could see maybe laying out for them that you need a professional reference even if it is old, because running your own business can cause some to lose sight of the norms on the employee side.

    But yeah other than that it’s a hard pass.

    1. OP*

      We were indeed very impressed with her! And told her the reference was non-negotiable. So by not giving us a reference she made the decision not to get the job. There is zero chance she can work again in our industry without a professional reference, and now I am wondering how many of our peer organizations have interviewed her and refused to hire her without a reference. I may discreetly ask around at the next networking event I’m at.

      1. Phoenix Programmer*

        I would not bother to find this out. What purpose does it serve you to check?

        You made the right call – you can feel confident in that.

      2. Anon for now*

        I would avoid asking around. She made it clear that she did not want anyone to know she was job searching. It seems unkind to reveal that information just to appease your curiosity.

  20. Happy Pineapple*

    The only other thing I can think of is that she might be in an abusive relationship, either with a family member or a partner, and she’s trying to secretly save up enough money to get away without tipping anyone off. Even if that is the case, as a potential employer you did the right thing, because it’s far more likely the reason is something about her is shady as an employee.

  21. Delphine*

    Are you sure she’s the co-owner of the business? My first thought would be she lied about the association altogether and wasn’t betting on you figuring out the company from the information she provided. She didn’t even list the business name on the resume?

    1. Arctic*

      I think someone who is already being that deceitful would just give her friends as references and have the friends pretend to be clients or some other professional association, though. She’s being very frank about her reference situation, which doesn’t suggest to me she’s otherwise a liar.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s assuming that liars have a circle of lying friends/family that they can tap for their schemes. Whereas in reality most of them are also being deceitful to their friends and family as well.

        I wonder if there’s something going on in the other business, such as it’s tanking financially and now it’s time for her to bail out and this is her way of getting off the sinking ship. That I’ve seen a lot of times in family businesses when they hit the skids.

      2. Kim, No Longer Esq.*

        Yeah, I mean, I’m not saying I’m ready to hire them based on the info provided, but I can think of several scenarios (all of them less-than-ideal) where a person would act like this for reasons that I wouldn’t have a problem with if I knew the full context. It’s really easy to fake references if you just straight up have no problem lying.

  22. Amy Farrah Fowler*

    Yeah, we hire a lot of part-time employees, many of them recent grads with limited work experience, but even they provide references. We accept references from professors, volunteer coordinators if they have volunteer experience… I had a young man try to offer me all personal references (including his dad and his cousin). I told him that we’d need to talk to at least a couple people who weren’t related to him and he withdrew from the process. I thought it was weird, but based on our policies, we wouldn’t have been able to hire him without hearing back from references.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, at 19 when I was looking for my first job, I used one of my high school teachers as one of my references and my best friend’s mom. It makes me anxious remembering how many people truly don’t have anyone outside of their family circles for various reasons, argh.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I babysat a lot in middle/high school, so for my first job I used two of my babysitting moms for references.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Agreed. I think my first job I used a religious leader to a church that I about 40% attended and a neighbor family I babysat for very occasionally. I knew enough to ask first, and both were OK with it to an extent but of course they helped by counseling me on what sort of references I should use for job applications and how to go about building references. This would be acceptable for very young and inexperienced applicants — way less so with someone who had a job history.

  23. PurpleQT*

    I didn’t read through all the comments so I apologize if this has been discussed. My first thought was some form of domestic abuse within the current job. So she would need secrecy to get out of her current situation. Otherwise, it’s just weird.

  24. Dana B.S.*

    Not sure if anyone else mentioned this, but as far as the “too old” comment – that is nothing suspicious. 10 years is a long time and likely any references could have retired or passed away. I have a job from 2 years ago that is “too old” because one manager retired, another left the company and I don’t have her forwarding information, and I only worked for the 3rd manager for 2 months.

    Everything else going on – yep, totally weird.

    1. WellRed*

      The retired manager would work as long as you have the contact info. But yeah, the job I held two jobs ago–the publication is defunct, my editor is MIA, as is the publisher who may very well have passed on. Of course, it’s been nearly 18 years since I left there, but even a few years afterward, I ran into this problem. Had to dig up a college adviser reference, among others.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I mean yeah, death is one thing but being retired doesn’t remove you from being a reference. Lots of retired managers will still act as a reference. Or in that case, if you have nobody left from when you were there, that’s when a colleague is a good filler option. “My manager has since passed on but I worked with Jane Smith for three of my five years with the company, so she’s my reference from Company X.”

    3. Quill*

      I’ve only just started being able (at two years) to start implying that any references from my bizzare and crazy first salaried job might be out of date due to “high turnover” (People smarter than me fleeing from the hills and people who stayed being just as horrible and dysfunctional as the boss) and that I can’t use my ex boss as a reference because he fired me because I didn’t answer my phone on a saturday morning, though possibly that was an excuse for the unprovable descrimination going on because I was forced to disclose that I have a panic disorder months before that won’t take calls from anyone but clients.

      Has this probably deeply hampered my job prospects? Yes, but I’m trying to leave the entire industry behind due to a lack of job security in it anyway.

  25. Falling Diphthong*

    Re Alison’s last point on business norms, this does remind me of very young and naive people who haven’t yet figured those out. Like the woman whose daughter was fired for tardiness and answered all questions about why she left her previous employer with “I choose not to discuss that.”

    After a decade working with a relative, this woman is far enough from having to interview for jobs as to be unclear on when “It’s a secret” just isn’t going to get you a thoughtful “Ah, discretion, I like it” nod from your interviewer.

    1. Working Mom Having It All*

      Yeah, I tend to think this is someone who found herself in a tough position in terms of not wanting to play her hand to her current job during the hiring process, especially considering it’s a part time side-gig she’s applying for, and handling it spectacularly wrong. And not some of the malicious intent that’s being ascribed.

  26. Cathy Gale*

    Has anyone considered the issue might be that it is a *family* business, perhaps where there is high dysfunction and “enmeshment”? Not necessarily a lack of integrity but someone trying to ease out and get financial freedom?

    Some of my late relatives ran a storefront business together and had a domineering mother they could never say no to, even once they reached late middle age. Working for anyone else was probably considered a breach of family norms. They all retired nearby (two of the brothers lived three doors apart) and had a hard time making friends outside the family let alone committing to work for someone else. I had a friend whose family had a similar dynamic, they were expected to start working in the family restaurant from an early age (think 7-8).

    1. WellRed*

      Sure, it’s possible but then, honestly, the OP is well within her rights to stay the hell away from that dysfunction.

      1. Cathy Gale*

        True, OP doesn’t have to hire someone because she feels sorry for their situation.

        I just think she might be trying to escape without tipping off family, which (if it’s an abusive enmeshment situation) would ruin her personal life not just her business prospects. So OP should be extra cautious while asking around at local industry functions.

        If my relatives upset their mother, they would never hear the end of it ever. (They were also in a high demand religion, which most people would recognize as a cult, which really exacerbated their isolation.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      There’s a lot of possibilities, including this and the idea that perhaps she’s in an abusive relationship, etc.

      It’s also quite possible the person is a con who is embellishing their role in the “family business” or they’re embezzling or the family business is really just a money laundering scheme, who knows, we sure don’t! People lie all the time to get jobs and it’s not always because they’re good people in a sticky spot who just need to live.

      1. Cathy Gale*

        Agreed. Hopefully the original poster will find out and update us someday…and have a good job experience with applicant number 2

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Nah, you never find out the aftermath of these weird stories that land in front of you in the hiring process.

          Once she has someone in that spot, this woman is going to fade from her memory for the most part. Except for perhaps those wayward “this one weird interview I had…”

          I’ve heard all the stories, I’ve seen a lot of crazy stuff and it’s rare that you get any other information unless she knew someone connected to the OP.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      This has been bruited about a bit, and honestly: If she were trying to flee her dysfunctional family she would be planning to quit that job. Not continue working at it.

      1. Squid*

        But maybe not immediately, right? Someone who was fleeing a dysfunctional or abusive family business might need to build up a nest egg of money the family doesn’t know about before they would be in a financial position to leave, and that could take months or longer. The causes of the applicant’s behavior are pure speculation at this point, but I don’t think her behavior itself rules out the possibility that she might be trying to leave a bad situation.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          In addition to the wild fanfic nature, it seems the natural progression for most employers would be:

          “I am in a drama magnet, super awful, highly dysfunctional situation. Long-time family ties, so I can’t leave. Possibly violent. And I would like you, total stranger, to climb in here with me. Shhhhhhhh. It needs to be our special little secret.”

          “… Pass.”

          Some people are awkward. I think not wanting to publicly admit that the online thing is not really enough to make a living at more likely.

  27. Light37*

    Yikes. This whole situation is Sketchville, and she’s the mayor. You definitely made the right call in moving forward with someone else.

  28. Mayflower*

    To me it sounds like there were naive/unrealistic expectations on both sides. The candidate wanted an under-the-table job in an industry where it is not typically done. The employer was interested in the candidate because she is a veritable social media and social outreach superstar (23,000 Facebook followers is off-the-charts for a local, niche community) and yet the employer’s attitude was to begrudgingly “grant an interview” and then expect the candidate to be “overjoyed when we decided to check references and most likely offer her the job”.

    Also, as someone who routinely gets really good turnouts for a local cause, I can tell you that I would never do anywhere near a good job for a business where I am just an employee. Being an organizer for a community that you really care about, whether it’s a cause close to your heart or a business you have a personal stake in, is WORLDS apart from doing salaried social outreach. If OP’s expectations were that this candidate didn’t have the right skillset but would get their company tons of social media attention then I am afraid they would have been sorely disappointed.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Except that without references there’s not really any proof that the candidate is a social media superstar. She might work for that company, and that company might have 23k followers, but that’s as far as it goes. *Somebody* might be a social media superstar, but who’s to say it’s the candidate?

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is a great point.

        We’ve all seen stories about people who fluff up their duties and accomplishments.

        Also I’ve personally seen accounts that gain massive amounts of followers by well targeted facebook advertisements. I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of follows but their actual orders/business created by that hefty amount of followers is next to none. Seriously. You need to know a lot more about someone than the followers rate because TBH you can buy followers on social media and people follow/like a lot of random stuff just waiting for deals or coupons or just randomly without thinking about it at all.

    2. OT*

      I did not begrudgingly grant her an interview. I was genuinely excited by her as a candidate. In the interview, she did seem like she really wanted the job so I was looking forward to giving her the good news that she had gotten it. After you’ve had to tell a number of people they didn’t get a job, I don’t think I’m sketchy for enjoying the part where I tell someone they did get a job.
      I do think 23,000 followers is good, solid work, but we are in a large urban area and there are many similar organizations with a lot more. None of the other people on the interview panel had ever heard of her platform, just me. So yes, she’s good! And I wanted to hire her. And I did not think she would turn us into a social media superstar overnight either, just wanted a bit of help upping our game. So I’m not sure where you’re reading all this stuff into my intentions!

  29. Drew*

    My takeaway is that the candidate (Jane) told OP, flat out, “I can’t give you a reference from my current job because I’m supposed to be available to them 24/7 and this job would get in the way of that.” So Jane is telling OP, “I’m willing to lie to my current job in order to get this one.” If Jane’s willing to lie to the current job, how can OP be sure she’s not going to lie to her down the road when it’s convenient?

    If it were a case of “I can’t afford to risk having my current job know I’m searching until I’ve accepted a new position,” that’s different, but it’s not what Jane told OP, and even then Jane should have SOME sort of references. This situation is shadier than a beach full of umbrellas.

  30. LLG612*

    So I absolutely believe this is shady and that the OP made the right decision to walk from the candidate. However, I just want to offer a plausible alternate perspective to the “my current bosses can’t find out about this” (though that in itself is unrealistic).

    I’m in the US and don’t have an employment contract, but do have an offer letter that spells out certain things. One thing is that my full-time job with Company X must be my only full-time job, but that it is a “nonexclusive offer, meaning that I am able to use my expertise to seek out additional paid or unpaid employment while I am working for Company X.” It’s also spelled out that my hours are flexible and I can work from home, with the expectation I work 40 hours (I work more like 80, with no overtime as I’m salaried).


    I have started taking on consulting work because I need the money — I’m paid under the 50th percentile for my executive-level work and my expertise makes my consulting marketable. I was also recently asked to serve on a board of directors for an organization unrelated to my current job. I brought up both things with my board and they were in an absolute uproar. I “clearly wasn’t committed” to my current position (never mind my tripling our revenue for the third year in a row, among other major accomplishments) and I should do nothing that would make me be unable to be available 24/7 (not in the job description or the offer letter). I asked what they would do if in my free time I was very involved in a volunteer organization, or church, or recreational sports (three examples board members themselves do while holding full time jobs). They were speechless and had no response.

    So yeah. I stopped telling them about things I was doing outside of my full time job. I excel at my full time job. I’ve won awards, I’ve won our organization enormous grants, I manage 20+ people with ease…all while pursuing outside interests and income. If one of my consulting clients were to ask for a reference from my full time organization, I really, really couldn’t give them one lest I jeopardize my full time job. I have firm, FIRM boundaries between full time and consulting, but the board would be livid if I used my off time to earn extra money and gain more experience, despite their initial insistence that would be more than acceptable.

    So this letter just made me wonder if something similar was going on. That the applicant would never have done anything nefarious, but if she was held a bit captive by a crazy boss(es) even though she could easily divide her time appropriately with zero double-dipping.

  31. TPS Cover Sheet*

    Reading the comments I am wondering if I am the only one that thought of the ”obvious” being something totally different, or then I am a flaming perv… (probably the latter)…

    What if her ”family business” is something… hrm… of adult nature? I mean that’d explain not wanting to divulge anything about it and keep it private knowing the hypocricy surrounding such businesses. I mean it isn’t necessarily she’s a stripper or an escort or running a hot webcam show, it could be something like those Avon lady types that sell all kinds of battery-operated equipment. Now declaring that in a job interview would bring about quite a buzz, wouldn’t it?

  32. Aguslawa*

    My immediate thought – this is how a victim of domestic abuse functions. She sounds like me 3-4 years ago, when I was trying to make sure that ny ex will not find me under any circumstances and no mutual contacts will know were I work.

  33. OT*

    A lot of people have speculated about domestic abuse. That never occurred to me, and I hope it’s not the case. I do think if so, she still could have found a vendor who would be discreet and serve as a reference; and I also think she would not have made this song and dance about “my followers have to believe I am there for them 24/7” which she did explicitly state a few times using different words. She was very clear that she was NOT leaving her current business. I think I may reach out and suggest that she look into doing social media for another company as a side hustle. They would probably be happy to have her work it into her main job, and might not need a reference since her results speak for themselves.

  34. Quill*

    Okay, my first thought about the online business was that it might be something that, for legal, personal, or economic security, she can’t have connected to her legal or professional identity.

    For example, sex work – even being involved in legal aspects of sex work, such as porn, phone sex, etc can not only be professionally disastrous on a social level, but it can affect your ability to get loans, and possibly lead to housing or employment discrimination. Depending on the culture you live in locally, also intersectional concerns such as race and religion, she may also have reasons to fear for her physical safety if that sort of (again: legal and consensual) work was ever linked to her legal name.

    However, the 10 year old contacts still sound shady.

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