my interviewer contacted a reference I didn’t approve

A reader writes:

I recently started a job search, and I reached out to various people on LinkedIn to see if they knew of any open positions. One of those people was an old coworker, and he had me get in touch with the CEO of the small company he currently works for. I emailed the CEO my resume, and he set up an interview. The interview was mostly fine, but toward the end he mentioned that he spoke with his employee about me (as expected), and that he also spoke with another ex-coworker who left my company more recently. I had never mentioned the second person’s name. Fortunately, both said nice, positive things.

Is contacting someone I hadn’t offered as a reference a common practice? Or is this a huge red flag? To tell you the truth, it made me really uncomfortable. I never would have asked for a reference from this person as I don’t like his work ethic. I’m getting a sinking feeling that this CEO likes to check up on you behind your back.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Should I tell my interviewer that I don’t want kids?
  • The person who asked me for a meeting didn’t show up for it
  • My office is in the lunchroom
  • I was interviewed by the person I’d be replacing

{ 194 comments… read them below }

  1. Engineer Girl*

    #1 Sounds like the company is doing great due diligence. Especially when both will be coworkers.

    1. Betsy S*

      When I worked at a University and supervised the student employees , I got calls several times from hiring managers where I was not a listed reference. Usually I was able to be quite positive, but there were a few that stood out.

      One time, I found that the student had put on their resume that they had *my* job! Nope. Nope.
      Another time, I was called about a student who had not been one of my employees, who’d made quite a nuisance of himself hacking around on the lab computers, interfering with other students work. I was honest. He was hired! Guess they wanted someone inquisitive who was not afraid to take risks and annoy others.

      These days, at least in my field, background checks are the norm so your old jobs will follow you around.

    2. Artemesia*

      This. I have more than once eliminated someone from the pool after talking with people in the company whom I respect who have worked with the individual. I would have been remiss not to follow up in that way. On other occasions marginal candidates have stayed in the pool because of high praise from colleagues who have worked with them and could speak enthusiastically and specifically about their work.

      Of course hiring managers speak with people in a position to judge your work; it is easy to appear like a good hire when only hand picked references are contacted. Contacting others gives you a more complete perspective.

      1. Mangoes do not grow here*

        I’m in a small industry where this is standard practice. “Your reputation precedes you” works both ways.

  2. Jennifer*

    Re: Kids

    I was asked once in an interviewer (a woman, if that makes a difference) if I had children and I truthfully said no. I really needed the job and I knew that would give me an advantage. I felt terrible about it later. When you make a point to mention that you don’t have kids, you are potentially screwing over other people, probably women, that will apply for the same position who do have children and deserve the same consideration for the position that you do. The fair thing to do is not to mention it and evade the question if asked directly, imo.

    1. Aunt Dinky*

      My thought exactly. I’m DINK but would get absolutely irritated by being asked and would never volunteer it as an “edge” – not just in terms of not screwing over the competition, but also because A) I refuse to perpetuate sexist stigmas against working mothers and B) I refuse to perpetuate that I’m willing / available for “more” just because I don’t have bio kids. Tons of non-parents have very active family and friend lives and value their time outside of work just as much as parents!

      1. Clisby*

        That was my first thought – they hope you say “no” because then they think they can extract more work from you.

      2. MsSolo*

        DINK! I was trying to remember that last week, but got caught up with YUPPY and ended up thinking I might be dippy XD

    2. Kim*

      I agree with this. What if your interviewer has children? Honestly, if I was on a hiring committee I would look at this question or any insinuation that employees with kids don’t work as hard or as much, etc as a red flag. I want employees who respect everyone they work with regardless of their personal life choices.

    3. Akcipitrokulo*


      Making your no-kid status a positive in your favour is making it that you’re “not like those other women”.

      Which I know is absolutely not how you meant it!

    4. Lils*

      My organization’s HR department forbids contact of off-list references. We are also required to secure permission from all candidates to contact the references they DO list. It really hamstrings our ability to hire well and it contributes to high turnover of new hires–poor performance and poor fit. It’s such a waste of our time, for both us and the new hires.

    5. professor*

      and this would just mean they hire a man…thus screwing over all women applicants to sexist place.

      let’s not police how people deal with discrimination against themselves….

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        I’d love to see a breakdown percentage of women vs percentage of males being asked if they have kids.

    6. SheLooksFamiliar*

      It used to be pretty typical for employers to ask women if they had kids, planned to have them, and if they would work once they had them. Thankfully things have changed although the OP shows it’s still an issue, if not a concern, for some people

      In the early 80s an employer vented to me – DURING AN INTERVIEW – about ‘all the gals getting themselves in the family way and going on maternity leave and making everyone cover for them while they played house.’ Men and women interviewers like him maybe weren’t the norm, but they sure were out there.

      1. Essess*

        During that same time frame, I had an interviewer ask me if I had a boyfriend and then ranted that women who have boyfriends get married and then quit their job so he was only willing to hire single females.

        1. Quoth the Raven*

          Hell, I got something very similar (“You’re young and very pretty, if you have a boyfriend, you’ll marry him and leave the job; if you don’t, you’ll find one and stop paying attention to the job because you’ll fall in love”) during an informal interview roughly 10 years ago.

      2. Artemesia*

        Yeah it was a question I was asked repeatedly in the 70s when interviewing. I had one small child and the question was ‘are you planning to have more kids’ — I have told the story before, but in one group meeting where I was asked this I said ‘That is between my husband, myself and my god’. Years later when I was department director I came across my old file — and it turns out one woman had supported my candidacy for the somewhat competitive position because of my ‘strong religious values.’ (a swing and a miss LOL) PS and yes I did have one more child and our health insurance was so bad at this organization that it didn’t cover maternity. Luckily in those days the cost of childbirth was not as insanely high as it is today — but it was still expensive.

      3. Doc in a Box*

        A friend of mine got asked this in medical school interviews, 2006: “How do you plan to keep from getting pregnant during medical school?” (Her response: “Uhhh, the same way I didn’t get pregnant during college?”)

        The times they ain’t a-changin’.

        1. Mid*

          I, being the snarky person that I am, would have responded with something ridiculous like “jumping-jacks and a lot of tequila”

    7. sacados*

      I don’t think you need to feel badly about that at all. I mean, the question is super awkward — but if you’re asked directly if you have kids, I don’t see a way to not answer that question without making things even more awkward.
      And either way, responding to the question with a simple “no” doesn’t give any indication of whether or not you have a desire or future plans to have children — just that you don’t right now.

      I would never volunteer the information in an interview and agree that it’s weird and a red flag about the manager (or best case just extremely clueless) that they brought it up. But I don’t see how you get around providing a straight answer if you are directly asked.

    8. JSPA*

      I’d think you’re also setting the employer up for a charge of discrimination (exact grounds may vary by state law).

      Just as you are better off not mentioning medical issues until an offer is extended, it’s better not to put much family status information out before that point.

    9. Alianora*

      So, any advice on how to evade the question if asked directly? My thought is you could say, “Oh, is that relevant to the job?” but then if the interviewer presses, I can’t think of a way to decline to answer that wouldn’t also torpedo your chances.

      1. Me*

        My opinion is if they’re asking, and they push the issue, it’s not someplace I want to work so torpedo away.

        But you could continue to push. Say they respond “The job requires predictable hours or lots of travel.” You could respond “I have no commitments in my personal life that would preclude me from meeting those requirements.”

      2. Jennifer*

        I read a great article about that years ago. Of course, now I can’t find it. But I think Alison’s suggestion was great. “I have no outside commitments that would interfere with my responsibilities.” A working mom could say the same in good faith. Presumably, if she’s looking for work she has someone to take care of the kids while she’s working.

    10. Essess*

      It’s illegal (in the US) for them to make any hiring considerations based on whether you have children or not. They are not even supposed to ask that question in order to make sure the answer doesn’t influence the decision-making. If I was asked that, I would tell them that I prefer not to answer that question during an interview.

    11. Quickbeam*

      I was once in the running for a very plum job in my field, extremely large competitive applicant pool. I was interviewed 7 times. At the last interview, the upper manager told me that she had had a series of people in the job who left for medical leaves and that the mission of the agency was set back. She asked what I could bring to the table. I did mention I was an orphan (no elder care) and child free (true) and nothing I could foresee would impede my ability to do the job. I was hired and spent 12 years there. And never called in sick once.

      I wouldn’t have been so candid or revealing but it was obvious that the manager was looking for that type of commitment.

    12. Massmatt*

      I wonder whether this is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Sexist guy default is probably thinking “all women want kids, which means time off, leave, etc and a good chance she’ll quit to be a stay at home mom”. But on the other hand sexist guy might also think “she DOESN’T want kids??!!” OMG, what is WRONG with her!!? What freakish she-beast is this?!”

      1. Le Sigh*

        Yup. And the OP’s premise — volunteering that she’s not *that* kind of woman who’s gonna just go willy nilly using up the benefits people are entitled to in the workplace — has a real “I’m a cool girl, I can hang with the guys, I’m not like those other girls” vibe that really feeds into all of this.

        Would OP also let them know she has no medical accommodations, so *phew* thank god they don’t have to deal with that either? I realize it’s a sexist industry, so I have a little sympathy, but I cannot in anyway support just throwing other people under the bus like that.

    13. Doc in a Box*

      I absolutely agree — I don’t have kids either, but I don’t have a good script for how to dodge the question. Do you just start talking about your hobbies? Saying “That’s not relevant” seems really cold and sterile.

      FWIW, I’ve only had one person ask me about kids/spouse, and it was the recruiter at my current job. This was before I had met anyone I would actually be working with, and it really put me off. (But I also really needed the job, wasn’t expecting that question at all, and just answered a truthful No before I could think.)

      1. DerJungerLudendorff*

        Allison’s script seemed pretty good as a way to answer the question while dodging the stated question: “I have no outside commitments that would interfere with my responsibilities.”

    14. Le anonymse*

      I totally agree with that comment but I find myself in a difficult situation as well. I am a 31yo woman looking for a new job. I’m in Europe, in a country with generous maternity leave policies. I’m afraid people look at my application and think ‘gee she’s gonna go out on maternity leave any sec now’ (especially since I’m applying in Europe after working overseas) and I don’t want kids at all…

      1. Bluesboy*

        I’m also in a European country with generous maternity leave policies. I remember chatting to a mum who told me that when she came out of full-time education at 27 and newly-married, she was asked repeatedly about family plans and never managed to get a job in her field (her plan had been to work for 5-10 years and then have children).

        Eventually she decided that it would be easier just to have the family immediately and then try again, on the logic that once she had a couple of kids people wouldn’t expect her to necessarily have more and take maternity again. It made me so sad.

    15. Anonymeece*

      Oh, man. I interview people all the time and I get a lot of moms who bring up their kids during the interview. I don’t care one way or another, but I feel torn because I almost want to tell them, “Hey, I don’t care, but some places still do, and that’s not fair and stupid, but it may hurt your chances down the road”, but then feel awful because they shouldn’t have to worry about that.

  3. Elizabeth Proctor*

    Re: #5. I mean, in most openings there’s an opening because someone left. Is that a red flag for you?

    But to be serious, when I left my last job I helped screen my replacement. I wasn’t leaving with any ill-will and I certainly wanted my former employer to succeed and therefore was interested in helping them hire someone good. My manager also participated in the interviews; it wasn’t just me.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      Same–part of the reason I did most of the first-round interviews was that we were a really small operation (2.5 people!). I didn’t love that arrangement, but candidates would easily see that we were small regardless, and could draw their own conclusions about what that would mean. And really, I knew much more about my job than my boss did.

    2. Bee*

      It also means getting a real first-hand look at what the job entails! This seems like a great person to talk with, to me. (Though yes, I’d also want to meet with the boss.)

      1. Massmatt*

        Yes, and someone who is leaving might also speak with more candor about the pros and cons of the job.

        I think you could tell whether someone is leaving and just going through the motions (in which case their boss should not have them doing the interview) and someone whose attitude is wanting to do their job well no matter if it’s their first or last day.

    3. Augusta Sugarbean*

      Oh my gods I *wish* my colleagues and I could interview our replacements! Our managers have hired some real duds because they don’t do the actual front line work. We could screen so much more effectively! Seriously, this is not automatically a bad thing by any stretch.

    4. Nicki Name*

      Yeah, I’m currently job-hunting, but it’s not because I hate my current company. If I’m moving to something new anytime soon, I’d love to help interview prospective candidates and make sure they’re a good fit for my co-workers, who I also do not hate.

    5. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I’m in my current job because the person who was leaving essentially selected me to replace her. The nice thing about it (and being interviewed by the person leaving the job) is that they will be able to answer any questions for you honestly that the manager/supervisor may not truly be able to know, especially if there is a lot of independent work or responsibility. If I asked my supervisors how much overtime/after hours time does this job entail or what the largest aspect of my job is, the answers they would have given me would be very different than what the reality is. Not necessarily because they were being dishonest, they just assume that the job is a lot less taxing that it really is.

      Consider it a blessing that the interview is with the departing employee. That’s a wealth of info!

    6. TootsNYC*

      I actually think that having the outgoing person do the initial screening and interviewing is a GOOD sign.

      It means they’re leaving on very good terms–both ways, it means they’re very trusted. it means the person in that position has the opportunity to become someone who has serious input into the workings of the office.

      Every time I’ve seen someone be tapped to look for their own replacement (including myself), it was an indicator that their direct manager was a good manager.

      1. Quinalla*

        Agreed, if anything it is a good sign, not a red flag. It means the person is leaving on good terms, the employer trusts its employees, etc.

    7. Dana B.S.*

      Same! In my last role, I decided to leave because it wasn’t giving the right challenges and I couldn’t see myself doing it for any longer. I had picked up some insights on exactly what would make someone a good fit in the position even if it wasn’t me.

  4. Jennifer*

    Re: Interviewing your replacement

    Interviewing your replacement on your last day at the company seems strange. I’m not an expert, and I get Alison’s point about their not suddenly becoming unconscientious because they are leaving, but still, their priorities lie elsewhere at this point. Are they really as invested in the process as someone who will be working with the new hire? Seems like a bad move to me. If they still have a lot of time before they leave, that’s a bit different.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve left jobs where I’ve felt like I cared more about finding a good replacement than the people staying behind did, and I don’t think that’s uncommon!

    2. Elemeno P.*

      Why? Maybe they’d been interviewing other candidates for a bit and this interview just happened to fall on her last day. Doesn’t seem too weird.

      1. Jennifer*

        Fair enough. It just hasn’t been my experience. I certainly cared about the people there and wanted the company to succeed after I left (not that the company’s success or failure really depended 100% on me) but by my last day I was just focused on the future and moving forward, not thinking about who would replace me.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I’m going to be joining the panel for the job I am currently in after I leave because I have the technical chops to judge a good candidate to fill my shoes and the manager does not. I’m doing it because a) I really like my colleagues; b) I built all the work for this role and want to see it continue in good hands; and c) my field is small and my soon-to-be boss is cool with me helping out now boss

          1. Jennifer*

            And you’d be fine with doing it on your last day? That was the primary thing I found odd, not necessarily interviewing your replacement in general.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              Oh definitely. Last day is usually pretty empty in my experience, so I’d actually love to have the interviews scheduled then. In fact, if they can get the posting open soon enough, I am going to suggest that my now boss do that. I am 1 week into a 4 week notice (I decided longer was better for a smoother transition), so last day interviews would be a great way to close out.

            2. TootsNYC*

              if that’s when that candidate was available…

              you only have 2 weeks, usually–probably less. And you have to work around the candidates’ schedules.

    3. LadyByTheLake*

      I think it’s totally normal, especially if the person leaving is a specialist and in the best position to be able to tell who the good candidates are. I wouldn’t give it a second thought to be interviewed by the person I am replacing, even on their last day.

      1. Jennifer*

        Those are good points. But would they be as invested in the process as someone who will have to work with the new hire in the future? I guess some people might be, but I just don’t see everyone feeling that way. Just my opinion.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yes. Because we aren’t always cutting ties with everyone we’re working with there and will hear about it if the replacement doesn’t work out well.

          Just about all my former bosses are still my references and I’m still interested in their well being, both personally and professionally. It depends on the setup but look at all the people here that have a hard time detaching even from absolutely ugly work situations. They don’t just start phoning it in or not caring at the end, they need to be talked into cutting ties and cutting the heart-strings that are hurting them! It’s really not the norm to completely check out of a job unless you have circumstances involved that cause you to do so.

          I checked out once. I didn’t care one. And that was because the place was a toxic waste dump and tire fire. They also didn’t want my input on the replacement GOOD! They went through multiple people before they had to crawl to someone that had worked there years ago before me and beg them to come back.

          1. Jennifer*

            I guess that’s the difference here. I didn’t keep in touch beyond an email here and there every few months. I trusted my manager and others to make a good decision and made sure they had all the information they needed to train the new person properly. It wasn’t a toxic environment. I was just ready to move on to the next phase of my life and wasn’t especially close to anyone there.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              I do wonder about the positions as well though. When I’m doing it, it’s a high enough position that I’m locked into an emotional level with people directly affected by the business continuing to thrive or at least go smoothly.

              If I was just in some arm of the company that really didn’t have any contact with the owners or stakeholders or each employee on an individual level, I would probably be less prone to care or stay in touch. Since these are powerful references on my side, more so than just a line supervisor who says “Yeah, she showed up and did well.” kind of thing?

              1. Jennifer*

                Very true. My job was definitely the second one. Little to no contact with the stakeholders or owners. I cared in the sense that I didn’t want the next person to be completely lost, that’s why I documented so many processes so training would be easier, and I kept doing my job as well as I could until the end, but I wasn’t especially invested in who they hired next. I guess the type of role makes a big difference.

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          I was. I cared very much about the department and company I was leaving, cared about my colleagues and absolutely cared that my successor would continue the improvements I had made.

        3. Green great dragon*

          How invested do they really need to be though? If they’re doing it, they might as well do a good job as a bad one, and may still do a lot better than someone who doesn’t know so much about what’s needed.

          1. Jennifer*

            Good point. I was thinking maybe they wouldn’t ask enough probing questions to distinguish a good or average candidate from a great one.

            1. Akcipitrokulo*

              Actually it occurs that it might be a good way of getting a feel for it – how much does the leaving person care about the quality of their replacement?

              Obviously not the only thing! but maybe a data point?

        4. fposte*

          I think it shouldn’t be *just* the person you’re replacing, but by and large if an employee’s finding her replacement, it means there’s mutual good will, and she knows what it takes to work with people there and wants the work to go well.

        5. SusanIvanova*

          My replacements turn up at industry conferences and ask me questions! Not directly about my old code, but in my current job I work on the software framework they’re using, and I’m at that conference to answer questions from all the third-party developers.

        6. TootsNYC*

          I think you can leave that judgment up to the manager in question.

          When I was asked to find my own replacement, my manager knew that I’d care a lot, and she knew that I’d have the skills to find someone with MY skills. She was right–I got her a GREAT person. She really only interviewed the candidate in order to rubber-stamp my decision.

          In other situations, I’ve had people leave me whom I wouldn’t have asked, because I didn’t think they’d be as invested.

          There’s no one rule–and there are a lot of people who are professional enough to recognize that their reputation doesn’t end once they give notice.

    4. Lynn Marie*

      To me it would be a green flag – a sign that it’s a such a good company that it trusts its employee that’s leaving to have the company’s best interests at heart and that the employee is leaving with good feelings about the company and will probably maintain cordial relationships with former supervisors. I don’t understand why anyone would see this as a problem, given the absence of other big, waving red flags..

      1. Jennifer*

        I’m not saying it’s a red flag. I just think it’s a little odd to interview someone on your last day with the company. Seems there would be other things to do, other matters to attend to.

        1. On a pale mouse*

          I had a party and an exit interview, maybe three hours total. Other handoff stuff was already done, and there’s only so much time an introvert like me can spend telling people goodbye.

        2. Parenthetically*

          Coincidental, maybe, but I don’t find it odd apart from the timing! “We’ve got one more interview for this role and we’d love to hear your thoughts on the candidate; can you spare an hour on your last day?”

        3. Not So NewReader*

          I agree with you, Jennifer.

          Privately, I would be asking myself, “What! Are they too lazy to interview me themselves? Has this person who is interviewing me been their dumping ground for anything they don’t feel like doing?”

          To me, I would be wondering about the other candidates who came after me. The exiting employee won’t be interviewing them, so where does that put my application? I don’t see where anyone else talked with the OP.

          Now if OP talked with several people and the exiting employee was just one of them, then I have no problem here. But it sounds like the exiting employee is doing the interview by herself? If this is the case I definitely would ask if I would be talking to anyone else in the company.

          It could just be my locale, but if the exiting employee is the only one I talk with and it’s their last day, I’d write the interview off as a waste of time. Companies around me tend to be old school and would want an active, invested employee to do interviews.

          Exiting employees are typically kept away from applicants. I have an excellent example of an employee who was retiring after decades of employment. She gave six months warning. They hired someone two weeks before she left, so she had two weeks to share decades of experience. Yeah, the new person became overwhelmed and left, also. Keeping the old employees away from the new employees seems pretty normal around here.

          1. ceiswyn*

            What an odd way to look at it!

            When I left OldJob to do an academic qualification, I was absolutely invested in finding the best possible person to replace me. I felt bad enough that I was letting them down by leaving, I felt the LEAST I could do was find them a halfway decent replacement.

            The company had me interview candidates because I was the only person who really knew what I did on a day-to-day basis and so the only person who was able to judge the abilities of candidates to do the same. I don’t really understand the concept of a company being ‘too lazy’ to interview; what does that even mean?

            Why on Earth would you write the interview off as a waste of time? Do you genuinely just assume that any given company would ask someone to interview candidates whose judgement they didn’t trust?

            It sounds like you’ve only ever worked for hideously dysfunctional companies. You might want to change that :)

      2. Parenthetically*

        Yes, this was exactly my take on it. This company is functional and healthy enough that their departing employees are happy to help find their own replacements, meaning even those who are leaving care about the success of the company. That’s all great stuff.

    5. On a pale mouse*

      I interviewed for my replacement at a previous job. I think we hired before my last day (I gave almost two months notice) and I was doing other stuff most of that day, but if I’d been free I wouldn’t have had a problem interviewing and doing it as carefully as I would have on an earlier date.

      1. Jennifer*

        I guess I’ll just have to file this as another one of life’s great mysteries lol. I just don’t get it.

    6. TootsNYC*

      but you might end up scheduling an interview on your last day simply because that’s when it worked out.

      You won’t start looking for candidates until you give your own notice, so that’s 2 weeks to get your hands on resumes and to start making phone calls to set up interviews.

      In the situations I’ve seen, the outgoing person is really screening for skills and suitability. Either to save their boss some time, or because the boss thinks they’ll be a better person to gauge the skills, since they did the actual job or had the actual expertise.

      The final decision hasn’t ever been theirs, and interviewing someone on the last day of work doesn’t really change much. If the boss has follow-up questions about that candidate, I’d assume they’re on good enough terms to call or email to ask them, and the outgoing employee would be on good enough terms to answer.

    7. Emily K*

      I was interviewed by my predecessor at a previous job – in that case, she/I was a department of one, so she was very much the best positioned to hire for her replacement – no one else knew the work’s demands as well. Even if she was partly checked out, she was still a better option than one of the other directors of a completely different department. (My would-be/future boss, the executive director, did the second round.)

      The other question is, even if we grant that someone is less invested in the process, there’s no reason to think that would change how they hire. I mean, maybe they won’t be *quite* as dedicated to the interview/decision process, but also given that most interviewers don’t have much training or skill in interviewing in the first place, I just don’t really see it ultimately making much of a difference in the outcome of the process. For effort/investment to make a really big difference, the person has to have enough skill to know how to apply that effort. An unskilled person can try harder and harder but without knowing what they’re doing they’ll just be spinning their wheels and effort ends up being irrelevant.

      So you’re really talking about it only being a problem if the person was unusually good at hiring AND had also checked out to an unusual degree that they’re actively going to sabotage a hiring process by not doing what they know needs to be done.

      And to be honest, I’ve far more commonly seen it go the opposite way – even when leaving objectively crappy work environments, departing employees can often have trouble emotionally disengaging from a job and giving themselves permission to stop caring.

  5. JustMyImagination*

    Interviewing your replacement: It might actually be a good sign they’re involved in the process. Someone who is being managed out of the company or gave their two week’s notice in a blaze of glory would probably not be involved in hiring their replacement. But someone who is leaving on good terms and who management still trusts would probably make a great person to interview their replacement. They know exactly what the job entails and the skills that are needed to succeed in the role.

    1. 1234*

      This would also be a good chance for the person who is interviewing for the job to ask that person “Why are you leaving this role/company?”

      I’ve also been on interviews with people who were being promoted so she was interviewing for someone to fill her old role. I saw nothing wrong with this situation nor the one the OP described.

      1. Blue*

        Yes, exactly – you’re not going to find a better segue if you’re curious about why the position is becoming vacant. I’ve twice helped interview for my replacement. In both situations, I respected and liked my managers and coworkers and wanted them to be well positioned moving forward (and, selfishly, didn’t want my hard work to be wasted). They also respected my opinion and insight, which is why they wanted me to be part of the process. Doing it on your last day seems a bit odd, because I’d usually expect there to be other things that need to be done, but if the manager really values the person’s opinion, I can imagine they’d want it to be a priority, regardless.

    2. Observer*

      So much this.

      You also know that your dealing with a reasonable management that doesn’t take the “dead to me” kind of attitude towards employees who leave for any reason.

  6. Lepidoptera*

    If you’re working in a “notoriously sexist field” then stating that you don’t want kids is also not going to work out positively for you.
    If they’re sexism makes them think that you’re going to want to take your mandated parental leave and possibly want to work more flexible hours because you need to do daycare/school or more medical appointments, etc. . . . well they’re also going to hate that you don’t want kids because it’s “unnatural” for a woman to not want to pop out a baby.
    You’re not going to win either way.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Definitely this! “Women! Who can understand those fickle skirts?” (almost (c) The Bad Advisor)

        Not in the USA, but back in the 90s, a childhood friend’s wife was looking for work in our home country, that had, back then at least, a notoriously sexist culture overall. The very first job interview she had, the hiring manager (a woman) asked her if she and her husband planned on having kids soon; since they had just gotten married and were in their early 20s. Friend’s wife said no, not for a while, and the hiring manager’s response was “yeah right, you all say that”. She did not get the job. The two of them ended up never being able to have children together, and at any rate, did not start trying until 7-8 years later. But that does not change the fact that the hiring manager did not believe her anyway.

        1. Queen Anne*

          I worked in a foreign country once and a condition of employment was a negative pregnancy test.
          Another time, in the US, I was almost not hired because the hiring manager called my house and heard a child crying the background and thought having kids was a detriment. Someone else at the company convinced him to hire me anyway. I found out about this two years into the company. I was single and childless at the time.

          1. Marie*

            Oh god. My cat sounds like my baby. He sounded like a baby before we even had a baby. I’m the mom and sometimes I do not know which of my 10-20lb creatures is complaining at a given moment.

            1. nnn*

              My brain wrote a story where your baby is learning to “talk” from your cat, and that’s why they sound the same

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Then the gray hair comes in and a whole new set of concerns starts up. Managers who don’t know how to hire sometimes lean on physical attributes to help narrow the choices.

    1. Goldfinch*

      I have said “I can’t have children, but I am a caregiver.”

      It weeds out employers who want to hire the childless out of the mistaken idea that they will live at work. I still require flexibility to handle my parent’s dementia needs.

      1. JSPA*

        There are enough state, and some federal laws regarding family status (and family medical leave) discrimination that it’s better for all concerned to steer as clear as possible.

        “I put a high priority on a job where I can get my work done well without resorting to overtime, have significant flexibility on hours, and am primarily responsible for the end product, even at busy times of year.” Modify as job appropriate.

        It’s about the parameters of the job, not the motivation for your needs.

  7. KathyW*

    #1 – yup, sounds normal. I work in higher ed IT and people tend to stick around at the university, even if they change jobs, so a lot of people know people across departments. We definitely do informal references from people we know.

  8. we're basically gods*

    Oh, god, does my heart go out to the no-show from #3. I can’t say how many times I’ve missed a reminder for a meeting or forgotten all about it and then had that miserable moment later when I feel like an awful person for leaving someone hanging.
    As for presumably remembering something because it’s taken a long time to schedule, I wouldn’t bet on it. If something has taken a long time to schedule I’ll often have two of the potential times in my head and not be able to remember which is which. I get dates mixed up CONSTANTLY. (Yes, I have ADHD, no I am not interested in speculating what’s going on with the no-show.) I bring this up just because the expectation that competent adults will be able to just remember things has screwed me over repeatedly– partially because I’ve bought into it, and have only recently accepted that I do need to keep lots of notes and reminders. I’ve got a mind like a steel sieve.
    Especially with the apology, I would definitely not write this person off; it doesn’t seem like they’re a mess, it seems like they have a system that normally works really well that was disrupted. Someone detail oriented who finds themselves without glasses for a week doesn’t suddenly become bad at details; they’ve just lost the thing that lets them be excellent.

    1. Np*

      That’s what I thought. I was a bit sad that something so human (that was accompanied by a prompt and what seemed like a genuine apology) could result in someone getting written off. Maybe it’s because I really benefited from a couple of kind people who took time out of their really busy schedule to talk to me about what a career in my field was like.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I think the ‘took months to schedule’ is a huge factor in it, tho. The OP has already invested significant time, cleared space in their calendar and their assistant’s. It’s totally valid for OP to not want to do all that work again.

        1. Piggy Stardust*

          The OP and her assistant already took time out of their busy schedules to talk about the mentee’s career, though.

        2. JSPA*

          It’s sort of self-selecting, though.

          A field where you legit have to be “on” and precise 99.99% of the time, where a missed meeting isn’t a “let’s reschedule” but a “too bad, so sad,” is not currently a good career choice for someone who, currently (with whatever level of attention, backups and calendar prompts they bring to the table) isn’t making it to a long-planned, high-stakes (for them) meeting.

          That doesn’t mean an employer can or should discriminate for an AD(H)D diagnosis. (Add many exclamation points here.) Someone with AD(H)D may well be able to meet the functional requirements of the job, though dint of having enough backups, crosschecks, alarms on different devices, notes on their palm, post-its, or whatever other system they use that works for them.

          But the person themselves is giving themselves an increased chance of success by finding a career that plays towards more of their strengths and away from more of their weaknesses, or alternatively by working out a system that allows them to function at the relevant level of precision before they apply.

          Because either it’s disrespectful of OP’s time (not as big a thing for the person OP is helping, as it’s been for OP themselves) or else the person’s not currently able to create enough reliable backups to make even the important meetings.

          This is not something to hold against the no-show for ever and ever. People gain coping skills over time. They also get a handle on how to make backups so as not blow people off when a piece of technology fails. They also learn to make backups often enough so that a device failure or new device does not wipe out their calendar. They also learn to save a record of important upcoming events outside of their synched calendar program(s). They learn not to rely on reminders from the people they’re meeting with, too (or to be the person who sends the meeting reminders, even).

          But so long as someone’s actively no-showing for “big stuff done as a favor,” they’re advertising themselves as “not quite ready for the subset of jobs in the subset of careers where that sort of thing is entirely intolerable.”

      2. Joielle*

        I don’t think the OP is “writing off” the person – just that if it took months to schedule one meeting, that was a lot of effort for something that realistically, has basically no benefit to the OP. I can understand the OP being willing to go through that effort once, but not twice.

      3. azvlr*

        #3 – I understood from the letter that it didn’t take months to find the time, but finally agree to a meeting. We read stuff on here all the time from the mentee’s perspective and the advice is always to apologize sincerely, sound mortified, and hope for the best. This person did those things. OP should not decline to reschedule as a punitive action (I’m gonna teach them a lesson!), but truly if it’s an inconvenience. Perhaps offer an alternative such as connecting them with someone else to meet with.

        1. LJay*

          Why would OP offer to connect them with someone else to meet with when there is a chance the mentee does this to OP’s contact as well, wasting the contact’s time and making OP look bad?

          Taking time out of your day to do something that has no benefit for you is pretty much always inconvenient. Taking that time, and then having the person not even show up makes the inconvenience feel even worse because now it’s not even that you lost something but another person gained something. You just lost something for no reason.

          When you ask another person for a favor you need to go out of your way to make things easier on them. N0-showing is pretty much the opposite of making things easy on someone. At that point you can’t expect any more favors.

          The point of apologizing is to show that you are remorseful so the person doesn’t think badly of you, not so you get what you want. And hoping for the best is just that – hoping – nobody’s obligated to give their time to begin with, and especially not after being cancelled on, even if the cancellation is apologized for.

    2. JustMyImagination*

      Agree, and if the person is younger, making mistakes and putting back up plans in place is all part of the learning process.

      If LW doesn’t want to go through all the back and forth of rescheduling, an option is to just look at the calendar and offer up a timeslot or two that will work and if the mentee can’t make those then LW can use Allison’s script and not worry about continuing to inconvenience themselves.

      1. Observer*

        I agree that the OP shouldn’t write off the young person. But that doesn’t mean that they have some obligation to try to reschedule, even at this level.

        Learning that messing up something like this doesn’t make you a bad or even “disorganized” person but can STILL have negative consequences is also part of the learning process.

        1. Piggy Stardust*

          I agree that negative consequences are part of the learning process. I feel for the person who missed the meeting, but it’s not fair for the OP to have to try and make a second meeting work when the first one was so difficult to fit in.

      2. JSPA*

        “Let’s try again next year” is frankly as far as I’d go. You don’t help young people by over-accommodating a no-show. It’s really bad behavior.

        You also don’t know if they’re really fully into it, or are coming into it with (say) the attitude, “my mentor wants me to, this person’s willing to help, I owe it to my mentor.” Until people have worked for a while, they can have a really skewed sense of how big a thing it is for someone to clear a spot in their calendar.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yep. When I clear time in my schedule for something like this, it’s a thing. I’m sometimes doing extra work the day before so that I have room on the day of, meaning working at night when I’d rather be relaxing. Sometimes it means I’ve turned down other stuff so I can keep the original commitment.

          And sure, sometimes stuff falls through. People get sick, have emergencies, etc. and I understand that. But someone who just forgot? I’m not going to work late a second time in order to reschedule.

        2. Oh No She Di'int*


          I could not agree more. This is how people learn about priorities.

          I don’t think OP should be unnecessarily stingy, but as of now she owes the potential mentee NOTHING.

          The mentee’s absence is an indication that the meeting just wasn’t that important. It doesn’t mean she is a horrible human being or that she’s a useless scatterbrain. We all have priorities; the meeting with OP wasn’t one of her high ones. If she’d had an appointment with Bill Gates, an appointment to find out the results of her cancer screen, or a date with–I don’t know–one of the Hemsworth brothers, my money is on the fact that she would have magically remembered that. Or at least would have had the presence of mind to send a preemptive text saying, “Sorry, I’ve lost my appointment reminders; can you remind me when our appointment/date was?”

          She did not do this with OP.

          Not that OP has to be as important to her as Bill Gates or a Hemsworth. But I think OP can safely assume that at this time, a meeting with her simply wasn’t as important as whatever else is going on in the mentee’s life. And that’s OK. But OP does not owe her a thing in order to accommodate for that.

          1. we're basically gods*

            This mindset is exactly why I commented. Because the importance of things has literally no bearing on how much I remember them. Absolutely none.
            I have lost and forgotten things that were exceptionally important to me. I only made it on time to my own mother’s funeral because I was driving there with my dad. You tell me that that wasn’t a priority. My brain does not store these things. Had I not had the reminder from someone else, I would have turned up late.
            This doesn’t mean that the no-show has ADHD and the same issues as I do. But I have spent my entire life assuming I was an awful careless person because I would forget things that were incredibly important to me. Your assumptions made in this comment are not uncommon. Even though I cared a lot about various things, I would still forget them, and people like you lead me to believe that this meant that I must actually not care that much.
            Reconsider this thought process, because frankly, it’s dismissive and harmful.

            1. Baru Cormorant*

              I’m sorry to hear that you struggle with this. Do you have other fail-safes besides your memory for when you need to be somewhere important? Because I think that’s what it comes down to.

              Because you can intend to be there, and intend to be respectful and on time, but if you aren’t there, that is disrespectful behavior to the mentor.
              Maybe you can’t remember, so instead you set 17 alarms on various devices and have someone else take you to the appointment and use all kinds of other strategies to make sure it happens.
              The result is the same: if you’re present and on time, it’s respectful of the mentor’s time. If you’re not, then it’s disrespectful.

              It’s not the mentor’s job to think “well maybe they have ADHD and it’s not their fault they forgot.” Intent isn’t magic if the result is the same.

      3. Zombeyonce*

        I wonder if OP has considered a remote meeting with this person. An hour on Skype sounds so much easier to schedule, especially around the calendar of someone that travels often.

        1. Np*

          I’ve read the comments and fully appreciate that there is something to be said for a learning process. But I also have an extremely heavy schedule (think frequent 12-hour days as well as working on weekends), in addition to significant family obligations, and have never begrudged younger people some time. Maybe I’m too accommodating, though.

          I agree with the person who suggested offering one or two slots, perhaps in combination with the commenter who suggested a Skype meeting. And I’d probably mention at the start of the meeting that I am more than happy to have rescheduled, but that s/he should know that the real world isn’t usually this accommodating and it would be good to have backup procedures in place for important meetings.

        2. LJay*

          Yeah, as someone who travels a lot, and often without much prior notice, a Skype or a phone call is sooo much easier to fit into my schedule than an in-person meeting.

          I’d be much more willing to set up a Skype call with the mentee than I would be to clear my and my assistant’s schedule (and make arrangements for a site tour), again after the first cancellation.

      4. LJay*

        Sometimes there isn’t much of a timeslot that isn’t spoken for in another way. Especially if you travel a lot.

        If you could slot in a meeting with a vendor or something else productive and beneficial for you into that timeslot, why clear out your schedule a second time to accommodate a person who you already cleared out you schedule once for and who you aren’t getting any actual benefit from meeting to begin with?

    3. Artemesia*

      I would not hold it against them. e.g. if they were a future applicant I would not let that be a ding. But I also would not reschedule something. It isn’t mean; it is appropriate.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, I’m with agreeing with you, WBG.

      The work my boss and I do runs on time, either you are there or you aren’t. No wiggle room. I am proud of my boss because she always gives people a second chance if they don’t show up the first time. I have heard 15 times, “I missed my appointment because I had to bring my very sick dog to the vet.” Now, from my perspective I have heard this 15 times from various people. But from that person’s perspective, they have one dog who is very sick, period. It’s a couple clicks on the computer to reschedule and no effort on my part, but it means everything to the person asking me because that is their little buddy.

      Crap happens. And typically it happens at very inopportune times. If the person is very rude or if the person accidentally says something that leads me to believe they are lying (jaw-drop: some of them do this!), my boss will tell the person that this is the last time they can reschedule so they need to pick a date that they will definitely show up.

      Apparently there was no room in the schedule for another meeting in OP’s story. Well, that expression “crap happens” can go both ways. The person offering the meeting can also be locked into other things.

  9. Observer*

    #1 – Of course this is normal. Totally NOT a red flag. And totally not a “behind your back”, sneaky or devious thing. The only time I would have an issue is if they contacted your current employer without telling you because that has the potential to hurt your current employment.

    1. michelenyc*

      I fully expect companies to do this. It is so normal I would be surprised if they didn’t. One of the reasons I was offered my current position is because of what an SVP I worked with 7 years ago gave me an amazing reference.

    2. Fae*

      I said this in another comment, but I feel like the LWs main issue is that the reference was from someone she wouldn’t have given a very good reference for (based on the “didn’t like his work ethic” comment) and that’s making her feel like it was”sneaky”.

      1. Observer*

        Yeah, but there is nothing untoward about the boss not getting her approval before checking with someone. There is simply no grounds for getting upset because someone talked to someone who doesn’t meet your standards.

        As a practical matter I could see why it might sometime present a problem. But that still doesn’t make it wrong.

        1. Fae*

          I agree, there isn’t anything wrong with getting outside references. However, I would be upset and worried if the boss checked with someone whose standards of good work and mine were different, especially if at any point we had clashed over it (I’m looking at you coworker who would take 2 weeks to do the thing the rest of your department did in 3 days; and then got promoted to head of said department).

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            In the end, this is how you find out that you’re about to hire someone’s former bully or a total mess of a person.

            You shouldn’t be worried by it that much unless you have an understanding the other person is vindictive or a liar.

            Most often when someone goes “oh you worked at That Place before? Did you know this Person, they’re applying here now?” your reaction is just “oh yeah we knew each other, she was pleasant and showed up.” but they’re not looking for the in depth “I know them really well and can vouch for their work product.” kind of reference. You’re looking for how others who didn’t work directly with you perceived you.

            Sure you may be burned but it’s not really that likely if you’re just casual coworkers and you didn’t get known for setting the microwave on fire or having outlandish personal life events reek havoc on your work life.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              This is interesting to me. That sounds like a pretty weak/vague reference though and almost not worth the effort.
              I have seen plenty of wrong assessments from by-standers and I have done the wrong assessments myself because I did not work closer to the person.
              I worked with a person who was very nice. Anything that came up they seemed to handle. It took a bit, but finally it came out that much of what they had done was wrong and had to be reworked. Some stuff takes digging to find.

            2. KMB13*

              I agree with this – oftentimes, I feel like these calls aren’t “Why should I hire this person?” calls, but are “Is there any reason I shouldn’t hire this person?” calls. I’m currently at a tiny workplace where everyone could vouch for my work, but, in the past, I certainly worked at small, but not tiny workplaces (with, say, 60 employees), where everyone knew who I was and knew that I was pleasant to be around, but not everyone could personally vouch for my work if they didn’t work on my team – a lot of people at those workplaces wouldn’t be able to really provide a reference for me, but could let any potential employers know that they don’t see any reason to exclude me from consideration.

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        As someone who’s worked in a lot of dysfunctional workplaces, I share the OP’s concern with this practice.

        At the places I’ve worked, there are good employees (ethical, hardworking, competent, decent human beings) and there are bad ones (unethical, abusive, incompetent, discriminatory.) Much of our turnover were good employees drive out by the bad employees. The rest of the turnover were bad employees who had done something so awful their toxic bosses who loved them could no longer defend them.

        So if you called an off-trail reference, you’d just as often get a negative reference for an excellent employee, as you would get a positive reference for someone who was the work equivalent of the Hindenburg, and you’d be perpetuating the dysfunction of that particular workplace.

        I worked with an excellent employee who was fired for having 2 babies in 3 years. Another who was fired for being 55 and “too old.” A third was demoted to part-time/no insurance after she developed an expensive chronic health condition. They would all get bad reviews, though they were good employees.

        I also worked with an employee who was fired after 13 writeups in under a year, including one for sexual harassment. His grandboss loved him, he was the greatest thing since sliced bread and it “was SUCH a loss to see him move on”.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          So much this.
          I have heard a lot of these types of stories. If you are going to ask random cohorts you have to know who you are asking. What do you think of the person who is critiquing the candidate? This matters.

          I have people who would gladly tell you how awful I am. In their world, I am awful. I pointed out to the boss that we did have their materials in and they could actually keep working because they were not out of materials as they claimed.
          Some people thanked me for helping to find that stuff. Some people went the opposite way and got very angry with me. It is possible that an applicant could have good and bad reviews from the same workplace.
          I was always under the impression that what was to be watched for was when a listed reference gave a bad referral. That was a total red flag.

        2. Nita*

          This. My husband left his old job after having lots of negative experiences with a new boss. He was the first one out – she proceeded to drive at least half of the department to leave. From what I’ve heard, she was not above being petty and vindictive. Anyone calling her as an off-list reference is pretty likely to get lies, half-truths, and her perception that good employees were “awful” because they could not do all the ridiculous things she required AND their actual job. It wasn’t a big concern in this job search because most places know better than to call one’s current boss without asking first, but my husband is job hunting again, and is pretty worried that an interviewer may decide to include ex-boss in a reference check.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I thought that “i didn’t like his work ethic” factor was that she wouldn’t value any good opinion of his, and she also might worry that he’d say “she was too rigid” or some other negative thing because he didn’t have the same values as her.

        IOr, if she thought his new boss also thought he was a goof off, and there he is saying she’s a lot of fun, or “I really liked her,” something HE thinks is positive, and the new boss might think SHE was a goof off.

    3. Mama Bear*

      I work for a company that has many folks who worked together prior – some industries are like that. I guarantee that when I threw my hat in the ring people discussed my previous and potential employment. I would have thought it weird if there hadn’t been those conversations, actually. I figure it is much the same as my reaching out to my network before an interview to get some information about the company. It’s also a good reason not to torch bridges without really good reasons – you never know who will show up from your past.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      Back when my father was an administrator he said he made a point of finding references other than the ones you supplied.

  10. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #5, I’ve interviewed my replacements before and believe me, I want to pick the best candidate because I know if I don’t, I’ll just hear about it. So I wouldn’t worry too much about them phoning it in and picking willynilly without really thinking it through!

    It’s a good sign because you should expect that they’re leaving on good terms in that case, they are trusted to pick their replacement.

    But yeah, interviewing your replacement on your last day, that one is really weird…

    It’s also an opportunity for you to ask them why they’re leaving!

    I’ve been interviewed by people I’d be replacing and it’s usually someone is retiring, going on extended leave for health issues or are moving out of the area or perhaps going back to school.

    It shouldn’t be the only person who talks to you for sure though! We always had the boss do a second shorter interview as well and also gives the person a chance to meet them to see if they are going to click as well. Since I’m pretty good at knowing what my bosses want and who they work best with, you still need to have them weigh in at least for some easy Q&A.

    1. Barefoot Librarian*

      “It’s a good sign because you should expect that they’re leaving on good terms in that case, they are trusted to pick their replacement.”

      This 100%

  11. Jesse*

    Please leave all child talk out of the discussions, whether they are existing, potential, or no way in hell.

    There are some occupations where it may be worth mentioning but here’s the real issue: saying that you won’t have kids is to reinforce the stereotype that you will be a more reliable employee because of it. This is unfair to us parents who work very hard to be reliable and not place any additional expectations on our child-free or childless colleagues. we are not lesser candidates because we may or may not have children in the future. We are ALL responsible for not perpetuating discrimination.

  12. Fae*

    I feel like a lot of the first letters problem with the off-list reference was that it was someone she herself would not have given a good reference for; per her “problem with his work ethic” comment. I know if I heard that a potential employer had spoken with someone whose work I had a dim view of and I potentially had clashes with, I would be upset and worried that this person could cost me the job. Even finding out that they gave a positive reference would still have my anxiety playing through all the ways it could have gone wrong.

  13. Rainy days*

    #5 – At most of the places I’ve worked, things were so fragmented that no one but the person doing each job truly understood what that job entailed. At those organizations, it was more of a red flag to me if that person was not involved in hiring–that’s an internal perspective though, not a candidate perspective.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I know that I’d love to be able to ask questions of the person leaving a job at interviews! So often answers to my “what does an average day in this job look like?” question is met with a lot of hemming and hawing and “maybe X, maybe Y, it depends” rather than real answers that only the departing person could accurately give.

  14. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1 I agree with Alison, this is an off-the record kind of reference. It happens frequently when there’s a connection between you and someone else they know professionally or casually. It’s also yet another good reason to keep your reputation in good order! You never know who you’re going to apply for a job with who sees that you worked with Betty Sue and they’re going to reach out to her to ask her what her impressions and experience with you is like.

    I saw it first hand when a boss got a resume from a company his friend actually owns. So he called up that friend. I cringed because yeah, we all know that’s not good if someone is looking to leave on the down-low but such is life in a small town where everyone knows everyone else it seems. So this is also a cautionary tale in that aspect as well, a lot of people won’t blow your cover if you’re looking like this but it happens in that kind of way. I hear this is how people are locked into awful positions in the medical offices in a small town with only a few offices around. Yuck but yeah it’s a thing to be fully aware of.

  15. Amber*

    LW#2’s letter left me feeling a little ICK and I couldn’t quite articulate why until a few of you put your finger on what it was: reinforcing the tired stereotype that those of us with kids (especially mothers) are somehow less hard working or dedicated to our jobs. Don’t be that person.

    1. Parenthetically*

      Ding ding ding! Please don’t torpedo people with kids just to get yourself a job, especially if you’re not desperate. It just reinforces the stereotype that women cannot be effective in a career capacity if they have children. It’s “I’m Not Like Other Girls, Workplace Edition.”

    2. The New Wanderer*

      Absolutely. There is nothing you can offer as a candidate who doesn’t have children that I cannot offer as a candidate who has children, to a company that doesn’t enable sexist stereotypes and/or prioritize ridiculously long hours and no work-life balance (aka a company I would never work for to begin with).

    3. Dagny*

      Given that men statistically earn more after their children are born, what we’re really talking about here is an excuse to discriminate against women who have children (not people who have children). It’s a neat way to discriminate against 90% of women while pretending that it’s about ambition and productivity.

    4. Linzava*

      Yes to this. The OP would metaphorically be stepping over any other woman who is a mother, wants to be a mother, or wants to keep the option open. Basically, she would be attempting to confirm sexism for the sexist.

      I don’t think OP is a bad person here, just doesn’t realize the damage she was willing to do.

      1. Parenthetically*

        “attempting to confirm sexism for the sexist”

        Yep! “Your sexist stereotypes about women are correct, but luckily I’m not One Of Those Women!”

  16. WKRP*

    In my current job, which I’ve had for over 5 years, I found out after I was on board that my boss had spoken to a previous supervisor who was not on my reference list. It turned out that her boss knew my previous supervisor and had her reach out. It felt weird, because I had no idea what this supervisor might have said about me. (I had multiple supervisors at that job, the one they talked to wasn’t my favorite, though we didn’t have a bad relationship) In the end, all’s well that ends well. And honestly, I would have done the same thing if I was in the same position.

    1. Marie*

      Something of the sort happened to me too. My takeaway was that being a generally decent professional person in the workplace is a good idea, which I already believed. Don’t give anyone a reason to think you’re awful and random reference checks will be less traumatic.

      My recently former career was very small (“oh you worked at X, do you know Y?”) so maintaining a decent reputation was critical.

  17. new commenter*

    “We are not lesser candidates because we may or may not have children in the future.”

    Thank you. I’m a new parent who is also finishing grad school and facing the job market, and worry about these kind of stereotypes a lot. OP just because you’re happily child-free doesn’t mean you’re free to help perpetuate such stereotypes about parents (specifically about mothers here, who already face enough of this).

  18. Buttons*

    I love it when the person who is currently in the role or was recently in the role interviews me. They know the job, the team, and the culture better than any manager or HR person. Also, if they are interviewing, but have given their resignation, it shows that their leaders trust them to help find the best person and that there usually isn’t any bad blood. I have never had that situation be a negative. They are usually way more honest and forthcoming about what the job actually is, as opposed to the description.

  19. Observer*

    #5 – Your question raises a yellow flag to me about your work ethic. Why would you assume that as soon as someone gives their notice they are going to check out and not to their job (including identifying their replacement) carefully and well? Decent people keep doing their jobs as well as they can as long as they are in the job (assuming no other dysfunction). And smart people also know that reputation travels. Why would they blow up a good reputation by sloppy hiring?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It makes me think the person may just be inexperienced with hiring processes more than anything or perhaps they have always been involved in filling positions after someone is long gone, so they never got the chance to be interviewed by an exiting employee. If it’s not your “norm”, it can seem really strange and your mind starts spiraling like that.

      I can also imagine that if the LW had a string of abusive micromanaging bosses, they would never have been given the idea that interviewing for your replacement was a normal thing to do since they weren’t put in that position.

      Also then there are the ones who only leave jobs when they’re done with the place, to the point of “I”d light this place on fire but I don’t want to go to jail for arson…” so that could be the scenario that’s playing out in their head if it’s tainted by previous bad experiences kind of stuff.

      Not so much a questionable work ethic thing, since they haven’t been put in the situation so they just don’t know.

    2. JSPA*

      Eh, some people have a harder time getting outside their own heads in times of change and upheaval than others.

      If you’re someone who doesn’t compartmentalize well under stress (which is unlikely to be news to your about-to-be-ex boss and coworkers) or has a hard time thinking of your workplace in the abstract without reference to your own ongoing presence in it, I think you can say, “I’m of course willing, but I’m so overwhelmed by the exit process and my feelings about leaving here that I might not be the best person to do the interview.”

      But you still do your best, if they ask you to do it, even if you have to forcefully chisel yourself out of your own head first.

    3. Moray*

      I don’t think it was necessary to turn this back on the LW.

      Sometimes people are, y’know, curious about situations they haven’t encountered before.

  20. Buttons*

    The attitude that not having kids gives you an advantage is playing into the maternal bias that exists in our world. Don’t do that to other women, and don’t allow that to be done to you. Do you know that maternal bias can affect those without children? A woman can get married and people could think “she just got married, she is going to have babies soon, better not consider her for that promotion that includes travel”, a coworker can stop in the office with their new baby, and just the act of holding and cooing at the baby people could start to think “Oh, I bet she wants to have a baby.”
    We are all, or all should be, working to fight these bias that women struggling against daily. Please don’t think you are a better employee, a better candidate, more competitive, or have an edge because you are childfree.

    Female DINK 40+ yr old.

    1. Quoth the Raven*

      And, as it has been mentioned in the comments here, you’re also putting childfree people at a disadvantage because it reinforces the notion that our time is at their disposal because we don’t have anything going on or anyone to be there with — I don’t have kids, but I do have a loved ones and commitments that should be respected as well.

    2. Marie*

      Thank you, if anything I’m more effective at work post-baby. I have never had a better reason to get my work done and get home.

  21. Clementine*

    One problem with off-the-record references is that this means your job hunt is now known to more people, which increases the chances that your current employer is going to find out about it. Some job ads say that your application is “strictly confidential”, but I’ve always been skeptical about that.

    1. MK*

      I think the risk is minimal when the hiring manager contacts one person, or maybe two, that they already know in some way, and who should know better than to blab about being asked. I would agree that if a hiring manager cold-contacts every manager you ever had, it’s overstepping, over-the-top and possibly dangerous for the candidate’s confidentiality.

  22. Serious Pillowfight*

    Re: Kids
    My best friend began her cover letter with “Now that I’ve completed my family…”
    She somehow got the job.

      1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        This is my new favorite phrase and will be inserted into as many conversations as humanly possible.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      Well, now she’ll never know if she got the job because she included that or in spite of that. Or she won’t until she sees what the culture is like – let’s hope it’s “in spite of.”

    2. Dagny*

      The only way I can see this being acceptable is if she’s explaining why she now wants a full-time job after years of working part-time or pro bono.

      1. JSPA*

        It’s the wording, though. “I’m re-entering the full time workforce after a period as a carer” or even “with the children out of the house, I’m eager to restart my full-time career” is very different from, “Hey, look here, I’m done breeding, pick me.”

  23. we're basically gods*

    I’m a young woman in a male-dominated field, and…ick at the whole childfree thing. I don’t want kids. Every part of having kids is deeply horrifying to me on a physical and psychological level.
    But I also recognize that the stereotypes around mothers are, largely, founded in sexism. I do not want to work for a place that disvalues mothers. I will never need maternity leave, but I tend to lean towards places with strong protections for mothers, because a workplace that values mothers is a place that seems like they’re going to be much more likely to be a good place for women in general.
    I am, personally, unwilling to step on the backs of any other group of women to try and push myself up. That doesn’t help anyone in the long run.

    1. Quill*

      Yes: a workplace that is friendly to women who want and have kids is a workplace that is more likely to have decent health care, a better understanding of work-life balance, and personally I don’t get why people wouldn’t want those things?

      Children: fragile, angry raisins for the first year, then surprisingly fun in small doses.
      Workplaces that look at a female candidate and evaluate her reproductive plans: NEVER fun.

  24. Anon occasional interviewer*

    We have HR guidance on how to handle when someone introduces information about children, family, religion, etc. during a phone screen or in-person interview. We have a few formulaic phrases about how we are not considering that information and will not make note of it.
    However, I’m not sure what is done if someone mentions it in their resume or cover letter.

  25. bigX*

    “I want to reassure potential employers that I won’t leave with a bun in the oven a few months or years into the job, and I know they can’t ask me.”

    This phrasing was icky to me. I had a coworker that spoke disparagingly of kids all the time and thought women who had kids didn’t care about their careers (she wanted to be a trauma surgeon…for a lot reasons, I don’t think that will pan out in the long term). I cannot pinpoint why it rubs me so wrong (I don’t have any kids and don’t feel passionate about the subject one way or the other), but LW, please just don’t. Do you really wanna work for a company that would discount someone on the basis of whether they will reproduce or have reproduced?

  26. stitchinthyme*

    LW5: Be glad they’re telling you. My husband once had an interview on a Thursday, they offered him the job that same day and asked him to start the very next day. When he showed up at the office, the interviewer — whom my husband had liked and looked forward to working with — informed him that this was his last day and that my husband was replacing him and would have to learn the entire job in a single day.

    Things went downhill from there. I think my husband lasted a couple months before he found something else and left.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yikes, what a bad situation to find yourself in! I’m sorry this happened to your husband.

      That could have saved them all so much hassle if they were just up front. Some of us specialize and thrive off these kinds of setups. I don’t need you for more than a day usually for my jobs, to be honest. I learn everything else by reverse engineering and digging through old files. But again, they have to be up front so I’m prepared and not just throwing such a gross curveball the first day like that!

    2. Jennifer*

      I think deep down this is the kind of thing people fear even when they are told the interviewer is leaving the company, that the company has a high turnover or is mismanaged somehow.

  27. Leela*

    OP #4 – a good employee would still care about replacing themselves carefully because slacking off in their notice period could really come back to bite them, because they care about their old coworkers/company, because they like to do a good job in general, or all sorts of reasons!

    People are often asked to interview their replacement because they’ll have the best sense of what the role is like unless it’s changing, but as Alison said, you don’t want it to be the only person interviewing you. I wouldn’t put this down as a red flag unless something else about it seemed off, like the person leaving seemed really checked out/soured on the company you’re interviewing with, or if you get a sense of a fractured, dysfunctional team

  28. Jam Today*

    I was harassed by two (TWO! Count ’em!) of my prior managers and if I ever found out someone contacted them to ask about me I would vacillate back and forth between blind rage and nervous-breakdown-level anxiety from having to relive those times.

  29. Sk*

    OP #1 – Imagine reversing the roles. You interview with a company and then find out a previous colleague currently works there. Wouldn’t you want to reach out to them to get an inside scoop on the company? Should the hiring manager be upset that you talked to one of his employees behind his back? After all, if the hiring manager wanted you to talk to that employee they would have brought them in to interview you.

  30. Shar*

    People do leave jobs and positions for all kinds of reasons, not just because they aren’t happy with the job or the company they’re departing from. People get promoted and/or transferred. Spouses and significant others get relocated and so the whole family ends up moving. Family members become ill and so people leave to become their caretakers. Sometimes employees themselves become ill and go on extended or permanent leave. People go back to school full time to further pursue their career path (or start a new one). Dream opportunities become available, and that means leaving a good thing for an even better one.

    I wouldn’t necessarily take someone leaving the job as a red flag, because there are so many different variables. In this case, where the interview is conducted by the person departing, I’d put a lot more stock in the interviewer’s attitude and demeanor.

    Also, it’s also perfectly acceptable to ask why the position has become available. You may or may not receive a candid response, but it’s always fine and appropriate to ask, when the interviewer offers to answer any questions that you might have.

    1. Shar*

      This was to question #5… it appears that my response didn’t get slotted correctly. Sorry about that!

  31. June First*

    Lunch room office: Since you’re on maternity leave, it might be a good time to negotiate a place to pump. A lock on the door is ideal, even if it ends up being the lunch room with a sign on the door for people to come back in 20 min.

  32. LM*

    I’ve left more than a few companies caring very much for my coworkers and the company itself. In two of those situations I was the first-level interviewer. Believe me, I *stressed* over this, wanting to make sure the right person was hired. The only reason my managers were comfortable with this is because I was leaving on good terms, and I had built up an excellent professional reputation.

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