coworkers keep asking about my girlfriend, asking job candidates how lucky they are, and more

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

1. Older coworkers asking about my relationship with my girlfriend

My girlfriend and I (we’re both in our late 20s) have been dating for just about a year and things are going very well. She’s an elementary school teacher and during her summer vacation she came into my office to meet me for lunch a couple of times. On one occasion we bumped into a number of my coworkers, so I took the opportunity to introduce her to everyone.

Now though, many of my older coworkers have been commenting on and inquiring about our relationship. For example, they ask when we’re going to get married, suggest how I should propose, and say things like, “Your children will be beautiful.”

It makes me uncomfortable for two reasons: 1) We’re taking things slow and are in *no* rush to get married. 2) For both health and personal reasons, we decided we would adopt in the future instead of having biological children. This isn’t something I feel like sharing right now.

I appreciate that my coworkers have taken an interest in my personal life and I have no doubt that they’re just excited for the two of us. However, their well-intentioned comments and questions put me in an awkward spot. How can I respond to them in a way that isn’t off-putting?

When you’re older and married and out of the dating pool, there can be a vicarious enjoyment in watching younger people moving along a path that you haven’t walked in many years and don’t expect ever to walk again. And for some people, that enjoyment overrides their sense of what might be awkward or intrusive or none of their business. There’s also a very pro-relationship / pro-marriage thing in our culture that sometimes makes people think that cheering other people on toward marriage will be welcomed and seen as an expression of care and affection. But on the receiving end … not always.

But you’re allowed to have boundaries about this. You can try something like “marriage isn’t on our radar right now.” But if that leads to “what are you waiting for?!” type comments, then you’ll need something that takes the topic off the table altogether like, “We’re both pretty private about that stuff. But hey, what about (work topic)?”

The “your kids will be beautiful comments” don’t require any substantive response. They’re not asking you to critically assess the likelihood or that or to weigh in on whose nose you’d want a future kid to have, and they’re definitely not inquiring into whether you’d want biological children or not. You can brush those comments off with “ha, maybe” or even just “thanks!” followed by a quick subject change.

The quick subject change is key with both of these, because otherwise you’re leaving them floating in their stew of pleasant feelings about Young Love and they may continue to talk about it. So switch immediately to a question about them or something work-related.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. I might have named a much lower salary than I meant to

I recently participated in an interview for which I’m somewhat overqualified but that offers opportunities to grow. The interview went really well and the interviewer indicated that I’d be called to meet the VP I’d be supporting.

She then asked about salary qualifications and here’s my slip. I’ve been in contracted positions for a while and my current company makes a huge stink about hourly v salary, so I’ve gotten into the habit of saying my hourly wage instead of annual. So when she asked, I replied that I currently make $24 and that I wasn’t flexible on that because we’ve just purchased a house … and now I can’t remember whether I specified that I’d meant per hour and not $24k annually.

The position is administrative and I’d be stepping down from a project management role so I was expecting this rate to be on the higher side of average but I’ve got 15 years of experience to match it. $24k is an entry level salary for this new position at best. Compacting my concern, her response sounded a little surprised and she said she thought they could meet that and even do a little better.

I’ve already sent my thank-you and that doesn’t seem like the best approach anyway. How can I address this without seeming to be money centric? I’d really like the job if it were offered.

You can fix that! You can send her an email now that says, “In thinking over our conversation yesterday, I realized that I may have been unclear when I answered your question about salary. I said “24,” meaning $24/hour — I’m so used to thinking of my pay in hourly terms from my most recent company that I didn’t realize it may have sounded like $24,000! You may have already realized this, but I wanted to clarify that just in case. In annual salary terms, I’d be looking for $X.”

3. Should I ask job candidates how lucky they feel?

What do you think of asking this question to candidates in interviews: “How lucky do you think you are on a scale of 1-10?” The goal with question being that if the candidate doesn’t feel they will have good luck, why bring someone with bad luck on-board?

It’s a bad question. Don’t ask it. You’re not hiring people for how “lucky” they think they are or aren’t; you’re hiring people for how well they match what you need accomplished in the job.

Some people will say they don’t think they’re particularly lucky because they don’t believe in luck. Some people will say they’re lucky because they think it’s what you want to hear. A huge portion of people will think it’s a bizarre question and be concerned that you’re asking it.

Figure out what the must-have skills, experiences, and accomplishments are for the role, and then probe into those. Leave luck out of it.

4. How to tell our receptionist there’s no upward mobility in her job

I supervise the receptionist at my firm, who has been here for just over two years. In her most recent annual self-evaluation, under the section which asks about career goals and training opportunities, she wrote that she is “a bit curious as to where I can go from a receptionist position.”

This is the first time she has ever said anything like this, and in her initial interviews we got the impression that she was a career receptionist. Unfortunately there is not any kind of a career track for her, as it is a law firm and even the assistants need experience supporting attorneys as well as specific knowledge about the legal field. She is competent at reception, but not by any means a superstar employee who we would want to make special accommodations for.

How do I approach this conversation in her review? I want to be straightforward with her that there is no upward mobility from her position here (which really should be obvious) while still showing appreciation. I don’t want her to leave, but I want her to feel supported and like she is developing her skills here. I would like to direct her to some online training courses that the firm offers and see if there are small ways I can give her more responsibility and administrative tasks if that’s what she is interested in. Any advice and example language would be very much appreciated!

The best thing you can do is to be straightforward with her; don’t try to sugarcoat the message. It’s important for her to know the limits of what’s possible there, so that she can make good decisions for herself, and so that she doesn’t end up feeling at all misled later.

You could say something like: “I want to be up-front that all the other jobs we hire for require XYZ so there isn’t room to move from your position into a different one here. But there’s a lot of room to grow within your role if that’s something you’re interested in. If you’re interested in doing training classes in things like ___, we’d be glad to set that up. And we could talk about ways you could take on more responsibility and additional projects like ____ if you’d like to.” (Make sure you give some specific examples there so she understands what types of things you’re talking about. If those things are pretty small — like “being the liaison to our water vendor” rather than “oversee benefits” — it might be worth adding, “I know that might not be what you had in mind, and I want to be transparent that because of the way we allocate work, there isn’t room for a lot more. We really appreciate what you do here though, and we want to support you if there are ways to make it more satisfying.”

5. Recruiters who ask to “keep in contact”

I am a student who will be graduating this semester, so I am currently neck deep in my job hunt. I have received emails from recruiters at job fairs suggesting that we “keep in contact” until the job fair. These emails are often two or so months out from the fair in question. Should I be thinking up questions to ask these recruiters and emailing them every couple of weeks? Should I just email them saying that yes, I am still interested in speaking with them at the career fair? Did they just suggest that we keep in contact to be polite, and I shouldn’t email them at all?

Definitely don’t think up questions to send them for the purpose of staying in touch — that would be disrespectful of their time. But I understand why the “keep in contact” wording is confusing! In this context, it really just means “let’s not fall off each other’s radars by the time the job fair rolls around.”

So all you need to do is to respond back saying you’re definitely interested in speaking with them at the job fair, and then perhaps email again a few days before the job fair to remind them you’ve been in touch and are looking forward to meeting them at the fair. But that’s it — two months is a short period of time in this type of context and there’s no need for anything more.

{ 589 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    We already have a zillion different threads about the question on luck, so I’m consolidating them all under this umbrella header. Please reply this thread if you want to comment on that question.

    1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

      Job interview or no job interview, I feel like I’d have a very hard time not responding to “how lucky do you feel” with some variant of “Well do ya?? PUNK??”

      1. Seal*

        That was the first thing I thought of, too. The candidate may think you’re channeling Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, which may not be how you want to come across to a potential employee.

      2. Artemesia*

        While I think that I have been very lucky in life, the idea that someone brings ‘luck’ with them into a job is just weird. Luck is not something that inheres in a person — one can be lucky i.e. have been born into good circumstances and with good capabilities and have had good career opportunities without ‘being a lucky person’. This question would be red flag for me if I thought the interviewer thought about it as ‘hiring someone who brings luck to the business.’ Yikes.

        1. Baru Cormorant*

          That was my thought. OP, how do you think someone’s inherent luckiness would affect the business? Do you think they’d win a client because they’re lucky, or just win the lottery and quit? And what is the difference between a 5 and 6 on the lucky scale? How do you know the difference between a lucky-and-oblivious person and an unlucky liar?

          1. irene adler*

            They are planning to send the luckiest candidate to Vegas with the company bankroll and hope that their luck results in financing the remainder of the year. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very lean year for them.

            1. Lily Rowan*

              It’s funny, because I would always say I am very lucky, because I have been! in life. But almost never in Vegas!

        2. Boobookitty*

          Yeah, I’d be wondering how badly things are going for the company that they’re hoping some of new employee’s luck rubs off on them.

          And, LW, if you do go with that “Lucky” question, some good follow-ups are: What’s your astrological sign? Do you know the color of your aura? What number am I thinking of right now? What’s your favorite conspiracy theory? And, my personal favorite: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

          1. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

            I’d wonder about the solvency of the company as well. The question would 99.999% write off entertaining an offer from the company. Knowing me, I’d ask if they could find me a virgin to sacrifice. They’re so hard to find these days, you know?

          2. Quill*

            I would 100% be concerned about the interviewer’s judgement. Even if they’re sincerely thinking they’re filtering for a Positive Attitude, it feels a little #Blessed and performative to me… and more importantly, that this is a role where any and all legitimate complaints will be brushed aside as people not being Perky, Positive, and Perfect enough.

            1. MatKnifeNinja*

              I think “lucky” equals #blessed, optimistic, positive, Valhalla type attitude.

              “Lucky” isn’t a good word to use. It’s just one chunk of that whole rah rah attitude they are looking for.

              1. Micklak*

                I tend to translate lucky into fortunate. I can see how having a positive attitude also factors into it. But this LW mentioned “bringing bad luck with them.” That sounds like they actually think good luck and bad luck are attributes that people carry around with them.

                I don’t even know what to do with that.

            2. Jadelyn*

              This was my first thought on reading the question, too. If you screen for “how lucky do you feel you are?” what you’re actually going to end up screening for is a particular type of performative optimism. #Blessed, indeed.

              Also, consider the kinds of things that would lead someone to feeling like they’re unlucky in life. I feel like a lot of those things would probably fall under the heading of Major Personal Tragedies, right? Losing family members, being born into difficult circumstances, serious and/or chronic illness. Do you really want to screen out people who’ve experienced personal tragedy/loss, specifically because they’ve experienced those things? Often that can teach someone valuable resilience and coping skills, in fact (not always – but that is one possible outcome of Dealing Witth Some Shit).

              Besides, people’s lives are generally a mix of lucky and unlucky events. If someone asked me if I was lucky, I wouldn’t begin to know how to answer. I was born healthy, to economically-stable parents, which seems like a good luck thing. One of those parents turned out to be an abusive alcoholic, which is definitely a bad luck thing. I lost the genetic lottery and have a myriad of mental health issues, so that’s on the bad luck side. However, especially in my teen years, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity for a number of unusual experiences (international travel, classes/lessons in unique skills, things like that), so that weighs toward good luck. I lost a number of years of my early adult life to major depression, so I’m 5-10 years behind where I should be for my age career-wise, there’s some bad luck. But my partner and I were actually able to buy a house a couple years ago, we’re the only people our age that I know of to own a home, so we’re lucky in that respect.

              And I can keep going. Very few people have lives that trend clearly toward “lucky” or “unlucky”.

            3. JSPA*

              If you hire based on self-described luck, you select for any/all of the following:

              a. the subset of people who, believing “I make my own luck,” do so by shafting others.

              b. people who have had an easy ride in life (born into wealth, with health, and have not yet encountered adverse situations) and who may or may not be AT ALL equipped to cope with situations that don’t go swimmingly from start to end, or any downturn in health, wealth etc.

              c. people who have your weaknesses figured out, and know how to play you. This may end well…for them.

              d. oblivious people

              e. people with no sense of statistics, math, logic

              f. people given to magical thinking and shoddy self-assessment

              But, hey, if that question strikes you as relevant, PLEASE ask it, so the rest of us have fair warning to duck.

            1. Liar Liar Pants Dracarys*

              I always thought they would chuck wood if they could chuck wood, but a woodchuck can’t chuck wood?

        3. Scarlet2*

          Exactly. I would be wondering if they use astrology or Tarot cards to make business decisions or something.

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            Yup. this would be a screaming red flag that the company has its head lodged in its bottom. So yes, OP should keep it, just so people know what they’re getting into should they choose to work here.

          2. Newington*

            Instead of just asking the question, they should take a more scientific approach by having the candidate roll a dice and only considering the ones that get a 6.

            1. Bilateralrope*

              Nah. Scatter some d4s on the floor. Tell the interviewee to take off their shoes. Then tell them to walk across the room blindfolded.

              See who is lucky enough to avoid injury. Or smart enough to shuffle.

              1. Newington*

                Or take it upstream and just trash half the applications without reading them.

                You might accidentally end up selecting for the unlucky ones, though.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  Except that, by definition, the ones that got past the arbitrary trashing are by definition the lucky ones in that situation.

                2. Marmaduke*

                  @Jadelyn—are they, though? Because they’re the ones running the risk of being hired into the kind of place where hiring is intentionally based on superstition.

              2. MsM*

                Or just replace the interview with a D&D session. “Ooh, natural one! Well, thank you for your time; we’ll be in touch.”

                1. Allypopx*

                  God that would make the hiring/interviewing process so much easier and more enjoyable (taking aside the whole, ability to eat and pay rent being on the line thing).

                2. Quill*

                  First time I played I rolled a nat 1, dropped my sword in the middle of a fight.

                  Followed it up with a nat 20 and cold-cocked a goblin with my gauntlet.

                  This was also a campaign where everyone but me and the wizard got killed off by a house crash…

              3. Pomona Sprout*

                Or just consult a magic 8 ball. It would be a lot easier than cleaning up all those dice, and just about as scientifically valid!*

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              When my son was 3 he routinely absolutely slayed the rest of the family in Bubble Trouble using exactly this ability. I’d still be stuck in Home as he marched his pieces around the board.

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          I am guessing OP ascribes to The Secret, in which you can win the lottery by envisioning the winning lottery ticket and drawing it to you. Why all these lottery winners need some regular job would be an interesting question for OP to ponder.

          1. MtnLaurel*

            And if the business goes south, do they assume that the most recent hire brought bad luck and get rid of the most recent hire? That’s such an odd question that it would make me wonder.

        5. EPLawyer*

          LW do you believe that luck has anything to do with success in business? It’s usually hard work and common sense. Luck really has nothing to do with whether or not a business succeeds. Even the ones that look like they lucked out managed through effort to position themselves to take advantange of an opportunity when it came along.

          If someone were hiring based on luck I would seriuosly wonder what their business plan was.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            That. I have actually been asked this question before and I said that I believe in making my own luck. Then I referenced a quote by Francis Bacon that a wide man will make more opportunities than he finds.

              1. Classic Rando*

                And here I was picturing a wide man finding creative ways to scoot through a bunch of narrow doorways XD

                1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

                  This is funny, because I once had a job where my office was located through two unusually narrow doorways that made average-sized people feel uncomfortable having to scoot through sideways, so no one ever came to visit me.

                  Best. Office. Ever.

            1. MagicUnicorn*

              Ha! I picture a bunch of beagles jumping through a wide-man-shaped hole in a hedge somewhere in the English countryside.

              But I agree. I do not consider myself lucky, just smart, hard working and enjoying the results of that combo.

            1. Jadelyn*

              Yeah that’s where my mind went too. A wide man will make opportunities by hip-checking everyone out of his path.

          2. Artemesia*

            Actually luck has an enormous amount effect on any person or business. Think of the graduates of 2008 and what their bad luck did to their careers. Doesn’t mean hard work and common sense are not important but they are not enough especially in a small business. Imagine you are the best small restaurant ever and you get the load of greens that poison your customers the second week you are open.

            1. JSPA*

              IMO, the actually best, best small restaurant ever would pick through and re-triple-wash the greens that come supposedly already triple-washed / not needing further washing. Which is to say, luck is the name you give the situation when you have, so far, gotten away with not planning adequately for a large yet predictable set of worst-case scenarios.

              Quality control > luck.

          3. Kelly L.*

            Well, luck has a lot to do with success in business, but not the kind of luck people mean when asked about their personal luck. You can have the luck to have, say, a gazillionaire parent who bankrolls all your ventures. But if you ask someone if they’re lucky, they’re going to think about whether they win raffles and stuff, which has nothing to do with business.

          4. smoke tree*

            I think luck is a factor in success, but I don’t think you can game the luck system by amassing luck resources (i.e. employees). You just have to get your luck from the luck mines, same as everyone else.

        6. Wintermute*

          This is a really cultural thing. The idea of fortune being a fungible, tangible thing is very common in a certain cultures, some Chinese regional cultures come to mind. So I would probably assume it’s that. Business owners in China have spent small fortunes acquiring things they think will bring luck and prosperity to their businesses like numerologically auspicious license plate numbers, phone numbers and addresses.

          1. Mostly lurking*

            That was my thought, too, and to be honest I feel a little uncomfortable making fun of LW for it. But LW, if you’re reading, Alison’s advice was spot on.

          2. Observer*

            People are not “things” though, and treating them as interchangeable with talismans is a really bad move.

            And, if you’re going to get into cultural respect, it’s worth pointing out that in cultures of the sort you mention “feeling lucky” has nothing to do with whether someone is a magnet for luck or not.

          3. Boop*

            This is a great point, but in that case the OP’s proposed question is still not good, as it pertains to how lucky the applicant feels they are, as opposed to how lucky their various attributes make them. For example, if 8 is a lucky number and my name has 8 letters, that is a quantifiable attribute that the interviewer can use to determine if I am lucky, but how lucky I feel has no bearing on the matter.

          4. Waiguoren*

            I wondered about the LW’s ethnic/cultural background when I read the question. It’s a concept that might make perfect sense to them, but in American culture, would be strange and perhaps off-putting.

        7. Observer*

          This question would be red flag for me if I thought the interviewer thought about it as ‘hiring someone who brings luck to the business.’ Yikes.

          Seriously. You want to keep a lucky charm in your wallet, go ahead. But please don’t assess your staff on how well they will play that role.

        8. Nom the Plumage*

          Personally, I was born under a bad sign. Good thing for my company that my rain cloud only stays over my personal life.

          But it really is a testament to how much I’ve achieved and how determined I am. Even Satan can’t keep me down.

        9. Jennifer Juniper*

          I would say, “10, because I am interviewing right here, right now, for this wonderful company and this wonderful role. I am so grateful and thankful for this opportunity.” And I would say it with a straight face.
          Of course, I am also insane :)

        1. Bill the Book*

          I read this bit of the post and in about 20 secs I was at Miss Brown. Pleased to meet another ‘Known Spacer’.

        2. WorkIsADarkComedy*

          I’m sure Niven’s selection based on luck plot point was always intended to be facetious, but even internally the logic did not work. Everyone born outside of IV fertilization has won a lottery because their sperm, out of millions of others, was successful in uniting with the egg. In that sense, we all have been selected for luck!

          1. TardyTardis*

            This reminds me of the cartoon that shows a sperm way ahead of all the rest on the way to the egg, captioned “Michael Phelps: the VERY early years”.

      3. Rexish*

        this was exactly what I was going to comment :D If said with the right Clint Eastwood (or Clintwood like my mom says) tone I’d take the question as a positive. If with proper professioanl tone then I’d be very confused and wonder if the job is for me.

      4. Picard*

        I wonder if the OP is not from the US. There are many cultures in which “luck” is not only a thing, its an important thing.

        1. SometimesALurker*

          I have the same question. I think I feel that it would still be an inappropriate question for an interview, because even if it’s a ubiquitous cultural concept that both interviewer and interviewee are immersed in, it’s still a metaphysical concept, which in my mind should be treated like religion, as in, valid but personal and not okay for an interview.

          If you absolutely must ask about luck, though, why have the candidates self-assess? Why not ask, “tell me about a time when you brought luck to your organization?”

          In the U.S., though, I think that that question would seem like just as much a mind game as rating your luck.

        2. Wintermute*

          Exactly, but even then it would be really rude to come right out and ask! It would be like asking a deeply personal medical question combined with a religious question.

        3. Observer*

          As others have said, it’s still not an appropriate question. It also really doesn’t sound like the OP is from those cultures. These cultures talk about “luck” and good fortune differently. Also, this is not tied to how “lucky you feel” but outside factors, often quite measurable, like the sign you were born under, the year you were born, the numerical value of your name, etc.

      5. SheLooksFamiliar*

        I’d never ask that question of, well, ANYONE. But I wonder if the employer is trying to find out if the candidate just ‘fell into’ their success or were in the right place at the right time, or if they worked hard and had a plan for everything they accomplished.

        Also, this is hairsplitting, but my honest answer would be, ‘I don’t think I’m lucky, but I do think I’m fortunate. Former bosses have seen something in me and gave me chances to succeed, sometimes before I thought I was reay. I didn’t take their confidence for granted, worked hard, listened well, and was able to build and grow my career.’ It’s a true statement, IMO, and maybe answers the question and intent behind it.

        Even so, I’d still be wary of this question.

        1. Observer*

          Well, that’s not what the OP says – they explicitly say that they don’t want to “bring someone with bad luck on-board”

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            Thank you – my reading comprehension is so much better when I wear my glasses. That makes the question even more irritating than before.

      6. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        My luck started when an ancestor stole a sheep and fled to the New World to avoid persecution.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OP#3, I’m baffled by your proposed question and the goal underlying it. What are the metrics for measuring luck? How do you disentangle luck from opportunity, or luck from hard work? Is luck an intrinsic externality, and how could the “unlucky” ever become lucky when their effort or talent has no relationship to their luck? Why does this weigh as heavily as it does for you?

      I would also note that if a prospective employer asked me how lucky I was in an interview, I would interpret them to be asking if I felt lucky/grateful to be interviewing with them. And if I interpreted it the way you meant it, I would think twice about working for someone who believes people have inherent good or bad luck. As Stevie Wonder says, superstition ain’t the way.

      1. Drew*

        Pretty sure my answer would be a big smile and “So far, so good!” and then pause to wait for the next REAL question. Because, in truth, I have had a lot of luck in my career, but that’s just circumstance. What I have done with those lucky breaks is what we should both be there to talk about.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          I think I’d be like, “more than some, less than others.”

          That is if I didn’t decide that I didn’t want yo work there and just end the interview.

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          I’d ride my unicorn to the interview and make sure everyone saw it, then they wouldn’t have to ASK how lucky I am.

        2. cmcinnyc*

          But at Leprechauns, Inc. they don’t ask this question. They make you touch a stone and see if it turns into a potato. (Ask me how I know.)

      2. Lioness*

        I also interpreted the luck question in regards to getting the interview/job. I don’t believe in luck, and to think that whether I feel lucky/unlucky determines whether or not I get the job, it would leave a terrible impression of the company.

        Skills and experience won’t matter, all you need is luck so that everything goes your way. At least that would be my impression of that question.

        1. Dan*

          I… believe in luck, at least to some extent. I busted my ass to get where I am, but that aside, I’ve also caught a few “breaks” here and there, and lost a few too. My current job found me — I was unemployed at the time (following a layover) and I got a call from a place I hadn’t applied to, who said they heard I was on the market. It turns out to be a kick ass job for the most part, with one of the biggest names in my field.

          If getting a call from a job that you didn’t apply for isn’t luck, I don’t know what is.

          But how I feel about my luckiness has nothing to do with the job at hand and my ability to do it. *That* is all about my accomplished track record.

          1. Ariaflame*

            And having gotten lucky in the past says nothing about any intrinsic luckiness that someone might have. Because that’s not a thing. There are people who are paying attention and grab opportunities when they come by, and some people have, by chance, gotten further ahead than others through no actions of their own, but it’s not a useful job skill.
            If anything I’d be more dubious about hiring someone who believed they were intrinsically lucky because if they believe that everything just falls into their laps, why bother putting in effort?

            1. Dan*

              Even worse… if people truly have had to put in no effort to get where they’re at, at some point, they may very well have developed an entitlement attitude. I’ve known people like that, and basically, you can’t tell them they screwed something up or that they’re less than wonderful.

            2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

              Years ago when I left a corporate job for my first fundraising job, one of my coworkers said I was really lucky. I answered, “No, I wasn’t *lucky*. I worked hard to get that job.” And I did. I invested time and money in classes, networked with practicing professionals, and beat the bushes for an internship at a time when they weren’t common. I volunteered. When I had some experience under my belt, I threw myself into the marketplace and applied for jobs. I guess she thought I found the offer at the end of the rainbow.

              1. Artemesia*

                I think most people who are successful under estimate how much luck played into it. I am lucky — I was born white in a prosperous but racist country with a high IQ to parents who nurtured me — I never had to worry about my next meal — and who saw that I got to college. Yes I worked hard but I also was in the right place at the right time often. And when I lost what I thought would be my career long job in a merger along with 40 of my peers whose departments were also cut, someone in my field just happened to be hired to run a major research institute and I was able to get a job with him that meant I ended up the only one of the 41 riffed who completed their career in the organization. Hard work and competence, sure. And a lot of gumption. But so much luck. I have seen Cambodians who live in banana leaf huts with their kids and feed them on the fish they get from the lake and the fruit they harvest in the forest — they work at least as hard as I ever have.

                1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

                  You don’t mention gender, which I’d be curious to know (but that’s your business), given that you worked in research.

                  I had precious little of the luck you describe. Yes, it has occurred to me over the years that the luck of the draw let me be born in an advanced country with opportunities to get an education and find more than subsistence employment. But it can be a long hard climb up to the middle.

              2. TootsNYC*

                I went to school with someone who fulfilled her dream of becoming an astronaut. When she went into space for the first time, I was talking about how strategically she laid her plans to become an astronaut.

                “She was lucky,” a colleague said.

                And considering the competition in the astronaut pool–it wasn’t a given that she’d get in. But she maximized her chances. In a way, her success couldn’t be only credited to her hard work, because there were just other thing.
                And I still don’t think that was “luck.” Opportunity, maybe…

                And it IS luck that she didn’t get in a car accident that injured her so she wouldn’t physically qualify, etc. For her “luck” was the absence of bad luck, I think.

            3. Falling Diphthong*

              In general, people who have put in a lot of work (e.g. doing excellent work and having a network who know it) are well positioned when a lucky break lands on them. People who are starting from a crappy position (due to a mix of luck or effort) are less able to roll with a good die toss and more likely to be shoved right off the board by a bad one.

              I imagine most of us have encountered the frustration of both “All the good things that happened to Sam are because Sam is just lucky and I’m not” and “My current position has nothing to do with a string of bad decisions and is just bad luck.”

              1. WorkIsADarkComedy*

                This comment leads directly to a discussion of privilege. People who come from well connected families or who are otherwise seen as intrinsically superior because of race, sex, education their family was able to afford, etc. are more likely to get those lucky breaks and are better positioned to take advantage of them.

                There is still luck and hard work involved, but many factors come into play.

                1. pleaset*

                  Exactly – privilege enables you to take advantage of luck and be resilient in the fact of bad luck.

                  For example, where I live kids are often on waitlists for the good public elementary schools. And in the last few days before school starts, the school may send a message to a parent saying, in effect “We’ve got a spot for your child if you can bring them in today to register, otherwise we move down the list.”

                  So if one spouse doesn’t work outside the home by choice, or the parents can largely control their own schedules, that’s easier than if both parents are working a job in which they don’t have much control. So the some kids are “luckier” to get into the better school.

                2. TootsNYC*

                  it’s easier to roll a 6 when you have four dice instead of two.

                  Now…you can weight your dice so they’ll never roll and 6, and you can weight them so they’re more likely to roll a 6. And you get credit for that.

                  But four dice is better odds than two.

                3. Falling Diphthong*

                  While not discounting privilege, one thing I’ve noticed is that it’s not unusual for families with more than one kid to have one kid who’s an outlier. Two kids marched onto the middle class track while one is the perpetual victim of things they are sure are not their fault, or three are screw ups and one a model of stability and common sense. That most people wind up like their parents, but there are enough people jumping tracks in both directions to indicate that it’s not static.

          2. The Cosmic Avenger*

            I call that “fortune”, and I call myself very fortunate, but not lucky. Luck, to me, is random chance, and of course there are patterns in it, because we think “random” means “evenly distributed”. There are always outliers, even in the long term, but even smart people instinctively look for groupings and patterns in randomness.

            Sorry, big fan of Leonard Mlodinow and Malcolm Gladwell.

            Anyway, I’ve been very fortunate, and I’ve made the most of my good fortune. IMO there is no such thing as luck, but as long as people think there is, the odds are that you can make money off of the Gambler’s Fallacy.

          3. One of the Sarahs*

            The thing is, it wasn’t luck you were called, but a result of a recommendation from someone who you’d impressed in the past (or I guess it could have been an Old Boys network thing too, but let’s focus on positives). Yeah, it came at a “lucky” time, but it was a result of hard work paying off, not pure luck.

            1. Dan*

              It was in large part two women that had my back, but if you want to call that the Good Old Boys Network, go for it. I have a feeling I won’t be able to convince you otherwise.

          4. Clisby*

            I wouldn’t really call that luck. You had established a reputation for being good at your work, and when a job opening came up, someone who knew you (or knew of you) suggested your name. Luck is more like striking up a conversation with the person sitting next to you on a plane, and when the flight’s over she hands you her business card, tells you she’s an internal recruiter for XYZ company, and they have a couple of openings you might be interested in.

            1. Dan*

              But you still had to impress that person to get the card.

              We can split hairs about luck all we want, but the fact of the matter is that some dice rolls go my way when they don’t have to, but I also lose some I really shouldn’t have.

          5. facepalm*

            I got a job this way too once. I transferred to a college mid year (over winter break) and the dorm room I’d gotten had been vacated when its occupant went on a semester abroad. The room phone rang and someone asked for her, and I replied she was abroad. The woman on the other end was super annoyed and said, “Well that’s just great! This is her campus job and she didn’t tell me she was studying abroad!” I replied, “Well, I’m looking for a job.”

            I was hired sight unseen over the phone for what turned out to be the cushiest on campus job ever, proctoring a remote, quiet computer lab where my only duties amounted to surfing the internet, doing my homework, passing out reserved readings to students, and fetching printer paper. I kept that job until I graduated years later, and then passed it on to my underclassman friend. If that wasn’t luck I don’t know what is!

      3. Massmatt*

        I would take the question as a huge strike against the employer and interviewer. Both would have to show me some really good things for me not to mentally just check out of the process. And then laugh uproariously when mentioning it on Glassdoor.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          My thought is similar. “I am very lucky.” Then I would wrap up the interview and leave.
          The rest of that sentence is, “I am very lucky to understand how this company thinks/makes decisions and I want no part of this.”

          There are some questions that telegraph way more information than the asking party meant to convey. This is one of those questions.

          I had a period of five years in my life where I lost 11 of my closest family members. If I were employed by your company, OP, would I be considered UNlucky and fired for that reason?
          I deliberately look for employers who understand that stuff happens and make some effort to work with their employees.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          If I’m that lucky, I’m heading to the convenience store right now for a lottery ticket. Why burn all that potential on some random sales job where my luck just benefits the company?

      4. Heidi*

        I would say 9. I did break my leg that one time. Does that make me more qualified than an 8 and less qualified than a 10?

    3. jm*

      being asked how lucky i think i am would trigger my anxiety like nobody’s business. i’m shuddering just thinking about it. LW framed the motivation as weeding out those who perceive themselves as bad luck, but i’d probably assume they’d want me to ramble on about the need for proactiveness and hard work over coasting on some nebulous notion of luck.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Really good point. I can just see this happening to me. Upthread I mentioned a rough time in my life, if someone asked me how lucky I thought I was then, I probably would be pretty shaken by the question.

    4. PollyQ*

      LW3: If you absolutely must ask this question, be sure to use this wording:

      you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

      JK, that’s a terrible question, don’t ask it. Luck, both bad and good, comes to us all in turn. Choose your employees for skills, experience, and character, and you’ll be in the best shape to deal with whatever the universe puts in your path.

    5. many bells down*

      That “luck” question is just bizarre. And frankly a nightmare for someone who tends to be very literal, like me. Do I tell you that I never win raffles or drawings (unlucky)? Do I tell you that I’ve “only” had two surgeries for my heart condition (lucky, when compared to other people that have it)?

      There’s no objective way to evaluate one’s “luck.” You could easily say I’m unlucky to be born with a heart defect at all. As it happens, I don’t think I’m particularly lucky but that’s got nothing to do with my skills or work ethic.

      1. Marmaduke*

        My luck seems to be pretty bad, which is exactly why I work so hard! Ironically, I think being unlucky works out pretty well for me as a person and especially as an employee.

        1. Claire*

          Exactly! I don’t really consider myself “lucky”, but that’s part of why I pay attention to detail. Other people will say “it’s no big deal” or “I do it like that and it’s fine” etc. but I find the times I have crossed my fingers and hoped for the best there are often problems. So I don’t cut corners. In that respect I think having a healthy skepticism about one’s “luckiness” is probably a good attribute in an employee. You are less likely to try to get away with sloppy work.

      2. CMart*

        Agreed! I would probably say I’m a 5 on the 1-10 luck scale. I have never won random drawings (even when I’ve known for a fact my submissions were >50% of the pool), I lose money on betting games etc…

        But like, I don’t get hit by bird droppings on a routine basis and my credit card info has never been compromised despite shopping at all the places with major security breaches. My car windows don’t get chipped by gravel (I know someone who has had this happen 4 times, despite not being much of a highway driver!). Chairs don’t break from underneath me etc…

        None of which has anything to do with an ability to do a job, unless we’re talking someone plagued by just the worst bad luck and you think my unluckiness is going to somehow summon a hurricane all the way to the Midwest where our offices are, taking out our operations.

      3. Quill*

        I would say I overall have bad/worse than average luck just based on my genetic lottery! Family full of good people who always got by, so not that bad, but when it comes to my health… if a condition exists in my family tree that’s purely genetic, I’ve got it.

    6. nnn*

      My real, dog-honest answer to “How lucky do you think you are?” in a job interview would be “That really depends on the outcome of this interview/job search.”

      It’s also interesting to me that they seem to perceive luck as immutable, because I perceive luck as a finite rationed commodity. I’ve had a lot of good luck in my life so far, so I figure the other shoe is going to drop any moment.

      (And then, added to all that, is the question of whether individual luck benefits one’s employer. Your lucky employee might win the lottery and quit, or be offered their dream job elsewhere.)

      1. Tin Cormorant*

        Yes, is luck a quality of a person, in that having lots of good things happen to them makes them lucky, and good things will continue to happen to them? Or is luck a consumable resource, such that good things use it up and if you’ve had a lot of good things happen to you, you’ve run out and no good things will happen to you for a while?

        I find the discussion fascinating since I’ve had a pretty easy life all things considered and I find four-leaf clovers all the time whenever I bother to look for them. Of course, none of it is at all relevant to one’s employment qualifications.

        1. Boobookitty*

          May I ask how old you are? I wonder if the feeling of having had a pretty easy life changes with age.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Not the OP for this subthread, but I really do want to say something here.

            Not everyone, not all the time. But in my own life, as I have seen what others go through as they age I have become more and more aware of how fortunate I have been. For myself, I believe my younger years were the hardest because lack of autonomy, lack of resources, lack of knowledge, etc. This sense of powerlessness continued on into my 20s. The tide started turning when I got into my mid 30s. Consistently, when I face hard things now, I find them less difficult to process than when I was younger. I think having a comparative basis also helps, as in, is New Issue harder than Old Issue? Stuff still hurts- the pain is not less. However, I am more apt to find a plan to help myself or find someone with wonderful advice.

            I remember when my father lost almost everything paying off my mother’s medical bills. When she passed he called a dear and life-long friend. This friend not only lost his own spouse but he also lost his VISION and in turn, his home and his car because of not being able to see anymore. With that phone call my father turned his thinking around on a dime. My father said, “I have my vision. I can get in my car and go get help for my problems here. And that is what I am going to do.” This sudden transformation was a privilege and an amazing thing to watch.

            I think if we look around to find ways that life has been good to us, we will find those ways, more often than not. It did take me time to grow this appreciation, though. It did not happen in one day nor in one particular event.

        2. Emily K*

          Interestingly, there was a small study done into this, where a newspaper ad sought people who considered themselves particularly lucky or unlucky. When they got to the experiment, they were given a small booklet and told to count the number of times a particular word appeared, and bring the booklet back to the interviewer with their answer, and they’d get $50 if they were right.

          On page 3 or so of the booklet was a full-page text that said, “Stop reading here. Take this booklet to the experimenter now to receive $100.” And if I remember right, I think also somewhere closer to the end was a page that said something like, “The word appears 32 times – you don’t not need to keep counting. Take your booklet to the experimenter to receive $250.”

          What they found was the people who self-described as “lucky” stopped at the first full-page text offering $100 to stop reading and take the booklet to the experimenter. The researchers theorized that the “lucky” people were open to more possibilities and less tunnel-vision-focused on one particular task. They took their time and read the text instead of quickly skimming it without reading trying to pick out the word they were supposed to be counting. When they were presented with contradictory information that seemed lucrative ($100 instead of $50), they decided to give it a try instead of being suspicious and ignoring it in favor of the original instructions. I believe they also did a follow-up, either on the same people or a different group, where they had participants who self-described as lucky vs unlucky take a psychological assessment, and the “lucky” individuals all scored high on the measure of “openness to new experiences.”

          In the write-up, the researchers compared it to two hypothetical people who are picking apples in an orchard. The “unlucky” person goes to the same familiar spot each time where they’ve found fruit before, while the “lucky” person goes to a different part of the orchard every day looking for fruit. The unlucky person is pretty much only ever going to have the same routine experience, while the lucky person is experiencing different parts of the orchard where different things might happen. So the hypothesis is that “lucky” is really just about having enough novel experiences that eventually you’ll win, like a simple odds game. Pair that with a generally positive attitude and someone will tend to focus more mentally on the times something surprising and lucky did happen instead of all the times a novel experience was just ordinary and uneventful.

      2. Just Elle*

        Its funny, I’d never really thought of it as an actual Theory of Luck before, but on reflection I do tend to side on the finite commodity theory.
        My husband and I are soul mates who met when I was only 14. We were incredibly lucky to find each other so young and to have a love so strong many years later.
        But we have truly terrible luck. Not always in the big things (we both have our health), but in the everyday things. We hit every traffic light, our car has every possible breakdown, never won anything in our lives, etc. Its so bad that our friends notice and tease us about how unlucky we are. But we’ve always joked that its because we used up all our luck on finding each other, and we’re ok with that.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          My husband hits all the red lights. Like, the lights can tell which family member is driving and adjust for him.

          1. CMart*

            My mom is also a red light magnet. But she enjoys driving and being in her car, so she doesn’t consider that to be “bad luck”, and more the universe allowing her to spend more time doing something she likes :)

            My mother in law has incredible luck with parking, however. Any time my husband and I are in a situation where parking is scarce we throw up a “prayer” to Lisa, Patron Saint of Parking and hope her luck wooshes over to us.

          2. Bilateralrope*

            If there are enough sensirs watching traffic and the city is using machine learning to optimize traffic flow, that could be the case. They won’t even need to see the driver, just notice the different driving habits and use them to target who gets stopped be every light. Especially if that implementation isn’t capable of the task it’s been assigned.

            Though I suspect it’s just confirmation bias.

            1. Emily K*

              It could also be something as simple as a lot of lights being on timers that are consistent with regard to each other in, so Light C will always turn yellow 20 seconds after Light B turned green – if you tend to accelerate quickly, or you’re usually turning onto the road from a side street that always puts you first in line waiting for Light B, you’ll probably make Light C almost every time. But if you’ve been on the road since Light A and you’re usually at the back of the queue waiting for Light B, or if you accelerate slowly, you might never have the right timing to make Light C.

      3. MicroManagered*

        Same! I would interpret this question as do I feel “lucky to be here” not, like, do I have a positive outlook on the future or whatever the interviewer might be trying to get at with this question.

    7. Uldi*

      If I’m asked that in an interview, I’m going to become very wary of your company. You’re asking about someone’s belief in a superstition during an interview. I’m going to start wondering what other decisions you might make based on superstition.

      1. Leek*

        I agree. If anything, this question is just going to drive away good candidates who have other opportunities.

      2. Allypopx*

        And that wariness would be justified, judging by the fact that the logic behind this seems to be “why would we hire an unlucky person!” and not some weird psychological trick to try to get someone to answer a question they weren’t expecting. Don’t get me wrong – I loathe the latter. But at least I can see that they’re trying for something in that case. This context is just completely bizarre.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same. It would be a big red flag for me.

        I’m not a big believer in random luck, but it’s a running joke in our house that my husband has great luck, and mine is crap. Except on jobs. I’ve got a two-decade long career of progressive responsibility (from an initial opportunity that I never should have received); he’s been laid off twice and it took him a lot longer to find something he enjoys doing.

    8. Jack*

      Ask the “luck” question if you hire one of the few who respond, “That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.” They’re the smart, brave ones you need on staff.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        There’s a probably apocryphal story of the French bac’ exam in philosophy. It asked “What is courage?” and someone just wrote “This” and got a perfect score.

        So OP, you should only hire those willing to say “That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.” THOSE are the ones who truly believe they are lucky, and act like it.

    9. Sleve McDichael*

      My concern with the luck question is that it could be off putting for candidates whose religion states that there is no such thing as luck. Someone who doesn’t believe in luck might feel very uncomfortable being forced to essentially contradict their interviewer or might feel obligated to disclose their religion in the interview.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        I for one am a skeptic/atheist who doesn’t believe in luck, so I wouldn’t worry about the interviewer figuring out your religious beliefs just based on saying “I don’t believe in luck”…seems like a wide range of religious views are compatible with a lack of belief in luck.

    10. Acornia*

      The mental gymnastics that question would trigger are Olympic level:
      1. Do they mean lucky to be interviewed/considered so they want a yes?
      2. Are they asking if I think luck determines everything, and they’re hoping for an answer that says something like “hard work is more important than luck!”
      3. Do they think people are inherently lucky or unlucky? I don’t agree, but now I have to pick one? Which one do I pick? I’ve been both lucky AND unlucky!
      4. Oh crap, it isn’t a yes or no. It’s a SCALE. Now there’s 10 choices instead of 2!!!
      5. But would it improve my luck to use a decimal point in my luck rating?
      6. I got this horrible question in an interview. I’m definitely unlucky.
      7. But if I say that, will it come off as pessimistic?
      8. See number one. Lather, rinse, repeat.

      Please do not ask this question. It doesn’t give you any useful info.

      1. many bells down*

        Right? I’d go down a rabbit hole of lucky vs unlucky events in my life all the way back to “born white ands middle class”

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Yup! My first thought would be born white and middle-class in my country in a time when medical advances have made my chronic condition NBD as opposed to 100% fatal as it was 90 years ago = very lucky… aaaand then realize I’ve just revealed my politics and my health status, both of which are no-goes for an interview.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This really resonates with me. My brain races from one thing to another just like you show here. And I would think many of the thoughts in the moment I was asked this question. And I would land on, why does this feel like a game show where I have to guess what answer it is they want?

      3. Oh No She Di'int*

        I don’t know . . . I don’t think it’s a great question. But by the same token, I think we might be forgetting the mindset of a job interviewee. I think candidates tend to be pretty laser focused on being positive and making a good impression. I could see most people jumping immediately to a positive, upbeat answer because that’s kind of the mode you’re in while interviewing. I mean can you really imagine trying to make a good impression on a potential employer and blurting out “3”?

    11. CurrentlyBill*

      ” How lucky do I feel? Well, I’m sitting here listening to you ask that question. So that pretty much tells you right there, doesn’t it?”

      1. Gingerblue*

        “Lucky enough that I assume I’ll get another interview soon, so I don’t see any reason to put up with this weirdness.”

      2. Dust Bunny*

        (Atheist) I believe in luck as a trivial thing but not as a business model. This would make me think this place reacts arbitrarily to things instead of having solid practices and policies. “Luck” seems like an easy out when you should be analyzing sales reports or figuring out of Karen in shipping is doing her job or if she’s slow to send out orders and you need to have an awkward meeting with her.

    12. Not A Manager*

      Fortune is a wheel. If you hire someone based on their past luck, the wheel will turn and then where will you all be?

      1. pleaset*

        I think the opposite. In sport coaching we somethings think people make contribute to good luck by being prepared – think of a soccer player being in the right place in the case his opponent makes a mistake.

        Or not giving up when things are going badly in case luck changes the game a little – you’ll still be close enough to take advantage of it.

        Conversely, bad luck sometimes causes people/teams to get desperate and make more mistakes, or be demoralized and not work well anymore.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Good coaches and good managers are able to work through that sort of stuff and pull groups of people through rocky times or rough roads. Crap happens, that’s a fact of life. It’s part of management to handle the unusual stuff that comes up. If nothing unusual ever happened we would not need managers.

          1. pleaset*

            Yup, and not just bad luck, but also being ready to pounce on good luck.

            An example, good recruiting systems so if you get “lucky” and win a contract bigger than anything you’d done before you can scale up fast without breaking strain, whereas for a less organized group such a “win” could cause serious growth problems.

    13. Sudden Cardiac Death*

      Am I lucky? I had a cardiac arrest at work two weeks ago (categorically unlucky; we might have realized I have elevated risk if some paperwork had been filed correctly and I’d gotten an MRI, or if I had a different doctor who was aware of the correlation between young women and sudden cardiac death). My coworkers were atypically present and skilled enough to react quickly (lucky) and medical help was three miles away finishing an accident response (lucky) and I was transported to my local hospital only two miles away (lucky). After I awoke, it was apparent I have no significant anoxia deficits (lucky) and not even broken ribs from bystander CPR (lucky). I was very awake for the defibrillator implant (unlucky) and after I was discharged I was bitten by a venomous spider (unlucky). I just got back from the ER where I was seen for a mysterious infection (unlucky).

      Also, what the hell does that have to do with whether I’m good at communications work?

      1. Gingerblue*

        This all sounds awful and I am in no way meaning to make light of it, but I do have to say that a defibrillator implant + venomous spider bite should rightfully result in superpowers.

    14. GS*

      I wonder if the lucky questioner is of a different culture that takes into account luck more? Don’t the Chinese have lots of cultural things around luck (red, etc)? More so than others perhaps?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Ooo, please let’s not do that—it’s racially problematic and not entirely accurate (while also being Orientalist and exotifying).

            1. Johnny Tarr*

              I can see “tech bro” here; this does sound like the kind of question a young privileged person might ask. A person who doesn’t realize that their good luck is actually their skin color/sex/wealth/family connections.

      2. Rectilinear Propagation*

        But in that case I can’t imagine anyone would actually say that they’re unlucky. If it’s a cultural and thus known expectation that you could be seen as being lucky or unlucky in your job, why would you ever even imply that you’re unlucky?

      3. Observer*

        I’m with PCBH. It’s both inaccurately portraying the place of “luck” in Chinese culture and also clearly not where the OP is coming from based on their own words.

    15. Zombie Unicorn*

      I just love the fact that if someone says they feel they’re unlucky, the LW sees that as an objective assessment of their luckiness.

      So you’d rather hire the reckless person who gambles away all their money? Because I’ve got to tell you, those are the only people who believe in their own luck, and the house always wins, not them.

      1. Tedious Cat*

        I saw a Grumpy Cat meme once: “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is you make bad decisions.”

    16. Allonge*

      I have a friend who says she is unlucky. She did have a few bad breaks, sure. She is the hardest working person I know, is smart, intelligent, educated, willing to speak her mind but polite, a little unwilling to trust others but an ok teamworker all the same. She is excellent at her profession. LW3, really, you would not hire her for being unlucky?

      Also, if this was my job interview, I would expect you to play Roussian roulette with me as the next question. Allonge exit left, with haste, screaming optional.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Am smiling to myself. People who have been through difficult stuff some times make the most resourceful, supportive employees. I’d work with your friend in a heartbeat.

      2. ChachkisGalore*

        Overall I consider myself very unlucky in terms of my career. Then I got a single lucky break (after 10yrs of spinning my wheels), and now (I think, though I admit I’m obviously not exactly unbiased) I’ve been able to run with this lucky break far further than an averagely “lucky” person because of all the skills I developed in just trying to make it through that string of unlucky experiences.

        I think all that bad luck helped me develop a thick skin, techniques to deal with difficult people, the ability to work efficiently and creatively (bc I’m used to not having appropriate resources), how to be a problem solver, techniques for figuring stuff out on my own or self-training (complete lack of training was a recurring theme early in my career), a finely tuned bs meter, practice in determining which hills are worth dying on, how to work for or along side people that I don’t like, practice in navigating red tape/buracracy, experience cutting through the bs and focusing on the job at hand, collecting a massive internal inventory of techniques/approaches that will not or do not work. I could go on for awhile.

        If anything, I’d be hesitant to work with someone who considers themselves extremely lucky – because what’s going to happen when they do meet adversity?

        But mostly I think the question is really silly and misguided (unless there’s some sort cultural element at play that we’re all not aware of)

    17. Myrin*

      In addition to what everyone else has already said, I also want to point out that there’s a big logical fallacy in your assumptions. You say “The goal with question being that if the candidate doesn’t feel they will have good luck, why bring someone with bad luck on-board?”

      That presumes that people can always accurately asses their own level of luck which is, frankly, just not the case. I know someone who is a regular old Eeyore and who somehow always finds a way to lament how badly life is treating her when, objectively looking at what she’s talking about, the thing that happened to her usually isn’t that bad or unfortunate at all! But she’d swear to you that she’s the unluckiest person alive!

      And even apart from such extreme fringe cases, I personally honestly couldn’t really evaluate whether I’m particularly lucky or not. I think I’m in the middle? And I feel like that goes for many people so even from a practical standpoint, that question isn’t going to be very helpful.

      1. Boobookitty*

        OMG I know someone like that. She is literally one of the most privileged people I have ever known. She lamented constantly about how difficult it was for her to be a mother of three, and no one else could possibly understand all she is going through. Honestly, almost no one else could fathom what it’s like to be her and have a full-time live-in nanny, a professional personal assistant, a part-time work-from-home business with a fleet of employees managed by someone else and that allows her to take unlimited time off for any reason, a husband who’s an equal partner, and any service or other resource anyone could ever possibly want due to being uber-wealthy.

        1. tangerineRose*

          I can understand wanting during an interview to know if the interviewee was like this and always thought bad things happened to them when really they were actually doing quite well, but I don’t think the “lucky” question is usually going to get to that.

        2. Former Employee*

          I would be tempted to ask this person to imagine being a mother of 3 without the nanny, PA, home biz, employees, etc.

      2. CMart*

        Yes – I know maybe one genuinely unlucky person* and a half dozen “unlucky” people who are often experiencing mishap after mishap that they chalk up to “bad luck”, but as an outside observer it’s pretty clear it’s carelessness and lack of planning that cause a vast majority of their woes.

        *brand new car gets T-boned pulling out of the dealer’s lot, finance clerk lost the gap insurance form, seagull drops a dead mouse on their head while waiting for a tow kind of unlucky.

    18. Longtime Lurker*

      Funny this question came up. I just filled out an application that asked if I believed more in luck or skill. I said skill, because skills can be improved. Luck is just gambling.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          “I’ve been able to keep my job while napping in the break room, while my less fortunate coworkers actually do all the work. Damn right I’m lucky.”

    19. Lena Clare*

      #3: your ‘interview’ question belongs in the sea, along with “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?”

      1. Tinybutfierce*

        Ugh, my last (awful) job used these sorts of “questions” in their hiring. I was asked what superpower I would have if I could choose and what sort of music I listen to (the latter was because it was a retail store with Pandora, so apparently it was important whether or not my music tastes would fit in…). It came as zero surprise later on when I found out their HR person had no actual HR training (and the whole job/company was a mess, but that’s a whole other post).

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        At least with the animal question one could theoretically use that to describe traits that you think are important like loyalty or being a hard worker. The luck one really has no good answer.

    20. Rectilinear Propagation*

      There are too many possible ways to interpret the question and some of them aren’t good.

      A couple of people have brought up that they would assume you’re looking for someone to talk about skill instead of luck. But it could also be seen as you questioning whether they earned their previous positions and accomplishments. It could actually come across as insulting.

      I also agree with Alison that any answer wouldn’t be useful anyway.

        1. chronicallyIllin*

          Phrased differently, it might be a good question to ask someone who would be working with underprivileged groups? It’s better to hire someone who is aware of where they’ve gotten lucky/fortunate in their lives than someone who insists it’s all 100% their hard work and the only reason poor people are still poor is because they aren’t working hard enough. (Yes, a real problem amongst welfare workers and social workers sometimes).

          But you’d have to drastically change the question’s phrasing. Maybe, “What role has being fortunate and/or lucky has played into your ability to get where you are in life?” Then, of course, you’d need to dig into their answer and get into discussing it.

          But it’s still questionable because it brushes against so many very personal topics. It’s the best interpretation I can come up with though.

    21. Bilateralrope*

      “My biggest lotto win was $27”

      There, a completly honest answer. One just as useful as the question.

      Or, if I want a less useful answer: “I once flipped a coin and it came up edge”. Let’s see if the interviewer asks how.

    22. Union Rep*

      Luck is a very important attribute in candidates.

      That’s why I randomly throw out half the resumes I receive, on the basis that I don’t want to employ anyone who is unlucky.


      1. Liza*

        I genuinely heard of somebody doing this. It was at the worst point of the recession and he got far too many applications to read, and so would toss out a good chunk off the top of the pile with the argument that “I wouldn’t want to hire someone that unlucky.” I don’t think the luck factor was really a genuine consideration though. (In a school careers advice class, we were also told about an employer who threw out all applications sent using a second class stamp without being opened, because “clearly they didn’t want it enough”. But both of these examples were ultimately arbitrary, instant screening methods for over subscribed vacancies. Not a genuine, considered part of the latter stages of the hiring process.)

        1. Bilateralrope*

          Is it just me, or would it make more sense to throw out the applications that used expensive stamps if you’re swamped with applications ?
          Someone who is spending more than they need to on applying seems more likely to already have a job, and thus has more flexibility to turn down my job offer.

          Though I’d probably have given instructions that all applications are sent via email so I could get my computer to filter them. Anyone who applies via post gets rejected for not following instructions.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I remember a time when the IRS got caught throwing out people’s taxes. You know, because there were just too many forms laying around the office. Tossing stuff out is not an unheard of method for dealing with things.
        And then there are stories of postal workers who don’t deliver ads and pile them up at home, again because too much paper.
        I don’t think these stories ended well.

        1. Alice*

          I’ve heard of the IRS using “heavy-handed” collections techniques (which I’m not sure I dislike, as someone who pays the tax I owe), of accusations that they scrutinize conservative groups, of accusations that they target poor people and minorities for audits even though they recover more money from affluent people, and that they allowed hackers to access taxpayer data because of poor security. But I have never heard of the IRS being accused of throwing out tax returns.
          Maybe it did happen, maybe not. But I think the IRS gets a lot of stick and not all of it is deserved.

        2. The IRS does that*

          I used to work for a company that made high-speed mail inserting machinery. Customers often sent batches of test product for QC analysis.

          The IRS sent shoulder-high rolls of live checks.

      3. littlelizard*

        My thoughts exactly. If you only want to hire lucky people, make it your own job to impose said luck…. (or don’t, because it’s ridiculous)

    23. Release of pressure*

      How bad would it be to release a loud fart right after being asked about your luck ?

      There clearly was some luck in the timing.

    24. Alice*

      Just got out of an interview. This post was the last article I read while waiting, and it made me very concerned… but luckily (ha!) the interviewer asked only sensible questions.

      Like many others said, it’s a question that would raise huge red flags about the company. If HR asked, meh, it might not be a dealbreaker, some of them ask weird questions. But if my future manager asked if I think I’m lucky, it would be a dealbreaker. At best they don’t know what they’re looking for to fill this role, at worst they believe in superstitious mumbo jumbo. Either way it doesn’t tell me anything good about the company.

    25. Delta Delta*

      The way this came across to me was sort of a sneering, “how lucky are you? because you should feel lucky you got this interview.” Would stand up and leave immediately.

    26. Asperger Hare*

      Oh wow.

      This would be an instant red flag for me, as (for me) luck doesn’t exist and it’s (for me) a ridiculous concept. It’s totally alien to my culture. The way you’re talking suggests that you genuinely think someone will physically bring “bad luck” with them to work, and I have to say: that concept is not universal.

      If you mean “what’s your outlook on life?” and you’re trying to ascertain their positivity, then you could ask about that. I’d certainly want to know how people react when they make mistakes, for instance.

      For a comparison, I’d suggest it’s like asking someone’s horoscope: for some people they’ll love it, but for a majority it’s just… strange and doesn’t belong in a job interview.

    27. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      I know a sociologist who is in a team looking extensively at the concept of “luck” within employment, and in particular how leaders in large organisations perceive “luck”. He shares their papers regularly so I have read about this in brief and find it fascinating.

      tl;dr: although leaders tend to recognise the concept of privilege in general, they believe they themselves were “lucky” to get certain chances along the way, but worked hard for their positions, and they typically fail to recognise the role privilege played in their own ascent.

      If you asked me a question about luck in an interview I don’t think I would be able to resist talking about privilege and how it applied to my own life – the kinds of things privilege has won me are also the kinds of things employers like, such as interesting work experience, prestigious degree, work overseas, etc, and I’m certain I wouldn’t have the career I have now without the unearned blessings that gave me a leg up in the first place. It’s not “luck” that I got my first remarkable internship – I placed with my dad’s contact. It’s not “luck” that my early career history is white collar – I lived rent-free when I was starting out, so I could afford to take my time and be choosy.

      I’m not sure LW would hire me…

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        FWIW at one interview I was asked why I needed or deserved that position when I had already had such advantages in my life. It was a STAGGERING question but now I think I admire it.

        1. No Tribble At All*

          I mean that’s a good question to pose to people in a class, seminar, or workshop, but quite frankly it’s none of my employer’s business how much I “need” a specific role. And you shouldn’t hire based on need or deserve. (Unless it’s a position that is specifically designed to get under-represented populations into a field?) No one deserves a job, but everyone deserves a chance at the job.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            I did, but I think it was despite that interview rather than because of it (there were multiple interviews at each round).

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Wow. so can you say what the outcome was here? What did you say to that? Did you get offered and accept this job?

        3. Falling Diphthong*

          How good was this job? New candy bar taster? Video game beta player?

          Or is it the person at the paint company who literally is employed to watch paint dry, while making scientific observations of the details?

      2. Perpal*

        I was trying to figure out if luck includes privilege, or is supposed to be entirely due to random chance / getting something at long odds…

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I think for most people most career “luck” is ultimately indistinguishable from privilege. That doesn’t mean they don’t deserve their positions, nor that they don’t work hard at them – it just means that the few lucky crossroads moments weren’t as random as they’d like to think.

          (wow, this letter has made me really grumpy)

        2. nnn*

          I think there are elements of both.

          I got an amazingly awesome job out of university essentially because I’d applied for an unrelated internship that I stumbled upon while googling an abbreviation that I typoed.

          Luck led to me typoing my google search and stumbling upon the internship that none of my classmates knew about.

          Privilege got me to the place where I qualified to apply for the internship.

          (Hard work didn’t play a role because I’m good enough at my major that I didn’t need to work hard, I just had to go through the motions. Luck put me in the high school class where I first heard of that major through an unrelated guest speaker – I was supposed to be in a different class but had a scheduling conflict. Privilege put me in a school that had those kinds of guest speakers come in)

    28. Construction Safety*

      The coaches used to tell us that you make your own luck through practice and dedication.

      Dick Marcinko said, ” The more you sweateth in training, the less you bleedeth in combat.”

      1. Some people are like that*

        I used to do construction safety, too, for real.
        I had a guy tell me safety was cow manure, that when it’s your time to go (die because of a preventable accident), it’s your time to go.
        He and I did not get along.
        I would not look for a safe job with a company or manager focused on “luck”.

    29. Just Elle*

      On “How I Built This” (NPR show / podcast that interviews successful entrepreneurs) he always ends the show with the question “What percentage of your success do you attribute to luck, vs hard work and smarts?”

      99% of the time people awkwardly flail around about how lucky they are. But 1% of the time you get someone who stands up and is like “You know what? I worked really, really hard to get where I am today and honestly not many people are willing to work as hard as me. Sure I’m lucky but I also make my own luck.”

      I always want to jump up and down applauding them for replying to that ridiculous obviously-meant-to-pretend-to-be-humble question in such a straightforward way. So, I’d probably be tempted to do the same in my interview… and then then interviewer would probably disqualify me.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        A psych observation I’ve found to be very true is that for things people are good at, they attribute it to hard work; for things they’re bad at, they just didn’t have the gene to pick up that skill with no effort.

        1. Just Elle*

          Yes! I’ve been really into Annie Duke (pro poker player) lately, and she talks about ruthlessly evaluating unexpected positive outcomes for external factors, just as much as you would negative ones, to eliminate that bias.

          Another thing she said that really stuck with me (and will be my answer when I’m on HIBT one day ;) ) is that the better you are, the more luck plays a role. You can get from the 1% to the 90% of something by hard work alone – it doesn’t take luck to go from the worst runner in elementary school to a highly competent recreational 5K-er. But once you’re in that elite tier, external factors like genetics, the weather, the hand you’re dealt that day, etc play a much bigger role in how you rank against other elite peers on a given day.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            That last is a really good point. There are some really complicated skills–reading, driving–that we just figure almost everyone can and will master because we’ve decided they are important for an adult in this society. If we started communicating solely by saxophone, all those of us who claim we just don’t have any musical ability (*raises hand*) would learn to be adequate on the saxophone. For the much smaller group of people excellent at playing the saxophone, which one gets the recording contract will be more arbitrary. (Tying in to the later thread on being crushed that you didn’t get selected for the job, your book was rejected by the editor, you didn’t get the part in the movie, etc.)

          2. Former Employee*

            I’ve never understood the concept of working hard to be a good poker player in that if you get dealt a bad hand, its not as if you can somehow negotiate your way to being in a better position.

      2. Antilles*

        “You know what? I worked really, really hard to get where I am today and honestly not many people are willing to work as hard as me. Sure I’m lucky but I also make my own luck.”
        Unfortunately, a lot of successful people stop the sentence at “many people are not willing to work as hard as me”, ignoring the fact they had the luck of outside factors (family stability, wealth, birth, etc) that helped put them in a position to succeed…and then flip it into a judgmental “if you’re not successful, that just means you’re not working hard enough”.

        1. Just Elle*

          I know what you’re getting at…. but I think if you listen to the show, you’ll find that for every person who doesn’t recognize the luck/privilege that helped them succeed… there’s also a person who overcame all odds through determination and grit. There are many stories of starting with $50 and living in vans to make it work.
          Luck helps, but its also not a total barrier to entry. And just because someone is born into privilege, doesn’t mean they didn’t still work harder than the average person, or make them somehow less deserving of success. It just makes the less lucky people’s success that much more impressive.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Some people are born into privilege and a host of opportunities, and still manage to set fire to them all.

        2. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yeah, I would want to punch the entrepreneur in the face for such a smug, privilege-blind, offensive answer, not applaud.

      3. nnn*

        A while back I fell down this rabbit hole of reading old Reddit AMAs from rich people.

        A common question was “What is your success rate?”, meaning what percentage of endeavours that you undertake are successful.

        People who tended to feel that luck was a strong factor in their success cited a success rate in the 70% to 80% range. People who tended to feel that they got where they are due to their own hard work cited a success rate in the 10% to 20% range.

    30. Falling Diphthong*

      There’s a Rhymes with Orange cartoon in which someone hypothesizes that everyone is given a certain amount of cool in their lives. And since the middle-aged speaker hasn’t used any of their cool yet, their coming rein of cooldom is obviously going to be epic.

      When my son was in preschool he had a phenomenal ability to roll 6s (in a game where this advantaged you) and get fortune cookies that assured him he was supremely fabulous while the rest of the family was admonished that hard work is its own reward. Had our family fortunes ever hinged on a game of chance, we would have tossed all the hard science degrees aside and put him up there to spin the wheel. But he appears to have run through his lifetime supply of rolling extra 6s by around age 8. Had you hired him at age 4 for his ability to roll a 6, you would now be sorely disappointed.

    31. BRR*

      I say go ahead and ask it. Because this allows candidates to self-select out from an employer who values luck.

    32. Laura in NJ*

      Would “There’s no such thing as ‘luck'” be considered a bad answer? Because that’s what I’d say if I was ever asked that question.

    33. OP3*

      Interesting responses. I asked this question after listening to an “HR Expert” discuss his firms hiring practices. Interestingly, the company his guy runs is über focused on culture and has hundreds of employees in North America. The company asks the question and any answer 7 or under is an automatic no to hiring. His view is not so much that the candidate will bring luck to the company but if they think they have bad luck they are unlikely to be a person with an optimistic outlook and wi bring the culture of the company down.

      I have asked this question a half dozen times in interviews and quite frankly the responses have been extremely interesting prompting good conversation to understand the candidate. And nobody has said less than 9.

      Wasn’t sure about continuing with it so hence the question.

      1. Emilia Bedelia*

        If you’re looking for someone who has an optimistic and positive outlook, you can just… ask about that. “When you encounter a problem, what is your first reaction?” “Would you describe yourself as a pessimist or an optimist?” “What kind of company culture do you think you work best in?”. Asking about “luck” isn’t really the same thing, and you’re going to get a lot of confused responses along the lines of the commenters here.

        Just because a question is unusual or unconventional doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a better way to get information out of a candidate. Ask for the information you really want – it’s not really fair to ask oblique questions and divine the candidate’s mindset from them.

        1. Tinybutfierce*

          This. I’m a generally pretty optimistic person, but I also don’t really believe in luck, so I’m sure there’s plenty of similar folks that firm has interviewed who would have been great fits for their company culture if they hadn’t been weeded out by a weird, unclear question.

          1. Archaeopteryx*

            And stating that you’re lucky could be pessimistic thinking too- if someone is very down on themselves, they might attribute their own accomplishments to look rather than to their own talent and perseverance. But really, just don’t ask any kind of trick question in a job interview. It’s unfair and not a good look to people who don’t appreciate being messed with.

          2. MCMonkeyBean*

            Optimism was actually always one of the things on our annual reviews. On my self-review It was the one category I always gave myself a 5/5–I figured that was a self-fulfilling prophecy lol.

            But yeah, asking about luck is a terrible way to get to that.

        2. Fritzy*

          Great response, with a helpful reframing of the question to get at what the OP is trying to ask. The direct questions suggested are much stronger than having potential employees deal with the undefinable aspect of “luck.”

          I appreciate the thoughtful feedback without shaming the OP for asking the question!

        3. Lehigh*

          I don’t really think that’s an effective question, either. Some people work hard to be optimistic, and know it, and some people are really much more pessimistic than their friends/family, and know it, but I would guess that most people think that their own views are simply realistic. Whether those views are optimistic or pessimistic is something that can only be seen from the outside.

          And I have certainly met people who would say that they are optimistic, positive people who just happen to have the worst luck. I would not, generally, agree with that assessment.

          Unfortunately, I do think that the luck question has too many possible answers to be good as a yes/no–I think that throwing out anyone under a 7 is preposterous since, as has been discussed, views of luck vary so extremely widely. But I can see how using it to prompt a discussion, as the LW is doing, could be interesting.

          Perhaps I should disclaimer that I am not in a hiring position, so this is for me just an interesting discussion, not something I would be using personally.

      2. Allypopx*

        Good context. But just because a company is successful or has a good culture doesn’t mean they have good hiring practices, or know how to interview well. Many many successful companies suck at interviewing and just have decent screening/training and development/or ironically luck. I think you’re more likely than not to turn off good candidates with this question, over the long term.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        As a rule, hiring people to perfectly fit the culture tends to lead to happy employees (because they are surrounded by people just like them, and people tend to enjoy that) but teams that are not as flexible about analyzing or responding to challenges, since everyone is extremely similar in experience and outlook.

        1. Allypopx*

          Ah yes this is a very very good point. The jobs I’ve been happiest and most comfortable at have also probably been the jobs I’ve been least productive at, overall.

      4. Antilles*

        His view is not so much that the candidate will bring luck to the company but if they think they have bad luck they are unlikely to be a person with an optimistic outlook and wi bring the culture of the company down.
        This reasoning is garbage. You NEED a mix of optimistic, centrist, and even pessimistic people to form a good and functional team. Why?
        Because when the optimist says “let’s go for it! this is an exciting new opportunity!”, you want other view points. You want a person who’s right in the middle to raise practical questions of budget, staffing, etc. You want a pessimist to raise questions about downside risk and force you to really evaluate your choices.

        1. Scarlet2*

          Exactly. Not only does this reasoning lead to the very homogenous culture that can be seen in certain start-ups (which has its own issues), but it’s actually bad for business to only hire “optimists”. You don’t want to only surround yourself with people who “look at the bright side”, you also need people who think about the possible worst scenarios, because sometimes that’s how you anticipate possible problems.

          It’s like start-ups who insist they want “risk-takers”, when “risk-averse” people are equally necessary if you want to avoid to crash and burn.

        2. Pommette!*

          Exactly! Societies and organization benefit from diversity. You need some people to see and get excited about the good possibilities, and others to see and get worried about the negative ones.

        3. Parenthetically*

          EXACTLY this. I don’t want a company entirely comprising positive, blue-sky, good-vibes-only people. What an absolute nightmare.

          Honestly, the inanity and self-sabotage potential of this question!

        4. Just Elle*

          And you can be both pessimistic and cheerful. From a culture perspective, I get wanting people who are upbeat and happy. But you can be those things and still be healthily risk adverse.

          My last company did a really good job of “failing quickly.” Instead of getting an idea that everyone on the team talked up *Because Positivity* and then being shocked when it failed… we would try to poke holes in the new idea and figure out why it wouldn’t work and if those issues could be mitigated. If the idea passed the ‘devils advocate’ phase we were all thrilled and much more confident in the idea.
          But the key to this process working was cheerfulness. People would never bring ideas forward if they felt like every idea was immediately fired upon from every angle or were made to feel stupid. But with a culture where everyone was genuinely interested in identifying issues early, and excited/happy about ideas we couldn’t sink, it bred even more ideas and lots of “what if we tweaked it like this” type brainstorming.

      5. Anonomoose*

        I’ve been sort of knocking around how to model this for a couple of years (think, ideal meeting composition). My sort of loose hypothesis, without a lot of data, is that if you’re, say, generating ideas, like an ad or design or R&D org, you probably want optimists as lower staff, to come up with plans, then pessimistic managers, to pick holes in them, so only the good ones make it through. Unfortunately, optimists often seem nicer than pessimists, and so often end up promoted, and then hire other people like them. They also get given more funding, which is how tech startups happen (and why so many of them go bankrupt reaaaally fast)

      6. Heidi*

        Whoohoo! I got the right answer! I said 9. Seriously, though. If nobody ever says anything less than 9, how does the scale help distinguish candidates at all? You could just as easily ask, “How big a role does luck play in life?” Or something like that. Also, if you’re a very logical sort, you might say 5. You don’t control luck, so the average for everyone should be 5, meaning not exceptionally lucky or unlucky. Assuming luck is distributed normally, which there is no way to know. You could also ask, “I know at least one company asks candidates to rate their luck on a scale of 1 to 10. What do you think of that?”

        1. Antilles*

          Also, if you’re a very logical sort, you might say 5.
          Or a 10, because…well, I was born in the US, to a family that could afford to feed and clothe me, without major health issues. In a logical comparison to the situations of billions of other people, I was incredibly lucky the instant I emerged from the womb.

          1. Pommette!*

            Exactly. I’m in my late thirties, which means that I’ve outlived most human beings, ever. I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve never been through war. My family is kind. I’m super lucky.
            (This information is not relevant to employers).

          2. Humble Schoolmarm*

            Well, that’s the question, right? Am I comparing myself to everyone in the world (decidedly lucky)? Everyone in the world past and present (even luckier) or to other middle class, educated, members of the dominant culture in a prosperous place (uhhh… birds don’t regularly poop on me, but I’ve never won a big prize in a game of chance so…).

      7. Oh No She Di'int*

        I get this, as it comes from a school of business thought that says to hire for culture over anything else. Maybe that’s right, maybe that’s wrong. However, part of that school of thought is that such questions have to be an organic outgrowth of the values and culture that company is cultivating. That likely has something to do with their success.

        I doubt that even that “HR Expert” would advise simply grafting someone else’s cultural shibboleth onto your company’s hiring practice without a deep examination of whether it’s eliciting the values that are important to YOUR organization. Best case scenario, it’s irrelevant. Worst case scenario, you end up hiring for values that aren’t actually an organic fit with your company.

      8. The Rat-Catcher*

        I thought this might be the goal of your question. I agree with others that you can assess for that with other types of questions. The “lucky” wording is confusing and might lead to some economic inequities with your hiring.

      9. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Interesting, because I’d be leery of someone who self-graded themselves 8, 9, or 10, because they might be one of those people who has a delusion of how great they are while not actually being good at their jobs. I’ve worked with many. They are awful.

      10. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        I think you’d benefit from reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-sided. It’s an interesting look at, and debunking of, relentless positivity culture and how too much positivity is actually a negative, especially in business where a proper understanding and assessment of risk is important.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          I have said before, and I will say here again, that Bright-Sided is one of the most important books of the 21st century. Every American, and everyone in a similar culture heavily influenced by ours, should read it. I’m not exaggerating.

      11. Emi.*

        I think the fact that no one says anything below 9 just shows they’re telling you what they think you want to hear (I’m so lucky to have gotten this interview!).

      12. Observer*

        I’m not impressed by this “expert”. I’m not going to repeat everything everyone has said. But I’ll point out that being “uber focused” on culture does not mean you’re building the culture you think you are building. More importantly, it does not mean that you are building a culture that is useful or healthy for the company.

      13. smoke tree*

        I suspect that if you only hire people who rate their luck as 9 or 10 out of 10, you’re essentially selecting for a company of yes-men (yes-people?) who will just tell you what they think you want to hear. You might benefit from hiring the person who says 1 or declines to continue the conversation because it can be beneficial to have employees who know their own minds and aren’t afraid to challenge higher-ups when they make mistakes.

      14. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I think asking a general question about luck so as to open conversation about attitude to work and dealing with challenges is … defensible.

        Asking for a score and using that to disqualify people is not.

      15. MCMonkeyBean*

        I want to add one more reason I think you should not ask this going forward–if someone considers themselves to be unlucky, it may be because some really terrible things have happened to them in their lives. They really should not have to think about these terrible things that have happened to them during an interview!

        Just imagine the person sitting across from you sitting there weighing their luck thinking “well I’ve got a great education and good career opportunities, but my parents both died last year and my spouse is very ill and my identity was stolen last month…” Please don’t put someone in that situation.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Oh GOD, this. Be aware that you’re also implying that people who have had bad things happen to them are inherently tainted, unclean, and somehow contagious. Yuck.

    34. Perpal*

      My nicest interpretation on a luck question is perhaps OP is trying to screen for people with a positive attitude/outlook in life, and hopes that that will reflect on the office environment? But really, it is a confusing and unhelpful thing to ask interviewees. Probably will select out most of the logical thinkers too.

    35. T2*

      Please please for the love of God! Ask this question first.

      Because I like to know when I am talking to an idiot as soon as possible.

      Seriously though. If you are not using D&D dice as a hiring decision, I question if YOU really believe in luck!

    36. yala*

      “The goal with question being that if the candidate doesn’t feel they will have good luck, why bring someone with bad luck on-board?”

      I just…my only reaction to that is the blinking dude gif. Like…what?

      I’ve known a few folks who seemed to have a permanent raincloud, but this isn’t a role playing game, and Luck isn’t a stat that some folks have points in and some folks don’t.

    37. Buttons*

      Luck also implies that people got where they are because of something other than their hard work, abilities, and skills. That kind of thinking leads to a lot of bias for women and people of color– they got their position because of afirminitive action or because of a diversity initiative. I really hope the OP takes Alison’s advice and doesn’t use that question. I also hope OP does some research on how to conduct interviews and appropriate interview questions. There are plenty of resources out there for good and meaningful interview questions.

    38. Quill*

      My immediate thought on “asking people if they feel lucky” is if they’re interviewing for a Die Hard reboot.

    39. RD*

      Wow. If someone asked me how lucky I am in a job interview, I don’t think I’d be able to help myself from laughing. And then I’d seriously reconsider if I wanted a job at that organization.

    40. TooTiredToThink*

      I dunno, I think if someone asked me how lucky I was I’d picture “May the odds be ever in your favor” and I’d probably quietly choose not to pursue the interview process further.

    41. greenius*

      I find the interview question about luck to be really funny. When I was hired at my last job, there was a question asking me to rate my luck on a scale of 1 to 10. I later learned they were trying to find out which candidates took responsibility for themselves and their actions, and which felt that nothing was their fault and everything just happened to them.

      I was one of several people who convinced the hiring team to throw out that question. We could get the insights we wanted by asking candidates to tell us about a conflict they had with a coworker.

      1. Heidi*

        So they were looking for 1’s? Interesting. I get the feeling that these kinds of questions are supposed to trick the candidate into betraying some deep truth about themselves by asking an indirect question. The interviewer only tricks themselves if they are convinced that there is one right answer to an ambiguous question. Better to directly ask for the information you want.

        1. greenius*

          I don’t think they really thought through what they were looking for. I absolutely agree that it’s a setup to reveal something a candidate would prefer not to get into. I answered 7, and talked about the ways privilege had worked to my advantage, but also that I had taken some hard knocks. I think I avoided explicitly mentioning my depression and anxiety, but considering I had worked for two years at a movie theater AFTER I got the BA from a top university, they must have figured something was up.

      2. Perpal*

        I was just thinking this is such a mind game for candidates if they’re trying to guess what the interviewer wants (rather than just saying “wtf, guess this is a toss”); do they want a low luck rating to imply dedication and hard work, or a high luck rating to imply a positive attitude? Or maybe whip out a 4 leaf clover you happen to have stashed on your person? Break into your best diehard impression?

    42. cmcinnyc*

      If someone asked me this question in an interview, I’d figure they managed on the basis of affirmations and The Secret and I would run far, far away. I don’t want to deal with that every day.

    43. Anonymeece*

      I admit, it’s a curious question, particularly how the person framed it as not bringing someone who said they were unlucky on board.

      Though I don’t think the lucky question is useful/telling/germane, I would actually go the opposite way: I would assume lucky people think things will work out for them, so they don’t put in the work, while unlucky people overcome it through bad luck.

      If nothing else, OP, view these concerns as a good judge that this is not a useful question to ask. Maybe you could ask something like, “How did you respond to your last big disappointment? [a project falling through, critique at work, not getting to go to a conference they really wanted]” or something to demonstrate what they do when it doesn’t go to plan. That will give you more information on how they treat “bad luck” then just asking on a scale.

    44. Clever Girl*

      “if the candidate doesn’t feel they will have good luck, why bring someone with bad luck on-board”??? What? That’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard. How does that even make sense. If I were interviewing with someone who literally believed this, I would want to know so I could walk out immediately.

      There is no such thing as “someone with bad luck”. Sometimes bad things happen to people. But just because my basement flooded last time it rained doesn’t mean I’m going to mess up those TPS reports.

      1. Clever Girl*

        Also this is opening the door WIDE for discrimination in your hiring. Wealthy privileged people have a lot more “good luck” than someone who has had to claw their way out of poverty and oppression.

      2. tangerineRose*

        I’ve got a black kitty cat. If I mentioned this in response to the question, I wonder what would happen. She’s a great cat, and I don’t believe the black cat – bad luck thing, but some people seem to.

    45. Neritz*

      The justification and thought behind the question bugs me more than the question itself. Depending on the company culture it could just be a fun/throwaway question to see if the candidate has a fun or creative answer to get a look into their personality. I’ve answered some odd questions over the years in interviews.

      But to actually consider it a legitimate and important question? How does ones perception of their own luck say anything about how they will do in a position? “Don’t want them to bring their bad luck with them!” Woof.

    46. Meredith*

      I was asked the luck question by a CEO. I think I responded 7 or 8? Later he said at an all-company meeting that he does, indeed, ask that question of everyone, and most people say they make their own luck or some other cheesy variation. This person runs a company of about 200 people with a yearly gross of $20 million, which is still unbelievable to me.

      This was one of numerous red flags in the interview with him alone, not to mention the other 2 interviews and the entire testing process I went through that day. I really should have known how that job would go, but live and learn.

    47. Emi.*

      You can’t just ask anyone to tell you how lucky they are! Good grief. You should consult with a professional diviner who knows what they’re talking about — the one who helped you find auspicious days to interview on should be able to help.

    48. Semprini!*

      Another interesting thing about the notion of luck is whether we perceive something to be good luck or bad luck or luck-irrelevant is related to our expectations of the situation.

      You wouldn’t perceive something to be good or bad luck if it’s exactly what you expected to happen. For example, I switch on the light switch and the light turns on, I don’t think “Today’s my lucky day!” I think nothing at all.

      (Although, to tie it into the luck vs. privilege conversation, if I lived somewhere with less reliable electricity, I might think “Today’s my lucky day!” when the light switches on.)

      OP mentioned that the stated reason for the original question was to identify optimism, but it might actually identify pessimism. For example, I’m a pessimist, and I feel lucky that I managed to get a good job. But the less pessimistic people around me are like “Of course you got a good job, you work hard and you’re good at what you do!”

    49. Speculeez*

      There are 2 correct answers to the luck question

      “5.5 – There’s no such thing as luck”

      “10/10* Being born into a rich country in the 21st century makes me astonishingly fortunate compared to the experience of the great mass of human souls”

      *if you have had a very hard time reduce to 9/10

      1. Avasarala*

        Agree. I am so fortunate that the amount of matter is slightly more than anti-matter, and that multicellular life somehow evolved, and that our ancestors somehow survived the Great Dying and other massive extinction events, and that after all of that I was born with a working body into a kind family in a sociopolitical peaceful location in extraordinarily comfortable circumstances. I can eat delivery pizza and ice cream in an air conditioned house, put the trash in a bin where it is collected, then watch personalized entertainment or communicate with people around the world in real time. I am more fortunate than any human has ever been.

    50. So sleepy*

      Ughhhh sorry to pile on about the luck question. SO many issues with this one.

      My first thought is, if someone rates themselves as a 10 on luck, is that even a good thing? It means the person thinks things just come to them without any effort on their part. Isn’t that a bad thing in the working world?

      Second, you are going to lose people who think they are unlucky because of things outside their control. Maybe they are a great person, who isn’t feeling very lucky because their fish always seem to die inexplicably. Or they’ve had three deaths in their family this year. Or they have experienced and overcome more challenges than most. Luck is, by definition, out of our control, and a self-rating on luck is entirely subjective, so it really does not give you any useful information on your candidate.

      Third, you are going to turn many of those with the “desirable” luck trait off by the question. I’m a fairly high performer, and interview well. I even consider myself lucky (always seem to win draws and the like!). If I were asked this in an interview I would assume (a) that the interviewer’s priorities are WAY off and (b) that I would be taking a huge risk working for someone who prioritizes luck over actual skills. And would probably not take the job.

  2. nnn*

    Reading #1, I find myself wondering how it would go over if you responded to “Your children will be beautiful” with a bold, confident, “Yes, they will!”

    (I’m not actively advising it because I have no idea how it would go over, I’m just pondering how the kind of people who make those kinds of comments would respond)

    1. Sleve McDichael*

      Probably enthusiastic cooing and something along the lines of ‘They’ll be so LUCKY to have such a proud parent!’, unfortunately.

    2. Np*

      Haha, I agree! OP1, I’ve been with my partner for over 5 years and regularly get the “so when are you getting hitched?” question. My go-to response is “oooo, there’s still time to think about that!”, with a dismissive wave of the hand. That usually stops them from asking further. If they get really pushy (not at all offensive in the culture of the country I work in), I say “eh, it’ll happen when it’ll happen”. End of.

      As far as kids are concerned, I agree with the above commenter. Just a simple “thanks, that’s really sweet of you!” will do. No need to get into it any more than that (unless you want to, of course)!

      1. Just Elle*

        I once broke out my phone and played the entirety of Jenna Marble’s ukulele-laden “Realistic Love Song” at someone who wouldn’t stop asking about why we had not yet spent thousands on a wedding when we could barely afford the rent we were living in sin to afford betterer….

        Sometimes people just genuinely are curious / haven’t thought of Reasons you wouldn’t be following their exact trajectory, and an actual rant about Because Reasons is much more effective at a long-term shutdown. Not that you owe them an explanation, you don’t. But explanations can be humbling to the explain-ee and somewhat satisfying to the explain-er, when justified.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Yeah I’m a fan of getting snarky on that one. “I dunno about that, I’ve seen really attractive adults make supremely ugly babies.” Just to see how thrown they are by that, and how they respond.

      2. JSPA*

        I’d push back on the pretty ones being the good ones, too, frankly. And I don’t like the entire, “I get to comment indirectly on your attractiveness, your SO’s attractiveness, and/or your procreative activities” aspect. I mean, you’re not planning on making babies that way, but…they don’t know that, right?

        You can probably shut the whole thing down in the process, by handing them a tiny dish of awkward:

        “Oooh, I was the ugliest baby ever!”

        What’s even the come-back, y’know? If they’re being weird by making an excusable body comment on you by complementing the baby-to-be, they either have to make that comment and take their lumps, or they have to back the heck off the baby-making comments.

        Or just be honest: “we’re both big believers in adoption, actually.”

    3. Approval is optional*

      The LW could try the suggestion from a meme I saw recently, viz:

      ‘I don’t think I’ll have kids’
      -invites arguments

      ‘This bloodline dies with me’
      -metal as hell
      -implies you’re taking on a great and noble burden which allows no argument

    4. Rexish*

      My immediate thought of a response was “babien in my family tend to be unfortuate looking, but they grow out of it”. It’s not true and I have no idea why this came to my mind but it might confuse them.

      That being said, the questions and comments are annoying and potentially rude. But “we’ll see” or something similar is good enough answer. If they continue it’s ok to ignore.

      1. Some people are like that*

        I like this as far as a conversation distraction technique – get everyone talking about those awkward phases ages 12-15 or so, maybe even sharing pictures.
        Or, “most babies are cute, but one I saw was _____” (either exceptionally cute or exceptionally ugly; who cares)

        1. ChimericalOne*

          That assumes that OP wants to go down that conversational path, with the risk that it circles right back to them & their future kids. I don’t think it does a particularly good job of steering the conversation back to something safe…

          1. Clorinda*

            …”and speaking of cute babies, do you have any new pictures of Junior/Grandjunior?”
            People only REALLY want to talk about their own babies; it’s all an excuse, so you might as well go straight there, ooh and aah over a few pictures, and get back to work.

      2. Quill*

        As one of the youngest women in my extended family, I’ve called all my once removed cousins “raisinettes” nearly until they were old enough to talk.

        “Oh how cute, the raisinette’s eyes focus now!”

        Kids think it’s funny when you lovingly call them raisinettes or grubs, but their parents get weirded out enough that they don’t ask about your reproductive plans.

        1. Anonymeece*

          My sister-in-law had a whole system for kids: they went from grublets, to grubs, then chublets, to chubs. (Said affectionately! At that point where kids pick up their baby fat and kind of scooch around rather than walk).

    5. min*

      Hah! My first thought was to reply, “And smart!” with a similar bold confidence, but I think I like yours better. :D

    6. Helena*

      The best reply to comments on beautiful babies, including babies that are present, is “all babies look like Winston Churchill.” I’ve never had that reply lead anywhere uninteresting.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          This is also true.

          And for babies, it’s really only the fresh ones that look like Churchill, and that’s because newborns all look like old men. (An awful lot of people have never seen an *actual* newborn. The ones in media tend to be 1 month at youngest, probably because of legal limitations.)

    7. CMart*

      “Aw, I think I’m good looking too. Thanks!”

      Because really that’s all people are saying. It’s a backdoor way to saying “your partner is beautiful and so are you”. They invoke future children because it’s somehow less forward (plus, you know, lots of people enjoy the thought of more adorable babies in the world) than coming out and saying “y’all cute as hell.”

  3. Bowserkitty*

    I supervise the receptionist at my firm, who has been here for just over two years. In her most recent annual self-evaluation, under the section which asks about career goals and training opportunities, she wrote that she is “a bit curious as to where I can go from a receptionist position.”

    As somebody who was frequently frustrated with the “career goals” text box in my annual SMART goals evaluation at OldJob (as an administrative assistant, which in that company was similar to being a departmental receptionist), I’m curious why this is even an option on her self-evaluation. Is it possible she didn’t know what else to say? My coworkers and I used to gripe that we didn’t have any goals, and that we just wanted to get through our day without hassle and keep working. But there was no way we could say that without making a higher-up angry.

    …quite glad I’m out of there.

    1. Acornia*

      Same. I have been at the same job 17 years. Love it. Changes in industry trends and the populations we serve have kept me from getting stagnant. No desire to move away from providing services into management.
      And every frickin’ year I have to put something in that box in my annual eval. They want to know what my goals are for “moving up”
      She might have written that out of frustration, more of a “what even ARE my options for moving up?” than a “I want to move up, what are my options?”
      If she’s been there two years, she probably knows there’s nowhere to go.

      1. Scarletb*

        “what even ARE my options for moving up?”

        That’s how I read it, too – if I were at a law firm or some other place where *every* other role required very particular experience, and I was working as a receptionist, and someone asked me about career goals, I imagine that I too would be “a bit curious” to know what on earth they thought I should be thinking about there, because it doesn’t seem like a role with any obvious progression in that setting.

        1. Dragoning*

          Plus OP says they’ve never said anything like this before. But they’ve only been there for two years, making this their second yearly eval. Not much of a pattern to break.

        2. ChimericalOne*

          Yeah, that’s how I read it, too. If you’re forcing her to answer questions about career goals every year, you gotta be prepared for responses like, “What could that even be?” (I’m a “bit curious” is a very nice way to put that, IMO.) It’s a stupid question, if the answer is supposed to be “None — this job doesn’t accomodate growth.”

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          “What are your goals to advancement?”
          “I want to develop the skills to become one of the unicorn trainers.”
          “Sorry, but you don’t have the specialized skills or experience and you won’t get them here. We don’t think you’re cut out for that. Accept the fact that you’re in a dead-end job and stop dreaming about advancement. Maybe we can give you some busywork projects to make you feel like you’re worth something. Oh, your self-evaluation is due. What are your development goals?”

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I have a n0-advancement job and I have been sorely tempted to write something sarcastic on evaluations more than once. I really wish my employer would stop asking.

          1. BurnOutCandidate*

            In my company, it’s commonly known that the #2 reason people give in exit interviews for why they leave is “lack of advancement opportunities.” (The #1 reason is low pay.) You get in… and then there’s nowhere to go. Occasionally, something will open up in another department, but that’s moving laterally (sometimes with a pay cut) and essentially doing something completely different, given how compartmentalized things are. I was asked on my self-evaluation a few years ago about my five year goals, and I had a tough time with it because, being realistic with this job, there’s nowhere I can go. I don’t think the higher-ups quite understand how demoralizing it is for some here to not have the opportunity to do new things, develop new skills, and feel like they’re growing personally and professionally.

      2. Daisy*

        I agree, that’s how I read it – puzzled/ frustrated as to why they’re asking. If OP’s now going to come in with a big patronising lecture about how I should know there’s nowhere to go, I’d be a bit annoyed. They asked!

      3. Elbe*

        I thought the same thing.

        If it “should be obvious” that there’s no upward mobility for her, why is the LW even asking her that question?

        If the company expects employees to spend time and effort filling out their self-evaluations, they should put in the time and effort to adjust the template to make sure the questions are relevant. Otherwise, it’s just an annual reminder that the employee is in a dead-end job…and they have to come up with a way to respond to that. Who wants that? It seems sloppy at best and unkind at worst.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, there isn’t any point in pretending to have career goals as a receptionist and/or assistant here. Everyone employed at the entire giant org has to fill out career goals regardless of whether or not there’s any hope of such, so I just make up shit like “I’d like to go through all our old records and make corrections if I have free time” or “Let’s get more documents mailed out so we have more storage space” or “assist my coworkers as best I can by getting trained to do backup at their jobs.” I don’t even bother taking work classes any more, which I used to write down as “goals,” because I’ve literally taken everything.

      Last time after eval season, my boss said we’d all have to have one on ones to discuss progress towards our goals. I was concerned about this, but we haven’t had them and we don’t have time to have them because everything at the office is on fire all the time.

      1. Michelle*

        Very much agree! I hate standardized forms that you fill out for the sake of filling out. Ours are 9 (yes, 9!) pages long. I have written the same thing in the goals section for 4 years and it has never been questioned,so I know it’s just a form that no one really care about as long as it looks filled out.

        Five years ago I put down I’d like to go to a conference the former admins used to go to. My boss said, and I quote, “Do you feel like you really need to go to X conference?” I said it’s apparent you don’t so can mark it out.
        Never been brought up again. Most of the time my boss is pretty decent, but he has days when he is clueless.

    3. Massmatt*

      I was going to say this. If there’s no opportunity for advancement why have a section asking about it on her evaluation? You can’t blame an employee for filling out the form you give them.

      1. Leek*

        Exactly. I probably would have responded to the question the same way the receptionist did because the question implies that there are opportunities for advancement. I realize OP’s employer probably uses the same performance evaluation for all staff, but if some questions don’t apply to some staff, those staff should receive a modified version of the evaluation.

    4. RUKiddingMe*

      Plus the way it was written sounds like she was just reaching for a neutral answer to an annoying question.

    5. AudreyParker*

      That’s what I was thinking! I had an annual argument with HR at a previous company where my position was obviously not considered one that could grow, and no goals were ever discussed, but I was always required to create some for the review (at the same time as I rated whether/how I’d achieved them — what???) and in trouble if I refused because it made no sense. It was crazy-making, especially when it was also obvious others around me were actually having that section taken seriously but for me it was a waste of time.

      At any rate, if it’s on the form, she may be thinking you’re expecting her to have come up with career goals, regardless of whether they’re her ACTUAL goals, and since it’s obvious there’s no growth path for her, she’s literally wondering what it is you expect her to say in that situation. Especially if no one has previously clarified anything about the goal-setting process or the online training that might actually be available/appropriate to pursue.

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        This sounds like a letter that should be posted on Administrative “Professionals” Day. It was like this at my organization, and then they even downgraded the admin jobs. The admin are supposed to be thrilled when a new online appointment calendar rolls out because it’s a new “skill” to develop. Remember the Mommy Track of the 1990s? That made a lot of people furious. But the “admin track” to nowhere is just the way it is…like the (mostly) ladies auxiliary to the real team. Sorry to sound snarky, but I hate the waste of talent and dedication.

        1. Lili*

          Running into this admin track now actually. I love what I do as a receptionist at a law firm, but it’s gonna be hard to justify continuing to do this when I have my first kid, if I’m honest.

        2. AudreyParker*

          It was so infuriating to be treated that way, we’d actually talk amongst ourselves about “going on strike” (or all taking a multi-day holiday together!) just to be seen. People wonder why I don’t want to look for those kinds of jobs now, despite really needing to find *something* at this point — they don’t realize how demoralizing it can be to basically be told daily no one expects much of anything from you beyond ordering the proper sandwiches, nor could you possibly be perceived as being as intelligent as people who don’t happen to be in that role. (I’m sure other companies are better about this, I keep being told that “most” admin roles position you for other things, but going through that experience has made me very gun shy!)

    6. Zombeyonce*

      I’m guessing that OP’s company uses a templated evaluation, so she probably gets the same form everyone else gets. If that’s the case, I think it’s time me to customize evals.

    7. Bagpuss*

      Yes, I wondered whether it was a comment on the way the form was drawn up, it may be that she knows that there isn’t a obvious progression from reception in your firm and it is unclear as to why you are asking the question.

    8. Mya*

      “there is no upward mobility from her position here (which really should be obvious)”
      OP4 – What you wrote struck me as a little condescending and snarky – she should KNOW there’s no upward mobility. So then why’d you ASK?
      This whole question and the tone of it really quite annoyed me and I don’t even really know why.

      1. Morning Glory*

        Agreed. Also, the lack of upward growth should have been explicitly stated during the interview process – OP assuming that it’s ‘obvious’ makes it pretty clear she never communicated this to the receptionist and is annoyed to have to state something unpleasant out loud.

      2. Genny*

        Agreed. If the receptionist is a recent grad, career trajectory stuff often isn’t obvious to them. It can take several years for someone to feel like they understand how career advancement or professional development works. Even if she’s not a recent grad, her question sounds pretty innocuous to me. She’s thinking about long-term goals. Isn’t that one of the points of doing yearly evaluations – to evaluate what you did and to think about where you want to go and how to get there?

    9. Jerk Store*

      This is what I came here to say – she knows there is no advancement opportunities but didn’t know how to answer that question.

    10. Council'd*

      Yep! OldJob had a Program Associate in each regional office that they’d skewed basically into an admin role and while 1 or 2 (of 6) of the regional managers sometimes would encourage/allow their PAs to shadow coordinator roles and do more active liaison work for relevant coordinator experience to then move them forward as coordinators, the rest when asked for a yearly evaluation thing were like “oh, I’d never thought of the PA role as one where I could help with career development.”

      Like, listen. This is why that role only gets older customer-service-sector women looking for a good place to retire from and people 0-3 years out of college looking for an industry in (and, for some reason, burnt out paralegals) and won’t stay more than 12 months.

    11. Lucy Preston*

      Coming from a small business background, where everyone is eventually given more tasks or more involved tasks, I’ll ask the naive question, “why can’t she be trained to do more?”.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Coming from a person who has come up through the small business structure, there’s a ceiling for everyone.

        There’s not always more work to be done.

        I am a bit unsure why they have no opportunity for her to assist the assistants and get on the job training that way but if the time and structure isn’t there (I’m envisioning that each person is stretched to capacity and isn’t in a spot to give her any meaningful training and 1:1 here more than anything)

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Not all workplaces can be structured that way. Mine would require an additional professional degree, and the type of work we have to do is mostly the tedious stuff I’m currently doing. I *could* be trained to do more, but they don’t actually need me to do more–they need me to do grunt work. Ideally, we’d hire another person at a lower skill level than mine but that won’t be in the budget for probably ever. But the work I do doesn’t go away just because I’m theoretically capable of doing more.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I worked with a young woman who was in her first job and mad that she hadn’t been promoted. I had to point this out–the department was perfectly structured in terms of expertise and workload.

          If they promoted her, they needed to give her more advanced duties–which means they’d need to take some away from the more-expert person over her. And now she’d have too much work to do, so what would they do with the expense reports and admin work? If they gave them to the experts to do, then they’d be paying expert dollars for them to fill out their expense reports.

          “Sometimes if you want to move up, you have to move out,” I told her. She was annoyed–but she started looking elsewhere.

          Frankly, the company was expecting her to move on; not that they wanted her to, but that’s just how it normally works. She was getting good growth experiences, but to have more, she needed a different employer.

      3. GooseTracks*

        At a large law firm, a big part of the receptionist’s job is to sit at the desk, answer phones, greet and direct visitors, etc. These firms have PLENTY of resources and don’t need to stretch every employee to the limit with additional duties and projects. (I recently visited a firm that had three receptionists sitting at the front desk.) A typical law firm receptionist’s job requires being present and attentive at all times – taking on more work isn’t necessary or desirable in that context.

      4. JSPA*

        All of the “more” may require some sort of certification which is itself predicated on having more training / schooling than makes sense here. As OP said, the employee isn’t exceptional (which I took to mean, we’re not going to pay for as much schooling as it would require to become, say, a paralegal, because the employee is a fine receptionist, but not obviously someone who is wasted on doing that job, and should at minimum be a paralegal).

        I’m going to throw out the possibility of notary training, actually, if the employee isn’t already one. A spare notary is always a great thing for an office to have, and even though training and ongoing certification are, in most places, much more expensive than they used to be, it’s got to be pennies, for most law firms. Also, if you allow her to ply that as a side-hustle from home, for people in the neighborhood, that’s either a tidy small side-income or a great source of social capital (for her) and word of mouth about what a great employer you are (from her).

        1. Bowserkitty*

          Is notary training a thing? Perhaps it just depends on the state, but I was a notary at my last job and it literally involved filling out a form and sending in a check for the certificate.

      5. Richard Hershberger*

        Law firms are their own world. Yes, they are businesses. And a small law firm is a small business. But in many ways, both theoretical and practical, they don’t operate like other kinds of businesses. My impression is that the OP is in a pretty large firm. They often are very much “stay in your lane” outfits. Furthermore, once they have you slotted in a lane, it can be virtually impossible to get out of it. This is true of both the lawyers and the support staff. In this mental environment, the receptionist wanting to do legal assistant stuff is simply outside the world view.

        Smaller firms are somewhat less prone to this, if only because there are fewer people to do pretty much the same range of stuff. In that environment conspicuous competence can broaden your horizons. The tone of the letter does not suggest that this is the case here.

    12. fhqwhgads*

      I wondered the same thing. It’s possible OP was under the impression she’s a career receptionist…and was right. And it’s possible she wrote what she wrote because the section was there and felt she had to write something. It’s also possible there’s an expectations mismatch and she is looking to move up, but can’t in this company. The question itself is confusing in context and opened this can of worms. If there is a mismatch, I guess that’s a good thing, but if there weren’t to begin with, it’s worth considering why that section isn’t marked NA for roles where it isn’t applicable.

    13. Tom & Johnny*

      Yes, this. The goals or opportunities questions are 100% trick questions. They can be landmines for people in certain roles to navigate. They are well aware their true goal is “keep you happy and remain employed” but aren’t allowed by convention or instructions to put that down. (Believe me I’ve tried.)

      Having been an assistant receptionist at a law firm early on (relieving the career receptionist, a brilliant woman, for her breaks, lunches, and vacations), and having worked with many career law firm receptionists over the years, I can almost definitely assure the OP that a law firm career receptionist is well aware of her role and her future. The good ones are amazing at their jobs, and it is far from a simple role. It can be very demanding and requires a high degree of professionalism. (Ask me about the time I took a call from a celebrity’s ex-husband who screamed at me on the phone for ten minutes because I couldn’t magic up a lawyer who was out of the office.)

      There is a reason law firms will have true career receptionists. It’s also a job you can leave at work at the end of the day. It’s unfair and disingenuous of management to submit them to a review process which essentially asks them to answer deceptive questions in the guise of appearing to want to invest in their growth beyond the role. It may not be what they want either!

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        “It’s unfair and disingenuous of management to submit them to a review process which essentially asks them to answer deceptive questions in the guise of appearing to want to invest in their growth beyond the role.”

        Well said!

    14. TootsNYC*

      I have someone working for me whose job is not going to change. We’ve talked about it an an evaluation.

      However, knowing that he might one day want to leave the company and become a manager instead of an underline meant that I had a reason to tap HIM for the minor project that I didn’t want to manage. Sure, I was giving him skills he would use to leave my employ, but it meant that while he was here, he felt valued; his job wasn’t boring all the time; and he was gaining something valuable for later.

      W/ this receptionist, I’d actually be actively talking about how to market her current skills for a job elsewhere with greater responsibility, etc.

    15. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

      That’s how I read it too – maybe she’s wondering what they meant by “career goals” since it’s also her understanding that the position does not have an upward trajectory. Her phrasing is that she’s “curious” about what career growth is available, not that she is determined to move upward. I think the OP should ask her what she meant and listen with an open mind before jumping into “I know you want more growth and you can’t do that here” because that might not be what she’s saying!

    16. Isabel Kunkle*

      I always wanted to quote Buffy: The Movie about goals: “Go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die.”

      (Former boss and I were chatting about that in the lunch room. Co-worker, who is awesome but like ten years younger than us, got wide-eyed: “Why would *anyone* want to marry *Christian Slater*?”)

      Or Bridget Jones: “Come in wearing a short skirt and fanny about with papers.”

    17. Free Meerkats*

      When it became obvious that my boss’s position was eliminated when he retired vice promoting me into it and I was given “Lead” responsibilities, my position on this question changed. Where before it was, “Advance my knowledge in the field and prepare to manage the workgroup.” now if I’m asked, it’s more along the line of, “Do my job and coast for the next (glances at countdown app on phone) 1100 days and retire on full SS and pension.” Reception of that has been – umm – less than enthusiastic. But if you want me to do all the management-type stuff, make me the manager.

      My manager knows exactly zero about what our workgroup does. I’m the SME in our organization. I’ll do all that’s necessary to keep us one of the top programs in the state; our regulator uses us as the example when other cities are setting up programs. But I’m not going above and beyond in the way I did before.

  4. Robin Gottlieb*

    OP#4 – Perhaps, depending on her overall performance, she could be trained to go into office management. Only suggesting this because while some people are happy to be career receptionists/admins, other don’t want to be stuck in the admin ghetto.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      They may not be large enough to need an office manager. I always saw that as the natural path from reception so it’s unlikely that’s an option in this case or OP would have mentioned it.

      1. All Outrage, All The Time*

        Admin…ghetto? Career admin here. My daily rate on my current contract is $485. No ghetto here. Harsh turn of phrase there.

        1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

          I’m glad for you that it’s not a ghetto where you are. Other places aren’t like that. Not harsh, just fact.

          1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

            In some jobs, it’s most certainly a ghetto.

            Despite the several job titles we have in our union shop, it’s all still administrative work and stepping up the ladder increases the pay but for some, the actual work done doesn’t vary much and I keep wondering why we have so many different titles for similar work. My coworker is a clerk, I’m a secretary and we have an exec secretary on our team and all of us do serious administrative work and I’ve taken on some of the exec secretary’s work (because she doesn’t like meetings). We’d all qualify as administrative assistants outside of this office.

            Several of our administrative staff want to move out of admin work, out of the perceived ghetto (because in some departments, that’s exactly what it is but thankfully not in mine) but it’s very hard since jobs are won by seniority and the admin staff are in a different bargaining unit than the project manager staff; those who apply from the bargaining unit of the project managers get first dibs so the competition for those “better” jobs are fierce.

            There’s no career tracking where I work. I told the new girl, who immediately expressed a need to move up from her starting point to project manager or similar, that it would take a very long time, Master’s degree or not. She took it well.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Ghetto has a meaning beyond ‘poverty’– it’s a region restricted to a certain group, or mostly. In this case, heavily female.

          1. Lost academic*

            Her daily rate on a contract is not her hourly wage, it’s typically what clients are charged for her time.

          2. Just Another Joker*

            Depending on the location, the company, and the industry – yes. Some Executive Assistants make MORE than $120K, easily.

          3. Lily in NYC*

            It’s not as uncommon as you think. I am also a well-paid assistant. I am considered at the same level as our Assistant Vice Presidents and get paid the same rate.

          4. Pennalynn Lott*

            Our office admin, whose job duties include things like running to Sam’s Club twice a month to stock up our drinks and snacks, ordering catering for office parties, organizing team-building events for the ~50 people in our location, makes $110,000. The average salary (across all positions/industries) in my city is $60K.

            Additionally, I have a Master’s and work in a highly-specialized role, and my salary is $75K.

          5. Zombeyonce*

            All these replies showing that some admins make a ton of money is wild. My mom was a career admin and worked at many places in decently high-level admin roles and never quite made it to $50k a year.

            1. AudreyParker*

              Seriously! I live in a high COL location, and my experience is no one with an admin title is making more than maybe $60k at the high end, yet another reason I have stayed away from returning to that world. (EAs are a different thing entirely, and something I’m not familiar with, but seems like a title with highly variable requirements and pay grades.) Usually it’s more on the low side. I can’t even conceive of where you would be able to make a 6 digit salary or be perceived as something other than the lunch girl — I’m obviously in the wrong industry!

              1. Zombeyonce*

                I was an executive assistant to the General Manager of a large store for a few years and made about $25k.. Granted, it was a smallish town, but still.

                1. All Outrage, All The Time*

                  I make $485 a day as MY rate, the rate charged to the company is much higher. I am an EA to 2 very senior managers who have large teams and budgets. I wouldn’t be making this kind of money if I worked at a small electronics company, for eg. I have been an executive assistant to CXOs and Boards of Directors for multinational companies and investment banks with thousands of employeees. In this role I don’t get PTO so when you exclude annual leave, sick leave and public holidays I’m not making $126k a year. Last year it was $105k. As a female admin. Happy to share my tax return with AMA to verify if people don’t believe me. Also, I’m not in the US so in US dollars 105K would be about USD85k ( I also only work a 9 day fortnight which reduces my take home as well). In my last permanent role with my country’s largest bank I made $90k as permanent employee, plus annual bonus. My job title was Program Coordinator but I was basically an executive assistant to a Director of a program with a half a billion dollar budget. As others have pointed out, I wouldn’t be paid that much if I worked for an accounting company with 20 staff or some such, but it is possible to get paid that much. I don’t have a college degree, either. I’m 49 and got my first full time job in 1985.

    2. Former Govt Contractor*

      Without a degree and very specific experience in HR and legal, a receptionist would not be qualified to be the manager of a law firm, unless it was a tiny firm and all they needed to do was order office supplies.

      1. Dana B.S.*

        Office Manager =/= Law Firm Manager

        Think adding on simple HR duties, ordering office supplies (if she doesn’t already), managing the cleaning service, key/key card distribution, etc.

  5. Aphrodite*

    I find myself feeling a bit sad for the receptionist mentioned by OP #4. While not every receptionist or administrative assistant is interested in promotional opportunities, those who are can find themselves handicapped by corporate / management thinking about these types of positions.

    OP, you said several things that interested me. first, that she gave “the impression that she was a career receptionist.” Can you tell us what created that impression, that is, specifically what she said at the time.

    Second, you mentioned that even the assistants “need experience supporting attorneys as well as specific knowledge about the legal field.” Is it her specifically for some reason or is it that anyone in that position wouldn’t be able to move up?

    Third, you mentioned that she is “not by any means a superstar employee who we would want to make special accommodations for.” Well, that’s certainly a factor, but I wonder if she has been given any projects that are a stretch for her and if so, did it work out? Or is she pretty much relegated solely to reception duties, which, I have to say, don’t provide much opportunity to shine in challenging projects.

    If there is really no chance for her, then I agree with Alison. Be forthright, be honest, don’t sugarcoat the truth. I’m not saying you should be cruel, of course, but she is obviously anxious to grow beyond the current role–if not with your firm then maybe she might look elsewhere.

    1. MK*

      I am not sure I understand why the OP rules out the possibility of the receptionist advancing in a different role. What does “knowledge of the legal field” mean, a law degree, some other certification, some kind of apprenticeship? As for experience in working with attorneys, surely that is something one aquires?

      The most positive interpretation I can think of us that the OP’s firm is only hiring people with prior experience (not great in my opinion, but if they are paying appropriately for it, ok) and they are not willing to stretch their rule for this person.

        1. MK*

          Sure, but why not say that to the receptionist? As in, “this is what you need to advance” instead of “you can never advance”. Getting a law degree is probably not a realistic suggestion, but a paralegal certification or a relevant university degree done part-time might be.

          1. Lynca*

            Because saying “this is what you need to advance” would imply she could advance by meeting certain benchmarks. They’re not going to make accommodations for the receptionist so I think that would be building up someone’s hopes unfairly.

            1. nonymous*

              A better phrasing is a generic description of what qualified applicants who are hired for those positions have. Depending on the job market, this can be higher than the minimum standards in the job ad. For example, “Although our job ad says the paralegal position only requires minimum certification, successful applicants typically have a 4yr degree OR 2 years of work experience as a paralegal.”

          2. TootsNYC*

            I would absolutely discuss with my employee about how they could advance in the field, even if it meant they’d have to leave me to do it.

            1. ChachkisGalore*

              Exactly! Or you lay it out fully. “To advance here you would need a paralegal certificate (or whatever). Unfortunately we do not offer tuition reimbursement so you would need to pursue that independently. In addition the paralegals (or whatever the exact role) here need to be very strong in x, y and z. As of right now I’m not seeing those qualities in your work. Take some time to think about it. If you do want to pursue that certificate independently then let me know, but understand that there’s no guarantee of a promotion if x, y and z are not met or improved upon”. If there is something you can offer to help them improve on x, y and z or any small projects that you could give them to help them develop x, y and z then mention that too.

            2. Dagny*

              Thank you. That whole thing about not wanting to move her into more challenging roles, but not wanting to lose her, really rubbed me the wrong way.

        2. Arctic*

          It’s not particularly normal. I believe the OP but only hiring paralgeals (no admins or an office manager) would be quite outside the norm in a law firm.

        3. Richard Hershberger*

          It is possible that “assistant” here means paralegal, but I took it to mean legal secretary, which has some intersection with other secretaries but also a lot of specialized skills. Legal secretaries don’t typically have specialized formal certification. Traditionally they typically didn’t even have Bachelors’ degrees, though I wouldn’t be surprised if credential inflation has caught up here.

          In a smallish law firm, the jump from receptionist to legal secretary seems to me a natural. The receptionist takes on additional, law-specific tasks until one day someone realizes that keeping this person at the front desk is a poor use of resources. Having or not having a formal degree is less important here.

          A large firm is more likely to have formal, possibly superfluous requirements and to think in terms of set advancement tracks. I find it entirely plausible that a large firm would never think to pull the receptionist who has been there for years learning through observation, and put them in a different role for which they lack the requisite degree.

      1. Tom & Johnny*

        This is standard in the law firm world, which is very much an old-school profession at certain firms. Think banking in the 1950’s.

        There are some young and hungry firms doing things like using Agile development planning and having standups or scrum meetings to plan their day and their projects. Some say this is the future into which law will have to move to maintain profitability. Clients are loathe now to simply put attorneys on retainer, keeping them in their offices with soft carpets. But those young firms are still few and far between.

        When you are hired as law firm staff, you know that most of the time you are essentially being hired onto the set of Mad Men. Except you can wear jeans on Friday and you have maternity leave.

        Career receptionist is absolutely a role, and a valuable one (I trained under one and she was amazing). It takes a high degree of professionalism and interpersonal insight to handle clients on their worst days, and some attorneys on their best.

        Most law firm receptionists are well aware they will not become the key litigation paralegal reporting to the name partner in 6 months time, or even 6 years. If they aren’t aware of that, they self-select out of law firm staffing pretty quickly. And good for people who do! It’s not for everyone.

        Law firm staff can be (or used to be) a highly secure career path with significant predictability. There are some workers for whom that value outweighs the awareness they will hit a certain ceiling past which they cannot progress. Because they are too valuable exactly where they are. This is a benefit for some people, whereas for others it would be a nightmare.

        1. Yikes*

          “Except you can wear jeans on Friday and you have maternity leave.” Not at all firms, unfortunately. More likely to get the jeans than the leave.

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          You are describing BigLaw, or wanna-be BigLaw. There is a lot more variation in medium and small law. I did a stint as a BigLaw paralegal in a couple of firms and concluded that I never want to go there again. Then I worked three years for a guy, was unemployed for a year, and have been for the past ten years with a different guy. The first guy was a horrible boss. Current guy is a mensch.

    2. Emac*

      I had similar thoughts. To me, the OP stating so categorically that a receptionist could never move up in the company smacks of the classism that often seems to be inherent in the law field (though I know there are great lawyers on here who don’t put up with that shirt).

      And to add on to Aphrodite’s second point, how does one get experience assisting lawyers, without being given the chance to assist lawyers? I’m highly skeptical that all of the work the assistants do to support the lawyers is impossible for a receptionist to do with a little direction. And couldn’t the specific knowledge about the legal field be something that she could learn as a part of her goals?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Paralegals, for one.

        There are many small firms where there’s truly no place for someone to move up without a very specific type of experience that they’re not going to be able to just acquire on the job.

        I ask that we take the OP at her word about that; it’s incredibly annoying and off-putting to letter writers to have the basic facts of their letters disbelieved.

        1. MK*

          I didn’t mean to doubt the OP about the receptionist not being able to move up with her current qualifications; just that the qualifications needed to advance are things that she might be able to aquire. It struck me as odd that the OP seems to think advancement entirely out of the question.

          P.S. On rereading the letter, I notice that a) the OP mentions need for knowledge of a specific area of law and b) the receptionist isn’t a superstar. In fairness to the OP, it’s possible that getting qualifications for advancement isn’t a reallistic suggestion for the receptionist and/or the firm isn’t willing to accommodate her taking classes (or whatever) or to consider her a candidate once she gets them.

        2. ChachkisGalore*

          I get that not taking the LW at their word is annoying and off-putting and this might very well be the case at the LW’s firm.

          However this type of vague bias (what Emac is referring to – not saying this bias is definitely happening at LW’s firm) is REALLY common in law (and finance). I speak from experience at working in administrative roles at multiple firms in those industries that it is incredibly common to have an attitude that people (nearly always women) in administrative type roles couldn’t possibly understand (or would not be capable of learning) anything other than phones, calendars or other non-business specific related administrative tasks. So I do think it’s fair to point that out so the LW can do a quick gut check to make sure they’re not sub-consciously participating in that. It’s so easy to fall into that mindset when its baked into the culture as deeply as it often is in those industries.

        3. EventPlannerGal*

          I understand that that’s your policy and I understand if you want to delete or freeze this or anything; and I understand what you’re trying to achieve by taking OP’s at their word. But is it not also worth sometimes questioning whether something actually is a basic fact versus an assumption? Or don’t we just end up reflecting people’s own worldviews back at them rather than truly offering advice they might not have thought of?

          I ask in this case because I think that to many people who have been managers for a long time or have little direct/recent experience of low-level support work, there are a lot of things that seem like facts that may actually be assumptions. For example, “it’s obvious that there is no career progression in this role”, “she’s not a superstar at reception so she won’t be worth investing in as anything else”, “there is no possible work that a receptionist could do here outside their role” all seem like they could well be assumptions. And they are also the type of thing you often hear from people who have a, shall we say, old-fashioned view of the place of support staff which I think is very much worth questioning.

          That said, I do very much understand where the policy comes from and I understand if you would rather not get into this.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It’s absolutely fine to say “is it worth thinking through whether there are more options than you originally assumed?” But it’s not okay to say, essentially, “The letter writer is wrong and there’s no way she’s can’t find an advancement path for the receptionist.” The letter writer is the expert on their own situation, especially when there are tons of small firms where that description would be true.

      2. Jennifer*

        I agree with you. It is a little classist. Many of these things can be learned on the job. As far as getting experience – you do what I did and start with a small firm that’s willing to take a chance on you, and the small pay that goes along with it, and eventually move on to a larger firm.

    3. Leek*

      If this were not a law firm, I would agree with you, but the legal field is not a field where you can advance based on experience alone. You need training even to do the administrative aspects of law. That’s why paralegal certificates exist.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        And I don’t think “You could move up in this field by going to school on your own dime to get a four year degree” is particularly helpful advice. (Especially to someone who is just okay at their current role.)

        1. Joielle*

          Yeah. I imagine OP doesn’t want to give her the impression that if she gets a paralegal degree they’ll give her an assistant job, and then have her go through that work and expense, when she’s just ok to begin with and they may not want to hire her as an assistant no matter what education she has.

          1. TootsNYC*

            so tell her about what she’d need to advance in the *field*, but also say, “That’s probably not going to happen here because of how we’re structured.”

        2. Richard Hershberger*

          Paralegal certification isn’t a four year program–at least not if you already have a bachelor’s. I got my certification in a full-time program over one summer. There also are evening programs spread out over a longer time.

      2. D.C. Paralegal*

        Paralegal certificates are not required for the vast majority of paralegal jobs. I work for a midsize D.C. firm and in the past have worked at a top international firm, and I don’t think I’ve met one paralegal who went through a certification program. It’s not like being a paramedic. You can start at a firm a week after college graduation and boom, you’re a paralegal.

        That said, I can see why there might be a reluctance to transfer a receptionist to a paralegal position, especially if it’s a smaller firm. If you’re not coming into the job right out of college to get some experience before going to law school, you’re probably going to be a lifer. Is she okay with that? If not, then it’s probably not for her. Another consideration: Entry level paralegal salaries tend to be pretty low. It’s likely that an experienced law firm receptionist makes more than an inexperienced paralegal. It might be tough to justify maintaining her current salary given that she’d be spending her first several months learning the job.

        There are a lot of pluses to working in a law firm, but career advancement isn’t one of them. Most associates will never make partner. A rock star paralegal’s ceiling is still paralegal. It’s something you either accept or you find something different.

        1. JSPA*

          Varies a lot, state-by-state, RE the likelihood of it being within company policy to hire a non-certified paralegal, though. Depending on the sort of law, and the risk of (say) privacy breaches, I can see there being a hard block.

          In any case, someone can be a perfectly good receptionist, and not at all suited to being a paralegal (or vice versa). The idea that everyone has some sort of right to an upward path in their current place of employment is Lifetime Movie Logic, not an actual, reasonable, defensible stance.

        2. If I can do it...*

          Came here to cosign this comment. My situation is a little different in that I didn’t start off as a receptionist, and I work at a small firm who promises opportunity for growth. But a lot of the people I work with started off at our reception desk and are now handling a large caseload as a paralegal. My state itself doesn’t require a specialized certificate to earn the title- you can be qualified through experience.

          In my own experience, I started off as an admin assistant to a paralegal and was promised I would have the opportunity to start assuming a small caseload in the future. I ended up taking over that paralegal’s caseload after her unexpected two weeks notice and, a year and a half later, am the head of my department (responsible for training/onboarding people in my department) and the main paralegal to a firm partner. I’m also starting to cross train to work on cases in a different area of law. I have no legal background- just aptitude.

          All that to say, maybe it is the state law, or firm policy, or whatever that doesn’t allow for upward mobility. Maybe this particular person doesn’t exhibit characteristics that make her suitable TO move into tat role. But I would say that’s both a naive outlook on the firm itself (providing it’s in a state where you don’t need certification) that someone can’t be trained to do the work and to feel so taken aback by her answer if the question was asked in the first place.

          Your mileage may vary. Insert shrug here.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Paralegal here. So far as I know, no state requires paralegal certification. There may be some regions where firms customarily do. I have seen job postings that list it as a requirement. But it isn’t a legal requirement.

            Your story is both inspirational and not all that unusual. The key is that “paralegal” is an enormously flexible job title. This means that in the right environment, you can make your job what you want it to be. Show that you can do legal research and write the first drafts of briefs, and the lawyers will enthusiastically move this work to you. The tricky part is that not going to law school means you are learning by experience without the broader background. You can become expert within your specialty, while completely at sea outside of it. This can work, but it can also pigeonhole you.

        3. WoolAnon*

          I’ve got to comment on the certificate – paralegal training requirements varies from state to state. In California (where I’m a paralegal), it’s not required to have a certificate (there’s other ways as possible options, which involve work experience and a lawyer who’s willing to train someone). But not every state has this – some are going to require going through a certification program, and others won’t have that as a requirement as well.

    4. EventPlannerGal*

      I’m interested in the “career receptionist” thing as well. Was this something that was explicitly asked/answered at the time of interview? I ask not because I don’t believe the OP’s impression, but rather because it’s the sort of thing that it’s easy for both employer and interviewer to give a misleading impression about and it’s possible there was some miscommunication. Was it made explicitly clear to her that there was literally no opportunity for any sort of progression/development whatsoever? Was she explicitly asked if she was a career receptionist?

      Overall, though, I think it seems more like an exasperated/curious response more than anything else. If you don’t want her to ask about career progression… tell her clearly that there is no career progression at your company, and then stop asking her what she thinks about career progression?

      1. MsM*

        Even if it was asked at the time of interview, I don’t entirely understand OP’s shock that she might have changed her mind about wanting more two years in. Especially if there is no scope for her to do more even within this role. Maybe she’s not going to find what she’s looking for at this job, but the surprise that she’s developed greater ambitions is something OP might want to step back and examine in regard to their general attitude toward support staff.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Yes! I didn’t want to get into that too much but this is really true – maybe her ambitions have changed, or the work she’s doing at the moment is exceptionally unfulfilling, or she’s found that she’s really interested in the work the firm does. It could be anything, and I don’t know if anyone would be *this* taken aback if someone in a non-support role expressed an interest in developing their role or changing career paths.

          1. rayray*

            Exactly. It’s not like she worked for years to get a PhD in Receptionist Studies. It’s really not that crazy that someone would want to move on after two years. I also don’t think it’s that absurd that someone could move around an office starting as receptionist. Many organizations like to move people around or promote internally since they already know how someone works. I know it has been pointed out many times in this thread, and I fully understand that not all offices have roles open for someone without a specific degree, but I wonder if it’s more unwillingness from management honestly.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I don’t know what a career receptionist would look like in 2019.

        When I started in my field, there were people who were receptionists who probably wouldn’t have excelled at a more challenging job. They just didn’t have the capacity; to be honest, every one of the four of them that I knew were just not that sharp. They could handle the front desk, and some envelope stuffing, and that was about it. Those were career receptionists.

        Why would someone with a sharp brain want to stay a receptionist for all that long? I mean, for a few years it might be a job that would be a rest, or fit with their schedule, but eventually they’re highly likely to get itchy for more.

        Our OP wants her to “feel like she is developing her skills here,” and then says there’s no room for expansion. WHAT SKILLS? And how on earth will she develop them?

        Our OP should resign herself to the idea that this person will move on, and I personally would be talking about the idea of identifying which skills would be transferrable elsewhere.

        Or else I’d be doing some hard thinking about what it would take to move her over into a beginning admin spot. And whether she has the personality and mental attributes to do it. If she has those, then the skills will come quickly, and it would be in my best interests to create a way to that path (even if it’s sending her for training on software, legal terms, etc.).

        But I’d say be honest, and let the chips fall where they may.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Because they get their life fulfillment in areas outside of work? I find it frankly offensive that you think no smart person would ever stay a receptionist for long.

          1. JSPA*

            Exactly! It’s an honest job; people are looking down on it, why?

            Things she could reasonably do, depending on what the firm does and who their customer base is, to improve her skill set and future hirability (with the thought that she might want or need to move in the future) and that the office could support her in doing, if she’s interested, by paying for the courses, even if they can’t pay her more for her current job description:

            –excel skills / training

            –notary certification

            –specialized legal formats and other specialized formatting standards and requirements (e.g. if you work with city government, it may be useful to know requirements for submitting proposals to various departments?)

            –online language course(s)

            Basically, a grab-bag of skills that could arguably come in handy in your office, and will definitely let the employee add some bullet points on a resumé. Even if someone is in a Perfectly Good Job–and yes, Receptionist is a Perfectly Good Job–their needs may change: People move, families develop needs, economies change. “Staying eminently hirable” as you age is a sensible goal.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          I really disagree that nobody with a sharp brain would remain a receptionist for long. I was a receptionist for years and worked with/under many, many intelligent, knowledgable people for whom it was their long-term career. My last co-receptionist had been in that job at that company for twenty years, and she was formidable. They usually were people who derived a lot of satisfaction from their lives outside of work, had very strong social/familial networks, had a lot of hobbies, etc etc.

          That said, I do think that your “in 2019” bit is quite important. Staying in *any* job at any one company as a long-term career is getting rarer and I think that as time goes on the OP is going to encounter fewer and fewer people who will be interested in an apparently very limited receptionist job as a career track. This is a big part of why reception roles are often high-turnover, and if you do find someone who is genuinely content as a career receptionist in a dead-end role these days I would do a lot to retain them (and maybe stop asking them irrelevant questions about career progression every year).

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            There is a distinct air of classism here. The idea seems to be that people are supposed to all strive to be President of the US or CEO of a megacorp, and that there is something wrong with anyone who doesn’t have this ambition. I am a career paralegal. Could I go to law school? Of course I could. I considered it twenty years ago and gave it a hard pass. And yes, I get a lot of satisfaction from outside interests. I research and write about early baseball history, with a book out earlier this year.

            1. Kelly L.*

              So much this. There aren’t enough CEO jobs for all of us to claw our way to one, and if we did, who would file our papers, and who would serve us in restaurants, and who would pick up the trash? We don’t all want to be king/queen, and I think the world is better for it.

        3. Silence Will Fall*

          We have two career receptionists. One we hired a few months ago who is in their mid-thirties and another approaching retirement. Although, receptionist is probably not the most accurate job title. They answer phones, greet guests, book travel, handle doling out the company’s various season subscriptions, manage a light pantry, coordinate catering, book conference room, set-up basic A/V, assist with large mailings, and a million other little tasks that I’m probably not aware of. Every day is different for them. The more senior receptionist has 1000s of details in her brain (and a well-worn roledex) about people’s travel preferences, lunch preferences, etc. Both of them are consummate professionals who take a great deal of pride in their work and enjoy solving the myriad of challenges that come up in a midsized firm.

          My guess is that there are many such professionals all over the country.

    5. Mockingjay*

      The elephant in the room that companies rarely mention is that, for certain jobs, there is no path to move up.

      Businesses hire for their needs. Even if the nature of the work means there won’t be opportunities for advancement, steady employment is being offered. This is where business needs clash with career growth. Sometimes a company you like just doesn’t have what you want. Please, OP, be honest with your employee about her role.

      1. Pommette!*

        Some larger organizations have good admin tracks: it’s possible for someone to come in as a receptionist, and progress through a series of increasingly complex and specialized roles that reflect their skills/interest (EAs, office managers, project managers, etc.).
        Often, smaller organizations have one or two extremely well-defined admin roles that leave little room for upward mobility or further specialization. That’s not inherently bad! But it’s important for the employee to know what she can expect if she stays in this role, and to know that if she wants something else, she’ll have to look for a new job.

      2. Oh No She Di'int*

        Cosign. We have a couple of roles at my company that require a certain amount of grunt work. The role is what it is. We go out of our way to proclaim that this role will NOT grow into something else because we are specifically trying to avoid the frustration of hiring someone taking the job thinking “Surely once they see how brilliant I am they will want me to do more!” Nope. Those roles are already filled and someone still needs to do the data entry.

        We know this means that after a certain amount of time the person will likely want to move on from the role and the company. That’s ok. They need to have their career needs met and we need our labor needs met. If those two things are no longer in alignment then the best thing for everyone is to part ways.

      3. TootsNYC*

        I mentioned this in another comment.

        A colleague in her first job was angry that she hadn’t been promoted after a year (or two?).

        I pointed out that her department was perfectly balanced–and that it was never going to be given more work to do.

        To give her more autonomous work or higher level work to justify the promotion, they’d have to take it away from people with more expertise, that they were paying more money to. And those people would then have to do their own expense reports, in order to free her up for her new duties.

        “Sometimes you have to move out in order to move up.”

        It just is. No hard feelings either way–it was a great fit for a while, and now it’s not.

  6. Dan*


    “under the section which asks about career goals and training opportunities”

    I have to be blunt, I think you should stop asking this question of your receptionist, because it’s setting you up for the exact position you’re in. You put that question on a review for that position, and it’s only natural for the reviewee to say, “you know what? That’s a good question. I have no idea! What are my options?” And when the inevitable answer is, “nothing”, well… Which, in her shoes, I would then ask why you even bothered, because that question suggests something bigger than what she’s current at.

    I *do* think you can offer the training and what not that your firm offers, but moving forward, I’d do that outside the purview of an annual review. At my company, we offer technical staff technical training on an ongoing basis throughout the year. Performance review conversations are about Big Picture things, e.g., growing beyond your current role. If I had only one opportunity per year to tell my boss what current-role technical training I needed for the upcoming year, I’d find that puzzling.

    1. Manders*

      I was in a similar position (not reception, but also not a path that can go up to legal assistant or attorney) at a small law firm. I was asked the same question several times and I always lied, because the only honest answer was, “I’m going to get as much experience as I need to get here and then use it as a stepping stone for a better job.”

      Don’t ask this question if there’s no path up out of a position!

      1. Liane*

        That is what I was thinking as I read the question: Receptionist didn’t want to come off as rude/sarcastic/disloyal by writing “Get enough experience to get a better job elsewhere.” Or Receptionist may have come across the advice I’ve seen to “Always say ‘get a promotion’ when asked about work goals because that’s what they want to hear.”

    2. Bagpuss*

      I agree. I think that it’s appropriate to either consider why you are including that section on the form if there is not realistic way to move up/on or alternatively, start to thin about what the potential pathways might be, and then be in aposition to have that conversation with the member of staff.

      I don’t think this automatically mean making special accommodations for someone, it can be more about providing informnation.

      For instance, making clear that any move would need an external qualification (and point her towards any provisions your company has for any kind of study leave, or reimbursement for training costs, and what the criteria would be to qualify), or that any move would involve taking a step back in terms of pay as it would mean applying for the next entry level position within one of the legal departments and working up from there, or whatever the reality is.

      If the reality is that she would need to get a formal qualification as a pralegal then you can say so – is this something which could be done via evening classes / other part time study? Is there any chance your firm would agree to move her to part time hours if she said she did want to go back to school to get a qualification?

      Would working as an admin for an atorney be seen as equal to or a step up from being a recptionist, and is that something she could consider?

    3. Perpal*

      I was coming in to say this; what sort of response are they expecting under career goals for a position with no mobility? I think the response doesn’t mean their receptionist doesn’t want to be a career receptionist, just wondering what the options are. Or maybe they weren’t sure what training opportunities were available. Seems a perfectly reasonable response to an difficult evaluation question.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      This is a really good point. OP, what is the purpose of that question on the receptionist’s review form?

    5. Allypopx*

      I agree completely. OP mentions training opportunities and classes the company can offer, but don’t expect the receptionist to be clairvoyant about those. Leave the goals question off the self-evaluation and bring up yourself “I’m not sure if you know about these opportunities (or I want to remind you about these opportunities, depending on past conversations) but if you’re interested in any of them please let me know!”

    6. BottleBlonde*

      I agree. If I were the employee, I would not want to write that I have no goals for advancement in that box even if it were true (because if they are asking, they must want and expect me to have goals, and I don’t want to fail to meet that expectation, right?). It seems like the receptionist responded in a totally natural way for someone who has been asked this question as part of their evaluation but hasn’t really thought of it much before.

    7. nonymous*

      I wonder if this question is an awkward attempt to crowdsource how to structure the role as the company grows/changes? For example, a reasonable career growth path for an receptionist would be to be the lead receptionist as they bring on new staff. I have an acquaintance who worked in the mail room of a law firm, and did a lot of behind the scenes support for customer experience, like laying out all the food for big meetings and the like – all of that was supervised by a senior receptionist.

      There are definitely ways to grow career-wise within the receptionist band, but more on the order of Receptionist I -> Receptionist II, not Receptionist -> Specialized Degree.

    8. Parenthetically*

      Yep. I’ve been in this job. I’ve told this story before about when I worked as an admin — getting everything ready for a mandatory day-long seminar on work-life balance and career advancement that I had to do all the arrangements for, attend (and find someone to cover my desk for me), duck out early to set up the catering, and then clean up after. Absolutely none of it applied to me because I didn’t have any place to advance TO or ability to say no to tasks assigned to me by any of the other dozen people in the office.

      Don’t ask about her goals for this position if it doesn’t have any room for growth or change, and also get used to the idea that it’s going to be a job people stay in for a few years and then move on.

  7. GMN*

    OP 2, I have done something similar but way worse…

    When I was a new grad, I was at an interview and was asked about salary. I said I would like to be at or above the average for a new grad in my field. They asked what the average was, and being very young and inexperienced I answered 10k below!

    I got the offer (I must have been the cheapest candidate), but at approx. 5k below the real average, 5k above my stupidly stated salary. Now here’s the real kick – instead of telling them I made a mistake I tried to negotiate it up referencing the average salary! Obviously they felt I was negotiating in bad faith and pulled the offer.

    So whatever you do, be honest! Best of luck.

    1. Dragoning*

      Last year at a phone interview, I got asked what I made and when I answered it with what I believed was Allison-advised “Oh, I’m looking to make X” I then got asked “And what are you looking to make at this role?” which threw me.

      Thing is, I’m hourly and work a fair bit of overtime in my current role, so I answered in hourly and then they asked what that would be salary! Well, I don’t know off the top of my head because my current role will never be salary and I explained why I was calculating the way I had and that I didn’t have a calculator handy (since I was on my phone for the call and all) and they sat there silently until I came up with a rounded answer. Then they corrected my math because I was about 2k the under in my rounding.


      1. OP2*

        What a nightmare!!! My interviewer kindly responded today that we’d been on the same page and not to worry – which was a great relief. I’m uncertain I’d fit into a team that forced me to answer in salary what I’ve already explained at an hourly rate, simply because there’s so much to consider in that conversion. Things like insurance and other benefits, the amount I actually receive v what the employer is charged since I’m a contracted employee. Eesh.

    2. Oh No She Di'int*

      I once had an employee ask for a raise. I asked how much she would like to make. She replied, “I think X is a fair salary.” I checked the records and let her know: “Your current salary is already $3,000 more than X.”


  8. tamarack and fireweed*

    OP#1, Alison is as usual spot-on in that this is about THEM, not you. They project their own nostalgia onto you. The good news is, hey, they wouldn’t do this if they didn’t like you. The bad news is that it makes you uncomfortable. Myself — and that’s the other good news if it works for you, too — I find that in these cases getting to the point of internal detachment is really helpful. It’s about THEIR treacly-sweet ideas of romantic love and 2.54 children, so they are really not interested in your real-life reproductive plans and potential hold-ups.

    So you can be completely slick, in whatever way works.
    “Your children will be really beautiful!” “Ha-ha that’s thinking ahead further than we have.” “Oh, aren’t children always cute?” “I’m sure they will be!” (I wouldn’t do the last one, but realistically no one is going to hold you to it later if biological children never materialize.)
    “When’s the wedding???” “Ooof, we have a lot going on in our lives. It’ll come up when and if it’ll come up.” “Ah, not planning yet.” “Sam! I have enough on my hands getting my parents to back off!” “Just taking it one day at a time for the moment… ”

    And change the subject.

    (These won’t work if you have a serious busybody who actually keeps tabs. In which case it *might* come to a serious “I need you to put this topic to rest” talk. But for the usual inappropriate but thoughtlessly-so banter that is misguidedly meant as a compliment that would be too harsh in the first instance. I have a colleague who once got ahold of the fact that I like doing some activity X, and for a while they kept asking me about how my X is going. I remained noncommittal with a few “arrrgh, I wish I had more time for X … [moving house / the garden / other chores] have eaten in my time”, and since I got it across that I was reacting to a mention of X with signs of disappointment, even if that wasn’t my ACTUAL felling about it and mostly just to fob them off, they’ve dialed it back. )

    1. Zombeyonce*

      I have found that a cheerful “You’ll be the first to know!” solved 95% of nosy questions. It’s also really fun because they can’t quite tell if you are being enthusiastic or sarcastic.

      “Oh, I don’t know. We’ll see,” answers the remaining 5%.

      1. Washi*

        Yep. The second time one of my least favorite coworkers asked me when I was having kids, I looked at her very seriously and said in my most earnest tone “if I decide to have kids, you will be the first one I tell.” She looked a little startled and hasn’t asked me again!

    2. Alli525*

      If I were in OP1’s shoes, I’d be VERY tempted to look around suspiciously, like under your desk and in a cabinet drawer, then turn back to my coworker and ask “did my mother put you up to asking me that?” Then laugh and change the subject. That’s a polite, succinct way to say “nunyabusiness.”

    3. OP#1*

      Thank you. Yes, I have absolutely no doubt everyone is just excited and living vicariously through us. I find your advice about just “detaching” very helpful.

  9. Girr*

    #1 – I’ve been with my partner for going on 12 years now. Not married. No children. And we’re at the ages where those types of things start to happen (late 20s, mid 30s), nevermind the amount of time we’ve been together. When people at work (or elsewhere) mention marriage or children, I’ll just give a quick and cheerful “Nope!” and walk. away.

    Sometimes by not engaging in the conversation or providing the type of response they expect, the person doesn’t get the satisfaction of explaining to you why Marriage is Great! Kids are THE BEST! After a few times, people usually get the hint.

    We all have our reasons for waiting or not. You shouldn’t have to disclose them if you don’t want to.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Exactly. The people asking OP may be older and it’s a nostalgia thing, but this type of thing comes from all ages. I didn’t meet my husband until I was almost 40, and every time I went out with somebody more than 3 times, everybody was all up in my business thinking it was turning into something long term. And once we got married they were all asking about kids. Now I may inquire about stuff like this with a close friend, but I’ll ask once and not pry. People like this need to be shut down (politely of course, unless they won’t let it go). And OP needs to get out of the “they’re well intentioned” mindset. Intentions are irrelevant when the person doing the asking is crossing personal boundaries. It’s similar to when someone offers unsolicited advice…they may think they’re “helping” you, but what they’re really doing is judging you.

      1. cheddaronrye*

        I feel this so much. I met my boyfriend in my late 30s and probably won’t be able to have kids biologically, which is devastating to me. I look a lot younger than I am so I get the kids question a lot and shrug, and then have to listen to a sermon on how GREAT kids are, we should definitely have them, etc. Like, I KNOW KIDS ARE GREAT BUT BIOLOGY WORKS THE WAY IT WORKS, jerkface. (Yes, I know there are other kid options besides having them biologically. That doesn’t make it easier that I may not have a choice in the matter just because I found my person later than other people found theirs.)

      2. OP#1*

        Agreed. I just want to do it in a way that preserves the healthy and positive working relationships I’ve got with these folks.

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      I was there. Often I would simply shrug and say “eh, who knows?” when the annoying questions started. I always acted like it was an extremely boring topic and most people followed that lead. It’s difficult to maintain excitement in the face of calm indifference.

      It took me too long to realize that these weren’t “real” questions but a form of social bonding where people try to reinforce the validity of the choices they themselves have made, would like to have made, or think should be made.

      1. Joielle*

        Same. If you don’t give them any real info to work with, the conversation will get boring. I’ve also had success deflecting on to other kids in my family. “Oh, who knows about that. But I did see my nephew this weekend, he turned two and we had the most adorable party! He loves Elmo!”

    3. Sophie Hatter*

      I’m really glad Allison mentioned the obsession with marriage/long term relationships. My MIL likes to ask why we “took so long” to get married (3 years) and is baffled when single people are not looking to marry/married people don’t have kids for a while/people in relationships aren’t in a hurry to get married.

      It’s weird.

  10. All Outrage, All The Time*

    #OP2 I agree with Alison, but FWIW, I wouldn’t tell an employer your salary wasn’t negotiable due to having purchased a house. 1) You are worth the salary you are asking because presumably you have the necessary skills and track record. Your personal financial circumstances shouldn’t form part of a salary negotiation. 2) When they ask what your salary expectations are, you can either ask them what range they are offering and indicate that you are in that ballpark, or give THEM a range. If $24 an hour was your target, I’d say I was looking for $26-28 an hour, ideally. Don’t go in with your bottom number.

    1. OP2*

      All Outrage, All the Time – thank you for this advice! I said to Alison, in response to her suggestion, that I feel in salary discussions that there’s a huge rulebook and I only have the CliffsNotes version. I’ve never considered asking what their range is – it would certainly level the field.

  11. TechWorker*

    #4 – Sorry if this already got said, but did you consider the possibility that her question was solely promoted by the section heading? Eg if she knows the role is very much set and the responsibilities won’t change, then being asked about career goals and training might have given her the reaction of ‘huh why is this relevant to me’. I could see someone in that category writing ‘I’m curious to know where you would go from this position’ to mean ‘I’d assumed nowhere, am I wrong?’ in which case it’s a different kind of conversation.

    1. Michelle*

      Since there is no opportunity for advancement, they should remove that section from her review or tell her she can skip it. That’s why customized review forms are better than the standard.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      This. I’m in a specialized office-assistant type job from which I cannot advance without a graduate degree (that I have no intention of obtaining) and because my department is small and the nature of our work is often tedious, no matter how many new skills I learn, reality is that I will spend far more time on the daily grind stuff than I ever will on new material, because the boring work is what they need me to do. Yes, this means I learn new skills, never use them, and have to re-learn them later. I *hate* being asked about career goals because my job literally needs me to not have any, and there’s no way for me to answer this without sounding a little delusional.

  12. Bilateralrope*

    How bad would it be to respond to ”
    Your children will be beautiful” with something like “yes, we will choose them carefully” or “it’s good we aren’t limited by our genes” ?

    Or anything else that makes sense to people who know you’re planning to adopt, but sounds creepy to those who don’t.

    1. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

      Overly complicated responses to a well-meant, if slightly intrusive pleasantry. Just say “thanks” and move on.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This. If you don’t want their response to be practical adoption advice, don’t raise the topic.

        Truly, this part of the problem can be dealt with via smile and nod, as Alison intimates.

      2. Dr. Pepper*

        As much as I love witty responses, unless you’re prepared to open the proverbial can of worms, I wouldn’t do it. Comments on the potential beauty of your offspring are simple- if misguided- compliments and should be treated as such. Say “thanks” and move on.

      3. Pommette!*

        I tend to agree. Those replies open what could be a long and personal conversation. There’s nothing wrong with that if that’s what you’re in the mood for, but there’s nothing wrong with skipping it, either.

        Thanks closes the conversation in a way that acknowledges the coworkers intent. A jokey deflection is also an option if you feel that “thanks” implies agreement, and are uncomfortable with that. Maybe something like “Clearly you haven’t seen my school pictures!” or “And sophisticated!”. (Suggestions welcome – I am not good at jokey deflection).

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      That will only invite more questions. OP needs to shut them down, not provide more details.

  13. Llamalawyer*

    OP 5- are these recruiters within the companies that you will be visiting with at the job fair, or are they outside recruiters from recruiting companies? Call me suspicious, but it sounds like outside recruiters trying to get their hooks into you early so that when you do get a job they can “claim” you and demand their recruiting fee from your eventual employers. Maybe I’m jaded because I’ve seen some crazy recruiter tactics and litigated several such cases.

    1. Morgan*

      Hi, OP here! These were from companies I would be speaking to at the career fair, usually ones that I had already applied for a job with online. Thanks for the advice, though– I’ll keep an eye out for any sort of recruiting scams.

  14. Mazarin*

    OP1- My friend has two kids adopted from a different ethnic background to herself. They are beautiful kids and I tell her so. Maybe your office commentators think they are talking about biological children. Or maybe they are just saying that you are two lovely people, and your kids will be beautiful.

    1. Sally*

      I think it’s likely that they are assuming biological children. This sort of comment gives me the creeps because it means they’re scrutinizing my (and my girlfriend’s) appearance

      1. Sally*

        This probably makes me a cranky person, but I hate feeling like I have to say “thanks” to a compliment that I don’t think is a compliment (that, to me, assumes that everyone feels the same way about everything [is cis, straight, wants kids, wants to get married, etc.] and would feel complimented by the person’s comment). Aaaaaargh. I agree that most of the people who say these things are not jerks, but this sort of thing (clearly!) sticks in my craw.

        1. DAMitsDevon*

          Yes, it’s annoying because you feel like you have to say thanks to keep the peace or else you’ll look like an ungrateful buzzkill. Yet, those people should feel bad for being intrusive and implying that getting married/having kids is the ultimate/only way to be truly fulfilled.

        2. VictorianCowgirl*

          You can also just not respond to the statement. It isn’t a question and doesn’t need an answer. You can excuse yourself and leave or change the subject to put the attention on them.

          “You will have such beautiful kids!”
          -“Well, I better head back to my desk and get those expense reports done”
          -“So, what did you think of the nytimes article on insurance fraud?”
          -“Hey, are you going to the conference on llama feeding?”
          ….or whatever fits your industry.

          Have some ready! The added bonus is after a few times of the statement just hanging in the air and not landing, people will generally stop asking. If someone pushes, you can say “Well that’s a subject that feels too private to discuss at work.”

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            ^this. I just don’t answer the kids prompting anymore. It confuses without being aggressive, and is noncommittal so that there’s no weird followup questions or comments.

            “You’ll make beautiful children!”
            “How are those reports coming along? Need anything else from me?”

            Alternatively, since I was feeling a bit….over….the whole topic one day after too many questions on the same thing…..

            “You’d make such a good mom!” (coworker, in no way related to the actual conversation at hand)
            “That’s weird to say to someone who can’t have any.” (my brain-to-mouth filter had fully frozen, oops)
            “…….uh…..” (coworker freezes)
            “My nephews are cute enough and I can give them back if they’re fussy, so it’s much preferable. Anyway, how’s that [insert random work thing here] going?”

          2. Avasarala*

            That’s how I think of “thanks.”
            “Thanks! [for intending to pay me a compliment, even if the result was weird and unpleasant for me]”
            I also like “Aww :)” as in “Aww [you have no idea the grossness you just insinuated]”
            Or just smile, as in, “[If I keep my mouth closed I can’t give you a piece of my mind]”

  15. Harper the Other One*

    OP1: people are ridiculous about kids – even to those of us who clearly have them. It’s always when are you having them/more, that’s not enough/too many, etc. etc. Alison’s non-committal answer/change of subject is the best way to go.

    My favourite example was when our son was a baby, and a passerby cooed about how he was cute, asked if he was our first, and when we set yes, exclaimed “you should have more!” Ever since we’ve joked about what she would have said if he weren’t a cute baby. “Single kids result in a lower environment footprint” maybe?

  16. Samwise*

    OP #4. It’s NOT obvious to your receptionist — it’s obvious to you, you have a bigger picture. Moreover, you yourself suggested that you might make special accommodations for a rockstar, so apparently there can be a way to move up from that position.

    I don’t mean to be chastising you particularly — just that people in managerial positions can forget (or perhaps never experienced) what it’s like to have lower level or admin-type jobs.

  17. Allypopx*

    My response to anything involving children is just “nope”.

    Are you going to have kids? Nope.
    Oh you’ll have such cute children! Nope.
    When do you think you’ll start planning your family??? Nope.

    I acknowledge it can be perceived as rude, but I also find the question rude. Usually it makes people either uncomfortable or uninterested in probing further. I find it effective, personally, and hasn’t hurt any relationships – just inserts a firm boundary and creates a bubble of discomfort around the topic so people don’t try again. I’ll follow up with something work related, with a warm and friendly tone.

    1. londonedit*

      I do a similar thing. It still makes me unspeakably angry that people think it’s OK to a) assume I will be having children and b) give me their opinions on why I am a selfish and terrible person for not having children, but while I would love to argue with them like I did 10 years ago, I’m now so sick of it that my usual response is just a mildly sardonic ‘Ha, no.’ ‘Do you have kids?’ ‘Ha, no.’ ‘Oh, never mind! You’ve got time!’ ‘Ha, no.’ ‘Oh but kids are great, surely you want them?’ ‘Ha. No.’ Works quite well.

      I did the same thing the other week when I met someone who, having been told my name, said ‘Oh, [nickname I go by 100% of the time]? Like [longer version of the name that I never, ever use]?’ Ha. No.

      1. ChimericalOne*

        I think saying, “Oh, Cathy? Like Catherine?” (or the like) is just a way to verify that you understand a person’s name. In my case, my nickname is easily confused, so people will say (for example), “Ginny, as in Virginia?” to differentiate from “Jenny, as in Jennifer.” It’s about clarity & can also make it easier to picture the name, remember it, etc., not an indication that they’re planning to *call* you Catherine or Virginia or Jennifer. If I said, “Cathy, like Catherine?” and you said, “No,” I would think I’d misunderstood your name entirely, or that you were trying to tell me that it was spelled very differently (e.g., Kaethi) or that it was short for something else.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I wish I got that. My first name is the same as a very large natural disaster, and I always get the “oh, [name], just like that [disaster]? Were you named after it?” Yes. Yes, at like 15 years old, I definitely chose to change *my name* to that of the Large, Deadly, Horrible Natural Disaster.

          And the nickname I sometimes (did 100% prior, now just my full name) goes to multiple names, so while I understand the human need to clarify, you can do this without asking about a full name. Ginny with a G versus Jenny with a J, for example. I’m not, for example, Nellie for Eleanor, I’m Nellie for Ellen, but it doesn’t matter for which I’m Nellie, I’m just Nellie with an -ie, not a -y.

          (Not that it necessarily matters, but in my personal experience this often results in someone then immediately calling me by the completely wrong name because obviously Nellie goes to Eleanor).

  18. Jules the 3rd*

    OP #1: Someday, people will get a clue about not projecting their preferences and experiences onto other people, and half the letters to advice columns will disappear. Until then, ‘Thanks! [subject change]”

    (though tbh, most of us are just looking for a new chance to tell our stories about relationships / kids / etc… )

  19. Goya de la Mancha*

    #1 “Your children will be beautiful.”

    This calls to mind the scene from the pilot of Big Bang Theory.

    Leonard: Our children will be smart AND beautiful.
    Sheldon: Not to mention imaginary…

    1. Kathleen_A*

      The very, very, VERY first thing I thought of as well!

      But seriously, OP, I get why this bothers you, but you’re probably overthinking it. Some of your coworkers may have a serious case of nosiness, but most of them are just trying to make casual conversation. Mind you, they aren’t doing so in a very constructive way, but in most cases, all you need to do is answer their casual question with an equally casual answer. Alison’s scripts are very good.

  20. Arctic*

    Re: number 4 What did you expect her to put in that section? It seems very mean spirited to ask about training and advancement and then be “why the heck does she think there would he training and advancement?” It seems likely she had no idea what to say.

    I get it was just a standard evaluation form. But you can alter it. Any form is alterable.

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Excellent point. It’s possible to interpret her answer as a more timid version of: “Actually I never imagined this job going any further, but if you have ideas about it (since YOU asked ME) I’m curious to know what those are.”

  21. Buttons*

    I am curious as to why the receptionist wouldn’t be told that to advance the next logical step would be legal assistant and it requires XYZ. If she shows interest in that would the firm then offer her support in getting that training/education?

  22. The Wall Of Creativity*

    OP #3 If you only want to hire lucky candidates, just throw all the CVs down the stairs and only interview the 20% that travel furthest.

    Asking candidates whether they feel lucky is something predatory interviews ask if they want the interview to carry on in a bar afterwards.

    1. rayray*

      If I got asked that question in an interview, I’d probably see it as a red flag. I’d think either 1) The people at this place are really weird or 2) This is one of those stupid mind games Interviewers like to play, and there’s some weird answer I’m supposed to say that’s going to make or break their opinion of my character.

  23. Wing Leader*

    I feel for number 4. I work as admin in a law firm, and I’ve been told there is no more work for me to do and no way to advance upwards. I don’t want to jump up and become a lawyer or anything. I simply want to take on at least a little more admin work. But nope, they won’t let me. I am to do my already assigned duties and that’s it. I spend most days bored out of my mind.

  24. MicroManagered*

    OP4 It might be true that, to move into other existing positions in the firm, she needs additional education. What if she were open to that additional education? What if she got the job hoping she could take, like, paralegal courses online or something? And if she did want to do that, would your firm be open to reimbursing her tuition for those courses? I think stuff like that should come into play when thinking of whether there is growth potential for your receptionist. I took my current position with the specific hope they *would* support (and pay for!) an advanced certification in my field (and luckily I was right).

    If the answer is “no” you wouldn’t reimburse tuition or consider moving her into another position after she completed the education requirements, that’s different.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      It sounds like none of this is an option for her, since (a) it looks like she’d need education *and* experience to move into those roles, and (b) the LW said she’s not stellar enough for any exceptional treatment and/or grooming.

  25. NEWBIEMD19*

    #1: When I see a patient I’ve seen before, I always ask how their daughter is doing or if they had had a chance to read the book we’d talked about, etc. I want them to know that I remember them; that they’re not a nameless, faceless patient and I figure it makes both of us seem more “human”. Now I’m second guessing myself though!

    1. KarenK*

      No, this is totally different. You mention “patients.” Are you a doctor, nurse, or therapist? Connecting with your patients on a personal level is totally expected and required. You do want them to know that you see them as human beings.

      What the OP is talking about is getting grilled on their personal life by the people they work with. Who have no need for or right to that information.

    2. PrivacyPlease*

      I have a doctor I see once a year for checkups, she always asks about personal things we talked about at my last visit (like about my hobbies or a movie I was excited about seeing or about an injury I was healing from). It makes me feel like she genuinely cares, and I trust her more and feel more comfortable with her. She’s one of my favorite doctors.

      I think asking about books or a family member’s well being is waaay different than prying into someone’s relationships. You sound very nice! :)

      Do you take notes about your patients, or do you just remember somehow? I’ve always wondered that about my doctor.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        My doctor does this too. She remembered the field I used to work in and keeps asking why I’m not doing that as a job, because “lots of people want to learn [skill.]” Except in my current region of the country, it is an exceptionally low-paid job compared to the other regions where I lived.

      2. NEWBIEMD19*

        I will usually take down a little reminder note; doesn’t take much to spur my memory. My favorite prof in med school said that that helps make the patient more comfortable in what often is a difficult situation. Plus, I’ve always been pretty nosey!

      3. Aurion*

        My previous doctors (two of them, a husband and wife practice) did this! They took notes. I always thought it was really nice.

  26. PrivacyPlease*

    #1 — Somewhat related… Is it okay to just avoid talking about personal relationships at work altogether, and when someone inquires about it, literally say, “I don’t discuss personal relationships at work”?

    I’m in my late 20’s and have never been in a relationship and at this point do not see one in my future. It is a thing I am comfortable with, but having people ask me about it and express pity and say things like “we have to find someone to set you up with” or “but you’re such a great person, why would no one want to date you” is humiliating as I’m a very private person. (And of course there’s the creepy guys who make references about my nonexistent husband/fiance/boyfriend that I’ve never talked about.)

    1. Poppy*

      Avoid the conversation? Sure
      But your proposed response of “I don’t discuss personal relationships at work” to a direct question is not going to win you any collegiality from your colleagues.
      You may not care about that – but why not just answer by saying No, I’m not seeing anyone and then pivoting the conversation?
      It takes slightly more effort but provides an interaction that doesn’t alienate your colleagues. Plus sometimes they’re just trying for common ground/to be polite and they’re not sure where to go after you say you aren’t dating. Pivoting gets you out of the conversation without the pity etc.

      Creepy guys are different but to be honest they’re going to be creeps no matter what. I’d suggest focusing on the colleagues who are just clueless.

      1. Holly*

        I agree with this – better to brush it off and hope they get the hint eventually. Otherwise you’re inviting more questions than you want, and it will not pay off for you professionally.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Nobody in the history of ever has gotten a hint from a brush off. Better to be direct but diplomatic.

      2. JSPA*

        “Not looking” [with a smile] is adequately social and helpfully informative in conveying what YOU want to convey (rather than what they asked for).

    2. Dr. Pepper*

      Depends on your workplace. I wouldn’t say that phrase literally, but there’s other ways to get the message across. The basic idea is to be bland, boring, and vague. Shrug and make noncommittal noises, or say things like “eh, I’m good”, and follow up with an immediate subject change. The less interested you appear to be in the subject, the more uncomfortable it will feel to them to keep pressing it. The easiest way to not discuss something is to literally not discuss it.

    3. Kathleen_A*

      PrivacyPlease, your response would not have the effect you want because it would seem…a bit off, to the extent that it would actually draw *more* attention to your personal life. That’s exactly the opposition of what you want.

      While there are genuinely nosy people and and there will, alas, always be creepy guys, nearly all of the people asking these things are just trying to make casual conversation. (I’m not saying they’re doing a very good job of it, but that’s truly all they’re doing.) So the way to treat these questions is the way you’d treat any casual question that was about a topic you don’t have much interest in. If someone asked you about a TV show or a sport you’re not much interested in, you’d probably politely indicate that you’re not really into those things, and then bring up a new topic of conversation. That’s really all you need to do here: “I’m not seeing anyone right now, but what new with you? How are your kids/any photos of the new puppy/how was your vacation?” You and your coworker have a pleasant couple of minutes, and then you get back to work. In most cases, it really will be that easy. :-)

      A nice side effect is that this works nearly as well with the genuinely nosy people, since most people, including the nosy ones, are more interested in themselves and their families than in their coworkers.

      1. Joielle*

        Yeah, it makes it seem like there’s some BIG SECRET there – and while a reasonable person would go “yikes, sore subject I guess” and not bring it up again, a nosy person might just “helpfully” pry deeper. I think a friendly deflection and positive subject change is in order. “Ha, no, but what I am loving right now is gardening! I spend so much time in the yard these days, it’s so fun. With all this rain my cucumbers are really taking off! Do you grow any veggies?”

        I think the trick is to have one or two innocuous hobbies that you’re comfortable discussing at length. You’ll always have something positive to pivot the conversation to, and your coworkers will come to think of you as the person who does X rather than the sad single person. If people know nothing about you, they’ll put their own narratives on you, which as you can tell, isn’t always great. Control your own narrative!

    4. Hex Code*

      I think it would be odd to say that you don’t discuss any personal relationships at work, but if you said you don’t discuss romantic relationships that comes across as more understandable and gives you the chance to pivot to other outside-of-work activities that you are comfortable discussing. “Oh, I like to keep my dating life separate from work, but this weekend I went kayaking/watched the latest tentpole movie/etc. What did you do?”

    5. Batgirl*

      Shrug + “Eh it’s not a big deal” or “You’ll be the first to know! Anyway….”
      My best subject change for this is “Husband? I’d rather have a camper van so I can go to more festivals” because the people in my circle are suckers for festivals. Just say “You know what’s really hard to find? I’m in the market for….a new flat/cat/winter coat/car”
      People only raise dating as a thing to talk about. Simply give them another topic.

      1. Batgirl*

        Oh yeah and make sure that when dating talk is in progress you look like you’re watching paint dry. When you change the subject, be more animated.

    6. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

      Most people who ask about your personal life are expressing polite interest in you as a person. If you say, “I don’t discuss personal relationships at work,” you are saying, in essence, “Pretend I’m not a person and I’ll pretend you’re not a person and we can all be robots together.” The other person will be justifiably repelled.

      The correct response is something along the lines of, “Happily single. You?” The ‘you?’ part is important. It A) expresses polite reciprocal interest in them as a person and B) fulfills your part of the conversation by returning the conversation to them. Conversation is like playing catch. You want to be tossing the ball back and forth. Otherwise your conversational partner is just going to be lobbing balls at you, which is annoying for them (they are doing all the work) and makes you feel like a target. And they probably are going to be lobbing the same ball back repeatedly, because they can’t think of another topic of conversation either. Do your part and everybody can move on.

    7. ThirtyNotFlirty*

      I’m in a similar boat (I have been in relationships and they’re decidedly Not For Me but as a cis woman in my early 30s people tend to assume that I Must Want A Man). YMMV depending on your office culture but I just never talk about that stuff and if someone outright asks I toss out an airy and vague “enh, I don’t really date much”. Usually people don’t question it but if they do I’ll say something like no time, other priorities, I just have fun hanging out with my awesome friends and/or cuddly cat, don’t meet nice single people very often (although be careful bc some people will take this as an invitation to set you up with their single cousin or whatever), or even “who wants to be tied down??” Depending on the person and context, even making jokes about how terrible husbands are, especially if this happens soon after the person asking you complained about their own husband. (sidebar: How are the women with the worst husbands the most convinced that single women must desperately desire a husband??)

      Making it clear that being single is your choice and you don’t consider it a big deal, while keeping it light to avoid deep-diving into your actual feelings/history, is the best way to avoid the weird pity, in my experience. But then this has gotten a little less effective so we’ll see if it still works as I progress through my 30s and the “biological clock” narrative. I don’t really know about the creepy guys — outside my experience — but I’d probably just give them the cold stare.

    8. Close Bracket*

      I wouldn’t say it exactly like that, but I also wouldn’t give out the information that you have never been in a relationship. When someone asks if you are seeing anyone, I would go with something along the lines of Elspeth Mcgillicuddy and ThirtynotFlirty’s suggestions, and if they press you, smile and say something like, “actually, I’m kind of private about my personal life. I’m sure you understand.”

  27. Zucchini noodles*

    A longtime coworker/friend asked “hey why don’t you have kids?” (I’m a straight woman, married to a man for 12 years, 3 miscarriages, only 1 person in my work life knows about this). For the first and only time in my life, I had a quick, snappy response that elicited laughs and got the point across. It may be offensive ot some here so I won’t say it now, but it worked. I think the type of response that would work would depend on the type of relationship and overall nature of the office.. some people are OK with jokes/wisecracks, while the default is the polite handwaving response.

    1. Dr. Pepper*

      I’ve answered this question with “Because I don’t”. Any follow up questions are met with a shrug and bored expression, or if I’m feeling tetchy with “why do you need to know?”

      WHY people feel it’s okay to ask things like this is beyond me.

      1. Zucchini noodles*

        *shrugs * it is what it is, I’ve made my peace with it. Depending on who’s asking, I’ll either be polite, truthful or funny. I usually freeze in the moment, so this is something I’m a little bit proud of lol. But the person asking had no hard feelings–it’s only b/c we’ve been together so long and we’re comfortable with each other that I could make that kind of joke.

    2. Close Bracket*

      “Because I have good health insurance”

      or if you want to be more direct

      “Because I use condoms”

      or just straight up obnoxious

      “Just lucky, I guess”

      (I realize none of these apply to you, but when going for snappy responses, they work)

  28. Jennifer*

    #4 She wrote that because she had to write something. It’s a little weird to have a section on career goals and aspirations on her self eval when you think she’s a lifetime receptionist. I have had jobs where I had no desire to move up in the company – I had other goals – and I wrote something similar on my evaluation. It was more of a polite way of saying ‘why are you asking me this when there’s no space to grow?’

  29. Started out at the bottom*

    #4, no upward mobility for a receptionist in a law firm?! That receptionist should move on immediately…to another law firm.

    1. rayray*

      I agree. I worked at a small law firm and there was a girl who moved up from being the mail clerk to MANAGER of an entire department. Granted, this started out as just giving her some other duties when she had extra time, then she was a processor, and then because she was one of those martyrs who would work insane overtime, including weekends and holidays, I suppose the partners saw fit to have her as manager. She didn’t have decent management skills at all, but boy did she work a lot, and get a lot done. This is an extreme example, but it did happen.

      A handful of people there didn’t have degrees at all, just got hired on the merits of their work history and skills. They were not admin/receptionist people either. There are many jobs to work at law firms that don’t need a law/paralegal degree.

      1. JSPA*

        Hunh, see, to me, any law firm big enough to have departments is getting near mid-sized. Small law firms in my area–and there are dozens–are commonly ~3 to 7 lawyers, handling one to three sorts of law.* They generally need at most a couple of receptionists, a couple of cracker-jack paralegals and a couple-three-four junior (or PT) paralegals for smaller stuff. It’s certainly not the national definition, but I’d call a firm in our area “mid sized” at 10 lawyers, and “large for our area” at 25. So how people feel about the situation probably varies significantly with the exact scenario we’re each visualizing.

        *I recognize that in other areas, this is “boutique” or “basically a large partnership, not a firm”

  30. Seven If You Count Bad John*

    “Are you ever going to have children?”
    “Why, so they can disappoint me the way I disappointed my parents?”

    …they never ask twice.

  31. almost empty nester*

    OP4…I think you’re overthinking her response. When I read the question, and then her answer, it sounds to me like she’s appropriately reining in the sarcasm with her response. Likely she’s aware of the lack of advancement possibilities, and she’s politely pointing out the futility of asking her that question.

    1. NKOTB*

      Yes, OP4. Why include that question in the self-assessment if there is not room for career growth in that position?

  32. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m curious if you’ve decided she can’t expand on her duties entirely on your own or if you’ve asked others if they have any extra things the receptionist could assist them with since she’s interested in doing more.

    The assistants may need focused experience and expertise to be a full on assistant. But they don’t have basic administrative tasks they could have her help with? No data entry or filing that could go to someone else? That little administrative stuff may just give the receptionist a taste and insight into that position to make an informed decision if she wants to take necessary coursework to expand into assistant work.

    I would at least confirm with others that she’s peaked instead of writing it off. She may not be a rockstar now because she’s burned out or tired of trying so hard since you’ve crushed her attempts to break out of the rut she’s in. Bored people do basic just standard work usually.

    1. Clisby*

      Plus, the fact that she’s not a superstar receptionist indicates nothing about whether she has the potential be a superstar legal assistant. I would suck at being a receptionist, but have no doubt I could be a good paralegal/legal assistant.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That and honestly, the majority of the world is just average. That’s okay, average is good enough!

        Average gets your phones answered, calls routed to the right place at least 95% of the time, is helpful when approached by a client or a coworker, etc. It keeps your lobby stocked and coffee ordered.

        So it’s really just bizarre to focus on “breakout” employees and “rockstars” and such.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Amen! People who demand that everyone must be above average…. don’t understand what an average is.

  33. TootsNYC*

    When it comes to the questions about marriage and kids, I wouldn’t give too much of an answer, because I think that signals acceptance of it as a topic of conversation.

    I’d be all noncommittal and indistinct.
    Are you two getting married? “Hard to tell [very un-animatedly]. Oh, are you enjoying X project that you’re working on [with aimation]?”

    You don’t have to answer any question you don’t want to. Just because people ask you, or express their own opinion, doesn’t mean you have to answer or give a fig what they think. Think of them like the grownups in the Charlie Brown movies, and give them an absent smile and move on.

    You can even let the question hang with no answer; just -do- talk about something.

    (My then boyfriend was asked in front of me if we were getting married–he said, “It is the policy of the United States Navy to neither confirm nor deny the existence of nuclear weapons aboard its vessels.” So a non-answer, especially if it’s funny, can deflect)

    If you want to be more direct, you can: “Please don’t ask questions about my relationship status, or having kids, and stuff. That’s not something I want to talk about at work, and it’s really awkward having to deflect the questions. It’s beginning to feel like prying and pressure, which I’m sure you don’t mean, so I’d appreciate it if you’d stop, and encourage others to stop too.”

  34. Kristine*

    OP1 – these coworkers might be at a point in their lives when they are longing for grandchildren. It’s called “grandbaby rabies.” My very traditional mother, once horrified by out-of-wedlock births. started pulling the “the combination of you two would be so cute” when I was still not married to my now-ex (which produced no children).
    It’s supremely annoying, but it will pass.

  35. Curiouser and Curiouser*

    Allison, thank you so much for mentioning the pro-marriage/pro-relationship society we live in. I’m an early 30s woman and single and childless more or less by choice (I haven’t made a steadfast rule against it or something, but am more than ok with my life). I was at work once and a married father asked me if I had kids – and I responded with a cheerful “nope, just me!”. The rest of the conversation:

    Him: “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll definitely meet someone!”
    Me: (still cheerful) “Yeah, maybe! I don’t know if that’s for me though.”
    Him: (suddenly upset) “Well that sounds like a miserable existence.”

    At WORK. People can’t help themselves sometimes, and can’t comprehend the fact that someone might want different things than them.

    1. Pennalynn Lott*

      BAHAHAHAHA! I once had a similar conversation with a co-worker:

      Her: “You and your boyfriend have been together a really long time. When are you going to have kids?”
      Me: “Oh, never. Neither one of us wants children.”
      Her (suddenly and severely anguished): “But if you accidentally got pregnant you’d still have it, right?”

    2. rayray*

      Yeah. I’m single, and 30 years old in Salt Lake City so I get this kind of response too. I personally would like to marry eventually, I just haven’t met anyone yet. I just get so many sad “Oh! Don’t worry, it”ll happen!” or “It’ll happen when ya least expect it!” or “How are YOU still single????”

      I know people don’t mean it maliciously, but it’s so frustrating that people think I’m miserable or that I don’t have value only because I haven’t committed to one person for my whole life yet. I’m still young, though older than the average marriage age here. I’m happy and I don’t need unsolicited sympathy.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      “Well that sounds like a miserable existence!”
      “Yeah to each our own of course. I’d find it miserable to be trapped thinking I had to find someone and have kids to find meaning in this big ol’ world! =)”

      For real, you just have to keep digging in the heels, stay cheery and say “Yeah it’s not for everyone. Just like marriage and kids aren’t for everyone. Crazy world right!”

      I’m not single but I have an unconventional relationship in many people’s eyes. We’ve been together 5+ years, no we’re not moving in together, yeah marriage one day but not any time soon, no we’re not having kids unless they fall out of the sky and land in my lap, which the weather man says isn’t in the forecast, yeah we only see each other when we feel like it, which isn’t’ every day, it’s not even once a week sometimes. No mom, I’m not going to just “make him go with me” to things I know he’s not going to enjoy, I can go see my Bad Movie Choices by myself and actually enjoy them, than having someone suffering beside me taking one for the team.

      It’s not so much pro-marriage/relationship society. It’s a “Pro-be-like-me” society in the end. I have perma single friends for the most part and some of them actually got mad when I found a partner….after decades of being being great by myself.

    4. Oh No She Di'int*

      Side question: Are there any anti-marriage/anti-relationship societies in the world? When I think about how unmarried and/or childless people are treated in the US or UK vs. how they are viewed and treated in most of the rest of the world, putting up with a few annoying questions actually doesn’t look like such a bad deal.

      1. Curiouser and Curiouser*

        I mean…I didn’t think I was taking it too seriously? It didn’t ruin my day, lol, just annoying and rude. And gave me a funny story to tell later about my “miserable” existence.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yeah, there are a subset and subcultures for everything, seriously.

        But let’s be real, you can use “The treatment in US/UK isn’t as bad as The World Where They Still Stone People” is pretty much the same as “well it’s not cancer or an eating disorder!” level.

      3. Close Bracket*

        Oh, good grief. The flip side of pro-marriage/relationship societies are not anti-marriage/relationship societies. The flip side would be a society that accepts multiple marriage/relationship/parenthood statuses without trying to push one type over another.

      4. Grapey*

        There is a society against having kids called VHEMT (voluntary human extinction movement). Similarly, there is a philosophy called antinatalism that considers having children to be an overall negative and morally bad.

        You won’t find any countries that adhere to those philosophies en masse, since I can’t think of a single government that doesn’t want a steady supply of taxpayers and laborers….a system all of us were forced into by our parents. :)

    5. Isabel Kunkle*

      TBH, at this point, unless there’s a reason you can’t get away with it (boss, uncle you still want to remain on speaking terms with, etc) I’d say push back and hard. I DGAF if it’s malicious or not–a working adult in 2019 should know better than to ask this sort of question–so make them feel as awkward as you can get away with.

      Why no kids? Because of the prophecy. I don’t know, why did you have them? Because I don’t need to satisfy any demonic pacts at present.
      Anyone special in your life? We’re all special, Mr. Rogers said so. Nah, just a lot of ordinary schmoes. I wouldn’t call them special, but they get the job done.

      And so forth.

      I’m always seriously tempted to tell the “don’t worry, you’ll meet someone!” crowd that they themselves shouldn’t worry: divorce is easier and cheaper than ever!

      1. Emac*

        “Because I don’t need to satisfy any demonic pacts at present.”

        Bahhaaaaaaaaaaa! Thanks, I needed a laugh this afternoon! I’ll have to remember that one.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          “I promised the soul of my first born child. If I don’t have any, they don’t get the soul!”

      2. Close Bracket*

        “Nah, just a lot of ordinary schmoes. I wouldn’t call them special, but they get the job done.”


    6. Emac*

      Him: (suddenly upset) “Well that sounds like a miserable existence.”

      Me: “Maybe for you as a man, but studies have shown single women tend to live longer, so there must be something good about it!”

    7. 1234*

      Him: (suddenly upset) “Well that sounds like a miserable existence.”

      Me: Well, I don’t know how miserable I would be actually sleeping through the night with no crying babies, no kids’ schedules to coordinate around, no pooping diapers to clean up after and no daycare costs. I mean, I’m sure I would be MISERABLE having my freedom to myself to travel or go away for the weekend without having to arrange for a babysitter.

      I’m in my early 30s and don’t want kids either.

  36. Pennalynn Lott*

    OP2 – I, too, once was looking for a job while in an hourly-wage mindset. The interviewer/business owner said the position paid “15”. I was stoked because other entry-level positions I had interviewed for were only paying $8-11/hour. I accepted the job.

    I started a week later and went to lunch with the other office admin person. I remarked about the great pay and he was totally confused. He said he was sure that it was $15,000/year, not $15/hour. I raced back to the office and the owner confirmed, yes, it was just $15,000/year. I had turned down an $11/hour position for this job, so I was crushed to find out that I was now only making $7.21/hour. I quit that afternoon.

    I found another job in a couple of weeks that paid $10/hour, but I have double- and triple-clarified pay ever since.

  37. even an assistant*

    #5 I’d be curious to know what “even the assistants” means? Are they a lesser class of employee?

    1. Tom & Johnny*

      If you’ve worked at law firms you know that yes, they are. I say that with wryness, not agreeing with it at all.

      Legal assistants are extremely valuable and bring a necessary skill set without which the firm cannot function. But the fact remains at the end of the day, the attorneys go to the client parties and the assistants don’t. The attorneys throw attorney-only holiday parties, and the assistants throw staff-only holiday parties (there may also be a combined one, but the separate ones exist too). The attorneys take the clients to lunch and the assistants don’t. The attorneys have in-house CLE luncheons where all the JDs in the room are fed catered meals, and the assistants eat the leftovers in the kitchen afterward.

      There is a definite caste system at many traditional law firms (most of them are traditional, even today). Again, I’m not saying this is right or justifiable. I’m only explaining that yes, “even the assistants” are not seen on the same level as the people who bring in the clients. The attorneys are the people whose billable hours are placed on invoices, which make the money to keep the lights on. The assistants, while necessary and valuable, are a cost center and not a profit center. This can lead to inequities in the culture. Again, an explanation, not a justification.

      That said, “even the assistants” also means that these assistants are wizards or sorceresses of their technical field. They are legal technicians with very specific skill sets often gained through a combination of trial by fire and certifications or higher ed. And they are paid accordingly, frequently very well. This ‘combat pay’ combined with job security and predictability is why many staff tolerate such cultural inequities. While it is very much a pink collar career ghetto, it can be a very difficult career ghetto to break into.

      There are sometimes receptionists who eventually become legal assistants or paralegals, but they are usually clear about that goal at the outset of being hired (such as someone in paralegal school taking a part-time job as a receptionist in order to get a shot at a paralegal internship at that firm later). But in many cases there are career receptionists who are at the same firm for 10+ years. And who are extremely polished, capable, sharp, and brilliant people. I’ve worked under one, and worked with many. There is a reason firms retain them for trust and continuity for a decade or more.

      “Even the assistants” is an acknowledgement that even the highly skilled, valuable, and well-paid assistants will never be promoted to attorney. And that the receptionist, unless he or she is extremely clear about wanting it from the get go, will never be promoted to assistant. This predictability and security is seen by some staff as a benefit, and the caste system as a trade off they are willing to put up with. Staffers for whom this is a nightmare self-select out of the career legal field.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Law & medicine, along with anything that comes along with licensing and certifications, really do have a more in depth class system.

      It’s because the attorney’s have better insurance and protections that assistants don’t, they have higher risks to go along with those higher billable hours.

      Just like why the CEO makes more money than anyone else and their decisions are the ones that “stick” in most cases.

      What the OP is trying to say is that they don’t have any other entry level positions in their POV [which may not be true and that’s why some of our comments have asked them to rethink that line of thinking]. Since you tend to think of an “assistant” as someone who can be taught but in reality, when it’s specialized like law, they need certain prerequisites and they aren’t achieved by usual on the job training.

  38. Eeether Eyether*

    OP #4: I don’t know how large, or small, your law firm is, but I’ve worked as a legal assistant for 35+ years. Do you have an accounting department? An HR department? A recruiting department? An IT department? I would think, if she is interested, that you could integrate her in some way to a role in one of those departments. You say “there is no upward mobility from her position here (which really should be obvious).” I don’t think it’s obvious at all. Many of our receptionists transitioned into other roles, as working as the receptionist was excellent exposure for them to become familiar with the firm, the clients and how things work. If you are a small firm, you could ask your legal assistants if they have any overflow/busy work (expense reports, time entry, etc.) you could give to her. But, yes, ask her specifically what she kind of work or training she is looking for. Maybe she’s just bored…and has not been given a chance to shine.

  39. Yikes*

    I worked at a law firm with 6 attorneys. They paid for the receptionist to take some tech classes and business classes, then promoted her to office manager. I worked at a law firm with 40ish attorneys, their receptionist got an MBA at night and then got promoted to office manager. I worked at a multi-state law firm with hundreds of attorneys, and their receptionist only made $15/hr (though good for the area), but they supported her in taking night classes and she also got bumped up to a non-paralegal legal assistant.

    I just… have difficultly believing there’s truly nowhere to go. Honestly, this sounds like kind of a bad place to work. If they’re unhappy with her work, then why do they keep her on? If they’re happy with her work, then why not explore the possibility of a more satisfying role for her at their firm?

  40. Noah*

    OP4- I don’t think the receptionist is asking for a promotion. I think she’s asking why you ask her this question and is worried she doesn’t have a great answer to it.

  41. Adalind*

    OP 2 – I’m sorry that happened but glad it was settled and that you wrote in because I just did this the other day! I assume that the interviewer knew what I meant (and was kind as yours), but when I confirm my interview for next week I’ll be sure to mention it. So thanks! :)

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