I miss my toxic old job, living with a coworker, and more

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

1. I miss my toxic old job

I just left a very toxic work environment to the point where nine of thirteen people on the team quit last year (possibly more, these are just the ones I’m aware of). I had a high opinion of my direct manager as a person, though she often contributed unknowingly to the toxic environment at times. I don’t think she’d ever intentionally contribute to it, however. Is it weird that I miss working with the team and manager there, despite how toxic it was? And what are the best ways to recover from a toxic work environment and re-evaluate my sense of what is “normal” in the workplace?

It’s not weird. Even toxic jobs often have good aspects to them and people form bonds with coworkers. It’s not that different than knowing you were right to break up with an ex but still missing the good parts of your relationship. You are human and you formed human connections with people there. In fact, sometimes in a toxic environment, you bond even more closely with people because you’re all going through the same weird experience that other people won’t ever fully understand. (And as for your manager: one of the tragedies of toxic workplaces is that even good managers working in that environment will find themselves contributing to it in ways they don’t intend. It’s just really hard, if not impossible, to fully separate yourself from that if there’s toxic pressure from above you. It taints everyone who’s part of the management structure, to some degree or another.)

I’ve got some advice here about how to recalibrate your idea of normal once you move on.

2. How open can I be about living with a coworker?

I’m in a leadership development program with a big national company as my first job out of college. Once it’s safe to do so (COVID), I’ll be moving to Notoriously Expensive East Coast State. I can’t afford rent on my own so I’ll need a roommate and the best option is rooming with “John,” the only other student from my university who accepted a job with this program. He’ll be moving to the same area at the same time with the same budget as me. We don’t know each other very well, but we’re from a very close-knit university and it’s a “my friends know his friends and it’s probably better than a random roommate” situation. John and I had a class together and chat every once in a while and are both easygoing as roommates. Having an opposite gender roommate will be a bit new for me, especially coming from a conservative university, but he and I are not remotely interested in dating and I think things will be fine.

The big question is how people at work will see it if they know that we’re living together. We work in different departments, but interact with a lot of the same people, including VPs and the C suite, because of the leadership program. We’ve been working remotely for a little while now and have both agreed to avoid discussing our planned living situation with our coworkers.

I’m worried about our new colleagues and managers and senior leadership finding out and it negatively affecting their view of me or John. Would it be weird for our colleagues to know about John and I sharing an apartment or would it be even weirder to avoid the topic/hide it and then risk people finding out later? Also, is there any need to tell HR that we’re living together?

Nah, you’re fine. This isn’t a big deal. You don’t need to proactively volunteer it to HR or anyone else, but you also don’t need to hide it. If it comes up, you can just say, “Yeah, John and I are roommates since we both moved here at the same time from the same university and knew each other a bit from school.” (You would need to disclose it if it was looking like one of you might be moved into a position managing the other, but that doesn’t sound like it’s the case.)

I’m curious about why you’ve both agreed to avoid discussing it! I suspect you’re worried it would somehow seem unprofessional (maybe too dorm-ish? or somehow just unusual for a workplace?) but it’s really not weird, especially since you’re both early in your careers, a time when roommates are really common. If your worry is because people might assume you’re a couple, that’s not a big deal either — just say “roommates” and most people will get it.

Read an update to this letter here.

3. How to test job candidates on their ability to recall info

I’m hiring for a position at my company. For someone to excel in this position, they really need to pay attention to detail and be able to recall information from weeks or months ago. I’ve been thinking of how I can try to test these qualities while interviewing. My idea is that when I start the interview, I will briefly describe myself and what I do to the candidate. For example: “I’m Barry. For the past five years I’ve been Senior Llama Herder at Llama Farms in Albuquerque. I’ve lived in Albuquerque for 10 years but I’m originally from Scotland, where I was an interpretive dancer in a previous lifetime. At the farm I’m in charge of grooming, feeding, herding the llamas and making sure they get to bed at 8 pm sharp.” Then I would dig into my usual questions about the candidate to determine their knowledge/abilities. The last question I would ask at the end of the interview would be a recall question: “One last question, can you tell me about some of the personal or professional details that I told you about myself when I first introduced myself at the beginning of the interview?”

Does this seem like a useful tactic? I would expect most people to be able to recall a fair amount from 20 minutes prior but if they couldn’t recall any details I feel like that would let me know they weren’t taking in much of what I was telling them when they thought it wasn’t as important. And I believe that listening to your interviewer is important! Do you have any other suggestions on how to suss out if someone pays attention to details?

I wouldn’t do it that way. It feels too much like a gotcha — but more importantly, an interview where no one has told you you’re going to be tested on recall is different from a job where you know that recall is a key element. That’s especially true for info an interviewer relays at the start of an interview, where a lot of candidates will still be getting comfortable and maybe getting over nerves. If you’re going to test this way, you’ll get better results if you tell people what you’re doing ahead of time so they can put themselves in the right frame of mind. (And yes, people should pay attention to their interviewers regardless, but intros in the first five minutes are often a time when people are still getting mentally settled in.)

I’d rather see you be transparent about what you need and what you’re assessing, and make it about the job if you can. For example: “Recalling detail is really important in this job, so I’m going to give you some detail about one of the projects you’d be working on in this job, and at the end of our conversation I’m going to ask you some questions about it.” That still won’t perfectly mirror a work situation because, again, nerves are usually higher in interviews and nerves can affect recall (and it’s easier to remember details about a project when you already have an existing mental framework to plug them), but it’s a closer approximation.

4. A third person in my performance review meeting

My manager changed my mid-year review to include a senior member of our team rather than doing it one-on-one. She had been doing this with all members of our team. Personally, I hate being critiqued in front of others and have brought this to her attention on several occasions. Would it have been reasonable to ask her to move this discussion to one-on-one?

Sure, you can ask that, although you’d need to stay open to hearing it wasn’t possible. You could say, “Since we’re discussing my performance, would it be possible to do our meeting one-on-one?” If the answer is no, your manager should at least give you some context for why this person needs to be there. In fact, she should give you that context without you having to ask.

Is the senior person sitting in senior to your boss too? If so, it’s possible they’re sitting in to observe and coach her behind the scenes (especially if concerns have been raised about how she’s managing your team).

5. How to talk to coworkers about a terminal illness

I have a question for your readers. I was diagnosed with a mild but worrisome skin tumor in March. By the start of May, it had grown enough that I had surgery to remove it followed by chemotherapy that seemed to be working. I was lucky that I went into surgery and treatment at the same time as the office sent everyone home to avoid COVID, so only my immediate supervisor, HR, and the C-levels knew the details and have been 100% supportive of my needs during this time. Some colleagues didn’t even realize I was sick! I guess the cover story that I was on extended personal leave worked — which was true but not how we meant.

Unfortunately, I just had a follow up exam and the tumor was not just malignant but has metastasized into my chest. We’re performing more tests to see if another surgery is warranted or if they want to try stronger chemo first. My oncologist told me that it’s probably the difference between six to nine and 12 to 18 months, versus three months if I end treatments altogether. I’m still discussing my options with family and a couple of long-time advisors but I’m leaning toward a second surgery, even though a second “leave of absence” within six months seems, well, weird.

My concern is how much and when to discuss the situation more broadly after I make the choice. Even the best option isn’t great but it probably buys me a year of time following the second surgery to tidy up some projects and make sure there’s a continuation plan for what we can’t finish in that time. On the other hand, I don’t want to be thinking about closing up my office the entire time if I’m able to contribute for even a few more months. And I really don’t want to be talking about my medical problems with every coworker until 2022! I discussed things with my boss and she said to do what I want to do, that they trust and support my judgment.

I’m curious who among your readers has had terminally ill colleagues and how they handled things. Did they tell you everything or keep details close? Would you prefer to know less or more? What could they have done differently to make it easier on you — and on themselves?

I’m happy to throw this out to readers to weigh in on from their own experiences … but truly, what matters most here is what you are comfortable with. You are being incredibly conscientious about what will be easiest for your colleagues, but their needs are not the most important here: yours are. Instead of asking what would make things easier on them, I’m sure they’d want you do whatever would make things easiest on you! I say, figure that out and trust others to work with whatever you decide. If they’re worthy of the consideration you’re showing them, that’s what they’d prefer anyway.

I hope readers will weigh in with suggestions for you to consider, and I’m so sorry this is happening.

{ 419 comments… read them below }

  1. Kelsey*

    OP5, if any of my coworkers were ever in your shoes, the ONLY thing I’d expect would be an email from my boss saying, “OP5 resigned on X day for personal reasons and we wish him/her/them the best.” Stay of you want/need the insurance, but do whatever you want. Best of luck to you, very sincerely.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Agreed. LW5, I’m terribly sorry this is happening. I would focus on my health and family, and not worry too much about work. Make the absolute best of the time you have. Your colleagues can take care of themselves.

      1. Rara Avis*

        I had a coworker undergo a long and difficult cancer journey. She chose to let us know what was going on and even came to a social gathering near the end. I was so grateful that she had the strength to do so, because we got to say goodbye when she could still hear us tell her how much we loved her. I didn’t get the chance to do the same with my aunt, who had a very similar experience, but different levels of physical and emotional strength. So I think it depends on how YOU feel — do you want people to know? Would them setting up care programs/food deliveries/etc. be helpful to you? Do you want work to be a zone where you don’t need to discuss your health? Your answer might be different next week than it is today. But I agree that what suits your needs is what’s most important.

    2. Kelsey*

      OP 5, I’m re-reading what you wrote. You also asked for ways to make it easier on yourself, too; I missed that originally. If keeping it secret feels like a huge burden you don’t want, share in any way that feels good. Tell people yourself. Ask your boss to tell others on your behalf. Tell the office gossip and let that person do it. If you’re extremely private, do whatever feels right. But my biggest advice is to feel confident in advocating for whatever you want to see happen. Be direct and people will rally to help you make it come to fruition! Some go-to scripts:
      “I am still processing some heavy personal news. I’ll let you know when I’m ready to talk in a few days/weeks/months.”
      “My work schedule is changing. I still want to contribute, but I’m no longer going to be doing this function/working Wednesdays/answering email past 3 PM/etc.”
      “I have terminal cancer. I’m still working bc I need to/want to/feel better working/want the distraction/care about my legacy with this organization.”
      “I’ve been out because of an incurable health issue. I’ll be out frequently from this point forward.”
      “Finishing X project is important to me because reason. How can I pass my expertise?”
      “Finishing Y project is no longer important to me. How can we reassign it?”

      Again, sincere best wishes.

      1. Lemon Curdle*

        I think it’s worth pointing out that incurable is the wrong term to use here – it might make people think it’s just a chronic illness.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I think that comes down to what OP is willing to share – they may decide that it is appropriate in order to allow people to know that they will have ongoing issues without having to explicitly say that it is terminal – similarly, it would be fine to say something along the lines of ‘ongoing treatment for a serious condition’ or ‘undergoing cancer treatment’

          I think you can also ask your manager to help out – so for instance if you tell your manager that you are comfortable with people knowing that you have cancer, but don’t wish to share (yet) that it is terminal, you can say to them that you will be sharing with coworkers that you have cancer and will be out for treatment, but that you don’t wish to share information about your prognosis with everyone at present, so that they can help shut down further questions if necessary, or even tell your coworkers why you are about and ask them not to ask you questions

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, I think asking someone to let people know on your behalf and to let them know you don’t want to talk about it is probably the best bet here. With any sort of bad news I think that’s often the best route if you want people to know but you don’t want to have to tell it over and over.

        People will probably be weird at first and won’t know how to act or what to say, but it sounds like you plan to stick around there a while and they will probably stop being weird if they see you continuing to work as normal.

        OP, I am so sorry and I hope that if you return to work and tidy up all these projects as you discussed it is only because that’s what you *want* to do and not because you feel obligated to. I’m sure there is not a single person in your office who wouldn’t want you to do whatever was right for you.

        1. Tilly*

          I just want to add that I don’t think there is a “best bet” in terms of a “right” or “wrong” answer. It’s all personal choice.
          Totally legit to want to tell people yourself.
          Totally legit to want to tell some people and have others not know.
          Totally legit to want everyone to know but not want to tell anyone personally. (Delegate).
          Totally legit to not tell anyone anything.
          It’s all about what works for OP.

          I choose the “delegate” option a few years ago when I had a very late term miscarriage. In that moment, for me, all I wanted was things to be “normal” and to not have to discuss with anyone. I asked my closest colleague to tell everyone in our office (less than 20 people), and to tell them in no uncertain terms that I did want any discussion or mention or sad faces. She did, and everyone obliged. I went back to work the next Monday. It was what I needed in that moment.

      3. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

        OP 5 –

        I’m so sorry you’re facing this. It sounds like maintaining “normalcy” is a good way for you to stay balanced with everything going on.
        Please remember that balance is not a single act, but a continual process of adjustments.

        You may want to have a single trusted friend/coworker who can run interference on the status reports etc., especially if you end up taking some unexpected extra time off. People will want to hear how things are going, and it shouldn’t have to be you who spends the energy to tell the story AND manage their responses. It’s a bit harder if you’re working remote, of course, to subtly “assign” that coworker the job of concerned question answering, but it can help you to focus on what would be better for your energy level.

        I encourage you to schedule a bit more personal time that you’re comfortable with in your schedule. This is not the time for perfection, and you’ll need some room for a bit of breath.

      4. Tilly*

        I second Kelsey’s scripts. Really good suggestions, particularly the two at the bottom about work to keep/pass.

    3. Gen X Cass*

      My heart is really going out to you. I i I just want to mention that there is nothing wrong with wanting to continue working. When my best friend had terminal cancer people would frequently question his choice to continue working, but he was doing work that was important to him. Not saying anyone should continue working if they don’t need to. Just saying that you should spend your time in the way that is best for you.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Yes, I came to say this. OP, do whatever will make you happiest – which may change over time! The normalcy of working may be great, or if you have the flexibility to do so, you might want to quit now. You might think continuing to work will be great and realize two months in that you just don’t care about [petty work problem X] or that you’d rather be spending your energy on something other than working.

        Of course listen to the experiences of others, but this is YOUR life and you should spend the time you have in the way that best suits you.

        1. Harper the Other One*

          One note I thought to add: if you would want travel to be part of your plan, travel sooner, while you are feeling well. If you wait you may reach a point where you no longer feel up to travel or where your doctors will no longer recommend it.

          My husband’s uncle took one final trip to his beloved vacation destination several years before he died. He swam, he hiked, he ate all his favourite foods. It wasn’t much after he got back that his mobility/energy wouldn’t have allowed for those activities.

          1. CupcakeCounter*

            My FIL did this his last couple of years (although at the time we didn’t know he would pass so soon or suddenly). He had Parkinson’s and walked the entire length of the Great Wall of China, went with us to Disney World for our son’s 4th birthday, hiked in Colorado with his younger son, and did one last guy’s trip with his best buddies to Cabo. All of those trips happened in 2014 through March 2015 and he passed very suddenly in April 2015.
            All of us have some really great “final” memories with him that we look back at very fondly.

          2. Whatever works*

            Agree on the travel/bucket list kind of things. My spouse worked until the week prior to his death because he enjoyed working. But he also took a lot of long weekends to do the travel/activities he enjoyed. His coworkers knew he was on chemo, had surgeries & hospitalizations, but he always indicated he was going to recover. That made it easier for the coworkers to process I think. When he finally retired they probably knew he was terminal, but he still kept up with the “after I get on the new medical trial I will recover…” talk. Helping him pack up his office was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, smiling at the coworkers, keeping up the pretense…
            That was what worked for him. I hope you find a way to process your situation. Keep working if that gives you purpose. Add in the travel, concert, museum, white water rafting, whatever else you’ve always wanted to do.
            I’m so sorry.

          3. TardyTardis*

            Agree on the travel. With my mother, they went to Bermuda and came back a few months before she died. With my dad, he got to go fishing one last time a couple of weeks before he passed on (not only did he make some good catches, he skunked his companions). This is a really good time to make up that bucket list.

      2. irritable vowel*

        Agreed – my husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer last year and died about 8 months later. I kept working until the last few weeks – at the time it was really important and helpful for me to have a relatively cancer-free space where I could get away from that part of my life. Of course, I wasn’t the one who was sick, but as the primary caregiver it still impacted my life significantly and it was a relief to have something “normal” to think about. Some people knew at work, and some people didn’t, and that worked out fine. Eventually you may find that you want to stop working, whether you need to physically or not, but if it helps you to stay doing something that has nothing to do with cancer, then by all means go for it. I think you tell people what you’re most comfortable with. You aren’t obliged to tell anyone anything, even if they’re talking about future projects that you think you might not be around for – think of it as planning to leave a job for any reason. If you need to go down to a reduced schedule, either because of treatments or because of how much you’re up for, again, people beyond your direct supervisor and HR don’t need to know anything more than you want to share. Good luck.

      3. GreenDoor*

        I had two terminally ill co-workers and at some point, both chose to take extended medical leaves. At that point, they used the (willing) department director as buffer of sorts. They would give updates to him and he would passon the parts that they wanted the whole team to know about. They let him know the times they were up for a visit and what their parameters were and when they did not want visits (inquiries were filtered through him). For us, the buffering worked great on the other end – often people want to help but don’t know how so we would pass suggestions through the Buffer and get her thanks or no-thanks through him. So that’d be my suggestion, especially if you need to take a leave or work from home. Find a buffer or middleman you trust. This will enable you to maintain the level of privacy and contact you want. Trust, any decent co-worker will understand!

    4. Anónima*

      Yes, you must do what’s right for you OP5.
      When a colleague recently passed, we knew he had cancer and he was off for treatment. It was a terrible shock when he passed away. That’s not to say that he owed us an explanation at all! But we all pulled together to cover his work when he was off and we continued to do so until his post was later filled – we coped, and your colleagues will too. They will be first and foremost concerned with you and your wellbeing, and not your work.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        They will be first and foremost concerned with you and your wellbeing, and not your work.
        OP, right now you are looking at all the work you want to do while you can. Please don’t set high expectations for yourself to “get everything ready while you can.”
        Or if you do, remember that you can change your goals as you go along. What seemed possible in September may not be doable in December/January for any number of reasons.

    5. Emmie*

      Do whatever feels comfortable to you. I recommend you tell people you don’t want to talk about it (or whatever your boundaries are) when you tell them the news. It’s totally okay, and many people will respect that. Likewise, it’s okay to designate a messenger to deliver the news – including your boundaries about discussing it. It relieves you from continued announcements about your health, which may not be something you want to repetitively discuss. It also gives people time to process the news out of your presence, so you can limit your exposure to other people’s emotions. But do whatever makes you happy and gives you peace. I am thinking about you.

    6. Sandi*

      Agreed, the OP should do what is best for them.

      I have a coworker who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in late December (a decade ago now). Doctors guessed he had 6-12 months. He told us, and there are about 50 of us in a group who have all worked together for many years, and we supported him (I was new at the time so I didn’t do much but I offered help). He didn’t have a lot of close family and friends so some people went to his place and spent time with him, and helped him out as he had no energy. He attended a group event in September and passed a month later. He was exhausted during that visit but it was nice to be able to see him and say nice things.

      OP: do what you want, depending on what you need and the attitude of your coworkers.

      My thoughts are with you.

    7. ErgoBun*

      Agreed. Do what is best for you, and take advantage of whatever your employer offers to make that easier.

      One of my direct reports was taking FMLA time for 5 years straight as soon as it was legally available, missing a lot of work, and the quality of her work was questionable for awhile. It turns out she was dealing with what we now know is a terminal illness. She fought to keep working long past when it was really reasonable for her to be, and the process of her accepting long-term disability leave was difficult and painful — for her more than for me and our employer.

      I wish she had been able to take advantage of those benefits earlier, and focused on herself and family instead of trying to keep everything “normal” at work when it clearly wasn’t. In the long run, I think it would have been better for her and better for our organization.

      Please take care of yourself. Your employer will cope — I’m sure of it.

    8. Not So NewReader*

      “Did they tell you everything or keep details close? Would you prefer to know less or more? What could they have done differently to make it easier on you — and on themselves?”

      To all three questions: It doesn’t matter what I’d want? Really. You do you.

      My husband was diagnosed with cancer. Getting to that first doctor appointment was a long and rocky road for him. By the time he got there he was too late. I still give thanks for that boss who overlooked SO MUCH. I can’t list off all the things that were going on. When he did finally get to a doctor, he could not go back to work. He blew through STD, started to apply for long term, and then passed away.
      All my husband talked about was, “What will I do for work now?”. It was like he was fixated on it. No amount of talking with him would help him.

      OP, don’t make work the entire focus of the time you have. There are many things to look at and work is only one of them.

  2. Observer*

    #3- Paying attention to your interviewer is important. But that doesn’t mean that interviewees can be reasonably expected to remember every precious gem that fell from the interviewer’s mouth. It’s quite reasonable for even someone with good recall of detail to sort of collapse “From Scotland” to “Not from the US, explains the accent” and “was an interpretive dancer” to ‘some very atypical and interesting professional background”.

    Now, if you tell the person that the job requires excellent recall of apparently random details, and that you’re going to include some of those and THEN ask them, sure, it could be useful. But otherwise, it really makes no sense.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, this. I’m just wondering what sort of job would require this kind of recall, but whatever it is, it would be beyond my capacity. I need to document everything to remember it. Especially following the near-burnout I had last year, my memory’s awful. TBH, that job sounds like a nightmare! I’m sure I couldn’t do it and would appreciate a warning at the start of the interview, so I could nope right out of there.

      1. Allonge*

        I think indeed this is a good one to explain the what and the why and just ask directly instead of testing at the interview. People who have good or bad recall know it, and usually don’t want to go against their own nature.

        I know that for many things, a test is better than not, but for this one?

      2. AndersonDarling*

        I agree. I don’t know what kind of job would require memorizing many details and not allow documentation. If the OP is hiring for a spy agency, then I think this skill may be further down the list of super spy skills.
        In the general working world, if someone isn’t good with details they usually grow to be excellent at taking notes and creating documentation and policies/procedures. I started working with someone who excels at creating useful, sharable documentation and I would take that over an individual with a perfect memory that I would have to track down every time I had a question.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Conference organising needs an incredible level of detail. The woman who deals with my org’s annual do is amazing: she can tell you where everything and everyone is at any given time. Keeping it all in her head means she doesn’t need to be fumbling through notebooks or sticking post-its everywhere.

      3. Sharon*

        It would be much more useful to ask the person to describe systems they typically use to prioritize important information and make sure it is accessible when needed, or give them a scenario that commonly happens in this job and ask them how they would deal with it. The job probably doesn’t require the type of skill the “test” suggested by OP #3 tests for, and that test could screen out people that would bring improvements to current processes (and could also screen out people who have had concussions/TBIs in the past that don’t affect their ability to do the job).

        1. designbot*

          Agreed, this is what I was wondering about. What the interviewer is actually testing here is attention to verbal detail and the ability to convert it into working memory within the same conversation, and I’d encourage examining whether that’s actually accurate to what’s needed. For example in my job a strong working memory of projects is really important, but there’s no reason it can’t be assisted by notes and other documentation processes, and much of the information isn’t conveyed verbally in the first place. What’s more important is the ability to synthesize written and drawn information from multiple sources and respond to questions about them on the spot, or know what documentation to look up in the event you don’t have the details on hand. That would be better tested by sending the candidates information in advance and then asking them about it at the interview. Or even by asking detailed questions about their past projects, like, “if the client had asked you to change X, what would your response to that be?” or “if the city came back with the following comment/request, how would you change the project based on that?”

      4. MassMatt*

        Physicist and author Richard Feinman told a story about how out of curiosity, he took an advanced course in biology, having had no real background in the field. He was giving a presentation and started by labeling the relevant parts of the cell, molecules, proteins, etc. The grad students got impatient, saying “we’ve memorized all this”.

        Rather than being impressed, Feinman’s response was basically “That’s dumb. Why are you spending your time memorizing details which can be easily looked up vs: actually THINKING about “why….” or “how…” or “what if….”? No wonder I can jump into this “advanced” class with no background and do fine–you idiots are wasting your time”.

        Maybe re-think whether recall/memory is really the best way for employees to have this info vs: documentation and knowing what to look up and when.

        1. JustaTech*

          That was the philosophy of both my high school and college, which was great and meant I learned a lot, but it was a pain in the tuchas when it came time to take the big standardized subject exams (APs, SATs, GREs) because I hadn’t spent all my time memorizing stuff.

          I had a job interview once where I was asked to calculate the molarity of something. I said I’d need to look up the formula to refresh my memory and that was very clearly the end of the interview (which I guess maybe required that kind of stuff, but the job description didn’t say anything about not being allowed to look anything up on the job).

        2. designbot*

          Because a lot of people take biology are pre-med, and if they had to look up how a cell or a blood vessel works every time they needed to access that knowledge a bunch of people would bleed to death waiting for them.
          It’s a point worth thinking about for sure, how specifically is the knowledge going to be used and does it need to be available for immediate access (memorized) vs. for occasional retrieval (not memorized). But sometimes you really do just need to know the things by heart.

        3. Biologynerd*

          So I definitely don’t disagree with you that memorizing without thinking about “why” is pretty useless, but I don’t fully understand the example you’ve given here. As a graduate student in science, I would be pretty annoyed if someone jumped into an advanced course I was in and started off by belaboring facts that have been long-ingrained because I’ve studied them so much, and especially thinking that I was dumb for wanting to get to more relevant, novel information. In this example, it sounds like the presenter was going through great detail of information that’s more relevant in an early undergraduate science course, which is usually skipped or very very briefly glossed over in grad-level presentations, in favor of getting to the all important “why’s and how’s”.

      5. Le Sigh*

        Yeah. And I really hate guessing games in general, to the point where if someone does the “guess?” thing with me, I will try once to be a good sport, and if I get it wrong, I will just tell them just to tell me. In interviews this would be even more tedious and kind of self-defeating! You want to find people the right skills, so you need to be upfront about what the job requires and why, so people understand what they’re interviewing for.

      6. EchoGirl*

        I have pretty incredible recall, and I’d still struggle with this. Usually to retain details, I’d need to know from the get-go that it’s important, or else it has to be something I hear multiple times. With something like an introduction, it’s not necessarily going to click that that’s something I need to hold on to, and especially with a lot of information coming at me right afterwards, I’d probably struggle to remember those details.

    2. Heidi*

      Agreed. People who are great at recall are usually good at figuring out what they will need to recall so they can weed out the extraneous information. Relatively few people actually recall the details of everything no matter how important or unimportant. Unless it’s somehow crucial for the job that the interviewee know about the interpretive dance in Scotland bit, I wouldn’t use that as a major criterion for deciding who moves forward. There’s also no need to trick someone when a more transparent method would accomplish the same thing.

      1. Julia*

        Yeah. I recall important facts by writing them down. I would not write down that my potential new boss goes to bed at 8 at this stage of the hiring process.

        1. Heidi*

          This brings up another point to think about – how much information does the employee really need to have at the ready versus what they can document well and organize in a way that they can access easily. Could a good system of recordkeeping be used to supplement a merely normal level of recall ability?

            1. hbc*

              Yes, but I can say with certainty that a lot of what supposedly relies on recall and familiarity when I took over at my workplace was covering for weak systems. Like, the receiving guy had to remember that some random part he was told about 3 weeks ago was a special order for a particular job, because there was no way to flag it in the inventory system.

              OP should definitely be ready to explain exactly what needs to be retained and why, because “Oh, you just have to remember everything” is a red flag. And testing whether I remembered Scotland from the getting-to-know-you discussion is another one.

              1. Daffy Duck*

                I agree about expecting employees to recall may possibly be covering for processes that need updating. I would also worry that information only stored in someone’s brain means coverage for vacations/sick leave would be almost impossible or that difficult employees stay forever because it is to hard to replace them and have someone else get up to speed. This is really job-dependent but if there are other ways to get the same results they should be brought on.
                This job may be completely fine and recall is the only way to go, but it would be red flag city for many of them. Asking how the person organizes themselves may be an important question.
                FWIW when interviewing for my team, which has a boatload of detailed documentation to follow, I would be pretty worried if someone said they just remember processes. Any organizational process is fine as long as it works, but unless they are one of the few individuals with photographic memories, looking information up to confirm is always preferred.

              2. qtippyqueen*

                “Yes, but I can say with certainty that a lot of what supposedly relies on recall and familiarity when I took over at my workplace was covering for weak systems.”
                That is exactly the same at my workplace. In my interview they mentioned needing a really good memory to work here. I thought it was odd. It turns out it was was because there was a lot of tribal knowledge and everyone just knew things. There was nothing written down, and notes were scarce and not encouraged.
                The difference is we have the capacity to make notes, people just…don’t? I have to write everything down, so my recall seems amazing. But really I just look at the notes and magically remember!

                1. inoffensive nickname*

                  If OP3 really requires a worker to recall everything from memory, they are going to have to keep the candidate pool to people under the age of 40. As for me, I take a pen and pad to interviews and ask whether I can take notes. If they don’t allow it, it’s probably not the job for me, because I can barely remember people’s names without either writing it down, or meeting that person half a dozen times. (I also keep a list of favorite places/servers in my phone, so I can address waitstaff by name.)

            2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

              Eventually sure. But how many people do you know that can hear something ONCE and be able to remember it immediately and forever. Everyone has different methods of remembering things. Once you’ve been in the job for a bit, it should be easy to recall things without looking at your notes, but expecting someone to have a photographic memory is unrealistic.

              1. Lily Rowan*

                For me, the act of writing something down helps me remember it, even if I never go back and look at the notes. And like others have said, no way am I writing down that my interviewer did interpretive dance in Scotland.

                1. Not A Girl Boss*

                  Exactly, I am frequently praised for my ability to recall details, but that ability stems from good note taking (which includes only noting important points so the notes are manageable later). Sure I also have an above average memory for details, but I learned long ago that augmenting with note taking was essential because we ALL forget things when work gets busy.

                  IMO, a far better interview question would center around note taking / email sorting / organizational style.
                  Also, in my experience, people with this particular skill are a definite Type and often volunteer that information as a strength/personality of theirs (“I’m really organized” “I like taking notes” “I’m detail oriented”). So broader strength-based questions might be a good place to start before you dive into specifics.

            3. SometimesALurker*

              Agreed, but I think it’s worth pushing back on — the OP may be thinking of recall in the mind, but may figure out on reflecting that it doesn’t matter how candidates handle that aspect of the job as long as they perform it well.

            4. yala*

              Even if it is just recall with the mind, writing things down is a good way to enhance that. It’s one of the reasons a top study tip is to rewrite your notes–even though you don’t refer to them in class, the act of writing them down helps put them more firmly in your mind.

              1. Not A Girl Boss*

                I don’t have a full photographic memory, but definitely can “picture” notes in my mind in a way I can’t picture spoken words. Sometimes I take notes on my white board and then promptly erase it.

                I guess the point here is that anyone who is actually good at remembering things, has probably put some thought into their personal method for remembering, and should be able to walk you through their process. What the process *is* doesn’t really matter, just that they can demonstrate they have one.

            5. Nanani*

              Interpreters take shorthand and use it to recall detail when producing the target language speech like, seconds later. The more important it is to catch specific details, the more you want to let people use tools to do so.

          1. Yorick*

            They at least need to vaguely remember stuff so they can look in their notes. That requires some degree of recall.

          2. Mockingjay*

            Exactly my point. I read OP 3’s letter and immediately thought: you need written instructions, or a database, or a form to record information.

            Rather than rely on one person’s memory, make the information accessible to all. This is a process problem, not a skill.

            1. Allonge*

              There is an efficiency of scale thing here though, depending on the size of the companz. It may well be much easier to hire someone with reasonable recall (I don’t know why evreyone goes to the extreme, OP did not say they will only hire someone that remembers every single word said) than to revamp the whole company.

              There are situations where a good memory is an advantage for the company.

              1. Heidi*

                There are systems of documentation that don’t require going to the extreme of revamping a whole company. If it’s important that pieces of information be saved for weeks or months, it’s probably worth having it written somewhere (like a Word file saved to a folder), even if it’s just a a backup in case the employee leaves the company or gets amnesia or something.

              2. Antilles*

                Relying on someone to remember things rather than writing them down is inherently a risky system though. What happens when that guy leaves for another job, has health issues, or just happens to be at a dentist appointment when you need info ASAP?
                A good memory can be an advantage, but it isn’t a replacement for good processes and documentation.

                1. Allonge*

                  Look, I don’t disagree as such. The conversation here though is going way too far in the direction of nobody needs to remember anything if there are good processes, and that is just not true either.

                  We have a fairly complex payments system, with roughly 60 pages of manuals and over 100 pages of rules. If I make an error in using the wrong sorting code, it is caught by the other people in the transaction. For a complex system, this is pretty good.

                  And still, it is a huge advantage for people to remember that there are exceptions for some sorting codes, that some invoices are processed one way and others differently, because it just makes things go faster. Nobody uses the manual step by step for all transactions! 80% of them go exactly the same way. You need to remember where you need to apply different rules.

                  And as I wrote elsewhere: I don’t think the test LW proposes is good for what they want to measure. But having a strong sense that an above average recall is necessary to do the job well does not mean they never write anything down at this company.

      2. Jackalope*

        I will second this. At my job I’m good at remembering tiny details, but part of the reason I’m good at it is knowing what’s relevant and needed. I can look at a herd of llamas and instantly have it engraved on my brain which ones need special care since they’re acting up a bit and which ones are calm. I can hear a purebred llama’s full name and know instantly what its lineage is and a lot of info about its extended family and likely character traits, details I will remember when deciding whether to breed it or not. You get the idea. But I remember all of these things because I know they’re relevant and I have a mental framework to hang them on, so to speak. I doubt that anything my interviewers said when I applied would have stuck like that except for the bits that fit into another mental framework (imagine that I had been an exchange student in Scotland and had later written my dissertation on traditional Scottish forms of dancing; THAT would make me remember your opening statement).

        1. StrikingFalcon*

          This is pretty much just how memory works. In teaching, we talk about how to help students incorporate new information into an existing scaffold, or to build a new scaffold by making lots of connections between information, so that they aren’t relying on short term memory (pure memorization) and can retain the information after the exam. Lone, random facts are hard to remember.

          Also, in an interview, at the introduction stage I’m honestly just trying to remember your name and how it’s pronounced. If you start quizzing me on details about your bio, chances are I won’t remember them. I have a pretty good memory, but interviews are nerve-wracking!

          1. Sandi*

            Memory is known to deteriorate due to stress. I’m normally pretty good, but these days I’m writing everything down and during an interview… I would not remember very much.

            If the OP wants a test then they could send a work-relevant paragraph or page when they email candidates to explain the interview format, and say that they will ask questions about the interviewee’s understanding of it. Don’t pick on small details, but rather on the overall comprehension. That seems more fair and if they print it off and bring it with them then fair enough!

            1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

              “Don’t pick on small details,”

              Whether or not to focus on small details should depend on the work the candidate is to do in the future. Ditto whether using notes is OK.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Thirded. It’s important to calibrate the “test” to the skill that you’re testing for. As you and Observer noted, most people are not asked to recall random facts. Even when I know I need to recall project details, I usually know what information I need to filter and what I need to be able to recall later. And I take copious notes or use other methods that help my brain map and save information (usually by relating the ideas to other project-related details or trends). Speaking personally, I don’t focus well when someone is talking at me unless I’m able to prepare ahead of time or take notes, and I would feel awkward taking notes on the interviewer’s interpretive dancing.

        Without that associational context or the opportunity to use the strategies people develop to focus on details, OP, you’ll end up testing a completely different skill from the specific skill that would be helpful for this position.

        1. Grey Coder*

          Absolutely. If you want to test recall of relevant things that happened weeks or months ago, you’re better off asking questions about things that actually happened weeks or months ago. That may be difficult or impossible but that’s what you’re looking for.

          But it’s also important to be sure that the job requirement really is immediate recall of those details, as opposed to being able to retrieve those details quickly. There are lots of ways to achieve the latter with external record keeping.

        2. AndersonDarling*

          I honestly can’t think of a way the OP’s quiz would work without being extremely creepy. I can’t imagine meeting someone and having a pleasant conversation and then, “What was the third word I used in the previous sentence!” or “I mentioned my dinner from last night. What did I have for dinner, recall every side dish!”
          If the OP wants to hire adults, then they can’t play games with them.

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            I have a very sharp memory that is often commented on at work, but I would not want to work in an environment where someone gave me this sort of quiz during an interview. I would infer that this is an environment where you will be punitively abused if you forget something or make a mistake.

          2. Indigo a la mode*

            I agree. It also gives off the vibe that I, the interviewer, am of supreme importance, and I think many candidates would see that as a red flag to potentially working with me. This reminds me of the Friends episode where Ross was up for a grant and the approver was Ross’s girlfriend’s ex, and he kept asking Ross ‘interview’ questions like “When is my birthday?”.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah, really. I felt my feathers get a little ruffled here. As a woman, I remember too many times where younger me was quizzed by male bosses on irrelevant things. Just because they were the boss.
            OP, I’d probably leave the interview.

            Understand, OP, that when you do this you might unknowingly screen for the very person you don’t want. In this case you are screening to see if the person heard every word you said. This can mean:
            1) They will only remember it if they are told. Give them something to read and forget it.
            2) They may/may not remember everything a non-boss type person tells them.
            3)They may or may not be able to apply what you said to their work.
            4) They may be an annoying parrot who repeats everything you say but can’t do the job worth a lick.

            Why not just tell them what the job requires? “Here the workflows move very quickly. You will be required to know 46 formulas off the top of your head and remember the specific applications of an additional 103 formulas even if you don’t use them much. Is this something you think you can conquer? Can you tell me about a workplace where you encountered something similar?”

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          I could not agree more with this – make sure you’re testing for the actual skill you want. Attention to detail is very important for positions that I hire for, but it’s more like proofreading, ensuring the deliverable meets stated specs, and following fairly pedantic government rules for specific tasks. In all of those situations, we can prime for what’s important, define success at the tasks, and give people access to note-taking and inbox searches. Random fact recall wouldn’t be a good test for our type of attention to detail requirements, so we use a brief proofreading test and behavior/situational questions on doing detail-oriented work. You really have to think about how this skill is used in the job when figuring out how to interview for it.

          I work with someone who’s struggling with the lack of computer savviness of recent grads, particularly in office productivity apps. While we do provide extensive training and provide job aids on specific skills in the software that are routinely used, people who have a natural inclination to find a better way to do things and can logic out how to use help files, tutorials, and their more experienced colleagues when they hit a snag tend to do best. She wants to test all her people with the crappy software tests HR has (which I’ve taken and don’t test for the real problem), even though past testing has not yielded the results she wants; I am trying to work on situational/behavior questions that get at what she’s really looking for, which is only half computer skills.

          1. Wintergreen*

            OMG, that makes me think of a guy I once trained. We use Excel a lot. During the interview he mentioned he didn’t really know Excel but had background in a similar industry to ours. He was a really nice guy that wanted out of the field because he was older and couldn’t keep up that level of physicality.

            The guy didn’t know Excel because he had almost NO computer experience. He need to learn computer skills that were so basic I wouldn’t even know how to screen for it. I literally had to create step by step instructions on how to save a Microsoft Office file… as in using your mouse click on File in the upper left corner, choose Save As, etc. After 8 months it was still a crap shoot on where exactly he saved the file on the network. And that doesn’t even touch on the more industry specific (ie. not quite as user friendly designed) programs we used.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Been there, done that, have the t-shirt, except it was a recent college graduate who just could not grasp the concept of saving documents to a shared folder on the team’s network share (I think she’d only used Google Docs and it automatically saved the docs for her). Her supervisor made her a quick how-to with screenshots, and, still things ended up in the wrong place/missing entirely. Her team works with protected material that absolutely cannot be saved outside the team file share or in the cloud at all, and we ended up not being able to keep her because she just couldn’t grasp the document save protocol and was creating extra work for her teammates, losing work product entirely, and risking exposure of protected materials.

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Mine couldn’t turn the computer on. Every morning I had to turn it on for her. On the 3rd day (my rule of threes), I had her push the button. And I told her I would no longer be pushing the button.
                Yeah, then she had to do a word doc. omg. I don’t think she had ever used a computer before. She said on the interview that she had used a computer and NO ONE checked.
                I never did figure out if she couldn’t absorb the information or just did not want to do the job. Years later I saw reasons to believe it was the former.

                She’d ask me, the only other woman in the office. She never asked the men.

        4. Rosalind Montague*

          I can see where, in sales or a relationship-based field like teaching, being able to recall personal facts would be important. But a better task in this case would be to ask something like: “When meeting a new client, how do you build a relationship with them?” or “What systems do you have for keeping track of important information about your clients? ”

          Or, an interview question like: “Imagine I am your new client you are meeting for the first time. How would you open a conversation with me?” and then “Ok, now that we’ve had that conversation, explain to me your next steps on retaining this information, and what you think about when building rapport with a client or colleague?”

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This is a great question! Ask specifics about how they organize random information they need to do their jobs.
            I have a spead sheet for my contacts. I have a column for “other”. I put all the random things there that i need to remember: Don’t call Bob on Thursdays. Sheila is Michelle’s clerk and so on. Anyone who has had to do this has hammered out their own system and they know their system by heart.

      4. TechWorker*

        Yes. I would say I have very good recall in the context of my job and ‘when I know it matters’. I can hold the details of a medium size codebase in my head and remember why decisions were made over a year ago, which comes in handy. I also did well in exams that required basically memorising stuff.

        Do you want me on your pub quiz team? NEVER because my memory for random facts is non-existent. My brain simply tunes them out :p even stuff I studied at school or college I have mostly forgotten because I simply don’t need it any more.

      5. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        Yeah, and even very good memories still aren’t a perfect recording of daily life. I do have such a memory, and while it sometimes decides to store some irrelevant details, most of the time I memorize what seemed important to memorize in that moment. I remember everything I read (often whole sentences, almost word-by-word) and where I read it, I remember people’s faces, names and birthdays and I of course remember many details of projects I’m working on (like most people, I’d say). BUT, I still sometimes forget what I was going to do in the room and I still have to write down everything my supervisor says, or I’ll forget it before I’m even back in my office. If I was subjected to OP’s test, between the nerves and thinking we were just doing small talk, I would probably fail it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I’d actually want the person who is aware that they forget. In the morning my monitor is covered with post-its. About a half hour before I go home, the post-its are gone and the monitor is clear for the next day’s worth of post-its.

      6. jenkins the first*

        Absolutely this! Part of good recall and attention to detail is having an accurate filter for what’s important to notice and remember. Part of my job requires quite intense attention to detail, but I wouldn’t be able to proofread as accurately or remember all of a particular client’s rules for house style if I got too distracted by the content of whatever text I was working on. In an interview situation, stuff like ‘my interviewer is a former interpretive dancer from Scotland’ is the kind of thing I’ll filter to one side to make room for all the stuff I learned about the company, the talking points I prepared and the things I want to find out – interview stuff!

      7. Esmeralda*

        And the OP says the person needs to recall details from weeks or months ago. Asking for recall of random details only 20 or 30 minutes later tells you nothing about how well they recall info longer term.

        Ask the candidate directly about it. Ask them to give an example where their recall affected the outcome of a project, perhaps.

        Ask their references about it.

        But don’t play gotcha. Even Alison’s better version does not get you the info you want.

        1. Mama Bear*

          Agreed. What OP really wants to know is how people remember things relevant to the job in the context of the performing of that job. A much better example would be to ask them about prior work projects. if they can recall a project with a lot of detail, you’ll know they have a good memory.

        2. JustaTech*

          Very much yes to this: my long term memory is excellent. My short term memory is pretty limited, and some things never get moved from “short term” to “long term”. (Usually that’s all the things I need to do, rather than “facts”.)

          Ask me what you told me 10 minutes ago, and unless it relates to something I already know I will stare at you blankly (this includes your name, annoyingly). Ask me about my undergrad research project from 20 years ago and be prepared for excruciating detail.

      8. Ray Gillette*

        There’s also no need to trick someone when a more transparent method would accomplish the same thing.

        A lot of problems could be easily solved if everyone understood this.

      9. Observer*

        Yes, the filtering piece is key here.

        So, the question you need to ask yourself, OP, is do you care about the ability to focus and filter relevant information? Because what you proposed will definitely filter out people who are good at that.

      10. Smithy*

        One of the hiring tests I enjoyed the most and thought “gee, that’s clever” had candidates given an hour to edit a donor project report. While part of it was proof reading for syntax and grammar, more of it was actually about leaving questions and feedback that would go back to program staff. An example might be a report saying that the program reached 1 million people, but when looking at beneficiary figures a page or two later – the numbers only reached 600,000. Then you’d flag that discrepancy as requiring more explanation.

        I didn’t get the job, so I don’t know if I interpreted the assignment correctly – but I’ve always remembered it as an interesting test in how you retain details but also how you prioritized work. The test report was like 40-50 pages, so too long to review in full and with instructions on the most important pieces to capture (items that needed feedback from program staff) and least important (grammar).

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          That reminds me of an example in an article about technical writing, which showed a graph of processor speed and had the title “Processor Speed Doubbled.” A good technical writer would have caught the misspelled word, but would also have noticed that the graph actually indicated the processor speed had been cut in half.

      11. TardyTardis*

        Now, my great aunt Lily was actually able to do this; I have a good memory, but hers was video on demand. She had it all the way up to her 80’s, too.

    3. Barbara Eyiuche*

      #3 Keep in mind the worker needs to have excellent recall of details weeks and months later. Testing their recall of details they heard an hour earlier may not lead you to candidates with great long term recall. Maybe asking them about their memory would help. Even a reference probably wouldn’t know whether a job candidate had an exceptionally good long-term memory unless their previous job required it.

      1. Yorick*

        A reference might not know about good memories, but they probably would know if the person always forgot stuff in a problematic way. I have a colleague like this, and while I would recommend him for stuff overall, I would definitely be able to speak to this problem if asked.

    4. Tau*

      You’re also testing specifically auditory recall, which may be an issue if the “small details” you want the employee to remember also come in written format or are experiential (you want the employee to remember details of what they did or what happened later on).

      1. Coffee Bean*

        Very goid point. People learn and retain differently. I am more likely to recall something I read rather than something I heard.

    5. Bippity*

      Agreed. Plus, expecting people to memorise personal info about their interviewer (as opposed to work-related info) is just weird and comes across as egomaniacal. Most people zone out to some degree when a person starts droning on about themselves. And at the start of a job interview you’re very nervous and planning what you’re going to say, not really in a good headspace to memorise your interviewer’s personal life when you didn’t know you were being expected to.

    6. Allonge*

      Yes. And I would argue that details about people’s personal history fall into a very different category of recall than details on projects, numbers, laws, weird trivia, and these also probably sort differently for different people.

      I have great recall for I have seen this thing / this book exists / last time we did this, the invoice was rejected because ‘weird sorting code’. I am not very much interested in people in general, and probably would blank on personal histories / number of siblings etc. I just don’t care that much for most people in my work world. If they keep mentioning a brother, it sticks, but I will rarely ask and especially in an interview situation this type of info never would strike me as something I will need to memorise or even pay attention to beyond the basics. There is not going to be a case when I need to remember your personal past instead of you!

      1. Lemon Curdle*

        “ I have great recall for I have seen this thing / this book exists / last time we did this, the invoice was rejected because ‘weird sorting code’.”

        Same. And I can say short-term recall of things people just said to you in a high-stress situation = not remotely the same.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I do know jobs where it’s important to be able to remember this kind of personal detail in light conversation for an hour or so. Think fundraising roles, where the employees socialize with donors– a notepad would be out of place at a tailgate before the big game, or at a museum’s gallery opening cocktail party. The more they put in their notes at the end of the event, the better.
        A really good sales rep does much the same thing. Even if they’re able to have a notepad for the contract negotiations, it would be awkward taking notes during the customer’s social chat.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          When I meet with my financial guy and he asks about my kids by name, I assume that he has a computer file with their names in it, which he checks before the meeting. I don’t assume he has fantastic memory for the family details of all his clients.

            1. TardyTardis*

              That used to be called a Farley file–FDR had an assistant who looked up stuff like that, and left it on a card on the president’s desk so he could look at it two minutes before someone came in.

        2. Allonge*

          Oh, absolutely there are jobs where this kind of recall is a must! I just know I am bad at this and never apply for anything like that. I suppose I should have said that I personally will never be in a situation where I need to remember my boss’ private history better than she does.

          1. TardyTardis*

            Although in the last couple of days, it’s a good thing I listened to my husband’s family stories–when and his brother met (with me along) on a visit, it was a good thing I did, because both of them have had chemo…

        3. Observer*

          Well, then, the OP needs to hone in on that – fundraisers don’t need excellent recall months later, and they don’t need GENERALLY excellent recall. They need excellent short term recall of specific types of information. In that kind of case, the the OP’s plan MIGHT work *IF* they tell the candidates what they are looking for.

          “This is the kind of job where you are going to meet all sorts of people and you’re going to hear lots of personal details of their lives. You need to be able to remember those details long enough to keep the conversational ball rolling on and off for a couple of hours at a time. I’m going to mention some stuff, and I’d like to see if you remember it by the end of the interview.”

          Given that it’s an interview, it still might not really give you good results, but it’s the only situation where this particular set up makes any sense. Otherwise, it’s a gotcha wrapped up in a really unsettling expectation.

      3. Mystery Bookworm*

        Ha. I’m the other way around. I remember names/faces/personal details pretty well. (To the point where I sometimes feign not-knowing, in order to seem less…overly attentive? I don’t know.)

        But I’m terrible with dates/numbers and….pretty average, I think, on other things?

        (I can also unconcious retain a database of what clothes people wear, so I notice when people I see frequently have new things. I honestly don’t know why or how. This talent sadly does not extend to useful arenas.)

        1. BadWolf*

          So interesting! My face memory is iffy — so much so that even when I’m meeting good friends that I haven’t seen for awhile, I get worried that I won’t recognize them.

      4. SK*

        I am interested in other people, but at this point in my life, I’ve recognized that I am just not good about remembering much about people I have only met once. I have very good memory and recall in other situations, but my brain just seems to go ‘I don’t need to make space for this person’s name if this is going to be the only time we interact’ and it goes in one ear and out the other. I can actively override that impulse somewhat but it takes a lot of effort.

    7. Richard Hershberger*

      “Life on the Mississippi.” Young Mark Twain has been brought on the riverboat as an apprentice pilot. There he is in the wheelhouse with the master pilot, who points out stuff like the location of a sandbar or a sunken tree. Miles later, the master pilot quizzes Twain on that stuff. Twain hasn’t a clue. He thought the master was just making conversation. It turns out that a lot of being a riverboat pilot is having the entire river memorized.

      While amusing as an anecdote, the master displayed poor management. His job was to train Twain, not to see if Twain could guess what was and was not important.

      1. UKDancer*

        Oh yes. If you want someone to remember something for a test, you need to tell them that’s what you want them to do as it’s not something a lot of people do spontaneously.

        In London black-taxi drivers need to memorise the streets of London and pass an exam called “The Knowledge” where they are tested on their knowledge of the shortest routes between 2 points in London. So a good memory is needed (like the riverboat pilots). This is a well known part of driving black-cabs so it shouldn’t come as a surprise and it takes several years to pass the exam and get a licence.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I love this anecdote and have used it with my supervisory team – I am a big fan of stated expectations and requirements and helping people meet them. We are not here to trick people into failing or “gotcha!” them – if your team isn’t succeeding because they don’t know what’s important, what skills they need to develop, and what success looks like, that’s on their supervisor, not the employee.

    8. Thankful for AAM*

      Agree with observer.
      There is such a big difference between remembering work relevant details and not relevant details about the interviewer. I mean, if I hate interpretive dance, this info might be useful to me in deciding to take any offer or not, but why would I remember that?

      I have great recall, but I purposely let things go so I can remember the important ones, like work related ones.

    9. IsThisThingOn*

      I agree.

      During an interview, I’m generally so nervous that I would never remember that the interviewer was a Scottish interpretive dancer. I have a terrible time in interviews where I just kind of…blank out a bit. However, in my job I can remember who is working on what project, where in the project they are, what client needs what service, who I need to follow up with, and on and on. It just feels like this is too much of a trap. I’m detail oriented, but would fail this test.

    10. JessaB*

      Also I’m the sort that keeps detailled notes of things I need to remember, I know I have issues and I am very conscientious about making sure things I need to know are on paper. I’m so conscientious that in almost every past job I had, people asked for copies of my note sheets and a lot of them became official office things. Even if the things are classified and I have to lock up the notes, or encrypt them on a computer, you might lose very good candidates who have to bolster their memories with a note pad if you don’t warn.

      But if it’s an on the fly thing and you absolutely HAVE to do this, there are tests out there that neuropsychologists use to check memory on people and they’ve been tested and proven and won’t be accidentally biased. I’m sure Google can be your friend on that.

    11. PVR*

      Also, recall demands certain strategies—at least for me. I have excellent recall—if I know in advance that I need to remember something. I don’t know how to describe it, but because it takes more effort, I put it in a different memory box in my mind. I do not do that with everything. I will remember broad strokes but not details. In a job I know what details are important and what I need to pay extra attention to, and often will either categorize an email differently or take notes. Just the process of taking notes helps me remember. But this would be project based, not extraneous details like what the client was wearing. In an interview setting, especially during introductions, I am also assessing the interviewer—how they come across, are they open or reserved? Friendly and welcoming? Are they responding to me in a positive way? How can I adjust to meet their style of communication? All of that works against committing all of details in the remember this for later box and will probably got straight into the extraneous fluff box in my mind. Now, I have a pretty fairly decent memory typically so I could probably remember a few details well enough to “pass” this test, but I think you would lose out on a lot of people who are perfectly capable of recalling what would be necessary for this job.

      1. mf*

        Yes, my memory works a similar way. I’m able to categorize and memorize information very well when I’m in a lecture/class/training. But in an interview, my brain is busy doing other things–mostly trying to be present and responsive to my interviewer–and that has a noticeable and negative impact on my recall.

    12. jael*

      Why trick people like that–it would be more honest (and give you better answers) if you could indicate a job task that requires that type of recall, and ask the interviewee how they could display those short (or long) term memory skills. Then the interviewee could state “I love doing crossword puzzles” or “I’m really good at Jeopardy” or “I won several spelling bees” or “I passed a certification exam requiring detailed knowledge of several processes” or “sometimes I just memorize random numbers for fun”–then a conversation would naturally follow based on actual experience and needs, not just hypotheticals.

      1. Loosey Goosey*

        Agreed. This doesn’t sound very effective, and might drive away good candidates. If it were me, I would hesitate to take the job if offered after this kind of test. The trick/”gotcha” feel is really off-putting.

    13. peachie*

      Yeah, I also feel like it’s easier to remember things once you understand the job/company, if that makes sense? Like, “I used to work in Unrelated Vaguely-Named Department as an Also Vague And Organization-Specific Role, and now I work with Niche Proprietary Internal Technology and in Department That Goes By An Unhelpful Acronym” isn’t going to stick on the first pass.

    14. EngineerMom*

      I really, really hope the “mental recall” part is in the job description, if it’s considered so critical.

      I’m very good at recalling information, sometimes weirdly tangential information relative to the current topic of conversation. I read incessantly, and most of it just kind of floats around in my brain until something triggers a recall. My family and friends laugh about it – in college I was known as Encyclopedia Girl (affectionately) because I seemed to know a little bit about almost every topic.

      That said, I worked in a job where “attention to detail” was being used to cover up a very big gap in procedure. There was a process where the estimators (that was the job I had) were expected to interpret customer part drawings, and transfer relevant information into our computer system to aid in creating manufacturing routers (documents that contain manufacturing details for our techs to use) down the line. As you can imagine, making sure that the customer information was transferred accurately was critical – small errors could result in expensive rework or even scrapping a whole order.

      The senior estimator, my manager, had basically been doing this on his own for years. I came in, looked around and thought “why aren’t we checking each other’s work?” Not 100% duplicating everything, but just checking for some common errors that popped up regularly (I had worked previously in the group that was taking that computer data and turning it into routers, so I knew some of the most common/expensive errors that were likely to get through). Nope. Mr. Experienced Estimator was dead-set against us checking each other’s work. If my work wasn’t perfect, if anyone found an error in my work, that was a personal failing on my part, not a failure of the system.

      I left for a new job 4 months later.

      ISO 9001, a quality standard across many industries, specifically encourages certified companies to use methods to catch errors before they become critical, and part of that, especially for small companies who are not going to automate a lot of things due to expense, is to check each other’s work.

    15. Annony*

      I agree. If you tell them ahead of time that the interview will include a test on their ability to recall detail it would be ok. But even then try to keep the level of detail related to what they will need to be able to recall for the job. Remembering job related details is very different than remembering personal details about people. I can tell you many details about the projects I have worked on. I can’t tell you how many years my boss has worked here.

    16. MassMatt*

      LW I question whether recall of random info from 20 minutes earlier in the conversation is testing the kind of recall people will need in the job, and also whether people in the job should be relying on recall vs: using documentation. People that can recall lots of random material (or even all material) often do poorly in prioritizing what is really important. If you need to know how to spell “hierarchy” it doesn’t help to have someone recite all the entries under “H” in the dictionary.

    17. Abogado Avocado*

      OP 3: In my profession (law), details are critically important. They can mean the difference between imprisonment and freedom, tax payment or a refund, etc. And no competent lawyer relies on her memory for those details. Instead, she takes notes. And saves them for later consultation.

      Unless you’re hiring for the Amazing Kreskin, no one should be relying on their memory alone for the recall of important details. As the psychology profession has proven for more than 100 years, memories can be notoriously inaccurate. In fact, they are the number one cause of wrongful convictions.

      Rather than seeking candidates who can pass your memory test, it seems to me you would be better off with employees who have or are willing to develop a system for taking notes, saving them, consulting them, and using them as an aid in their work.

      1. Persephone Underground*

        This x1000000 – in fact, people who understand the importance of good notes and don’t rely on having a “good memory” will likely do a much better job long term at keeping complex details straight than those who don’t think they need those detailed notes. Source: software documentation and all the struggles around getting people to maintain it, and the issues when someone doesn’t…

  3. allathian*

    I’m so sorry you’re going through this and I don’t have any advice to offer, because I have no experience of this.

    However, one thing is sure, if I had only six months to a year left to live, I would resign, effective immediately, and live it up for the little time I have left. Work? I couldn’t care less. References? Please… Retirement funds? Spend them while I could. I’d also spend as much time with my family as I possibly could.

    1. Ping*

      I couldn’t agree more. Please, LW5, this is the time to think about you, not the job. That’s hardly on you to figure out anymore. Please go nurture yourself and enjoy the time you have left!

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      I would too, but some terminal patients prefer to keep working because it gives them a sense of normalcy. I had a coworker/friend who had terminal cancer, and she came to work every day that she wasn’t at chemo until they had to put her in hospice. She told us she had cancer (it wasn’t a big secret – she’d actually been diagnosed five years prior, it went into remission, then came back a couple more times in various locations until the time it spread everywhere), and she really only talked to me and her close friend in another division about it. Our manager was awful to her and wanted to demote her, but luckily, grandboss stepped in and kept that from happening. She continued wrapping up tasks for nearly a year after her terminal diagnosis, and when she went into hospice, a brief email went out to close contacts letting them know what happened.

      I’m so very sorry this is happening, OP #5. Take care of yourself as best you can right now.

      1. RC Rascal*

        This. And for some people it’s therapeutic to have something to focus on besides their illness.

        Plus, not everyone has a great home life or so many friends and family to spend that time with in a meaningful and supportive way.

    3. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

      It really bothered me that my uncle who had terminal cancer kept working and doing chores around the house- if I were in his shoes, I would say “to heck with all this, I’m going to the Bahamas!” But I’ve come to see what a gift it was to live a life that gave him fulfillment and meaning just as it was and that he didn’t need or want to make changes. Do what’s right for you, OP 5.

      1. LeahS*

        Yes, my mom got to work towards the end and it really was a gift to her. Definitely everyone has their own path!

        1. The*

          I had a coworker who did the same. She came in once or twice a week, would stay for about 3-4 hours, even if her adult daughter had to drive her there because she didn’t have much strength. She said she liked the normalcy (and that she hated just staying home all the time). Her cancer was very swift, though, and she passed about a year after her diagnosis. I don’t think she would have been able to travel…so for her, keeping up with some sort of routine was what made her happy. That was the path she chose.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        My close friend’s husband did this, too. She was (and is) housebound because of her weight and the health issues it has caused, so he spent all of his “good” days fixing things around the house, cutting down bushes and trees that he knew she couldn’t maintain on her own, etc. He was 5-6 years younger than she is, so everyone assumed she’d go first. Doing whatever he could to make her life easier after he was gone gave him meaning and purpose toward the end. Plus, he’d been pretty selfish and self-centered up until his diagnosis, so I think doing what he could around the house with the time he had left made him feel better about himself and was more of a comfort than if he’d just said, “Eff it, I’m going to Fiji.”

    4. Casper Lives*

      Unless OP is independently wealthy, on her spouse’s insurance, or in a country with national health insurance, I don’t see how she could afford to leave her health insurance.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I don’t think we can take as given that OP is/isn’t capable of leaving work earlier.

        I read allathian’s note as trying to give OP “permission” to prioritize other areas of their life if that’s something OP wants to do and can do. Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone on the outside say, “Hey, it’s not on you to finish up these projects. Time with the people you love is irreplaceable. So if this is between feeling like you’re burdening your coworkers versus spending time with loved ones, don’t take on the guilt/burden of the work transition.” That’s very different, of course, than OP going to work because OP gains a sense of structure or normalcy or benefits coverage.

        1. allathian*

          I’m sorry if my comment above came across as insensitive. I’m in the Nordics, so I’m not dependent on my employer for health insurance. My employer does provide some healthcare benefits, we have a contract with a private healthcare provider to ensure that if we get sick, we can get treatment immediately. This only covers acute illness, though, and it’s as much a benefit to the employer as to me as an employee. For more ongoing issues, I’m dependent on our NHS or health insurance I pay for myself, unless I get injured on the job or on the way to work, in which case worker’s comp pays for my care. Because I’m not dependent on my employer for insurance, I would probably resign if I got the news that I had a terminal illness. But obviously I won’t know for sure unless it actually happens.

          For the OP, I hope you can work something out with your employer and to do what you have to do in your current circumstances.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Canadian here, and it is a real struggle to remember that for posters in America, leaving work may not be an option because of insurance. My heart aches every time I realize that has to be a factor in decisions for Americans.

            1. Le Sigh*

              And a sign that I’m American is that it’s the first thing I thought about in this letter. Prior to the ACA/Obamacare, I spent several chunks of my life uninsured and just made careful decisions about what to see a doctor for. Fortunately I was young and fairly healthy, so the calculation wasn’t too bad. But I also had a retail manager boss who would stretch out his blood pressure meds to make them last longer–which yes, is a terrible idea, but also his reality.

              It’s not a good system in so many ways, and situations like these only drive that home in a stark way.

      2. Lark*

        If I were in OP’s situation, I would have no qualms about going without insurance and taking on the debt.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          People with financial dependents (children) often feel differently.
          My dad died when I was a kid. He had old-school great insurance, kept working fairly long, and Mom and I still came perilously close to losing our home.

          1. Annony*

            Or a spouse. I wouldn’t want to dip into retirement funds and take away my husband’s future financial security.

        2. Lara*

          Some states will require your children (if you have any) or other family members to take on the medical debt that your estate can’t cover.

          1. Spearmint*

            I am not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure this is false. The only people who *may* be responsible for a deceased persons debts are surviving spouses. Children and non-spouse relatives never take on debt of deceased relatives. I’ll have links in a post below this.

              1. Happy Pineapple*

                It does happen sometimes, sadly. Not to mention any other debts that may exist. Certain student loans are not forgiven upon death, so I’ve known families who’ve had pay off a loved one’s loans even after cancer or suicide, which is just so cruel.

        3. Pennalynn Lott*

          My friend’s husband (mentioned above) took on tons of medical debt in his last year. My friend was 65 at the time of his death with a house that is fully paid off and no need for a good credit rating (will never need to buy a car or take out a loan that isn’t secured by the house), so she has opted to not pay his medical bills (which what’s leftover after his employer-provided insurance paid their portion; his employer kindly chose to pay his monthly premiums for him for the 5-6 months at the end when he could no longer work).

          Her only income is surviving-spouse Social Security, so she’d have to sell her home to have any hope of making a dent in his bills, but then where would she live?

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I am trying to remember. In my state there is something about if the debtor does not contact the creditor for 7 years, the debt is written off the books. But there may be other concerns such as if a lien was placed on the house.
            There are senior apartments based on income. Her county’s website might have info on that.

      1. Rose Tyler*

        YES. I was diagnosed with a very difficult cancer and completely out of the blue was out of work for 10 months, and still am on a pretty rough road. I went back as soon as I could because I am lucky enough to have a job I really like and get a lot of personal satisfaction from, and coworkers I enjoy. Working is a big part of my identity – if I ever got to the point that I was too sick to work (even if “too sick” meant that my time was short enough that working didn’t make sense anymore) it would be a huge emotional setback because it would mean my entire sense of who I am would have to change. Posters aren’t wrong to encourage LW5 to take the big-picture view, but not everyone wants to just throw everything out and go to the Bahamas, and that’s ok.

    5. Picard*

      Some might NEED work for the healthcare. It’s part of our rotten healthcare system that your insurance is tied to work but there it is.


    6. JessaB*

      That may not be possible for them, because they may need the insurance or the extra money, and also doctor’s time ranges are … educated guesswork based on statistics and probability. Individual mileage may vary, a LOT, they told my mother 6 mos it was well over a year and a half.

      I’d recommend to OP that if they wanna and are able to quit and go run down their bucket list go for it. If they have FMLA and short/long term disability insurance, go for it. I had a friend that had holiday pay by the buckets, and what they did was pay it out two days a week, enough for her to have her insurance premiums paid over extra time. That allowed her to do as she wanted.

  4. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

    #2: I think I’d be careful to say “rooming together” rather than “living together”. The first implies two people sharing living quarters to save money, which is accurate, the second implies you are cohabitating with a romantic partner, which is not.

    1. Carpe Librarium*

      Yes, ‘flatmate’ / ‘housemate’ may help frame this as something less intimate than ‘cohabit’ / ‘roommate’ although I think regional conventions may be colouring my perception there.

      1. identifiable comment name*

        Yep – pretty sure US roommate=UK housemate, not UK roommate (which would be 2 people sharing a bedroom but not as a couple – moderately common for students in dorms not so very long ago).

        1. londonedit*

          Yes, ‘roommate’ would sound odd to UK ears – we hear the term thanks to US films/TV shows etc, but it’s not used here. Flatmate or housemate would be what we’d say. And can I just say that, coming from London, young people sharing flats and houses is so unbelievably normal that no one would ever bat an eyelid! Often you’ll end up with colleagues living in the same flat/houseshare, because if one housemate moves out, the remaining people will inevitably want to find someone they know to take over the room rather than risking a total stranger. If someone presented it as ‘we’re living together’ then yes, people would probably assume ‘as a couple’, but ‘John and I are in the same flatshare’ or ‘John’s my housemate’ wouldn’t imply any sort of romantic attachment.

          1. Forrest*

            I assumed for YEARS that in the US it was just –normal? for young adult professionals who weren’t dating to share a room? which seemed weird but hey, different culture–and then found out that Americans use “roommate” where we’d say flatmate or housemate!

            1. UKDancer*

              Me too. I know people at university in the US appear to have to share bedrooms (or at least that’s what it looks like on TV) so I assumed they continued to do it afterwards. I hadn’t realised for ages that “roommate” in the US meant the same as “housemate” in the UK.

              1. Metadata minion*

                Yes, it’s very common to share a room with someone (often multiple someones) in college/university, but fairly rare to do so afterward unless it’s someone you’re super comfortable with and/or money is extremely tight.

                1. The Rural Juror*

                  I lived in a college dorm that had 2 bedrooms to a suite, and 4 students shared those 2 rooms, 2 bathrooms, and a living area. It was a more comfortable situation than the traditional dorm where you share a room and have communal bathrooms down the hall!

                  So, I had my roommate, and then I had my 2 suitemates who shared the other bedroom. Afterward, when I moved into an apartment with my roommate, I still called her my roommate because saying “housemate” or “flatmate” or “apartmentmate” in the US would seem odd. But it has always stuck out to me that that’s not a correct description.

            2. Coenobita*

              That’s so funny! In the U.S. (at least, to me) “roommate” means both things at the same time. I had roommates in school (we slept in the same dorm room), I had roommates as an adult (we shared an apartment with separate bedrooms), and I even had roommates who slept in the same room as each other (three of us platonically sharing a two-bedroom apartment). I do agree that “living together” suggests a more intimate or at least permanent relationship than “roommates.”

              1. I'm not telling*

                My husband and I had very close friend of both of us from college days. Although his job moved him around a lot, we stayed in touch and, occasionally, he would spend a night when he had to visit his headquarters near where we live. After I was widowed, the friend called to chat about housing opportuities in the region since he might be working at headquarters. He got the job but his wife was reluctant to move (again) and anyway, they had some very specific housing needs that were unaffordable. He mentioned that he would probably get a cheap furnished place when I impulsively offered to rent him a room. It worked out great for four years until he left the headquarters position. I had some extra income and a person to talk to. He had a home cooked dinner every week night, a quiet room, and a person to talk to. I did have to explain to some neighbors who assumed I had a live-in boyfriend that he was not and anyway his wife would not approve!

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’m in the US and that’s what my mind insists on, the college dorm usage of “roommate”. I’ve had a few people ask about my use of “housemate”, and they all nodded and said they’d be using it. “Roommate sounds so romantic,” one person said. “But apartmentmate is too much of a mouthful.”

        1. Metadata minion*

          I’ve heard a few people use “flatmate” here just because it sounds so much less silly than “apartmentmate” ;-)

          1. UKDancer*

            Big Brother (the TV programme) has perhaps made “housemate” more common in the UK because the participants in the Big Brother House were known as the housemates. In London as flats are more common than houses, my mind tends to select flatmate as the most suitable word for someone you share a living unit with but that’s very much my personal perception as an individual British person living in London.

            Obviously OP and can and should use whichever term feels most comfortable to them in their particular country / setting. The main thing is that the principle of sharing living space with a person of a different gender identity is not uncommon, so the OP has no need to have concerns about how this may be perceived.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      I agree to be specific about ‘roommates’ vs ‘living together’ just to preempt any confusion.
      I think its incredibly normal to have opposite-sex roommates after college. If you’re matter of fact about it, and don’t try to hide it, no one will think its weird. But if you’re secretive or uncomfortable about it, people might read more into it than there is.

      Also, as a former apartment-sharer-in-notoriously-expensive-east-coast-city, its worth mentioning the importance of establishing some boundaries with a roommate who you work with. I’ve made the mistake of becoming “besties” with roommates a few times, and its just too intense of a relationship for someone you see both at work and home. Its an easy trap to want to get home and vent over a bottle of wine together, but I’ve always had the happiest home situations when I treat them more like a colleague I’m running into in the break room, or casually sharing a lunch in the cafeteria with. You can be perfectly friendly without being each other’s emotional support system.

  5. Courtney*

    LW#5 I don’t know if this can help you, but my father was diagnosed as terminal and no one knew how long he had – it was estimated weeks to maybe 2 months but we were lucky enough to get 8 months. His work were told immediately the full extent of his diagnosis, and they were able to hire a replacement Tea Quality Control Officer and my father was able to wrap up projects with the help of the second person, who also was able to learn on the job with a 40 year industry veteran.

    This was years before COVID when the company was doing well enough to employ two people with the same job title indefinitely. The downside was the new hire had a different idea of the job, and it didn’t work well with my father’s actual physical capabilities. My father’s job was about 50/50 on the Tea Manufacturing floor, and the office. The new hire was insistent on being in the office and making my father work on the Manufacturing floor. His boss needed to step in MANY times to ensure my father (who was so weak form chemo, and had dropped to 130 pounds at 6ft tall) could do more of the office work.

    What I’m taking the long way of saying is – I hope you boss will go to bat for you when you’re weakening, and I hope you’re in an industry not terribly affected by COVID, because having the second person learning the job & helping wrap up projects was so beneficial to my father AND the company long term.

    1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

      Oh my goodness, that sounds pretty monstrous of your father’s replacement! I’m glad his boss went to bat for him but I repeat, my goodness. I’m clutching pearls over here.

      1. Tabby*

        Wow, so New Guy couldn’t tell your dad was ill? Someone going through chemo usually /looks/ like they’re going through chemo! Seriously, that man needs to be smacked about by an angry kangaroo. I’m upset for your dad that he had to deal with this.

  6. GammaGirl1908*

    LW2 did not specifically say that she is concerned that people will leap to the conclusion that she and her roommate are dating / entangled / more than friends and make related assumptions, did that seem to be the undertone and the reason to hide the living arrangements?

    I feel like the missing piece here is that you likely would still be on stable ground even if you WERE dating / living together romantically. This is not something by which most people would be upset or scandalized or shocked. As long as you remain professional and it’s not a Thing at work, and as long as your job does not have a restriction on employees not in each other’s chain of command dating one another, it would be a non-issue to live with a colleague as roommates OR as friends OR as partners. The issue is showing favoritism at work toward your friend or boyfriend, not where you live or what you do off the clock. This is also the sort of thing that’s a much bigger deal among young people in school (LW mentioned a conservative background) than it is among adults at work.

    I feel like IF this comes up naturally, you can just mention that you are roommates, and if people want to make whatever assumptions they want to make that’s on them, but you don’t have to announce OR hide that you are roommates, or be super-aggressive about announcing that you are or are not dating (again, barring reporting to one another). You’re allowed to do any of the above, and it’s neutral, not a problem.

    1. TechWorker*

      This is also a bit of a bizarre way to look at it. Yes if they were dating it might also not be a problem but they t would be totally reasonable for LW to make sure people don’t get the wrong end of the stick?

    2. Gamer Girl*

      Similarly, I feel like LW2 is coming from a strict, conservative religious background where she’s been trained to “avoid even the appearance of evil.” If she’s from a small town where everyone knows everyone, this goes double or triple.

      LW2, don’t feel like you have to hide your living arrangements; people have roommates! Just say, “Oh, we’re roommates” and move on. If you feel you must, you can add, “A friend of a friend from school seemed better than subletting randomly on Craigslist!”

      But really, no one will care. You will be on the East Coast, not the Bible Belt. This is why I’ll never move out of a city again. I love wearing whatever I want, doing my hair how I want, and living how I want with no one commenting on it to my family.

      No one cares about your business except you, young people have roommates and it is 100 percent not weird. People at my workplace have all sorts of living situations–rooming with coworkers, rooming with aunts and uncles, married couples who let out an extra room to students… Expensive cities have way different norms than small towns, and no one expects you to live on your own! No shade, LW2, just welcome to city living. :)

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Half of my team is recent college grads, and the only way to live in DC as a recent grad is to live with parents or have roommates. No one would bat an eye at it, and I’ve had folks on my team who were roommates before. (When I first moved to DC, at one point, 3/4 of the people living in my house worked for the same employer.)

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes, it sounds like maybe OP felt a little weird about the idea at first and now they are subconsciously (or consciously) expecting that people other people will think it is weird as well. I think it would be unlikely for someone to think it was odd in general, but I think as two people moving to the area from the same university to participate in the same leadership program, renting a place together seems like a very obvious and natural solution! If I was in your office and heard you guys were roommates I am certain the only thought I would have on the matter was “oh, that makes sense” and then I’d probably stop thinking about it entirely. Especially if the leadership program is something with a set end date, I wasn’t sure from the letter if this was a somewhat temporary assignment.

        In my opinion, pretty much anything to do with roommates is entirely about your own comfort level. When I had to get a roommate in grad school I did specify that I only wanted another woman as I don’t think I would personally have felt comfortable living with a man I didn’t really know. But I would never look at another woman’s roommate situation and think it was odd that she was living with a man. Just like I wouldn’t think it was odd if someone had a dog even though I can’t personally imagine having to get up and walk it. All super normal things, just not something I personally want to do :D

      2. Alli525*

        This was exactly my reading of it, largely because I come from a similar background and my mother tried SO hard to convince me to move into an all-women dorm in college (vs a dorm where genders were separated by floor). My mom’s reasoning was more “avoiding temptation” than “avoiding the appearance of evil,” but in this context I bet it’s just self-consciousness that someone will care that OP2 is living in the same apartment as someone of a different gender.

      3. OP*

        100% right on the “avoid the appearance of evil” bit. And everyone else with the guess on single sex dorms in college/very conservative college is spot on too. Being raised and living like that definitely warps your normal meter, so it’s great to hear from so many people that no one will particularly care about my living situation and I won’t be in a fish bowl with every action subject to judgement once I move to a big city :)

    3. AthenaC*

      Side note for OP2 – this is one of the ways conservative cultures / schools are out of sync with the rest of the culture on gender relations. Opposite sex housemates are fairly common and not even interesting enough to be a topic of conversation. I’d keep an eye out for other ways you might need to retool your perspective in order to be in line with the norms of broader culture.

      Good luck!

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        My senior year of college, I shared a four-bedroom apartment with three guys from one of my extracurriculars (I’m a woman). The very brief conversation with my mother went, “Are you dating any of them?”, to which the response was “Oh, hell, NO!” Then, I got my mother in trouble with her aunt when she found out I was living with guys and conspiratorially asked, “Does your mother know?”, to which the response was, “Yup, she helped me move in.” Oops.

        On the other hand, my mother-in-law still has no idea that my husband and I lived together for a year before we got married. We had lived in the same building in separate units, and she does not know that he gave up his apartment and moved into mine a year before we got married. We’ve been together for 20 years, so I think it turned out okay, even the “living in sin” part. But it definitely reminds me that I’m a city/suburban person and could not handle small-town living.

        1. Not A Girl Boss*

          I lived with my now-husband for years before we got married, and at one point relocated to the Bible Belt for a job. The look of horror/judgement on people’s faces when they found out I lived with my boyfriend was surprising for me, coming from an east coast city where no one even batted an eye. Literally no one here on the coast cares, at all, who you live with or what you do with them in your off hours.

      2. JustaTech*

        I had an opposite-sex suitemate one year in college (so we shared bathroom and common room but not bedroom) and I have to say, he was *way* easier to live with than the gal who was our third suitemate.

        If OP2 and her roommate approach the whole thing as no big deal (because it isn’t) then no one at work will care.

    4. PostalMixup*

      So I have two relevant experiences here. In college I lived in a rented house with friends, several of whom were the opposite gender. At one point, it was just two of us, and I’d bet we looked for all the world like a couple (we were not). But it was honestly no big deal. Mostly. Except that one time I dated one of my roommates briefly – I’d recommend you avoid that! I do recommend “roommate” over “housemate” – I tried to use “housemate” to avoid the appearance of room-sharing, and people mis-heard it as “husband.”
      Second situation, my spouse and I work at the same company. Their desk is only like twenty feet from mine. I got hired second, so when I started everyone knew – and it’s not a big deal. Our roles are different enough that we’re unlikely to ever risk managing the other.

    5. Jean (just Jean)*

      The above is all good advice. I wanted to add one more bit of support for LW2, based on my sense that they come from a conservative/traditional family background and upbringing as well as university.

      If you want to continue some or most of the conservative/traditional ways of your earlier years, do so! Most city people are happy to coexist with “different” folks. Some are even glad to learn more about being vegan, Jewish, a member of XYZ Traditional Religion, etc.–as long as nobody says that being Jewish, vegan, etc. is the ONLY POSSIBLE way to live. (Disclaimers: 1. I’m Jewish–so not offering up this “difference” randomly. 2. You’ve given no sign of being that tone-deaf.)

      If I’m assuming all wrong, please accept my apologies.

      1. OP*

        I’m not particularly conservative or traditional, though because of my background I think I’m very good at blending into that crowd. I’m just very wary of making a bad impression at work and know the culture I’m used to is pretty different from what I’ll experience on the East Coast in big cities. I’m just not sure where the line is yet, if that makes sense.

    6. OP*

      LW #2 here! It’s mostly that living with a platonic opposite sex roommate is Not Done where I’m from and if it does happen, it’s not spoken of in polite company. I’m in the US and moving to the East Coast and I know I come from a weirdly strict religious background so I just needed a sanity check on whether or not my coworkers would find it off putting/impolite to even mention, or if it would be even weirder to avoid the topic and have it eventually come out.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I can’t guarantee you’d *never* run into a coworker that finds platonic, opposite-sex housemates off-putting, but it’s a very minority opinion in expensive urban areas because just finding someone you get along with to the split the rent with is a challenge enough without eliminating half the population. My housemates after college were all women, but that was chance – I interviewed at a number of housing shares that were mixed sex and just happened to choose one that was all women, mostly for the very convenient location and charm of the old craftsman house. Being able to room with someone you actually know and get along with is way better than dealing with the craigslist or WashPo classifieds!

        Who I lived with didn’t come up often, though – one of my roommates worked at my office for a year or so, and the only way people really knew was if they got a ride to or from work with us.

    7. JSPA*

      If there’s a worry that “roommates” is ambiguous you can stick with “apartment mates” or “housemates.” Not that couples don’t sometimes hide in plain sight under those labels, but the words themselves don’t do double duty.

  7. Very Anon*

    When I was supposedly terminal (very different circumstances than you – don’t take this as false hope), I didn’t tell anyone until I resigned and even then only three or four people knew the reason. Those kept it silent, at my request, and we went over details like what information my co-workers could be told about my cause of death, was there anyone not in my immediate team who should be told in person, would I appreciate if co-workers were told they were welcome to attend the funeral or should it not be mentioned, and more.

    (I resigned 4-8 weeks before my projected “end date”. Things didn’t turn out the way we expected.)

    I kept in contact with my supervisor, and I told them when it took longer, and when my condition turned from terminal to chronic. We had coffee a few times.

    Where I live, employers aren’t legally allowed to share employees’ health information. That may inform how you want to handle this as well. I kept things close to my chest because I didn’t want to deal with the questions or with people recommending snake oil or talking about what worked for their sister’s hairdresser’s neighbour’s ex-wife’s new husband.

    I hope your last days are good ones.

    1. 867-5309*

      Very Anon, I was reading your story and was like, “What happened? Did you pass away?” and then realized… Time for coffee.

      1. Mimmy*

        Oh my god, good thing I wasn’t mid-sip of my coffee reading that!

        Very Anon, happy to hear that your condition turned out not to be terminal.

  8. Isea*

    For the roommate pair- you’re not actually roommates (sharing a room), you’re house mates right? Personally I’d just make a fake unit number on your addresses for HR (unit A and B) and tell people you live in the same building.

    For the person with cancer – you sound SO lovely. Please put yourself first at this time! I would be so unhappy if I knew a coworker was working while ill or missing precious time with loved ones to work on office projects. Can you just quit your job and focus on your treatments and family? Sending you all the best.

    1. Emma*

      In the US, “roommates” just means sharing an apartment/house, not literally a room. I know that’s not the case elsewhere necessarily, but I would never assume “roommates” are sharing an actual bedroom unless it’s a college dorm.

    2. MK*

      But why would they try to hide their living situation like that? Frankly, this has the potential to create more awkwardness, if it comes out that they are flatmates and not just neighbours; while you can argue it’s not technically a lie, they would still be deliberately trying to deceive people by using sort-of-inaccurate language. I don’t think this is a good idea, and also unnecessary.

      I think the best way is not to proactively inform anyone, but also be upfront about it, if it comes up naturallyin conversation,. It might be unfair, but many people will think you have something to hide, if they find you are going to unusual lengths to conceal it.

      1. a sound engineer*

        A fake unit number or other truth-stretching seems like overkill to me, especially because of the potential awkward Q&A that will arise if it ever *does* slip out that they’re actually sharing a house.

        1. Pretzelgirl*

          Yeah, I would not fake your address. Lying about it seems strange. You could also miss anything that is mailed to your home address from work. Most companies do have digital W2s etc, but some still snail mail them. Which would be a big pain to track down.

        2. Partly Cloudy*

          Definitely don’t fake your address. Most ATS and/or HRIS systems will try to autocomplete or auto-correct it anyway, and then you’re caught explaining why you tried to lie.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. I think if you’re as matter of fact as possible then everyone else takes their cue from you. If someone asks what your living arrangements are just say “John’s my flatmate. We were at the same university so it was easier to share with someone I already knew.”

        No need for any subterfuge. Having a flatmate is perfectly normal in big cities.

      3. WorkingGirl*

        Right, plus sharing an apartment is SUPER common for new grads – and even those a few years into their careers! – in cities like NYC, Boston, DC. Not weird at all to have a flatmate!

    3. PollyQ*

      At least in US English, “roommates” commonly means “people sharing a living unit”, regardless of whether they’re sleeping in the same room. But there’s no need for any fake units or hiding. It’s a perfectly normal thing for friends to do.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, I think in the UK it’s much more common to talk about flatmates or housemates if you’re sharing a living unit but not a bedroom.

        Sharing a living unit, even with a coworker, is so common these days that it really shouldn’t raise any eyebrows, even if you’re sharing with someone of the opposite gender. For coworkers moving to the same place around the same time, this sounds normal and convenient. That said, it might make dating more awkward than if you were sharing with someone of your own gender, some people who are otherwise not unreasonably jealous might have a problem with this arrangement. But it’s their problem, not yours.

        1. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I’m in London and huge numbers of people are sharing flats with colleagues and strangers because property is so expensive it’s very difficult for people to afford a place on their own. Quite often it’s easier to share with someone you already know than with complete strangers. If you’re in a big city then nobody is going to think anything of it. If you treat it as the obvious, most sensible thing to do, then everyone else will as well. The more matter of fact you are about it, the better.

          In the UK you’d definitely say “housemates” or “flatmates” if you’re sharing a property but have your own bedroom and shared communal areas. Roommate in the UK indicates sharing a bedroom.

    4. Ana Gram*

      Really? I’ve had roommates from work before and nobody thought it was odd at all. Especially in those years right after college.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      You’re talking about semantics here and people will draw their own conclusions regardless of how you phrase it. Roommates means you’re sharing an apartment or house – it’s doesn’t literally mean you’re sharing a room. And making up lies to try and cover the fact that you live in an apartment with another human being is only going to start rumors when you’re found out.

      1. Not A Girl Boss*

        Yep. I’ve had dozens of “roommates” over the years, none of whom shared my actual room. No one ever assumed roommates = room-mates. Its just a colloquial term at this point. Going out of the way to use UK slang while in the US because it sounds ‘better’ or ‘more accurate’ is just… odd.

        1. Smithy*

          Came here to say this. If you do not use UK vernacular regularly and don’t socialize with a number of Brits, now is not the time to drop “flatmate” into your speech just to make extra sure no one assumes you’re actually sharing a bedroom. It’ll only increase the awkwardness in how the OP is talking about it.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        In fact, “roommate” strongly implies there is no romantic relationship at all. “They’re living together?” “Well, they’re just roommates.”

      3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I don’t see anywhere that anyone is saying to refer to flatmates rather than roommates? The Brits are just mentioning that it’s a bit weird in British English because it sounds like they’re sharing a bedroom, and that there’s a more accurate term, no pressure on anyone to use that term in the US.

    6. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Messing the address is a great way to not get your mail. Don’t do that! And having a roommate really isn’t a big deal, trying to hide it makes it seem like much more of a thing than it is. Plus the lie. Why would I trust someone who can’t tell the truth about their address?

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yes, if you get a pedantic letter-carrier, prepare for problems by adding fake unit numbers to your address. (We experienced this by accidentally leaving a unit number from our prior apartment in the second-line address field when we moved into a single-family home – and not getting mail for that financial institution for months as a result.)

        And, frankly, deliberately misreporting/lying about one’s address looks far, far weirder than being roommates with a colleague.

      2. BethRA*

        It’s also a great way to make people wonder if something less savory is going on when they find out.

        OP, even our smaller (30 ish employees) organization here in Also Expensive East Coast City has had coworkers who lived together. It’s common, it’s normal. You don’t need to announce it, but it would look really strange if you tried to hide it.

    7. Observer*

      Making up a fake unit number is a really bad idea. Like this, the OP doesn’t need to proactively share, but if it does come up somehow, then it’s just “Oh, yeah, we share an apartment.” No big deal. If they want, the OP could add that rents are crazy and they figured that it’s better to share an apartment with someone why knew a little and with whom they shared mutual friends than some random stranger from Craigslist. All in all, a total nothing burger.

      But if the OP goes to subterfuges like this, it becomes a VERY big deal when it comes out. Anyone is going to wonder WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO HIDE?

      1. Antilles*

        Agreed. This is one of those things that people will take a cue from you on “should I care”.
        If you just straightforwardly treat it like it’s not a big deal (and it’s not!), then everybody will follow your lead and just sort of shrug it off and not care.
        If you act like it’s a secret to be hidden or mysterious or awkward or shameful, *that’s* when people will start wondering what’s going on, asking more questions, prying for more details and making a huge deal out of it.

  9. Not A Manager*

    OP5, I feel for you very deeply. I’ve had some experience with family members receiving a terminal diagnosis. Here are my thoughts: This latest diagnosis is new to you. It’s probably shocking. Sometimes when we’re faced with something so horrible, we revert to our “best selves” – in terms of most dutiful, most philanthropic, least selfish, etc. There are a lot of reasons this can happen and it’s very understandable.

    My advice to you is just to sit with this for a while. Talk to your family. Talk to any outside support that you have. Even read some books about living with a terminal condition. Think about what you really, actually want your final time to include.

    If that turns out to include working diligently to effect a seamless transfer to your successor, that’s fine. If it turns out that you need to work really hard and diligently in order to maintain your income or your health insurance, then that’s non-negotiable. But if it turns out that you’d rather bake bread, or travel, or spend time with your extended family, and that’s a viable economic choice for you, then don’t let some manufactured sense of duty keep you chained to your desk.

    My thoughts are with you and your family. Best wishes for your upcoming treatment.

    1. The Ginger Ginger*

      Yes, OP5 this exactly. If you don’t want work to be part of your time now, and you’re able to make that choice, you only owe your employer a standard resignation. You don’t need to suddenly do more for them than you would under any other circumstance. Make your time what you want it to be, not what you think in this moment it SHOULD be.

    2. nom de plume*

      This is such lovely and wise advice. OP, my heart goes out to you, and I think I understand your perspective (apologies if I’m wrong). My mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer five months ago. It was, as Not A Manager says, very shocking, and one of her first instincts was not to think of herself and her needs, but to shrink away from, in her view, bothering other people with her diagnosis and illness. It broke my heart.

      I share this because there is something very gendered about that reaction – the selflessness, self-effacing nature of it. If I’m wrong – if you are indeed not a woman, or if you truly love your job and want it to structure your days – please ignore my comment.

      I only mention it in case, like my mother and so many other women I know, your first instinct was to think of others rather than yourself. Be kind to yourself, and allow space for your needs, as much as your situation allows. This is so well said, I’ll repeat it: “don’t let some manufactured sense of duty keep you chained to your desk.”

      All my thoughts to you, OP.

    3. NoLongerYoung*

      what a wonderful, thoughtful response … OP, my heart goes out to you. I’ve been through this with my spouse, now with another family member…. sending a gentle hug. You do what is best for you…sometimes you have to let the shock wear off to see what that ‘best for you’ is.

  10. Heidi*

    LW1 reminds me of how Andy and Red became lifelong best friends in Shawshank. And how Brooks could never adjust to being back on the outside.

    1. Dr. Rebecca*

      *nods* I went from a super dysfunctional department to a department that really worked well together and had incredibly calm/normal/friendly interactions and rules set up to help and support its members, and my boss gave me massive (kind and sympathetic) side-eye over some of the things I asked about. I once told him that something that was very okay, even encouraged, had gotten me yelled at by my grandboss in my last position, and the look I got from him…

    2. Ama*

      I also think it is easy, in the early days of a new job (even a really good one in a functional workplace) to get overwhelmed by all the new things you need to learn and new people you need to meet and start feeling nostalgic for a job where you actually knew how to do everything, could match all the names to faces, etc. People forget just how long it can take to really settle in at a new job.

  11. Anonymous1*

    I hate the overuse of the word toxic. I feel like it’s a blanket term to coverall a whole bunch of different ways that something or someone can be amiss instead of giving it a little more thought or explanation. Am I alone in this?

    1. Maggie*

      Eh, I’m not with you. Merriam Webster defines toxic as “extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful” or “relating to or being an asset that has lost so much value that it cannot be sold on the market.” That covers a lot of ground.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I hate it only because it’s prevalence these days tends to make people stop listening after hearing the word, to be honest! I’ve deliberately avoided using it in the past if I know the person hearing it will ignore the meat of what I’m saying because they think I’m using buzzwords as opposed to accurately describing the situation using a bit of shorthand.

    3. lazy intellectual*

      It’s not the LW’s job (in this case, at least) to justify why her job was toxic – just that it was her experience.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Using the phrase “toxic workplace” usually refers to specific problems that folks widely agree are toxic or abusive. I don’t think we need to question OP’s use of the term or suggest that OP is using it as a placeholder instead of giving it “a little more thought or explanation.” OP is describing their experience and asking about how to deal with the mixed feelings that come from leaving a bad situation. We don’t need additional details to opine on how to deal with those mixed feelings.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I include it in my ‘I don’t need a defence lawyer to pick apart if I’m allowed to use it’ list. It’s a long list. Worked with a lot of ‘but what exactly do you mean? Are you sure you remember that right? But on 8th of Cthulhutember you said something different!’ people.

        (None of whom were actual lawyers btw. Just liked to roleplay – badly – as them. Without the court etiquette of course)

    5. Mystery Bookworm*

      I mean, it is a blanket term with a lot of subjectivity. But I don’t see why there’s anything wrong with that – it lets us know OP’s perception of her workplace, which is what this letter needs to convey.

    6. The Hon. Catherine Bingley*

      It is a useful blanket term when you quickly need to let people know the state of something when the details don’t matter, which is the case here. OP’s not writing in to ask if A, B, and C at her workplace make it toxic; she’s asking for help in getting over a workplace that she says was toxic. Since we’re supposed to give letter writers the benefit of the doubt, we accept her assessment that it’s toxic without requesting the receipts for the label.

    7. MCMonkeyBean*

      I mean, it *is* a blanket term to cover a bunch of different ways that something is amiss. I don’t see what’s wrong with that though? Blanket terms are useful when you don’t want to or can’t go into a ton of detail. In this case the details weren’t relevant so the blanket term gets the general idea across sufficiently.

  12. Finland*

    LW3, I don’t know what kind of job this is, but it sounds absolutely mind-boggling. If it were me, I’d be so focused on remembering random bits of information that I would completely space-out on the interview itself. Can’t you ask interviewees to provide you examples in their employment history for remembering random bits of information to recall months later, rather than springing this cognitive test on them. Perhaps it’s useful to explain to interviewees why you need to do this. People who understand what’s required can then self-select out.

    1. Kiitemso*

      I think I am pretty good at remembering details so long as they are relevant details. I remember the names of companies my company bought in 2018 and who worked with them who still works with us because it may still pop up in my day-to-day job (although it’s unlikely, it is still possible). Similarly I remember intricate details about our invoicing system because it was very relevant to one of my tasks a while back.

      In the scenario proposed, I don’t think where the interviewer went to school seems relevant unless specifically told it will be, and even then it can backfire because the interviewee is focused on different things. This is a hard skill to test in such a short situation, and I sympathise with the LW for that.

    2. Birch*

      Yep. You don’t need to “test” people on stuff like this. Explain to them why it’s important and then ask them for relevant examples of them demonstrating it. The interview situation is going to create a completely different cognitive and emotional state that will affect recall, and you’re not even trying to test the long term recall you say is so important. If it were possible and reasonable to test a skill like this during the interview, you need to tell them about it if it’s not standard in the field, and use a validated method. Creating “gotcha” setups is just going to alienate your candidate pool. And maybe think about why this is so important–as others have suggested, is good documentation a reasonable substitute?

    3. Calanthea*

      Agree with this! If I saw “ability to recall information from long go and apply it to current work” in a job description, I’d go into an interview with some examples to answer a question like “Can you tell me about a project where you had to remember details consistently across the project lifetime?” or “Can you tell me about a time where you used information from one setting to solve a problem in another setting?”

      I would definitely feel caught out if someone asked me to repeat how they’d introduced themselves at the beginning of the interview!

    4. Katefish*

      I have a good memory for details, both relevant and irrelevant, and I’d be annoyed and worried about management styles after this type of interview. This is a way to run people with good recall off. Disclose up front so they can be actively listening for relevant information.

      1. Threeve*

        Even that I find very off-putting. Being able to recall something over a long period of time is one thing. Listening for information you’re going to be quizzed about AND trying to present yourself as a good candidate is another. I wouldn’t be thinking about memory skills–I would be thinking “what other unnecessarily stressful situations are you going to suddenly throw me into?”

    5. Yorick*

      This is exactly what I thought. Ask them about strategies they’ve used to keep track of details when working on long-term projects. Ask their references about how well they did this. Testing whether someone can remember things from a few minutes ago won’t answer your question.

    6. I edit everything*

      I remember random facts from articles I read back in my second job out of college, when I was writing abstracts for a library database system (bowling was very popular in Thailand in the late 90s). I can’t remember the hero’s name in the second most recent book I edited.

      Brains and memory are weird.

    7. BookLady*

      I was coming down to the comments to say the same thing. I’d suggest asking them about a role where they had to recall details about their projects (or whatever) weeks or months later. Personally, I don’t think recalling info from 20 minutes ago in an interview setting is comparable to that at all.

      I’m also wondering how much the job really does rely on being able to recall details on the spot. In my current role, we do projects on an annual basis, so I get a lot of “what did we do with this project last year?” questions. Sometimes I can recall the specifics, but most of the time, I am able to answer those questions (even during meetings when I need to answer right away) because I have an extremely organized archive of project files that I can navigate quickly. It takes me literally 15-20 seconds to pull up the file I need to answer the question I’m being asked.

      I routinely get praised for having a good memory, but honestly it’s more about keeping myself organized so that I can find the information I need quickly. I manage about 30 projects per year–there’s no way I could keep that all straight in my head!

  13. Mathilde*

    LW #5 – I’m so, so sorry this is happening. This may or may not be helpful, but: my former boss was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer a few years ago. Her approach was very matter-of-fact: she decided on an exit date with the board and our main manager, then sat the rest of us down to explain what was happening and what her timeline was (the company was pretty small, with a staff of about 7). Even as time has gone by, I still very much admire and appreciate the straightforward way she went about things–if anything, it helped the team get through our shock and sadness, because we were able to put our energy towards making her transition out as smooth as possible. People love to feel useful, especially in situations as difficult as this one.

    On that note, though, Alison’s advice here is spot-on–please take care of YOU first. It matters more than anything.

  14. a sound engineer*

    #2 – Not sure why you would need to hide that. A coworker had a room open up in his house last year and I ended up moving in (I’m female, if it matters). No one cared at the time, and it’s never been a topic of interest since.

    1. MK*

      I wonder if the fact the the OP is just out of a conservative university is coloring her views about how odd opposite-gender roommates are.

      1. a sound engineer*

        I guess so. Honestly, to me it would look way weirder if the topic came up naturally and she was evasive about it, or it came out later that “neighbors” really meant “housemates”, because it’s such a strange thing to be so concerned about keeping under wraps.

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          For sure, if someone lied or was cagey about it, then I *would* probably start assuming they were in a secret relationship. But I wouldn’t assume anything was going on if it was treated like a normal thing.

        2. OP*

          OP here to confirm earlier comments about “it’s probably just a conservative background thing”. Like.. it isn’t the biggest deal to me but to give y’all an idea of how Scandalous and Wrong it would be in my community, my mother has asked me to avoid telling my grandmother about my planned living situation because she’s 100% sure that conversation would not go well and doesn’t feel like dealing with criticism of me or her parenting.

          Also if anyone was curious, my community is best described as a small town centered around the traditional Roman Catholic Church. Not the Pope Francis kind of Church either, the fire and brimstone Catholics.

      2. TechWorker*

        Or because she’s never had one before and it feels a bit weird to her* – that’s ok! But your colleagues likely won’t care.

        *I only didn’t live with colleagues when I started my first job out of uni because they were all men, and came from the same/similar universities, I also knew it was possible to get through your degree without ever cooking or cleaning (catered accommodation, cleaning included). For me it wasn’t so much about gender as not trusting they’d be house-trained :p

      3. Blackcat*

        Yeah, if OP is from a smaller, conservative community, they probably don’t realize how very much not. a. thing. this is in most high cost of living situations.
        I have friends who prefer same-gender roommates, but lots of friends I know are in multi-gender housing situations. I’d say it’s a bit more common in bigger house-shares, but I’ve seen it in two bedroom situations.

        I’d just describe the situation matter of factly: “John and I knew each other from university, so it made sense for us to get a place together.”

        When I moved and started grad school, folks were jealous I had a college friend to move in with. Lots of folks were moving into a new expensive city and getting roommates who they hadn’t met before, which is always a gamble. Having a roommate who was a known quantity (and a known good roommate!) is HUGE. So my bet is any reaction at all is “Oh, you two are lucky that worked out!”

        1. The Rural Juror*

          Yep, this exactly. I have heard several horror stories from friends who had “Craigslist Roommates” and I’ve always felt lucky to have friends who wanted to be housemates with me. They’re not always perfect, and neither am I, but at least we’re not strangers!

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Agreed. There will always be people who make assumptions about you no matter what you tell them. But there’s no need to hide your living situation, because if you do, it will only make it seem like there’s something salacious going on when the only thing you’re sharing is a kitchen.

      1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

        I’ve found a single cocked eyebrow, followed with a “I’m so sorry there was a misunderstanding about…” to be the best defense here when folks are prone to being gossipy.

    3. yala*

      Yeah, I’ve been living with my best friend for 11 years now. For five of those years, we worked for the same place, and one of those was even at the same location.

      There have been some folks who Assume Things (an old boss at one of my temp jobs. Which…his “friends with benefits” comment when I said we weren’t a couple was one of my first NOPE flags), though usually that we’re siblings. My mom (very religious/conservative) wasn’t too happy about it. But overall, there haven’t been any trouble or side-eyes.

      We’ll be moving apart soon, and I’m really not looking forward to it. It’s been a good 11 years. I hope you and your housemate get along well!

  15. Phil*

    My short term memory is awful and always had been so I write stuff down. On the other hand, I can dredge up odd facts from decades ago easily-I was a Jeopardy champion-so go figure.

    1. allathian*

      My mind is like old-fashioned flypaper, what I remember and what I forget seems to be anybody’s guess. It’s certainly a mystery to me much of the time.

      I’m very bad at remembering names and putting names to faces. I never seem to recognize people I run into unexpectedly. We’ve lived in this house for years and there’s a particular neighbor I’ve only seen either walking her dogs or in her yard. I didn’t recognize her at first when I met her on a walk because she was with her grandchild in a pushchair. The penny dropped when I recognized her dog!

      1. Myrin*

        Yeah, I have an excellent and an abysmal memory simultaneously.
        I’m very good with names, dates, and all kinds of random crap people tell me exactly once – I’m pretty sure I’d be able to recall OP’s former living situation in detail.
        I’m also very bad at remembering things people tell me where I have no specific context and what they’re saying are “just words”, basically, or things that are important, fundamental information but not “fun facts” (I’ve always been that way – I never had any trouble understanding what my teachers, both at school and university, were saying, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you basically anything about a lesson we just finished; that’s why I’ve always taken copious amounts of notes because once I read those, I actually do remember when we talked about it in class, and I was then able to memorise stuff) – so I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to recall OP’s titles and what exactly he’s responsible for on the farm. I’d have no trouble remembering these facts once I saw OP do them once or twice because I’m a very good visual learner, but not after one mention.

      2. yala*

        lol sounds like me!

        I can recite from memory complete dialogue of a short film I’ve seen twice, but still don’t actually know the names of all my coworkers, and please don’t ask me what I did last friday, I have no idea.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes, i think LW#3 needs to be clear about what specifically the job requires.

      For instance, I cannot remember faces (due to faceblindness) and am not great with names.

      I can however remember other things in very clear detail (as an example, ask me if I own a specific book and I will be able to tell you not only whether or not I do, but also which shelf it lives on, whether it is hard- or paperback, what sort of condition it is in, whether it is signed or otherwise unusual and what colour it is, and in most cases what the cover art is. For any one of the 5,000+ books I own. Without consciously trying)

      Ask me what colour shirt a coworker was wearing, 10 minutes after the end of a 30 minutes with them, and I normally be unable to tell you.

      In a work context, I would remember a significant amount of detail about a particular client’s file but probably wouldn’t recognise them if I saw them, and would probably need a couple of other details in addition to their name.

      BUT – I know what I can and can’t remember and I am meticulous about documenting and setting reminders, so although my job requires a high level of attention to detail and lots of hard deadlines I am very good at what I do, although if you asked me out of the blue what deadlines I had coming up I probably couldn’t tell you all of them, because I have systems in place that mean I don’t need to remember .

      (Also, if I get hit by a bus tomorrow and someone else had to pick up my files with no warning, *they* would have no difficulty identifying those things, either)

      SO I think LW3 needs to be fairly explicit about the type of information that employees will need to remember, and the level of detail and timescales to recall it, and ask people fairly specifically.

      I also think it is worth thinking about whether that level of recall is actually necessary, or whether there are other options based on having systems for recording and providing information . I’m very curious about what the job is !

  16. Stefanie*

    LW5. This is a big thing to process. I have seen this before so your feelings may change as months go by but I urge you to suit yourself. Really. Do what you feel comfortable with. Stay busy with work. Or don’t. Take up llama farming and weed smoking. Or don’t. Your coworkers will not think less of you. No human with a soul would think less of you. This is about you.

  17. Duvie*

    OP5: I am so sorry this is happening to you. You should do whatever feels best to you, and spend your time with those who love you. If you mean to stay on working as long as you can, whether for the insurance, the income, or the sense of purpose, it would be a kindness to let people around you have at least a general idea of what’s happening. You can choose one person to speak for you so that you needn’t have the same conversation a dozen times. I wish you peace on your journey.

  18. Formerly Ella Vader*

    LW#2, my advice is to be open about it. Most people in North America will think it’s normal for people in their 20s to share living space, whether with acquaintances, friends, or people who answered an ad, and while some people will prefer to have same-gender housemates nobody will bat an eye at other arrangements.

    You mentioned that you are from a “conservative university”. I can’t really imagine what that is like, but it suggests that you will feel less natural about your choice than most other people will. Telling other people and seeing them not-react will help you feel more like it’s a natural thing. If you try not to let it be known at work, you are sending problematic messages to John – especially given that you don’t know him well, you really don’t want him to think you see the relationship as potentially sexual, or that a secret gives him power over you. If your colleagues ask about your living arrangements when checking that you’re settling in, explain. If you run into colleagues on transit, introduce him and explain. Consider hosting a potluck or some kind of meetup for the other people in the leadership program, so you can start expanding your social circle in ways that start out including each other. Also, if you act like it’s no big deal that you start out with a co-worker housemate, then it will also be no big deal when one of you decides to move on. If you don’t like having him as a housemate for any reason, move on earlier rather than later.

    When I was a co-op student, I (she/her) got placed in the same workplace as my then-fiance (he/him), male-dominated industry. I had interviewed with several employers and they had interviewed several students for my job before the software matched us up. On the other hand, my fiance and his hiring manager had tricked the software and done an exclusive match because they saw him as a perfect fit for that advanced work. Before the term started, my fiance and I decided we wouldn’t tell them at work that we knew each other, since we thought they might conclude that I wasn’t serious about the work but just wanted to work there because he did. It was probably a useful exercise to start with, since it kept us from socializing on the clock and forced me to make my own friends, but it did make it look weirder than it needed to be when people eventually figured it out.

    1. Brioche*

      You mentioned that you are from a “conservative university”. I can’t really imagine what that is like, but it suggests that you will feel less natural about your choice than most other people will.

      Having grown up in a verrrrry conservative environment (think boys and girls can’t full-frontal hug, because ~purity~) this is so on point–it’s not natural to think about living with a guy. I completely understand where OP is coming from. I live with a guy right now, and it’s honestly still weird for me!

      I can’t speak for OP’s experience, but there’s an unspoken, hidden assumption in the conservative christian community that I grew up in that unmarried opposite gender roommates/housemates/flatmates will want to have sex every. waking. moment (note that this assumes that LGBTQ+ individuals do not exist). That’s just….not accurate, and is honestly super gross. Just as Formerly Ella Vader notes, it will become more natural the more you treat it as a normal thing that just happens. Try not to overthink it.

  19. lasslisa*

    I have that sort of fantastic recall you are looking for, and I use it in my job. If you want someone to tell you which teapot model was on the test boiler when the paint suddenly peeled off, I’m your gal. Which customer were we testing it for, and how did they react? What temperature was it at? Was that March, or April? But if you would like me to remember, say, which of my co-workers have children… That information isn’t indexed. And your various other personal facts wouldn’t be either.

    1. WS*

      +1, I have an excellent memory for details and past events. I do not, however, have an excellent memory for faces or personal information. What kind of test you want to do is going to very much depend on what kind of recall you need on the job.

    2. PVR*

      Yes exactly. I feel like OP would be better served asking interviewees what strategies they employ for recall or examples of how previous jobs required recall to do a job well.

    3. Writelhd*

      My husband is this way too, great with facts and concrete items, horrible with names and faces and personal details. I’m actually good at both, I can remember both client names going back years *and* technical details about their projects…but I regularly forget to take care of non work chores and am constantly losing my keys, or my phone, etc. People prioritize what they remember very individually so I think a test that isn’t a test of the exact type of information they need to recall would be useless. Even a test that isn’t in the same setting is probably limited. So you might be better off just asking then to describe theur strengths and weaknesses in how they recall information.

  20. AnNina*

    I have to disagree with Alison on this one. I work at health-care and that kind of questioning is something they do with people who show symptoms of dementia. It would feel very… demeaning. And it would feel too much like some other nonsense “psychological” tests that some interviewers without any psychology training would do.

    You are going to have to take them by their word anyhow. You’re not going to be able to test how they recall info from months ago. Just stick to the regular interview and if you have some other exercises, make them a separate part of the process further down the road. And make it truly valuable, work-related and meaningful for the candidates.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Taken those sort of memory tests a lot recently (they hope it’s my meds/epilepsy/schizophrenia causing problems but not sure) and my word they’re stressful. If I literally cannot recall a series of dates I’ve been told then I panic (and I can’t store date information in my brain. Returns a data type mismatch error) which isn’t helpful in an interview.

      I frequently note things down though, so if an interview asks me to do a memory test and I ask if making a couple of notes is allowed providing I show I can not only read them later but USE the information to prove a statement/work a hypothesis..then we’re good.

      Never sprung a memory test on a candidate, closest might be ‘read this code and point out whatever errors you can see’ which relies on them remembering their coding experiences.

      1. Bagpuss*

        It’s odd, isn’t it, how stressful that kind of thing can be? I have recently been participating in some research into faceblindness which involves doing online tests – it’s incredibly low-stakes – I’m doing it on a voluntary basis to assist with research, and I know going in that I am going to be terrible at it, (and that *they* know I am going to be terrible at it, a that’s the hole point of me taking part!) and I still find it stressful!

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Yup! Especially when it’s ‘we’re trying to figure out if this is something we can work with, or if your brain is going the way of a Windows NT4.0 network’ or, in a job interview ‘we’re doing this to figure out if you’re smart enough to work for us’

          (There’s a lot of good memory = intelligence assumptions in business)

          Done a few clinical studies (hi, I’m Keymaster, feel free to test meds and vaccines on me. I’m serious) and I find I’m concerned about producing a ‘good answer’ even when a) there’s no good answer and b) there’s nothing I can do to alter the results anyway! (Turns out your immune system doesn’t respond to being ordered like a Pokemon. Dammit)

    2. Daffy Duck*

      This. The type of info, and the length of time it needs to be recalled are crucial. Names/faces/family details are different than what wattage light bulb Company X orders, or the code string needed to make the barn lights flash.
      Also, does it really need to be recalled on the fly? There are jobs that require that, but for many excellent notes and the ability to access them quickly when needed would actually be preferable.

    3. Observer*

      Actually, the kinds of memory testing done with dementia patients is far less gotcha-ish, and focuses far more on things that people SHOULD be expected to remember – the fact that an interviewer for a lama grooming operation in Albuquerque was once a an interpretive dancer in Scotland does NOT qualify.

      Which makes this “test” even worse.

    4. PollyQ*

      Or if not demeaning, then certainly annoying. No one likes a secret test, and it probably would leave applicants wondering if this is the way LW would behave as a manager. As always, it’d be the strongest candidates who’d be likeliest to decide that they don’t want to deal with this.

  21. Caroline Bowman*

    LW5, what a terrible, tragic situation to be in, I cannot bear to think of it. If you love your work, find the routine of work engagements fulfilling and soothing, then work until YOU personally feel like you cannot manage to function comfortably. My sincere hope is that your prognosis turns out to be less dire and that you exceed all expectations for many years to come. I realise that’s silly and unrelated to your question, but just thought I’d say it nonetheless!

    Of course, do say to your boss that if they feel that you are actually not handling work at any future point, that they should feel fine to have an open and truthful chat about that. My dad died many years ago of a brain tumour, and worked for several months post-diagnosis (his prognosis was far more immediately-terminal than yours, with more physiological issues) and left it with his boss that he’d work for as long as he could comfortably, but that the boss would be free and not feel bad to say if it became problematic. He happened to be a university lecturer and adored the job, really loved it, was brilliant at it, his students loved him and came for tutorials to the hospice where he ended up and all 100-odd came to the funeral, so obviously it was quite a vocational type of role, with a lot of personal emotional engagement.

    Essentially, do what you feel good doing for as long as you feel good doing it!

  22. Anono-me*

    Op 5. Please ask for you need. I don’t need to know personal details about your journey; but please tell people if you need something. A while back a sick co-worker ran out of paid leave and didn’t tell anyone. I could have easily donated half a day of vacation time that was use it or lose it so I ran some errands on a weekday. Several other people would have been able to share whole days.

    It sounds like you are planning to continue working. If this is the case and you shared your diagnosis, please be prepared for well-meaning, but not necessarily actually helpful people who encourage you to quit or take disability retirement alot. It might be helpful to ask a blunt co-worker to educate these folks on the fact that you get to choose your own path. (Bonus points if you can redirect the office pushy caretaker into running interference for and “protecting ” you from your other coworkers)

  23. Green great dragon*

    #2 – yeh, shouldn’t be an issue at all. I shared a flat with a fairly physically affectionate opposite-gender friend, socialised with him and work colleagues, and I don’t believe anyone ever misinterpreted.

    There was the time a work friend dropped round unexpectedly and I invited her in, completely not registering that Flatmate was lounging around in his underwear, but that was slightly embarrassing for Flatmate and Workfriend and still led to absolutely zero rumours.

    1. 'Tis Me*

      You’ve just reminded me of the time in my second year at university when I went back to my shared student house from my parents’, there was a group of about 4 or 5 guys (including one of my housemates) lounging around in their undies (I think. I didn’t look) in the living room. I was running late for my Saturday job so I just did a little double-take while my brain asked if I had gone to the wrong place (and recalled my keys wouldn’t then have opened the door) then went up to my room, changed for work and dumped my stuff – and got a sheepish apology on my way back out.

      (Is it normal for guys in their late teens/early 20s to just hang out together in the alltogether/virtually nude? Or a British students thing?)

      1. LeahS*

        Lol! I’m in the US and lived with a group of guys that had their friends over all the time. They were always clothed.

      2. Bagpuss*

        In my 3rd year at uni I ended up sharing a house with 5 blokes.

        I don’t recall a lot of naked hanging out – the only semi-nude guys I recall were in my second year, when we were a mixed house, and I not infrequently met semi-naked guys (and occasionally semi-naked women) who were total strangers to me, who had spent the night with one of my housemates. Of course, whether the guys I lived with would have done more nude hangouts if I wasn’t living there as well, I can’t say!

        (I did learn that apparently the universal response when woken up and told “I think we have a burglar” is “OK, I’ll put some trousers on” . I am not sure why, but all 5 of them had exactly the same response!)

      3. AnotherAlison*

        Seems more like there is always just that “one guy” who is that way.

        (FWIW, my 23 y.o. seemed to think that if he needed to walk out to the kitchen to get something at my house, that it was okay to do it in his underwear, which was not really how we roll at our house. He moved out yesterday, though, so I no longer have to worry about that.)

      4. Jellybeans*

        How warm was it in the apartment? I used to wear just a sports bra and short shorts at home when I lived in an apartment that was 80 degrees all the time. Also, men often run hot and might feel uncomfortably warm at normal thermostat settings.

  24. Darren*

    LW3 I’m confused why you’d go about it that way instead of looking at their resume, finding an accomplishment on it that is linked to something with the potential for a lot of details and then literally drill into that past project. People will readily admit when they don’t remember what color the third teapot off the production line was, and you are looking for the people that remember the color, and the fact that it’s spout was a little bit chipped so they ended up having to throw that away as part of quality control.

    This will let you get to see their ability to recall detail about projects they’ve worked on and you can drill down as deep as you need them to be able to recall (maybe you need them to recall who they had to talk to/where they had to look to find the solution to a problem, maybe you need them to recall exactly what the problem was and how it was solved, whichever level you need you can just stop once you reach that level).

    1. Miss Meghan*

      I think this is a great idea! It focuses on details the candidate should know and be prepared to discuss.

      For OP3, I also wouldn’t discount the possibility that unless you’re reading from an exact script, you might not include the same details in each interview and then unfairly judge someone for failing to recall a fact you didn’t actually mention in that interview. The candidate may ask questions or connect on a fact about you, and suddenly you never mentioned you’ve worked there 5 years and judge them for failing to recall something you didn’t say.

  25. Green great dragon*

    #3 – When interviewing I usually see my introduction as a chance to make polite noises while the candidate sits down and gather their thoughts. We have nameplates so they don’t even need to remember those. I concur that candidates actually *should* be focusing all their attention on what appears to be the bits they need and not apparently unnecessary detail.

  26. Elle by the sea*

    I share the sentiments of OP1. Bizarre as it is, but I do miss my old, toxic job, too, which I left in a spectacular fashion (not exactly rage quitting, but definitely almost movie-like). Although my managers turned out to be both incompetent and two-faced, I loved working with my colleagues and the company is a great one (apart from that mildly dysfunctional team).

      1. Elle by the sea*

        Well, not that spectacular, really. I just delivered a few fiery yet eloquently worded diatribes, both in speech and writing, and honestly, I don’t regret any of it. Not that I would recommend this to others, though.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              it’s like a running joke here, because someone recounted a colleague quitting by using cod to form the letters “I quit”

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      +1 Knowing why an extra person has been added to my review would be the first thing I’d want to know.

      Doing ours with two people for non-management-level reviews is standard, and HR reps sit in on those expected to be difficult or a senior management person will sit in on someone who is being considered for promotion, needs some facetime with a higher-up, or has relevant information on a specific area of the review.

      I would also reframe the review as receiving feedback rather than being critiqued. Unless your manager is unreasonable or your performance is not good, there is likely to be positive feedback as well, often more than critical feedback.

    2. designbot*

      Another vote for approaching this with curiosity, it could really be a good thing! This is standard in my past couple of offices, and a few good things about it I’ve noticed:
      * the senior staff member is often in a position to observe you more closely and provide more accurate or at least specific feedback
      * it’s especially good if you work with a wide variety of people that your evaluation not be contingent on just one opinion, because you may legitimately come across very differently to different team members based on situation, project type, timelines, and personalities.
      * it lets us get some diversity in reviews! One thing my firm noticed was that because leaders at a certain level were predominantly men (it’s changing, but by one strata at a time), there was a lot of opportunity for women to feel less heard or like there may be bias there. Since we always have two people in anyway, we prioritized getting a woman leader on the review of every woman, and I know personally I could feel a shift in the balance and tone.
      * it trains those senior team members to be better bosses. They’re in a position to hear your goals and can be on your side now! Also they may be your next manager, and if that should happen they’ll be more capable and again more familiar with what you’re trying to achieve.

      1. Safety in numbers*

        I can go with my own personal experience. My manager lied. I absolutely would not have a one on one with her without someone else in the room. She would “conveniently” forget facts or say, “We didn’t discuss that” or “I never said that, we will agree to disagree.” This manager may be facing the same thing. Perhaps another employee has complained. I might be thinking this is on your manager and not on you.

  27. Keymaster of Gozer*

    OP1: totally normal mate. I left one firm because it was literally putting my life in danger (mental health).

    11 years later I remember the places with a lot of fondness, not because of the boss putting me through hell, but because I’m still friends with a lot of people there. The job benefits were actually incredible. The pay was decent. The firm was a monopoly, stable and at zero risk of going under.

    Just…nothing else was good. Finding a good thing after a horrible event/job can come from the dark side of humour or just rational thought but whatever it is, if it can bring even a wistful smile? Smiles are good these days.

    1. Coenobita*

      Totally agree. I got my first office job at 22 and stayed at that organization for 10 years. I thought I would be an old-school company (wo)man and stay forever. Then some serious things started changing, and I realized that wasn’t going to happen. Honestly, I had to spend time grieving before I could move on; it was like being broken up with after a long relationship. It’s been 2+ years since I left and I absolutely look back fondly. I get together with other current/former employees – I even (pre-covid) traveled across the country to visit my awesome old boss, who had left the company a couple years before I did.

  28. t*

    LW5 – I’m in a similar situation. I have stage 4 cancer and was diagnosed 15 months ago. The 5 year survival rate of my cancer is 20%; average life expectancy at diagnosis is 9 months.

    I love working. I’m good at what I do, and I’ve worked hard to get where I am, so for me, not working is not an option. But if you have stage 4 cancer, you generally qualify for disability immediately, so if work is not your life, you have options. Health insurance can be tougher, but there are options there too.

    I’ve been open with my boss, my peers and my team. In the beginning, I had no idea how it would go, so I just told people that I was undergoing treatment and if I needed anything I would let them know. I missed a month of work in the beginning and then was not super effective for another 6 weeks while I waited for chemo to start. People were very understanding and accommodating. (but I work for a very supportiive employer in general – if your employer is not this way I’m sure your experience would be different). Once I was being treated, I was able to function more or less normally other than treatment every other week, and life went on. Almost no one asked my prognosis, and if they did I just said there’s no way to know for sure – because that is my opinion on my diagnosis, despite the odds. 20% live for 5 years – that could be me

    Now that I know more, I share more when needed. I have a new leader I’m working with and I explained my situation and explained I’ll be on chemo for life and this cancer could take me in the next 5 years, but who knows? I have a new team member and I did call her to tell her personally before our first team meeting, because I hate to spring that information to someone in public in case they have a personal experience that would make them react badly to the news. But my treatment schedule is on our PTO calendar so it comes up in conversation regularly. No big deal.

    I have had a couple complications over the past year – one where I was out unexpectedly for over a week and another where I just wasn’t at full speed for a while. My team and peers stepped up to help and we got through it. That’s why I’m so open with my situation – when things go wrong, no one is unprepared and can step in as needed.

    I share my experience to show that you don’t have to stop working with cancer if you don’t want to. Again, lots of people choose to stop working and that works too, but if you really want to continue, it’s possible to have a terminal disease and still do the work you enjoy, until you decide it’s time to step away.

    Good luck

    1. t*

      I guess I missed the part where you’re asking how much to share. I told no one my prognosis unless they asked because, again, I view that as unknowable. I tell them what they need to know to accommodate me at work (I sometimes need to take Monday morning off if chemo is hitting me hard, I have a half day treatment every other week, etc). I share a bit more with the two people who would act as my backup if I was out unexpectedly. When I was under the weather for a month I let them know and they were prepared to step in where needed. They covered a few meetings here and there and no one was the wiser. :) But generally I don’t talk about the details because it doesn’t help them do their jobs, and for me, work helps me forget I have cancer, so I don’t want to go into the details. If anyone asks, or has a personal experience that helps them understand what I’m going through, I share a bit more, but that’s about it.

      I think the details are scary for someone who doesn’t know how cancer treatment works. It was for me before I started treatment! I just try to keep things as normal as possible so I’m not “the sick person”, but I just have this thing that takes me away half a day every other week. Other than that, I’m the same person I was before diagnosis.

      1. Lora*

        This: “the details are scary for someone who doesn’t know how cancer treatment works.”

        Survived 2 rounds with cancer (2 different cancers) and while the first time I was pretty open about the diagnosis, the second time I told almost nobody because people react so, so badly.

        There’s the magic essential oil / laetrile / Dr Oz woowoo people who are sure you just need your chakras aligned with crystals or whatever. There’s the religious people who suddenly feel compelled to evangelize in your presence when they never mentioned a hint of Jesus before. There’s the people who make it All About Them and suddenly burst into tears just passing you in the hallway because you reminded them of their poor granny who died of cancer and they’re like…constantly sobbing AT you, even when all you say is “hi” and it’s really weird because you barely know them. There’s the people who figure you must have done something (ate wrong food, didn’t exercise enough, drank a glass of wine once, don’t do enough yoga or do the wrong kind of yoga, don’t meditate to think happy thoughts) to deserve this and it would never happen to them and also feel compelled to tell you about how you deserve your sinful fate. There’s the people who are just constantly up in your face asking how ARE you (same as I was when you saw me 20 minutes ago…). The people who want to shave their heads and do a fundraiser walk with matching t-shirts for your benefit because it will help Spread Awareness and are also making it weirdly about them. The people who suddenly don’t know how to speak to you at ALL and awkwardly don’t even say hello to you in the hallway in case they catch whatever you got. The people who want to tell you, at length, that doctors don’t know crap, there’s medical miracles every day and you’re going to live to be 100 and fool em all and refuse to accept a diagnosis that you have already accepted and made peace with. The people who insist on making you a casserole you can’t eat, or otherwise trying to help but not knowing how and won’t accept “no, please do not do this, I don’t actually want anything” as an answer. The people who want to know every detail of how this is affecting your spouse, your kids, your family, your finances, your sex life, and it’s really none of their friggin business and you are not even remotely good friends yet they feel entitled to this information.

        There’s just SO MANY people who react terribly to the news, and 1) you can’t unring that bell 2) it’s EXHAUSTING to deal with their horrible reactions all the time when on top of that you’re dealing with your own stuff. They mean well, probably, but it leaves you gritting your teeth and counting to 100 on days when you’re already tired and don’t need their crap on top of everything else. I found it easier to explain only to HR and the on-site medical staff who actually needed to know, and tell everyone else I had some medical stuff to take care of, no big deal. I think most people assumed my chemo appointments were actually physical therapy, it’s the same kind of regular frequency for months on end.

        I would think about what you will need in very specific terms: time off, adjusted schedule for naps, desk within sprinting distance of the restroom, work from home capability, etc and ask for those things while you’re still feeling pretty okay, in case there are logistical challenges that must be overcome. For example let’s say you need approval from Senior Executiye to work from home or adjust your schedule or whatever, and Senior Executive goes on vacation and then forgets and then screws around without making a decision, this buys you some time to get it done without necessarily having to shout at top volume, “I will literally be DEAD before you get your s#!t together to sign a goddam piece of paper!” at a time when you don’t have capacity to advocate very loudly for yourself.

        1. t*

          Despite my openness, I haven’t experienced many of the reactions you mention at work, but I’ve had a bunch of them in my personal life. The judgy ones who tell me sugar feeds cancer are the worst! I know vegan marathon runners diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. It’s not as simple as you ate the wrong foods/didn’t exercise/drank too much. There are plenty of alcoholics that don’t die of cancer.

  29. Rainbow Brite*

    #3: About nerves affecting recall — oh, boy, can they ever. I have an excellent memory and recall in normal circumstances; it’s something I’ve been praised for at work/is often commented on by others, so I know it’s not just bad self-assessment. But believe me when I tell you that it all goes right out the window when I get nervous, and you know what makes me the most nervous? Job interviews. It’s remarkable to the point of ridiculousness — as in, the second I leave the interview room, I completely blank on the people who just interviewed me. It’s like a weirdly specific face blindness, and I’ve now learned to take notes in interviews about my interviewers’ names, because I have never once been able to remember the people who interviewed me after getting a job (and wow, is that mortifying when I say, “nice to meet you” and they have to remind me we’ve already met).

    So, yeah, that’s a very long-winded way of saying: please don’t do this. Testing people after letting them know they’re going to be tested, as Alison suggested, is a little better, but if there’s any way you could separate out that test from the interview itself, that would be better still. Could you send out some kind of written assessment, or even do a verbal one following the interview proper? Or just ask some behavioural questions about a time or situation when canditates needed to demonstrate those skills you’re looking for?

  30. Knitting Cat Lady*


    The test you are proposing tests short term memory. I can memorize a lengthy poem 30 minutes before I have to reproduce it, but it will be gone within a few hours.

    Such a test is useful for cognitive evaluation. To check impairment or see if there’s brain damage.

    It was a component of most of the basic mental health state evaluations I did.

    I have a memory like a steel trap. It comes in handy. The most useful part? Remembering where I can look stuff up!

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I love your last point! I too am the go-to person for project history questions, even though it’s all in a database. Sometimes I’m rushed to give an answer immediately. I’ve gotten to the point where I now say, “I don’t know but we can look it up.” And then I share my screen and talk through every stage of looking it up. Because they have the same database access and it’s getting ridiculous.
      Sorry, OP, just drifted off your question, but really it has become a pet peeve. So, unless you have a immediate need for immediate recall, before there is a chance to write things down, do consider asking people about how they track, organize and record details at work.

    2. Generic Name*

      This is a great point! Short term and long term memory are totally different things. I have a great long term memory and a so-so short term memory. If you need someone to remember stuff from weeks or months ago, asking them to remember something for maybe an hour won’t give you the answer that you need.

      I also wonder if there is more background to the need for an employee who has a great memory. Sure, sometime it’s a bonafide job qualification, bit I wonder how many people with great memories you’re thinking if actually have great *systems* for keeping track of information. My client has client management software that has spaces for people to include family info if clients. Not in a creepy way, but so we can connect better with our clients.

  31. Teyra*

    #2: I also have an opposite sex housemate, and while it’s 100% fine and fun living with him, I’d say the majority of people I’ve mentioned him to have assumed we were dating. I emailed someone at work saying his name and referring to him as my housemate, and their response was how long I’d been with my ‘boyfriend’ HisName. On the few occasions he’s come up in conversation I’ve had a couple of people misunderstand ‘housemate’ and assume I meant boyfriend, and then assume I have a boyfriend and get confused when I point out I don’t. It doesn’t come up that much, mostly because I moved very recently and mid-pandemic for the job, so people ask how that went. Also other friends have heard me say ‘housemate’ and then referred to him as ‘she’ unless I specify that he is a man.

    The joys of a heteronormative society.

    1. virago*

      “I also have an opposite-sex housemate, and while it’s 100% fine and fun living with him, I’d say that the majority of people I’ve mentioned him to have assumed we were dating. I emailed someone at work saying his name and referring to him as my ‘housemate,’ and their response was how long I’d been with my ‘boyfriend’ HisName.”

      To hear this makes me a bit glum, to be honest, because I am a cisgender woman who lived platonically with a cisgender male co-worker in the late 1980s, when we were both in our mid 20s.

      Nobody we worked with batted an eye, or ever brought up our living situation. And where we lived was a small town in a small, rural state, neither of them known for their progressive attitudes.

      Perhaps nobody commented because my employer at the time did not pay us very well and everyone we worked with assumed (correctly) that my co-worker and I shared a place to save money.

      Still, I’m taken aback, and not happily so, to hear of a workplace where two co-workers of the opposite sex who share living quarters are presumed to be a couple.

      “The joys of a heteronormative society,” indeed.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Some people will always talk about you behind your back and there’s not much you can do about it. You just have to stop caring what others think and set boundaries if needed. At my last company, I was one of very few women in the IT department and most of my friends were men. I’m sure there were rumors about me and a few of them that I hung out with the most, and honestly I don’t really care. If someone’s life is so boring that they need to make up stuff about me, so be it.

        1. virago*

          I hear you. Gossip will always be with us. So will people who get their jollies keeping tabs on what others are doing. Or not doing — it’s been a minute since I’ve had an active personal life, and I’ve been amused at what the grapevine has said about me when I’ve actually been home, reading true crime.

          But consider that I lived platonically with an opposite-sex co-worker in 1989-1990. In a small town and a small company, with all the dysfunction that can go along with that. (Plus the overbearing owner was the father or stepfather of several of my other co-workers.) Still, there were no suggestive remarks and no questions in the workplace. And my friends understood that we were housemates, not a couple.

          To think that Teyra doesn’t get the same consideration in 2020, thirty years later, makes me think that we’ve gone backward as a culture in some respects.

    2. The Rural Juror*

      I lived with an opposite sex housemate in college. We had grown up together in a small town and he had been my brother’s best friend since grade school. We were both at the same university and it made sense to live together since we had known each for years and we knew we were never going to date. He was practically family.

      We got a LOT of comments from people back home who just assumed we were dating and didn’t want anyone in our conservative families to know we were living together as a couple. It was very annoying! And so far from the truth! In fact, his girlfriend stayed with us almost every weekend!

      Some people just like to talk, which says a lot more about them than anything.

  32. V*

    LW5, if you want people to know and you want to carry on working, but you don’t want to be the person to have to tell everyone the news and deal with all their reactions, then have your boss or HR let people know the situation. This has happened a couple of times in my work, and by having a neutral third party share the news it takes the pressure off – if someone hears the news and breaks down in tears, it’s not on *you* to have to deal with their grief for you.

    I am so sorry you are in this position, and I wish you the very best of luck and love to get through these next few difficult months.

  33. Hotdog not dog*

    #4, I was occasionally asked to sit in on review meetings with other managers for various reasons, including that the other manager was new, a difficult topic where I had more expertise was expected to be introduced, or one or both parties felt that they wanted a witness in case the conversation went poorly. You didn’t mention gender; back in the bad old days it was also common for male managers to have a female manager sit in on any meeting with a female subordinate to avoid claims or appearances of inappropriate behavior. (You know, because women make men lose control of themselves…okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now!) It’s fine to ask why, and also fine to ask for a one on one.

    1. Bagpuss*

      It’s also possible that it is part of an evaluation of the manager, or due to concerns about their work.
      A few years ago, when we were working on managing out a particular individual, we did have a third party sit in on some of the reviews they did. The reason was that we had concerns about their favoritism and some other issues, so we needed to ensure that the people they were reviewing were getting a fair review, and that their record keeping accurately reflected what was said. Since we couldn’t say to the people being reviewed that we were monitoring their manager it wasn’t framed that way, and we did also have a second person sit in with other managers too so that problem person couldn’t claim that they were being treated unfairly and undermined.. It was not fun for anyone but it was necessary to get us to the point where we could address their failings

      1. Hotdog not dog*

        Yes, often this too. If the manager was being observed, we typically framed it another way so they would be more likely to proceed as usual.

    2. a manager*

      Agree, Hotdog. As a gay, female manager of an unbelievably homophobic (and malcontent) female (now former) employee, I changed my approach and had a peer sit in on performance reviews as a silent third party so that we could comfortably close the door for privacy, but without putting my reputation and career at risk of false allegations. Now that time has passed I can see that it might have been a bit much, but I felt threatened and I’d probably do it again.

  34. old curmudgeon*

    OP#5, I am so very sorry to hear that you are dealing with this diagnosis.

    One suggestion that you may wish to consider is to work with a grief counselor who specializes in helping people deal with a diagnosis like this. You will need to do your own grief work as you go through the next months, grieving the loss of the many things you had expected life to bring you, and that process can be greatly eased by working with a compassionate and knowledgeable counselor. Your oncology practice may be able to refer you to a reputable counselor, or perhaps the hospice organization in your area has some suggestions.

    The reason I mention this at all is that your coworkers are also going to be grieving, and while hopefully none of them are the needy type who will expect you to privilege caring for their feelings over your own, human nature being what it is, there is a possibility that at least one or two folks will be that self-centered and clueless. Working with a specialized grief counselor can not only give you useful guidance for processing your own emotions, but also some help in responding to the office limpet who wants to hang around your neck sobbing every time they see you.

    One thing my late mother used to do was to be very up-front and in-your-face about reminding people “I am still Anne – I am NOT my cancer. I am still just as feisty and funny and smart and capable as I’ve always been, and don’t you ever forget it.” Because people unfortunately will lose sight of the real you, and they will want to make you into your diagnosis so they can obsess over it. So any tool you can use to keep reminding colleagues that your cancer does not define or change the ineffable you will be helpful, and a good counselor can help you build that tool-chest.

    I send wishes for peace and comfort, and I hope that the months to come are filled with love from those around you, leavened with laughter as needed.

    1. Forrest*

      When my mum was terminally ill, she was very vocal about the friends who came and sat with her for two hours or more with long faces saying, “Oh, we’re going to miss you so terribly”, versus the ones who breezed in, did 20-30 minutes of gossip and laughter, and then said, “Gosh, is that the time! I must be off! lovely to see you!”

    2. Harper the Other One*

      Second the recommendation to find counseling if possible. A friend’s husband recently died several years after a cancer diagnosis; neither of them sought out counseling because they didn’t really want to think about it. Except, I think there were things they would have done differently if they had really faced the reality that his time was limited.

      It would also be good to seriously consider the amount of medical intervention you want to do; some interventions cause a lot of pain/side effects for minimal benefits and there’s research that shows palliative care can actually result in longer and more “usable” time in certain cases. I highly recommend Atul Gawande’s “Being Mortal” for some discussions about this.

  35. Ubi Caritas*

    Normally my memory is great – but not when I’m really nervous. An interviewer would not get an accurate idea of my abilities, especially if the information is at the beginning of an interview.

  36. Andy*

    L4 Is it possible the manager consulted the senior before meeting and created evaluation based on what senior said. If for example the work is technical and manager non-technical, manager does not have knowledge to evaluate work. Or if the managers duties do not involve looking over details of day to day work.

    In that case, senior would be because senior is part of performance evaluation process.

    1. OtherSide*


      My husband is an engineer. His supervisor is a project manager. Her team consists of multiple people with different skills. She knows, generally, he does what she asks and gets the job done but has no clue if he’s doing it correctly or efficiently. Part of his performance review is a 4 way meeting with a big dog in the company, a higher level engineer in another department (that’s all engineers) and his boss. Its not the whole thing, but an important part

  37. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #3 – I’ve got a great memory, but I don’t pick stuff up from conversations nearly as well as I do from reading. Unless that’s how they’re going to be getting the information in the first place, doing an oral quiz like that is going to be useless. And if that *is* how information is passed, then I for sure will be taking lots of notes and reviewing them as part of my job.

  38. agnes*

    LW #5 I am so sorry that you have been given such a difficult diagnosis. I hope you are getting love and support as you walk this path.

    When we had a similar situation in our workplace recently , the employee decided to pick a “point person” they shared information with and that person was empowered to share with the rest of the team. The employee did not want to have conversations about their health and just wanted to come to work and work. Designating a point person allowed the employee to focus on work and not answer the same questions over and over again. That’s what the employee wanted and the team honored that request. We also had HR stay in close contact with the employee and we also had EAP work with the team. We convened the workgroup a few times to check in with them.

    I also want to remind you that work is just work. If you had to be out without any notice due to an accident or something you could not anticipate, they would figure out how to get the work done. Please don’t feel so overly responsible for the continuity of the workplace that you shortchange your own emotional and physical needs and those of your loved ones.

    Sending light and strength.

  39. 7310*

    #3 and Recall.
    Not everyone recalls the same way and the expectation that people can or should rely entirely on memory to recall information is an invitation to disaster: things are misremembered, parts of processes are left out, employees rework processes to suit their needs rather than following protocol, safety is ignored in favor of getting the job done, not to mention the amount of general stress and anxiety it puts on employees which compounds errors.

  40. Pretzelgirl*

    OP1- I had an incredibly toxic job at one point. I worked for a tiny non-profit on a very small team. We were a very close team. Honestly they were some of the best co-workers, I have ever had. My boss, culture and board were the problem. TBH my boss was a good person, but a horrendous manager. I was thrilled to leave. But when I left I missed my co-workers a lot. I did miss parts of my job as well. Since it was so small, as long as work was done, I could come and go as I pleased. Sometimes my work was done for the day by 11am. We worked in a great part of town for shopping and dining and we would dash out for a quick lunch and to roam around etc. After I started my new job and realized what I left I stopped missing it. I now have a great and supportive boss. I support (admin) a FANTASTIC team of people. Its a large company, with wonderful benefits. It may take some time and a job that is not TOXIC at all. But I assure you are normal.

    Also I went to many therapy sessions about my former job. I developed pretty bad anxiety as a result of my old job. I am not saying this is the case for you. But if you feel it is, I cant recommend therapy enough to work thru your feelings.

  41. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #3 please don’t do that. I am very organized and detail oriented, but I suck at the telephone game. People have different ways of remembering things. Personally I have to write things down. That doesn’t mean I forget stuff all the time and can’t do my job. And expecting people to remember every detail of a story you tell them (especially when they’re probably nervous being interviewed) is unfair and has the potential for you to miss out on a good candidate for the job.

  42. AthenaC*

    OP3 – if you’ve got time for it, here’s what I would suggest:

    – Tell the candidate just what Alison suggested – that recall is important so you’d like to do a short exercise
    – Physically get up with the candidate and move somewhere else (to help the shift in mental focus)
    – Either provide the details in the form of introducing the candidate to other folks on the team (or have them introduce themselves). Another option would be to “introduce” them to a (nonsensitive, nonproprietary) piece of machinery. Like, say, the copier or the microwave. Maybe the silliness of that would help them relax a bit.
    – Do this exercise twice, if you can. I think that would give you a better sense of how well they would actually perform on the job.

    Good luck!

    1. AthenaC*

      Also, if you introduce all new candidates to Susanna, the copier, pretty soon you’ll have an office full of people referring to the copier as Susanna, which I think would be pretty entertaining. But that’s completely a side issue and not what you wrote in about.

  43. Anon again*

    My cowerker’s illness ended up not being terminal, but he had a serious colon cancer diagnosis at 45. He chose to tell us in a meeting as a group. He is a joker and many of us sent him memes and other things to try to help lift his spirits before he went on sick leave. Our organization supported him by letting him work from an office much closer to his home and doctors’ offices and treatment facilities so we did not see him for over nine months. One byproduct of his illness was the cancer awareness message to get a colonoscopy when you hit 50. Another person I knew in another division died about a year after this of colon cancer at age 42. You better believe I got my colonoscopy soon after I turned 50 about nine months after this. They found one precancerous polyp.

    Everyone is different. You need to do what is best for you and helps make your life easier.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      They really need to lower the age in the screening guidelines. Making it 50 only ensures people will go years without a diagnosis and by the time they get one, it’ll be dang near terminal.

  44. LQ*

    #3 I think a good way to do this would be to share details of the job, this might include stuff that would be important to the candidate (think health/retirement/pto information) and also something they have a framework for holding in their head. Plus it’s not just a test, it’s actually giving them useful information.

  45. B Wayne*

    LW5: As a cancer survivor (10 years last week for the last radiation treatment to end the chemo/radiation series. I was off work for six months exactly and did forward a few emails or texts during that time) I am shocked that you could even put any emphasis at all on work. It isn’t important anymore. Only your personal situation is important at this time. Believe me, you can give and give to work if you want but in the end they will say “LW5 sure did work up to the end for some reason. Now, let’s find a replacement.”

    1. Bopper*

      But it may be that the OP wants to do some work as a distraction or to have a feeling of doing something or to keep in touch with their work colleagues. But I agree…don’t go crazy!

    2. Anonosaurus*

      I’m glad you are a survivor, but your experience isn’t universal. My late husband worked for as long as he could. He benefited from his relationships with his colleagues, who were amazing without being excessive; from keeping that part of his identity alive rather than just being “a cancer patient”, and from having something else to think about. I have to say I dislike the common reaction that “nothing matters but family etc” in this situation, because I think that reduces the complexity of someone’s life and identity to a Hallmark card. My husband’s priorities were for him to choose and just because he worked, it didn’t mean we lost out on meaningful time with him. I also worked until the last few months of his life because it helped keep me sane to have a place in my life that was still about what I could do rather than being a carer.

      OP, I agree with those who have said that you perhaps don’t need to feel too obligated to tidy things up for the business if there’s something else you would find more meaningful. What is meaningful to you may also change. But work can be an important part of life, and if you decide that you want to continue with it, that is your choice. I totally agree with the advice to get someone else to head off the crystal pushers/the “my mom’s neighbor had it and did X” miseries/the histrionics who will make their emotions about your health into your problem. I also wonder if you might feel better about sitting down and making a plan so that you can almost put that to one side for now and get what you need from being at work?

      I wish you the best.

  46. kvite*

    OP3 – The kind of recall you’re suggesting for an interview is very different from the kind of recall you’ve said is important to the job “remembering details from weeks or months ago”. There are a lot of steps to recalling information, and there’s an element of “meaningfulness” around remembering.

    Are you asking people to remember truly random information? One of the skills wrapped up in remembering is “noticing”. Are you asking people to notice relatively random things (What color shoes was the client wearing to the meeting last April?) or are there consistent elements across projects, meaningful to the projects, that it’s always important to pay attention to (for example – “it’s important to remember a client’s affect when they assent to this part of our project – were they hesitant or confident?)

    People also have strategies for remembering things over a longer term – which cannot be employed in your interview scenario. For example – they may keep a work journal where they write down important details either during or after a meeting. They may review that journal twice per month as a way of retaining important pieces of information.

    My suggestion is that you give some specific examples of the kinds of details you’d like people to notice, over what period of time and why, and ask them what kinds of strategies they have for that kind of recall.

  47. Delta Delta*

    #2 – My first thought is that literally nobody cares whether two people are housemates. In fact, it even makes a lot of sense that 2 new hires from the same university, moving across the country at the same time, and who don’t know the lay of the land yet, would end up sharing housing for a little while. It’s often a lot easier to find a new residence once you’re on the ground; you’d know areas you like, you’d know your budget, etc.

    I’m picking up that OP is projecting some of her own thoughts/beliefs onto people (and an entire state) she doesn’t know. I’ll encourage OP to be careful about making these sweeping generalizations before making this big move. It may turn out this move isn’t right for OP in the long run, but it feels like OP is setting herself up to find reasons to actively dislike her situation before she even gets there. I hope I’m wrong – it’s just the impression I get.

  48. Joanna*

    LW5. I’m so sorry to hear about your diagnosis. I hope you can make the best of the time you have left. My mom went through breast cancer treatment 10 years ago, and I did tell my team what was going on. Every week for about a year, one of my male coworkers would walk up to me, wave his hand around his chest area and ask me how my mom was doing. It was exhausting. The best part about work during that time was it kept my mind off of what my mom was going through, and once a week, this guy would interrupt that and make me think about how scared I was for my mom. I really regretted letting him know. When my dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I only told my boss and a close coworker I could trust to handle it gently. My dad lived for two more years, and I never regretted keeping it to myself.

    I do have a customer contact that I believe has terminal cancer. I’ve been speaking with her weekly for about a decade, and I definitely noticed that something was going on. She accidentally included me on an email to her boss about going for chemo, so we ended up talking about it. I made clear that I knew I had gotten the information by accident, and that I wouldn’t share that information with anyone. In a away, it made me feel a little better because I knew something was going on, and it helped to have context, but I’m also really sad for her, and have made sure never to bring it up unless she does.

    Overall though, I think you should do what feels best for you. What you need now is more important than managing your coworkers emotions. If you want to keep it to yourself until you can’t anymore, I think that’s what you should do.

  49. Trout 'Waver*

    In regards to LW#3, Recall is not a useful mechanism for retaining information. Memories are notoriously nebulous and can depend a lot on external and environmental factors. Human memory works by filling in gaps. People are really bad at differentiating those false memories from the scraps of real ones.

    If information is important enough that you’re making hiring and firing decisions on it, it should be important enough to document and retain that way.

  50. Bopper*

    If you told your coworkers you had cancer, there are two aspects:
    1) The initial telling of them
    2) Interacting with them on an ongoing basis

    If you wanted to keep working or be open to questions, you could tell them that you are undergoing treatments for Stage 4 (?) cancer but you will continue to work (or not work) part time.

    For the ongoing interactions, you could tell people that you will update one person on how things are going with your treatments, but would prefer that conversations with most people with you be about work or “regular” stuff but not cancer as you don’t want to talk about that all the time.

  51. Jules the 3rd*

    OP2: I was in a similar situation years back. Don’t worry about it. Just say ‘room mate’ or ‘house mate’ or whatever you’re comfortable with.

    It can actually be an advantage for people to assume you’re dating. When I mentioned my new boyfriend at work, I had 2 men tell me that if they’d realized my room mate was not my boyfriend they would have asked me out themselves. They were the only people who cared at all. I was relieved to have not had to deal with that.

    It does mean that if you become interested in someone at work, you should ask them out instead of waiting for them to ask you. Alison’s got good scripts for how to do that gracefully.

  52. Toxic Waste*

    #1- This is what scares me because I am currently in a toxic, dysfunctional place and all of my previous jobs were toxic as well. I’m worried that I’ll accept this as normal- to have a boss yelling at you, hovering over you, coworkers who mock/belittle you. I get sucked up into it and worry that it’s something that I have come to accept/attract/etc.

    Deep down, I still know that it’s wrong and professional places aren’t like this. I’ve made some good friends at my previous job, so while it was bad, something good came out of it.

  53. EnfysNest*

    #4 – At my work, there’s a union agreement that if there are multiple management-level folks in a meeting like this, we’re allowed to request a union representative to be in the meeting as well. Even if you don’t have a union with the same rule or if you wouldn’t want to add *another* person to the meeting anyway, the reason we have that stipulation is that there is an inherent power imbalance to that situation, and I just wanted to acknowledge that you have every right to feel awkward about it. It may be for an innocuous reason from their point of view, like your manager is being trained and that the senior person isn’t interested in your performance specifically, but it still makes sense for you to be uncomfortable and it’s worth asking if you can stick with the one-on-one format you previously had.

    1. Granger*

      I like this, but all I can think of is Michael Scott demanding that “Darryl from the warehouse” attend his meeting with Jan.

  54. EGA*

    LW5: I work in HR, so slightly different, but we had an employee resign just stating she had been diagnosed with cancer and would be resigning to deal with that. I have no clue if it was terminal, if she had been diagnosed previously, etc. and I didn’t need to know.

    We wished her well and I hope she is healthy now.

  55. Learning As I Go*

    OP5, I’m so sorry about your diagnosis. I agree with Alison that you are totally within your rights to think of yourself and your comfort. I’d just like to add that if working more will truly make you happy and be a positive distraction for you, go for it! But if you’d only be doing it out of a sense of duty, this is a time when you shouldn’t worry about that.

  56. cncx*

    RE OP3, i have a learning disability plus some other mental issues that affect my working memory, which affects my ability to recall stuff that isn’t written down. Stuff that is in long term memory is fine but until it gets there i need a lot of rote. I choose jobs that help me hide this or work around it (my current job has a lot of repetitive tasks). I think if i was interviewing and the interviewer told me straight up, without the gotcha, that this job requires a lot of attention to detail and ability to remember random details, i would probably use it as a mark against and in the case of two job offers not pick that one. I have things to mitigate the cases in my job where i need to remember random stuff but i wouldn’t work in a place where it was my whole job (like with event planning- i can and have planned successful, large events, but i hate it even if it is in my skill set).

    I get that it’s corona season and not everyone is going to self-select themselves out of a job when they have bills to pay but i maintain that being honest in the job description and giving examples might help someone realize that this is either something they don’t want or will struggle with.

  57. 867-5309*

    OP5, A few years ago an beloved employee died at the age of 36. I was new at the time and did not know her well, but those who worked with her for years were of course devastated.

    Seconded Alison’s comment and others: You need to do what is best for you. Full stop.

    The coworkers who you might count as friends or those you work closely with on projects will likely want to know because they care about you, but no one is going to be worried about you finishing the project. That is not why you need to tell them. Tell them if it brings you comfort to be open.

  58. Sled Dog Mama*

    LW#5: I’ve never had a terminal co-worker (that I know of) but I do work in cancer care.
    The patients I’ve seen do the best and have the best quality of life for the longest (especially the ones that we see and think how is that person still walking around?) are those that focus on what gives them strength. For some that is working and keeping their lives as close to pre diagnosis or progression as possible. For others it is making a radical change to focus on their families or a hobby or just enjoying the time left. The common thread is that they focus on something that they draw strength, comfort and enjoyment from.
    The other thing I’ve seen common to those who have a good quality of life until the end is that they plan. They discuss what their wishes are for the end with family and close friends. You could extend this to work by figuring out what you want and discussing how to get that with your supervisor. Do you want to go part-time at some point? Do you want people to never ask you about your diagnosis at work? I can’t say for sure but it seems that this planning enables the person to get what they need from others by communicating proactively. I’ve seen many people plan their own funeral/memorial services and almost all take great pride in doing that for their families and see it as a way to help their families with the grieving process (my elderly grandfather planned his own service and it was such a relief to my dad to know that we were honoring his father’s wishes in every way from his burial to the scriptures read at his service).
    As an aside do take time discuss your options and wishes with family and your healthcare providers now, even if you have an advance directive now is the time to make sure they know your wishes.

    I have to echo several other commenters who have said that you should sit on the information for a bit, the news can be very scary and over a short amount of time you are taking in a lot of new information. It’s going to take you some time to process this information. Wait until you’ve had that time to process to tell anyone besides your closest confidants.
    I’m very sorry to hear about your diagnosis and I wish you only the best in navigating this.

  59. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

    LW 5….I am so so sorry you are going through this. I am going to echo all of those folks who are saying screw the job, do what YOU want…but with a little bit of context.

    In July of 2016, I was diagnosed with eye cancer. This was devastating to me, as my aunt had been diagnosed with eye cancer three years before my diagnosis. One year later, it was found to have metastasized to her liver. Eight days (EIGHT DAYS) after finding that out, my beloved aunt was dead. Watching her go and knowing how long it had ultimately taken from eye cancer diagnosis to death–and knowing the toll it had taken on our family–helped me to make my decision.

    I still had to go for a second opinion as well as a full body PET scan. I had decided if the PET scan showed the cancer in any other part of my body, screw the second opinion. I was going to get $50K from my mom and dad and I was going to go on a road trip all over the USA and see the places I’d always wanted to see and also say goodbye to my friends. I would travel until I couldn’t and then I would return to my parents’ home to die. If the PET scan was clear, I would go to Wills Eye Hospital and get the second opinion. I had a good paying job, but if I had cancer, there was no way I was going to seek treatment. I’d rather go on my road trip and create some awesome memories for me and my friends, instead of going through chemo, losing my hair, blah blah blah…..and continue working? Hell to the no. My life just got shorter.

    It turned out to be a non-cancerous tumor on the choroid layer of my eye (tumor is named George) so all of my cancer plans died on August 13, 2016 (the date of my second opinion) and I am so happy about that. (In the oddest coinkydink EVER, August 13, 2016 was the two year anniversary of my aunt’s death….)

    I tell you all of this to tell you that if you have been given a deadline, SCREW WORK. You go make the best memories for yourself and your loved ones with the time you have left. Borrow some money, and hit the road. Go to the diamond mine and look for a diamond. Go to the NE USA and enjoy some awesome food. Head to the south and find a crawfish boil to enjoy. Get some beignets at the Cafe du Monde and a Hurricane at Pat O’s. Do whatever makes you happy.

    You are in my prayers….

  60. There’s probably a cat meme to describe it*

    OP5: Since your question is ”Would you prefer to know less or more? What could they have done differently to make it easier on you — and on themselves?”

    So, this is my story. I joined a new team once with a lovely admin person, “Rose” who looked after my on-boarding. Sensing I was more the shy, nervous type, (probably being sensitive that way herself) she really put in a lot of effort to show me around, introduce me to people and get me comfortable, and frequently checked in to make sure I was settling in ok. Needless to say, I thought she was an especially kind and special human and I really appreciated her.

    I heard through office rumour that Rose had had struggles with her health, but it wasn’t my business and not something that was ever my place – new or not – to probe.

    One day we had lunch just the 2 of us and she mentioned on her own how tough the last year had been, that the doctors told her it looked like it was coming back and that more battles were a foregone conclusion given her genetics. She said she didn’t know who at work to tell, or if to even tell anyone because the place was such a gossip mill. But for whatever reason, she found a kinship with me and trusted me. She didn’t explicitly mention it was terminal though, and she brushed it all off with this semi-casual, semi-hysterical laugh about “well, that’s NOT going to happen to me again, NO WAY I’LL ALLOW IT HAHAHAHA!”

    And you know, I thought: well good on her, this shit is not getting her down and she’s pushing on though. And in turn, I checked in on her, offered to run gossip mill interference, and true to her wishes, never spoke about it with anyone at work. Time went on, I got busy with work, she apparently got busy… organising lists and things. Everything seemed ok..?

    Then she took a few days off on sick leave. And out of nowhere: an emergency team meeting announcing her passing.

    Found out later – through the gossip mill she so resented – that it was suicide.

    All I could think about, and often still do think about, is how could I have missed her meaning in “well, that’s NOT going to happen to me again, NO WAY I’LL ALLOW IT” and what could I have done to help her at least not feel so alone? Should I have told someone? Why didn’t I really hear what she was saying in that comment…?

    But… whatever anguish I feel about it also pales into insignificance compared to whatever she felt about it.

    So, advice? I dunno, OP. You do you. If working feels good, do it. Or don’t! If telling people feels good, do it. Or don’t! It’s your time and you get to make the rules. Much love.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Oh wow. I hope you know this wasn’t on you. Your friend was struggling, so she decided to go out on her own terms. There isn’t anything you could have said or done to change her mind.

      I’m sorry for your loss.

    2. EngineerMom*

      Hey, this is NOT on you. I’m so sorry for the loss of your friend.

      Not everyone chooses to share health information at work (physical or mental health). Please don’t feel guilty for anything.

    3. PVR*

      I am sorry for the loss of your friend. I have also lost a friend to suicide and I can’t tell you the number of times I wished I could sit with her in the moments before she died. And of course, after she was gone certain things she had said took on entirely different meanings with the perspective of her planned action. But no matter how much we wish we could change the outcome, could our friend’s minds, we can’t. It isn’t on us to have deciphered a hidden meaning and I don’t think our friends meant for us to figure it out ahead of time. Even if we had, the sad truth is, it may not have mattered. They made the choices they made for the reasons they did. It’s so sad, and I’m sorry for your loss. Internet socially distanced virtual hugs if you want them.

      1. Different name*

        I don’t think our friends meant for us to figure it out ahead of time.

        Thank you for this, PVR. It’s healing and I didn’t know I needed to hear that. And I’m really sorry for the loss of your friend too. (Thank you also Diahann Carroll and EngineerMom).

        I respect Rose’s right to make the choice that she did in the circumstances, and I’m honestly glad it didn’t click because I would have had a horrible moral conflict over what to do with that information.

        My regret is not being as attentive and supportive during her final weeks as she was with me during my first, because I didn’t realise that’s where things were at.

        I guess that’s what I was hoping the OP could take out of my story… that sometimes there just isn’t a good middle ground between less info and more info in terms of making it easier to process. And it’s all moot anyway since OP’s needs are the most important, and their colleagues will recognise that.

  61. Matilda Jefferies*

    OP3, are you familiar with the “selective attention test” on YouTube? I highly recommend it, if you haven’t seen it already.

    If this type of recall really is critical for the job, then you should be transparent about it from the outset. Start by being very explicit in the job ad. It should say that the job requires excellent attention to detail, and the ability to recall X, and that candidates can expect to be tested on this skill in the interview.

    Then when you’re arranging the interview, remind them of the skill requirement and the test. This may seem counterproductive, if you’re trying to test recall ability, but remember that your candidates are likely applying for more than one job, and may also have a current job, and likely dozens of other things taking up space in their brain. If this skill really is as important as you say it is, you’ll want to make sure candidates are aware of it, and give them the opportunity to prepare!

    Finally, after all that, you can go ahead with your test. I actually think the test itself is not a bad idea, as long as you’re clear about it up front. At this stage of the game, you want to set people up for success, not failure. If someone can’t pass the test even with all the advance warnings, you know for sure they’re not right for the job. If they do pass the test – maybe it’s because they’re good at the job, or maybe they’re only passing because of all the advance warnings. So then you can set up a second round with a different kind of test, to see if they can still do it without the prep.

    1. Observer*

      Your suggestion takes care of one aspect of the issue.

      The other aspect is that they are testing for short term recall, but they say that they need recall from weeks or months ago. This kind of test does nothing for that.

  62. Emilitron*

    Question #3 reminds me of the Jasper Fforde book Early Riser. It’s a very fictional setting not even as realistic as a dystopia and too weird to call scifi. Early in the book, the main character needs a job; there’s a scene with what’s effectively an alumni recruiter coming to his school and giving a nonsensical speech at dinner, then a job interview that consists of his ability to recite the speech back to the recruiter unprompted. (And the entire rest of the book in which it eventually becomes clear why perfect recall is the only way to understand how messed up everything is without the use of written records)
    If OP would like to be convinced that this is a terrible idea, reading that scene might help.

      1. JustaTech*

        I thought of that scene immediately!
        Great book, btw, and fascinating world building. Highly recommend.

  63. drpuma*

    LW3, What about sending a link or PDF ahead of time, for example the day before or at the time you confirm the interview (assuming the confirmation – interview interval is the same for all candidates)? That way candidates will know coming in that you highly value independent recall, will be able to use some of the same strategies they might in real life, and also can self-select out if that aspect of the role is not for them.

    Also… You don’t mention what kind of job or industry this is, but I do have to ask…… how is your documentation? Standard Operating Procedures, customer relationship management, whatever is relevant for you. Do they really have to remember everything?

    1. Rosalind Montague*

      In our interview process, we sometimes give people a written scenario. They have 15 minutes to read and take as many notes as they wish. Then, during the interview, we ask them what steps would they take to handle the scenario. It allows us to hear how they think through/process some of the real-life challenges in our industry. It also allows us to compare more and less experienced candidates across a more even playing field, because the scenario is similar across the board. (This is often in addition to “tell me about a time when…” questions, which can yield really different results based on candidate’s experiences.)

  64. Jam Today*

    LW makes me think of a job I had for about seven years, at a company that was jerkish at best and outright brutal and abusive to me at the end. Despite that, I have this deep weird emotional attachment to it that I can’t shake (even a decade later) and the only thing I can compare it to is an emotionally abusive relationship I was in, where I was deeply attached to someone who was cruel to me because he enjoyed it. All I can do is just accept it as a unit of “experience”, put a wall around it, and treat it as a curious artifact from my past that I can’t really explain because the amount of time I spent tolerating it simply makes no sense. The best outcome from both situations is that — with time and distance — I can analyze specific events, and look for warning signs in my present life, and avoid the same path(s).

  65. Ciela*

    LW 5: I am so sorry. But yes, make whatever care decisions you feel are best for you.
    One of my co-workers passed away last year, about a year after he received a terminal diagnosis. He wanted to keep work as normal as possible as long as possible. He didn’t volunteer many details beyond the days he would be out for treatment. We respected his privacy, and didn’t ask for more.
    Towards the end, his job was too physically demanding, but he wouldn’t ask for help. Bosses told the rest of us to keep an eye on him, and just help him with the heavy lifting. Not offer help, but more of a statement that we would do it. If it had been phrased as an offer, he would have refused.

  66. Richard Hershberger*

    Missing toxic job: Sometimes a toxic environment can be a bonding experience for those enduring it. I have friends from a job of twenty years ago. We still meet occasionally for dinner and drinks, and reminisce.

  67. RagingADHD*

    #2 Expecting an interviewee to remember who you are and what you job is, is reasonable. Expecting them to attach importance to how long you’ve lived in your city, or what your former unrelated career was, is not reasonable, unless the job is one in which cultivating personal contacts is a core function.

    Surely you want to screen for people who can distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, and prioritize facts that pertain to their work? Remembering *everything* is not necessarily a helpful trait. Remembering useful things is.

    1. Observer*

      Surely you want to screen for people who can distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, and prioritize facts that pertain to their work?

      Exactly this. It’s one of the things I was trying to get at, and you put it so much better than I did.

  68. Blue Eagle*

    #2 The vernacular for this type of arrangement varies by geographic location, but where I live we would say you are “housemates” not “roommates” – the former meaning you share a living room and kitchen, the latter meaning you share a bedroom.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Definitely depends on where you are and how people talk there. Where I am, “housemates” usually means you share an actual house. “Roommates” is more generally used by people who share an apartment.

    2. EngineerMom*

      Blue Eagle – Interesting! I’ve lived all over the US, and only ever heard people use the term “roommates” to indicate that you each have a room to yourself in a shared house/apartment.

      Are you international? Or is this a thing from the American Southwest (that’s just about the only place I haven’t lived or visited for an extended period).

  69. WantonSeedStitch*

    OP #3: seeing that past performance is a good indicator of future performance, maybe you could ask candidates to talk about times when good recall has been important in their past jobs: what kind of information did they need to retain, for how long, with what kind of detail? What were some techniques they used to help them remember things?

  70. learnedthehardway*

    OP#3 – The problem with asking a candidate to recall details from within the interview is that this only tests short term memory. Long term memory is completely different, and someone can ace an observation test using short term memory, but be completely unable to recall the same events/details for more than a week.

    I would instead ask the person to tell you about a project / initiative that they worked on in a past role (say, about 2 years back). Get them to give you specific details about the project – not their accomplishments or general parameters like the budget or number of people (that people typically recall to quantify their achievements), but rather ask them to tell you (for example) the technical specifications of the system being installed, or the exact process change they made to an accounting task, etc.

  71. Aurora Leigh*

    LW #1 — What Alison says about bonding in toxic environments is 100% correct. Some of my closest friends are former coworkers who suffered together under a real tyrant of a boss. It’s in a small way, I think, like going through a war together.

    LW #5 — My coworker passed of cancer almost 2 years ago. It was a sudden diagnosis (she had been feeling unwell for awhile but our insurance is pretty crummy so she put off going to the doctor) and she passed 3 weeks after the diagnosis. We’re a very open office so she was very forthcoming with the details to our dept but asked we not share it widely. We told customers she had retired, which was painful when they said things like good for her or bet she’s having a great time. I’m glad she was open with us.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      At my old job, a coworker joined the team from another department, having had cancer treatment at some point in her former role. After about two weeks of starting with us, she announced that her cancer had returned and was out having treatment for several months. She then returned, (to a slightly different role) and after about a year and a half applied for a transfer to another department and got it.

      i’m a little fuzzy on the details now, seven years on, because I got a garbled second hand version of events, but from what I remember, she had been concentrating on alternative therapies rather than the treatment she had been receiving, and had found out her cancer had returned after going to the doctor about something else. This time it was terminal.

      She was open with coworkers about her prognosis, declined the new job and remained technically in post in her existing role for benefits purposes, although stopped actually coming to work. As she’d been leaving anyway she’d handled her goodbyes to the families she was working with on that basis and I don’t think they were told any different. She passed about two months after her diagnosis.

  72. Abbey Rhodes*

    OP4: I get why having a third party present for your review may feel unnerving (although, as other commenters have noted, it’s very possible that there’s a legitimate reason for that). Regardless, I’m more concerned about this statement: “Personally, I hate being critiqued in front of others and have brought this to her attention on several occasions.” Obviously, no one LIKES to be critiqued in front of others. I don’t think that’s an ideal situation for anyone on earth. But…in what contexts and in what manner have you “brought this to her attention”? Sometimes, a boss needs to give you critical feedback in the moment, and your personal feelings about “being critiqued in front of others” isn’t really relevant. It makes sense that you’d balk at having a third person present for a formal review, but the fact that you’ve told your boss more than once that you don’t like being critiqued in front of others feels, to me, like something that falls under the “your problem, not hers” umbrella.

  73. WFH with Cat*

    LW3 – I am a little stumped as to how or why anyone could legitimately be required to remember every detail of a project weeks or months later, which seems very likely impossible unless someone has an *extraordinary* memory. (Like the “photographic memory” that serves as a character trait in TV/films.)

    It seems to me that it’s much more important to delve into how a candidate organizes and tracks information, tasks, and projects, and do they have the tools/mindset in place to be access old info quickly so any questions that arise can be answered. Perhaps you could dig into that during your interviews by asking candidates how they handled past projects and tasks, what organizational tools they use, how they maintain archival material, etc.

    NOTE … It occurs to me that there are jobs where it is key to be able to appear to recall enormous amounts of detail — say, for instance, in a customer- or donor-facing role where being able to reference an individual’s family members, personal interests, and involvement in the organization, etc. would be essential. For those roles, I think the key is to find candidates with excellent people skills PLUS the ability to utilize resources like customer databases, etc. to pull and review info in advance when they need to.

  74. employment lawyah*

    3. How to test job candidates on their ability to recall info
    a) Know what you want. Do they need to have perfect recall (E said “I need enough space for my major clients to turn around two Chevy Suburbans with ease”) or can they have a general sense (“E wants more parking lot space in her commercial development”)? Do they need to instantly know the information (memory) or know HOW/WHERE to get the information on some sort of delay (reference)? Etc.

    b) PUT IT IN THE JOB AD!!! If you say something like “This job requires excellent recall of specific details; you will be given tests of your ability to recall details and you will not be advanced unless you pass the tests” then you will allow some candidates to self-filter.

    c) If the test is short, do it first and don’t interview people who do badly. It’s demeaning and wastes everyone’s time. Thank them and move on.

    d) If you’re going to test, do it right. Consider hiring a consultant (business psychologist) to advise you on how to test. You’re not a psychologist and you probably don’t know how to test.

    e) Ask their references specific questions on this subject. Aim for specifics: “how many times in the last week?” and not general terms like “often” or “usually.”

    f) Be open to the possibility that people manage information retrieval in different ways. Do you care if they take notes on a tablet? Or are you just focused on results?

  75. Nightengale*

    I have a good long-term memory. I mean really good, the kind people comment on. I work in health care and I can hear the name of a patient I saw once two years ago and tell you their diagnosis and what medications they were taking and a bunch of other details. I remember lines from plays I was in during high school and suggestions from a blog I read three years ago and all sorts of factoids from the Big Book of Amazing Facts that was a favorite bedtime reading as a kid. It’s a verbal memory for things I’ve heard and read, doesn’t work for numbers, faces or visual things.

    Professionally I aid my memory by taking good notes and saving e-mails. I don’t remember the details about the new plan that was announced in January, but I remember there was a new plan and who sent the e-mail and can very quickly hunt up the e-mail and get the information. I may not remember the names of my patient’s siblings but I wrote them down and refresh my memory before the visit.

    I might do well on your short term memory test during the interview but I might not. I might get flustered. I don’t have as much to “pin” the factoids onto because I just met you. I’m not sitting down taking notes yet.
    And I forget short-term things. The paper I have to sign. Running to the store on the way home because I’m almost out of milk. The two forms of memory don’t have much to do with each other, and testing short term memory isn’t going to tell you much about long-term memory one way or the other. And unfortunately there really aren’t tests for long-term memory because the tester wasn’t there at the events to know what to ask.

    You may have to settle for asking people how they manage information over time. Do they have a system of notes? Do they sort e-mails into folders for future use? Your candidates with good long-memories are going to spontaneously speak up at this point and say “yes but actually I remember most of that stuff without writing it down” and “everyone always comes to me for this stuff because they know I remember.”

  76. EngineerMom*

    OP5, this would heavily depend on the relationship you have with your work and coworkers.

    My mom had a very close friend/coworker who passed away after a battle with cancer. They were both nursing professors who taught geriatric classes (nursing aimed at older adults), so they were both pretty comfortable talking about death, preparing for death, hospice, comfort care, and various end-of-life issues, which I’m sure made a difference.

    What I remember about my mom’s experience (I was in middle school at the time) was that she made a point to reach out to her friend regularly, while she was still teaching, and after she pulled back from teaching due to energy levels. Her friend was upfront about her diagnosis after the first treatment failed, but worked with the dean and other professors to keep a class load and plan for transition when she no longer had the endurance to teach. Teaching was her passion, so keeping that in her life, even as her life was drawing to a close, was important to her.

    I had a coworker early in my working career who instead decided to retire upon learning his cancer was terminal. He enjoyed his work, but it wasn’t his passion – that energy was reserved for his family, so he decided to stop working in order to spend what time he had left with them. He told everyone what was going on in broad terms, and we had a retirement party for him. He was fairly reserved, so other than generally letting us know what was going on, he didn’t really go into gory detail about his health status and treatments, other than to say that he’d decided to spend what time he had left with his family at home. I’m glad he let us at least say goodbye and wish him well. Sometimes people get really weird about impending death, but having a chance to at least tell a coworker I’d known for over a year that we were going to miss him, and to thank him for everything he’d done for me personally and the company, was a gift.

  77. (insert name here)*

    I’ve had three coworkers with cancer.
    The first, she kept everything very private. She went on leave, no one questioned why. When she came back, the boss had a brief chat with the team to let us know she had a double mastectomy, but was expected to make a full recovery. So then we knew the leave was for cancer treatment, but she didn’t seem to want to discuss it, so we didn’t. Then she would “retire to take care of her health”, this time we knew it was because of cancer, but it wasn’t discussed because she didn’t want to discuss it.

    The second was the polar opposite. She is very young, early 40s and the entire 400 person company knew she had cancer and the basics of her treatment. Her team knew every detail. It was clear that it made her feel better to talk about it. Also, it would be hard to hide that you had butt length hair, went on leave, and then came back bald.

    The third was in the middle. I overheard her discussing her previous cancer battle with the second, so I was aware that she’d had cancer before, but the first leave, I think only her boss and one teammate knew why. She came back and then went on leave again, and that’s when she chose to inform the team. Then things got very serious and as her condition got worse, she shared more details.

  78. Telly Lace*

    OP#1: I left a very toxic job environment almost 5 years ago, and for a couple of months I thought it was a huge mistake and wondered if I should go back. Now that there is more space between me and that job. I realize it was a lot of new-job anxiety and I am so glad I stuck it out. I definitely felt a lot of guilt leaving my team members and my manager (who was a really good boss and did a lot to protect us from the worst stuff going on above him), but at the end of the day, I realized it’s not my responsibility to stay in a bad job. I am really glad I left that environment and not waking up with a ball of anxiety in my chest before work every day is a real treat. I think what you’re feeling is super normal.

  79. LP*

    LW5: I had a coworker (the IT manager) a few years ago when I was working as a teacher who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He decided that he wanted everyone to know. I think partly because he wanted to be able to talk about what was going on in his life casually in the break room, and partly because he wanted to be able to be frank about it when he was fog brained at work because of treatment. He told administration, and we were told in our individual department meetings both the news and how he wanted us to proceed. I think a lot of people don’t know how to react to that kind of news in the moment, so hearing it from someone else both meant that he didn’t have to repeat the conversation with everyone, and that people had time to collect our thoughts before offering condolences, asking if we could help with anything, etc.

    If and when you decide to tell your coworkers, part of what you tell them can be if and how you want to talk about it. I think they will respect your wishes, whatever they are, and appreciate knowing how you want them to respond. LW, I’m sorry that this is happening, and I hope that continuing to work is fullfilling for you if that is what you choose to do, or that you are able to do other things that you love if you decide to stop working.

  80. SOUPervisor*

    #2: I once referred to my (male) housemate as my housemate in a rather loud bar during a happy hour and my (queer, female, had also clocked me as a queer woman) coworker heard “husband” and did a hilarious doubletake. So, my two cents: pronounce carefully or use ‘roommate’.

  81. GrumpyGnome*

    OP5 – About two years ago I had a coworker that passed away from metastasized breast cancer. She went through 3 rounds of treatment (over the course of three years) and continued to work when she was able. She didn’t go into a lot of details with everyone at work, she was a naturally reserved person, but she told a couple of key people and gave permission for them to speak about some details with others. That worked out well for her.

    She took time off when she needed, including two leaves of absence within a year, and when she felt better she worked. Because we knew the situation and respected her boundaries, people were very good about talking to her designated people mostly. Her teammates and close coworkers would reach out to connect but in a low pressure way and we only talked about her diagnosis if SHE brought it up. My hope is that you have coworkers that will respect whatever boundaries you put in place.

    For her, being able to work on smaller transactions and items that were lower impact was perfect because it enabled her to spend more time with her family – I’d suggest that if you decide to work that you look into the feasibility of that with your supervisor if it would fit your job and you still wanted to work for a while. I wish you all the best and I hope that you can find an arrangement in your work that gives you the balance you need.

  82. Sharkie*

    #2 don’t worry about it. It’s way more common than you think. My sister and I were both in similar programs (different companies) and hr asked us if we needed help finding roommates, because there were so many new hires looking for roommates.

  83. 653-CXK*

    OP#1: I miss some of the conveniences of my former company (on site bank, cafeteria, front-door service to public transportation) but I certainly don’t miss the toxicity and drama of my ExJob.

  84. Sacred Ground*


    Others have mentioned the possibility that the senior team member (I’m guessing senior to you but not above the manager) is there as a technical reference to the manager who may not have the specific expertise needed to properly evaluate your technical work.

    Another possibility is the senior team member is being trained for promotion to management. Sitting in on employee evaluations seems like a useful training exercise for them in that case. If this is the case, it would also make sense that they wouldn’t necessarily announce it to anyone if no final decision has been made.

  85. Lucette Kensack*

    Re: LW3

    I’ll join the chorus of folks discouraging you from conducting the kind of test you’re proposing.

    What you are looking for is someone who retains important information, not every random scrap of information. While some folks have that unusual ability, the way memory works for most humans is in context; by design, we filter out unimportant or irrelevant information so that we can retain the information that is important to our survival (or, in this case, important to do a job well). Where you went to college and what job you held before this one are emphatically unimportant, and a well-functioning memory storage system will relegate that information to the background.

  86. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1, It’s normal to miss even toxic places! I miss the one I was involved with because my crew was so wonderful, despite the reasons we left [bad ownership, yuck]. We had fun together, we laughed a lot. If we could have just rubbed out the toxic aspects and been paid correctly, we wouldn’t have left but it’s like a home that needs to be condemned. You loved living there, you celebrated and loved a lot there but you can’t take the toxins that are seeping out of the walls at you all the same.

  87. LTL*

    LW1: Missing toxic places (and even people) is incredibly normal. In fact, a lot of the time, these systems provide rewards which are what keep people in them in the first place. Have you read Issendai’s Sick Systems article? If not, I’d recommend googling it.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that it can take a while to get adjusted to a new job so if you’re in the middle of a transition, missing whatever setup you had before makes sense.

  88. mary*

    #5 – I am so sorry for your situation. I have been the coworker in this situation twice, and my partner has been the coworker once. You should absolutely do what is best for you, above all. You sound like a very responsible coworker who wants to leave things in order. I would urge you to do what you can to create some basic info on your projects for your coworkers and boss – treat it as though you were retiring – but do not feel that you need to invest too much time or energy into it. This may be hard to hear, but it is possible that given your situation or the fact that you may leave, your company may totally reimagine your job or those projects anyway.

    One thing I would urge you to do is think about how you can tie up any professional relationships that you’ve had that really mean something to you personally. For example, if you have been a mentor, or supervised people whom you care about, this is a good time to write them a reference or Linkedin recommendation or have one more coffee meet up to give career advice. If there are professional or volunteer organizations that you’ve been meaningfully involved in, this might be a time to make a donation or send an email of thanks. If you have personal equipment or materials you use at work – like if you’re a lawyer with a full complement of law statute books or a teacher with lots of personal books in your classroom library – think about how you might want to pass those on or to whom. Or, if you’re the person at your company who has all the photos from the holiday party, or you’ve saved all the company’s newspaper articles and no one else has, then think about putting them in a file and giving them to the appropriate department.

    Finally, if you do have friends at work or in your professional circles, I would urge you to consider, when the time comes, tell them. This is obviously a personal decision, but for me as the coworker left behind, it meant so much for me to be able to share with my coworker what they had meant to me and say goodbye. You do not have to do this in person, but in one case I was involved in, he allowed us to give out his email address and told people they would be read but not replied to – people sent emails to him and he told me it meant a lot to read.

    Best wishes as you navigate this challenging situation. You sound like a very thoughtful person and I am sure whatever you do will be right.

  89. LizM*

    OP3, does the candidate need to *remember* seemingly random details (like whether you’re from Scotland or Wales) or do they need to keep track of seemingly random details? Those are very different.

    I know very few people who have perfect memories. But I know a lot of successful professionals who use various tracking systems. Personally, I keep track of phone calls, meetings, and important conversations in my planner. Honestly, I think a better question than testing someone would be to ask what kinds of techniques they use to recall important details weeks or months later, or to ask for an example of a time they had to keep track of a lot of details and how did they do it?

  90. VT*

    OP5, my boss was diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year. Prior to diagnosis, she was very open with letting people know she was getting medical procedures and the such, so while it was devastating to hear her final diagnosis, we all knew she was having medical problems. Due to it being the time of COVID, she told her subordinates during a teams meeting and the rest of the department with an email immediately after.
    Since then, she’s told the group about her treatment schedule via our weekly teams meeting with about 60% of the staff. She encourages those that attend to let others know her availability should they inquire. I know probably the most about her treatment and her plans but she has told me if people ask, that I can answer their questions. She wants people to know what is going on with her but she also wants to talk about work and fun personal stuff. She won’t be with us in a few years but she likes to hear about normal stuff too. I would say if you can find an office “gossip” or some other proxy to get word out, try to utilize them for what you want people to know.

  91. Leela*

    OP #3 – I’d rely way more on references for this! You simply aren’t going to get quality information from on-the-fly tests where you both design them and interpret the results.

    A few things to note:

    I’m autistic. That can mean that processing/recalling works differently for me. It doesn’t mean I’m processing or not recalling! I can, with a ton of accuracy, I have always scored very high on tests for this reason. However, other people can just up and decide that I don’t process or recall because it doesn’t look like what they’re expecting it to, especially in a short time frame with other added pressures to balance (like general interview stress about how I’m coming off, having to read YOUR expressions to figure out how it’s going, trying to get enough of a feel from everything that’s being said to decide if I want to work at the company, etc). Add that to someone who is worrying about a kid left at home, has to think about their parking meter expiring because it wouldn’t let them put more than a certain amount of time in, has to worry about a hard-to-explain thing on their resume (like an awful employer that fired them and they weren’t really in the wrong but they know that’s going to be horrible to dance around in the interview and phrase in such a way that shows what happens without trashing their employer, which could feel impossible) and you’re really not getting any read on how well they recall information at all.

    Unfortunately, having worked in recruiting and hiring for a while, many people will design little tests like this and I truly don’t ever think I’ve heard one that I agreed would result in the tester getting the info they think they’re getting. If this job involved lots of recalling info in a high-pressure situation with no preparedness at all and not being given a heads up (unlikely, they’d know by doing the job that this kind of thing was something they’d have to generally be prepared for), then maybe, but you’re just not going to get an accurate read in an interview, it’s a situation that’s so wildly different from an average workday.

    But hiring managers really try to game the system by seeing what extra little things they can figure out about someone by “subtly messaging” something and seeing how they respond (terrible, these people don’t know you nearly well enough to figure out when you’re musing, when you’re subtly messaging, when they’re being given actual instruction, etc, and unfortunately managers still pull this with longtime employees expecting them to just get it but what you’re really asking is for them to be psychic) or by outright saying something but not considering if their test is proper, peer-reviewed, or based on anything other than their own hunches. This also goes for something that they read online about how to hire, if they didn’t really consider the source. I have many times had to talk down hiring managers from doing bizarre and frankly, disrespectful things just because they found some article somewhere that said it was a cool new way to hire.

    Please rely heavily on references here!

  92. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #5 My experience is with a boss who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, which is indeed a terminal diagnosis, which doesn’t really click in a lot of minds, not the same way as terminal cancer does.

    My boss was a rather morbid person even in the best of times, so he was almost cheerful when he announced it to people. “Just got my diagnosis back! It’s Alzheimer’s!” and it took a lot of people for a spin. Then he’d talk to me about all the things I’d need to prepare for, like not allow him to sign checks or do anything involving production. Just straight up “You can’t let me sign checks! Here take my key, this will make it easier.”

    This lead to people asking about him frequently and meddling in his affairs more than I personally liked but dealt with as well I could.

    It’s about you. Your comfort. Your wishes. I am so utterly sad to hear this news, even though we’re absolute strangers. This is the time of life you get to be selfish and do whatever works for you, share as little or as much as you want. Tell people to eat a sack of weens if they get on your nerves even! You get control of this.

  93. wee beastie*

    OP #2. I’ve lived in NYC for almost 24 years. People here at ages have roommates. Not just youngsters. It isn’t common to have roommates not of your gender too, so no one will think it weird. In fact, if you arrived and didn’t have a roommate, the first place people would suggest you ask around is among colleagues. I believed this culture is normal in DC and Boston and many other places here. You will be fine. Best of luck! Congrats on the opportunity.

    1. wee beastie*

      SORRY!!! Tech and autocorrect problems. Read as “People are all ages and have roommates.”and “Roommates being not of the same gender is common.”

  94. Duck Duck Goose*

    For the interviewer with the recall question I’m reading it as a manger who wants things just how they like and therefore will throw these tests at people to make they “get it right”. Please don’t be that person. Please use the tips from above to determine 1) what it is your really want to see this person exhibit and what this job needs and 2) the best way to show that and to allow for different interpretations. People might surprise you.

  95. FuzzyBrain*


    I tried early on to keep my cancer a secret, but people started noticing me loosing weight, hair, looking gray or pale, and missing work. You’ll find the right time to tell the right people in the office when you’re ready.

    I’m in month 18 of treatment and 3-months out from my first surgery for the tumor. People don’t ask about it or mention it as often as you’d think. And being WFH for Covid has actually helped as people can’t see what I look like outside of the occasional Zoom meeting.

  96. BlueSkySunday*

    OP3 – I’m really curious as to what role you are hiring for, if you don’t mind mentioning it. I have really great auditory recall and up to now I’ve found it to be a useless skill that has never helped me in any job.

  97. Yesterday OP5*

    Thanks to all commenters. You’ve very kind and I have a lot to through over. (Sorry for the delays but I’ve been overwhelmed since yesterday morning!)

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