what new hires should wear on video calls, withdrawing from a hiring process, and more

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

1. What new hires should wear on video calls

I recently received a job offer for a new position that I’m very excited about. My start date is a few weeks out, but I have started to wonder about what to wear as a new hire. Right now, everyone on my team is working remotely due to the coronavirus, so there will be a lot of video meetings. During non-coronavirus times, I’d wear something business casual to the office, but I’m not quite sure what to wear on video calls when I start my new job. From what I can tell, people tend to wear more casual outfits for video meetings nowadays due to working from home all the time. For instance, when I interviewed for the position, the hiring manager was dressed extremely casually both times (think cotton T-shirts).

For my current job, I wouldn’t think twice about wearing something more casual than what I would wear to the office on a video call with my coworkers. That’s mainly because I’m familiar with my team and have established a reputation as a knowledgeable hard worker. However, with a new job, I feel hesitant to wear something so casual with teammates that I haven’t met before. I want to make a good impression and get things started on the right foot, but I’m not sure if it’ll come off strange if I wear something business casual for video meetings and it turns out that I’m dressed much more formally than everyone else on my team. I am curious as to your thoughts about what a new hire should wear to a new job, given the pandemic and new norms about clothes worn for video meetings?

Wear business casual for the first few and get the lay of the land. If it turns out everyone else is in t-shirts and you’d like to be in t-shirts too, at that point you can. But business casual is still casual enough that even if everyone else is in sweats, you won’t come across strangely at all.

But it’s better to err in the direction of slightly more professionalism than to err toward less in the beginning, and then adjust from there.

(And while the hiring manager’s t-shirts during your interview might be a big clue, it’s also possible she’s the lone casual dresser of the office and everyone else is more formal. So observe other people first.)

2. What’s the etiquette around withdrawing from a hiring process?

If you interview for a role and decide it is not the right role for you, but you feel the interview went well and there is a chance you might be offered the job, when is the best time to withdraw your candidacy? Should you do so as soon as possible (like the day after the interview) so that they don’t waste time considering your application? Or should you do so only if they offer the job? Because there is of course a chance they won’t offer the role to you at all, so that avoids that conversation entirely (and doesn’t make you look presumptuous)? Bearing in mind you want to keep a good relationship with this employer and not burn bridges, just in case a different role comes up down the line that would be a better fit.

As a hiring manager, if someone withdrew their candidacy after the interview process, explaining that they realized the role structure/responsibilities were a different than what they initially thought, would you mentally blacklist this candidate for future opportunities?

If they explained this the day after the interview, would you think, “Well, we weren’t even considering progressing your application anyway, way to overestimate your strength as an applicant”? Or if they only explained this when receiving an offer, would you think, “I wish you’d told me this earlier, way to waste my time”? And which do you think is preferable?

Also, how much detail would you expect from the candidate? Is it okay to give a simple “after our interview, I realized that X comprised a larger element of the role than I previously thought, and my strengths and preferences are to do more Y” and leave it at that?

It’s completely fine to withdraw from a hiring process at any point, and you are over-thinking it! From the perspective of the hiring side, it’s much better for candidates to withdraw as soon as they’re sure they wouldn’t accept an offer. That way I don’t spend further time considering them and can focus on other candidates. It’s fine if that’s the day after the interview, or if it’s longer. But it’s also okay if it only happens until the person gets the offer; not everyone is absolutely sure where they stand until they have a concrete offer in front of them.

It’s never presumptuous to withdraw. In fact, if you were a weak candidate, withdrawing saves me from having to reject you (and I may figure that you simply saw the same mismatch I did).

When you withdraw, you can give a quick explanation if it’s easy to do so (your example about the role being different than you’d realized is a good one), but it’s also okay to just say you realized the role isn’t quite the match you’re looking for and/or you’re focusing on other positions.

Withdrawing is a very normal thing that happens. It’s normal to realize as you learn more about a job that it’s not for you, just as it’s normal for an employer to realize a candidate isn’t for them. No sane employer would blacklist you over it, unless you do it in a particularly inconsiderate way (for example, if you made it clear you were only interviewing with them to secure a counteroffer from your current employer or otherwise never had genuine interest in the job).

3. My boss is insisting I do video calls with my staff

I manage a music school, where I work directly under the owner/operator and oversee 11 instructors. Since March, our entire team has moved to online instruction over Zoom; between their work for our organization and other gigs, most of them are on Zoom 20+ hours per week. Recently my boss asked me to set up one-on-one check-ins with each of my staff to see how things are going. I did something like this back in March, when everyone was still acclimatizing to virtual teaching, and since then I’ve been in regular communication with my staff by email, text, and phone. I don’t feel disconnected from my staff or what they’re doing, but I understand why my boss thinks it’s important to do a more formal check-in so I complied.

I offered my staff an option of a Zoom or phone check-in, and while most of them opted for a Zoom call, two of them picked the phone. When my boss learned this, she asked me to rebook them for Zoom calls. (She did not tell me in advance that they needed to be Zoom check-ins.) I pushed back gently by explaining my thought process behind offering a choice, and she’s now firmly insisting that I rebook them to Zoom, that video calls are more engaging and will better help the instructor feel connected to me/the org, as well as sent me a bunch of articles about the benefits of video calls.

Personally, I’m completely over video calls and if I never have another one in my life, it will be too soon. Obviously some people like them (including the majority of my staff!), so I’m happy to comply. But if anyone asked me my preference I’d pick a phone call (or, even better, an email) every time. I felt like it was important to give my staff a choice based on their own comfort.

I’m willing to be wrong, but honestly — is it THAT much more important to do a video call over a phone call, especially when someone has made their preference known?

No. And your boss is being too heavy-handed in dictating it.

There are benefits to video calls — you can see facial expressions and body language, make eye contact, etc. But those benefits decline when someone is less comfortable with video (which they could be for all sorts of reasons, including pandemic shagginess, not having a private space in their home to take the call, or just general dislike of video).And either way, the benefits aren’t so significant that your boss should be overruling you and telling you how to manage the logistics of calls with your team members. If she were responding to some specific problem that she thought this would target, that would be different. But it sounds like she’s just pro-video-call and thinks you should be too.

4. Candidate is applying for job but also wants an informational interview

I have a question about a LinkedIn message I just received, and how you’d respond to it.

I’m lucky to work at basically my dream job, a very cool position in a very cool industry, one that gets pretty glamorized in pop culture — so as you can imagine, there’s a lot of competition for any open jobs, made more intense by the pandemic. My team at work has an entry-level job listing right now, and I’ve had a sudden increase in people connecting on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.

One person in particular has reached out telling me that she’s interested in applying, but also asking me to schedule a 15-20 minute call with her to talk about my specific experiences at my job. I do try to be available for informational interviews (they’re important in this industry), but given that she brought up her application, this feels more like a blatant attempt at an informal job interview. At the very least, it seems like an excuse to reach out so she can get me to pass her resume along. Am I right in being a little put off by this? How would you respond?

Yeah, this isn’t an informational interview; it’s an attempt to get a leg up in the hiring process for a specific job she’s applied for. It’s also not terribly uncommon for people to try, so I wouldn’t be super put off by it — but I would tell her no. The way I usually say it is something like, “Because we get such a high volume of interest in our openings, we’ve found the best way to get to know people is to steer candidates to the process we’ve created.”

It’s also okay to just blame your schedule — “I’m in triage mode right now with my schedule and can’t schedule a call, but if you’re selected for an interview, you’ll have lots of opportunites for questions as we move forward.”

5. When to ask about a contract going permanent

Five weeks ago, I was brought in on a three-month contract as a member of the communications team for a much larger corporation. I got the interview because I knew someone who knew someone who knew they were looking, and happened to be a great fit.

They brought me on for the three-month contract while they “reevaluate the position,” but the vibe I get is that it’s kind of a trial period, and the contract is serving as a probation they can wrap up easily at the end of three months if it’s not working out. I could be wrong about this, but I have a very strong feeling that’s the case.

I am absolutely in love with this job. It’s the kind of work I’ve always wanted to do as part of an amazing team and I wake up every morning genuinely excited to go to work. I’ve gotten great feedback from my coworkers and supervisors, who all agree that I’m learning quickly and doing a really good job. The money is great and the benefits (if I were to be made an offer of more than contract) are incredible. We’re remote right now but I’d get to stay in my dream city long-term working for them.

Either way, I’d like to know as soon as possible. If they keep me on, great, but if not I’ll need to start looking somewhere else eventually, and jobs aren’t particularly easy to come by these days so I’ll need to prepare. I know that five weeks is probably too soon to start asking, but when would be the right time to bring it up?

Wait until it’s been two months. When there’s roughly one month left to go, it’s reasonable to assume they’re at least beginning to think about whether they’re going to wrap up at the end of the contract or interested in keeping you on. That means you probably do need to be job searching in the meantime so you’re not starting from scratch only a month before the contract ends, but it doesn’t really make sense to expect an answer from them earlier than that when they’re still evaluating.

{ 184 comments… read them below }

  1. many bells down*

    #1, if you’re female, I have a couple of those kimono-style cardigans that I keep handy to throw on over whatever I’m wearing when I need to take a video call. So I can be bumming around my house in a tank top, but still look nicely dressed on a call.

    1. I Herd the Cats*

      Ha! I threw on a cardigan over my nightgown a few months ago when I realized a call was an hour earlier than I thought and was about to begin. Instant transformation into a nice, floral top ensemble. But I got busy and invested in some business-casual nightgowns…

      1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        I once went to a college class in a nightgown (I overslept) and got complimented on my nice floral sundress. XD

        1. nonegiven*

          One of the cashiers at the grocery store was saying the assistant manager had come in on her day off to pick up a few things in her PJs.

        2. LizM*

          In grad school, my friends and I used to joke that the best part of maxi dresses is that they’re comfy like pajamas, but you look like you’re trying.

    2. CupcakeCounter*

      This exactly. My go-to outfit was yoga pants, my softest tank, and a variety of cardigans/kimonos/etc… hanging around for the video calls.
      Within a week everyone was in hoodies and t-shirts

    3. BethDH*

      If you can time it right, you join with your camera off and very quickly assess what others are wearing and adjust before turning your camera on. There’s often a lag in video/audio as someone joins anyway so it’s not that noticeable. This does require enough people to be in the meeting on time that you have a sample, but it’s nice if you just want to confirm that you’re not way off.
      I did this recently and wore a black knit shirt, and had some jewelry to the side that I could put on quickly if I needed to look more “done.” Black/dark colors with a conservative cut can go either direction easily with addition of accessories.

      1. Smithy*

        I agree with this – and I would also argue that “business casual” may not actually read as “business casual” on video depending on the exact cut and color in the head shot.

        As a woman, personally I’ve found that tops with interesting/conservative cuts and sleeves to be the best bet. Sometimes that relates to dresses or tops that I would wear to work, and other times they’re caftans or very casual shirts. I find that patterns and light colors can read less formal on video, as well as sleeveless tops – largely because fabrics don’t really translate. Is that a cotton tank top or a silk sheath dress? Who knows!

        That being said, taking the time to wear professional earrings or a necklace will resonate far more as dressy. Gold hoops, with a thin gold chain over a white v-necked t-shirt can easily resonate as far more formal on video than a button up shirt where the wrinkles throughout the day.

        Now, for week 1 – I would at least make sure to wear a dress or pants. While I don’t think it’s the end of the world if you have to stand up for an emergency week one and they see you in black yoga pants – you probably don’t want that moment to be in Winnie the Pooh pajama pants, let alone pantsless.

    4. Generic Name*

      Same. Honestly, I’ve found wearing a plain t-shirt with no image or writing in it already makes me look dressier than most of my coworkers who are wearing sweats and graphic tees.

    5. laDiDa*

      I was coming to post this too. I bought a bunch of t-shirt dresses, that are basically nightgowns if I am being honest. I wore them every day during the summer, and kept a cardigan handy to throw on when it was time for meeting. Now that the weather is turning cooler I am also keeping a scarf handy to throw around my neck – long sleeve t-shirt or casual sweater is now elevated.

    6. NGL*

      I have a wearable blanket in a nice blue/green plaid that I threw on last week when I realized I was in the same tank top two days in a row! I was complimented on how cozy I looked.

  2. prof*

    LW 3: I mean…Zoom doesn’t require you to use video, it’s got to be turned on. malicious compliance?

    1. Neurodivergent Introvert*

      This sounds like a beautiful solution for dealing with a boss who “sent [LW3] a bunch of articles about the benefits of video calls”. Not everyone benefits from the video though, and for those of us who both don’t benefit *and* have objections to videos, the higher-ranking folks who demand it be video are really starting to get exhausting. Thank you, LW3, for at least *trying* to make that new and unexpected part of the job more bearable.

      1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

        In this particular case, there just might be a point to ask for video: LW’s team is teaching by video call, so it would be useful for the team lead to see the teachers’ setup and potentially coach them (“Wakeen, shirts with small patterns tend to flicker on video, which can be quite irritating to students. Could you try more solid colors? Also, congratulations on your uncluttered background, that looks great!”) and offer help where needed (“Cersei, your webcam appears very blurred. Is the lens scratched? We can order you a new one for home delivery”).
        Otherwise, I’d not insist on it.

        1. Chinook*

          That can be done, though, by inviting the OP to silently join the class. In Teams, my supervisors are added as “owners” of all my classes so they can join the class while I am teaching. I appreciate it because they can get a true idea of my set up and quality of my teaching in an unobtrusive way. When my students spot the added name in the call bubbles, I explain that it is “quality control” to ensure they are gtting the best experien. As a teacher, it allows me to get useful feedback from someone with more experience.

        2. A Teacher*

          I gotta say, as a teacher, I would not take kindly to a suggestion about my shirt pattern from a boss. Or a student, for that matter. It seems incredibly nitpicky and I’d probably lose respect for them.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            I gotta say, as a former student, if someone whose job is to present information online, like a teacher for instance, insists on wearing patterns that cause them to strobe on my monitor, give me headaches, and make it difficult for me to even look at them, and then reacts poorly to someone telling them that this is happening, I’d probably lose respect for them, as a teacher, since they’re knowingly making their presentation difficult to follow and ignoring useful feedback that would make them better at their job.

      2. Violin Player*

        I agree that LW3 is being kind by giving staff an option to reduce time spent on video calls. The nature of their job (teaching music) does mean that video contact is beneficial for both instructor and student, but Zoom fatigue is definitely a thing.

      3. OP3*

        Thank you for saying that! My boss and I finally settled on phone calls being fine for this time, next time (in a month/six weeks) they’ll all be Zoom calls. I’ll save the idea of “whoops, my web cam isn’t working” for next time.

    2. SarahKay*

      That’s exactly what I was thinking. Do a zoom call and just let those team members who wanted a phone check in know in advance that you’re happy for them to leave the video off.

    3. Amethystmoon*

      Unless the employees are known in the office for being computer nerds, or it’s the IT department, one can generally get away with “sorry, I can’t get my camera working” or “sorry, I’m having a technical glitch,” or “sorry, I don’t have a camera on my computer” these days and just have sound on. I’ve seen plenty of people do that and they’re almost never questioned. The not having a camera on your computer might be pushed back on if it’s a company laptop and every one of them has cameras, but not the technical glitch/it’s not working thing.

      1. Tabby*

        I would definitely go with malicious compliance — I have zero desire to have my boss/supervisor invade my home with video calls because she thinks that I’d like it, against my own better judgement about that. I don’t need to be ‘more connected’ to bosses/supervisors. I need them to respect boundaries, including whether I want to look at them over my phone or nah.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          A bright light immediately behind you, aimed straight at the webcam. The thing is, a bright light behind you is a good setup for a desk, apart from the camera issue. Told to turn it off when on Zoom? Make it the only light in the room.

          1. jasmine*

            Zoom also offers you a choice of background images (or you can provide your own image) which hide everything behind you and show only your face. If asked, you can say you’re using a background image to protect the privacy of other members of your household who may be walking behind you while you’re on camera.

      2. Koalafied*

        These are employees who have to use Zoom every day, though, hence the LW wanting to spare them yet another video demand: “Since March, our entire team has moved to online instruction over Zoom; between their work for our organization and other gigs, most of them are on Zoom 20+ hours per week.” If they say they’re having a technical glitch or can’t get their camera working it would be a high priority to resolve immediately because it would mean they’re unable to do any of their work.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Yes, obviously, it would depend upon the employer. Mine generally trusts us to get our work done, but the process is very transparent. There would be complaints to the boss if we did not get our work done.

      3. Hobbit*

        Or blame your internet connection. “I’m sorry the internet in my area must not have enough bandwidth.”

    4. Anonforthis*

      also there is a conference call option for zoom as well. so you could start the zoom meeting with camera turned off, but your employee could join from their phone using the zoom call in number and not have to be on the computer at all. definitely more the letter than the spirit of the law, but if ridiculous boss is being ridiculous, might be another option to let them keep the phone thing.

    5. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      You and me is getting married.
      (and to borrow from the theme of OP’s letter: I’d ask you to if you want to friends or you want to get married. And you’d say friends. And then boss would come back with, “No. You are wrong. You don’t want to be friends, you want to get married. It is better. Because I say so.”)

  3. EPLawyer*

    #1 – wear a jacket with a nice shirt. If you see everyone is more casually dressed, you can take off the jacket and fit in better. If you see everyone with a jacket, you will fit in fine.

    Everyone is more casual with Zoom. Although I wear my suit jackets for court, the other day my room got a bit warm. I asked the judge if I could remove my jacket. The judge was all “well yeah, why are you wearing a jacket in the first place?” Didn’t really say that but implied it. I see a LOT of people not wearing jackets at all for hearings.

  4. AcademiaNut*

    A blazer would work too, for either gender.

    And with video conferencing, you can go more casual for the bottoms. Definitely wear pants! but you can go more comfortable and relaxed fit, and skip the uncomfortable shoes completely.

      1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

        A blazer or sportscoat is definitely business casual, but usually at the higher end. Business casual is such a nebulous phrase with such a wide ranging set of accepted definitions that it should always be best to ask, “what is accepted business casual” if unsure. I’ve worked in environments where business casual meant polos and chinos, and also in environments where you would get looks if you felt a polo was acceptable work clothing.

        1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          This.

          This nice thing about a blazer is you can take it off.

          A dress shirt or dressy-casual shirt (collared shirt but in a darker or less fine fabric) plus a blazer if neeed is very flexible. Heck, a “formal” polo – think all cotton with button down collar plus an unstructured blazer you can take off or put on is pretty strong too in the work-from-home world.

          1. AGD*

            In the summer of 2019, I spotted a blazer at a thrift shop made out of stretchy cozy heather-gray sweatpants fabric, with navy edgings. It was so absurdly comfortable. The only reason I didn’t buy it was that it was too casual for my office and too formal for home wear! Would have been a good pandemic solution.

            1. JustaTech*

              I have a blazer like that (except it’s just plain grey) and have had several others with more or less shaping and decoration, but all in sweatshirt fabric.
              Very comfortable, easy to move in and washable, and perfectly acceptable to “nice” in my (casual) office.
              The grey one I got from Nordstrom, the Halogen brand.

              1. different anon for today*

                Charles Tyrwhitt sells a merino wool blazer like this for men – I’m considering it.

      2. Koalafied*

        A blazer is a bit interesting because it can be read as more or less formal depending on the fabric it’s made from, the color, or the bottom half of the outfit (which of course you can’t see on a Zoom call). A blue, unstructured blazer with a t-shirt and jeans or over a sundress would read as business casual with the emphasis on casual, while a black blazer with shoulder pads, a button-down shirt, and dress slacks/pencil skirt would read as business casual with the emphasis on business.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I have a couple of soft blazers that are my go-tos for video conferencing/meetings that requires more than a cardigan or plain top. My spouse finds it hilarious, but sometimes, I have a 15-minute meeting that is more formal, and I’ll run upstairs, throw on the blazer, a necklace, and lipstick with my lounge/PJ pants, and then take them all off after the meeting.

      1. pugsnbourbon*

        Nordstrom Rack and Nordstrom have soft jackets like these – and the Nordstrom ones are their house brands, so on the more affordable side. I’ve also seen them at Kohls and JCPenney, but it’s been a few years.

  5. Squab*

    #5, in addition to Alison’s good advice, I’d say there’s no harm sharing with your manager how delighted you are with the work and the team. They’d probably be happy to hear it either way.

    1. Thankful for AAM*

      Was wondering about that. And about telling them now you are interested in the position long term and is there anything they would like to see from you in the next 6 or 8 weeks that would help them know if the position will continue and if you are a good fit.

      Or just asking if there is anything else that they would like to see from the role or you without saying you wamt the job permantly.

    2. OP#5*

      We do pretty regular check ins while we’re remote and I’ve been making sure to mention how much I like it and how I’m excited for certain things. I don’t want to lay it on TOO thick, but I’m definitely making sure they know how happy I am with the position.

  6. Katz*

    #3. Phone calls have been working nicely for several decades now. The video portion isn’t necessary and can impede the conversation with visual distractions.

    1. Robbie*

      My mom did remote work from the mid-2000’s until earlier this year. About 80% of the calls she took were on the phone, the rest Zoom or other software. She did just fine.

      Honestly my policy now is that unless it needs to be a face-to-face meeting, to suggest we use the phone. Zoom is just so draining.

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I like Zoom to share documents & because I don’t have a work cell. But I never ever turn on my video. (Small shared apartment without dedicated office space.) The weirdest thing in my organization: people often turn on their video in Zoom but pretty much always leave it off for Skype & Microsoft Teams.

        1. Lynn Whitehat*

          I do that. I don’t have a professional-looking place in my house. But Zoom lets you set a fake background.

      2. ThatGirl*

        My work team has weekly meetings over Teams, but they’re rarely video on. It is easier because you don’t have to find your cell or dial in to a conference line, but none of us want to be on camera very often.

    2. LizM*

      I use Teams with my group because it’s nice to be able to share documents, but I tend to follow their lead on turning on the camera. A lot of them keep their webcams off, and if that’s the case, I just don’t turn on mine either.

  7. Katz*

    #2. The writer asked about blacklisting a candidate who withdrew. What’s Allison’s take on that, please?

      1. Pretzelgirl*

        I have been blacklisted for withdrawing. I went through an outside staffing company (which is something I will NEVER do again). They said I was the #1 candidate for a position. The position was not my first choice at all. My first choice got back to me sooner with a better offer, than I ever would have gotten. The recruiter was so angry she told me ” I could never go through XXX staffing agency again and I would be placed on the do not hire list”.

        Also I worked briefly at a staffing agency (different from above) who would also do this. I didn’t last long at the job for a multitude of other reasons but yeah it happens.

        1. Generic Name*

          Wow, way to shoot themselves in the foot. You withdrew because you got a better offer elsewhere. You are obviously a desirable candidate. Normal people/functional companies don’t blacklist candidates over that. She clearly was pissed that she was going to lose out on her commission, and it’s obviously absurd for her to think you’d put her financial gain over your own career/financial well being.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Seriously – now not only is she not getting THIS commission, she’ll never get any commission on a future position. That is not a good recruiter.

            Several friends and I have had the same headhunter for years because they’re truly interested in finding the right fit for us – it’s netted them a lot of repeat business and referrals, so maybe that recruiter should be playing a longer game.

            1. Lyudie*

              Yeah, I’ve worked with several agencies and this is a ridiculous reaction and I have never seen a recruiter act like that. All the ones I have talked to have been interested in getting a good match on both sides.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I though it was implicit in the answer — something that’s fine to do is not going to get you blacklisted. But I added a paragraph to the end of the answer addressing it more explicitly.

      1. JBI*

        I think they are also more likely to grouse the later in the process they get.
        It’s kind of like a sales process where you have no intention to buy, but don’t want to tell someone in case you hurt their feelings.
        They may be putting a lot of effort in on their side… they’d rather know if it is wasted. If they find put afterwards you lost interest earlier on, but continued anyway, that is more likely to get you blacklisted than politely pulling the plug earlier.

        1. Dan*

          It doesn’t matter how far into “the process” things are, nothing is a done deal until it’s a done deal. If an applicant is interviewing with “you”, it’s safe to assume they’re interviewing with others too. And you’ve got no idea how far into the process they are at other places. So if you like them and you know you want to grab them, you need to make an offer. They may very well be on round three with you, but in the “pending offer” stage with someone else. If it’s an offer they like, they won’t stick around while you finish up your round three interviews and “make a decision”.

          Side conversation: I work in tech, and I’ve never had an interview that lasted more than a day. IMHO, companies that have long enough processes where candidates can “drop out” part way through really need to rethink how they do business. It’s fine to need to wait to complete a set of interviews before making a decision, but by and large, for individual contributor roles, you generally don’t need multiple rounds of interviews. Phone screen first, and a day on site is sufficient.

          1. Snow Globe*

            I think it kind of depends on the reasons for declining. There is nothing wrong with declining when you get an offer, but if you’ve been on several interviews over several weeks, and you decline with a reason that would have been known all along (like a long commute), the manager may be irritated that you didn’t say anything earlier.

            1. jasmine*

              I might tolerate a longer commute if the job was a lot better than the one I currently have, or if it paid significantly more. But I might not know enough to make this decision until I’ve completed the interview process and gotten a firm salary offer.

          2. Antilles*

            Agreed, especially since it happens on both sides.
            You’re interviewing multiple candidates and only hiring one. At least a couple of those candidates will probably make it through a couple rounds of interviews but just not get the job. But you can’t drop people early in the process because they’re your #2 or #3 candidate since you don’t know if your #1 candidate is going to know or not.
            Besides, the process evolves over time; something that looks a good fit in the phone interview might not be a match after the in-person interview, the good fit from the first in-person interview might not be true after salary/benefits are dropped on the table, and so forth.

          3. JBI*

            I’d say for the jobs I’ve had in consulting and sales engineering it’s more like 4 or maybe five rounds of interviews.
            1) phone screen with HR (20m)
            2) Preliminary interview by zoom, say 30 mins
            3) More in depth interview by zoom (1 hour)
            4) Exercise/presentation onsite or zoom (2 or 3 hours)
            5) Maybe meeting a VP/CEO (30 mins)

            I recently had an interview with a startup where after the phone screen with HR I was called onsite. It was a fiasco. Two people didn’t show up, They hadn’t let me play with the technology, the company had little online presence. I was expecting to learn more about the company, but the first question in two interviews was why I wanted to work for them (I didn’t know if I did yet, I didn’t know enough), It turned out that despite what the HR person told me it wasn’t a good tech fit.
            It was an utter waste of an afternoon.
            Then my manager in my current job said he heard I had interviewed there…
            Later my manager in my current job

            1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

              “Later my manager in my current job…”

              Looks like this posted before the story was complete. Would love to know what your manager did, if you can fill us in!

              1. JBI*

                Yeah, my mistake. My manager was fine about it. We are friendly (he was more of a tech team lead)
                I just told him they had approached me, we met to see what was out there, wasn’t a good fit.
                He just warned me it was a small industry.

          4. hbc*

            No one reasonable will fault you for taking another/better offer at any stage in the process. (Assuming you didn’t tell them two days ago that you had zero irons in the fire or otherwise lie.) But they will find varying levels of fault if you went through a bunch of interviews and told them “I just don’t want to stay in purchasing” for your purchasing position, or if you say you don’t want to move away from your family after the company flew you out there, or anything else that would/could/should have been known much earlier. Just like a candidate would feel jerked around if told after two interviews, “Yeah, we really need someone who can speak Italian, sorry.”

            Obviously, you can still *have* those reasons, and in a more nuanced way: “The further I went into the process, the more dread I had about doing all of that purchasing stuff, and I had an epiphany.” But what you tell the company should be a version that is more vague–basically, it not feeling like quite the right fit.

          5. NotAnotherManager!*

            I used to work for an HR person who felt candidates should show up in person at least three times to show they really wanted the job. It was a total waste of everyone’s time (and not the weirdest idea she had), and even c-suite people at my current job are not expected to show up so many different times. We try very hard to get individual contributor candidates through in round of interviews, and anyone who can’t make it on the schedule that day gets, at best, a phone/video interview as we’re not asking candidates to come in repeatedly.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      The only things I can think of that would get a candidate blacklisted from other positions for declining a job is if they behaved so terribly during the process (like making racist/sexist comments or being so arrogant that one seems difficult to work with) that we know we’d never want them as an employee.

      I have a very small number (3-5) of candidates that I won’t personally consider again because they strung us along for extended periods of time using our offer as a counter for their current position and then declined rudely or ghosted the internal recruiter (we do not ghost candidates, even people not getting an interview get a form email rejection; anyone who’s spoken to a human being gets a personal email or phone call, depending on how far through the process they were). But those folks are welcome to apply to other departments.

    3. Not playing your game anymore*

      I understand there might be issues withdrawing when there is a staffing agency or the like involved, but for a direct application, the sooner you withdraw, the better. Oh, that sounded mean. But if you know you’re not going to take the job, save us all the time and energy. We’ve had any number of candidates withdraw (our state mandated process is very slow, and involves contacting all of your references and every supervisor we can track down) and it’s very time consuming to do all that only to have you decide, after the offer that you aren’t interested. We are very transparent about pay and benefits. You can go to the state website and see what every person in the statewide organization gets paid, HR will give you the rundown on benefits, so no surprises there. We tell you in the job ad what the schedule will be. Again no surprises.

      All that said we had one person apply for the same position 4 times in 18 months or so. Interviewed her 3 times and made her an offer which she rejected each time. She didn’t get a 4th interview and won’t get one anytime soon.

    4. anon73*

      If you handle it professionally throughout the process, anyone who would blacklist you is not a reasonable person and probably someone you shouldn’t be working with anyway. I’m sure most agencies and/or companies would appreciate a candidate withdrawing as soon as they’re aware it’s not a right fit, because if you continue with the process knowing there’s no chance of you accepting the position, you’re just wasting their time.

    5. Dr. Dread*

      We had someone basically cancel on a position the week it was going to start. For a library faculty position, this was 3-4 months after the offer was accepted, when they would have been preparing to move to the city and taking all the steps to get ready. You would think they’d know before that exact day that they weren’t coming, they hadn’t booked a flight, they hadn’t arranged to move, etc. But they gave us no notice. That person, I would never hire for anything and would recommend against if their name came up again.

  8. JBI*

    Regarding #2, I’ve withdrawn 10 minutes into the first 30 minute call with a hiring manager.
    It had quickly become apparent they were looking for someone with a very narrow focus on a relatively out of date technology.
    I realized I didn’t want the job as described. There didn’t seem much future in it, and my other skills would atrophy, so told the hiring manager I didn’t want to waste his time.
    I got a follow up call with the internal recruiter where she seemed mainly put out that I didn’t seem to think it was a good job (She tried to frame it as “different” than my expectations, whereas I more considered it “worse” than my expectations.)

    1. Dan*

      I’m just curious, what’s your field/what tech were people focused on?

      I’m a computer programmer/data analyst. I’ve been on a few interviews where the people I have interviewed with have taken *great pride* in the amount of Microsoft Excel they do. Except… the only thing I use Excel to do is look at CSV formatted files. I’m like, “Can we talk for a sec? Because if you’re using Excel to analyze your data, you don’t have enough data.” (Excel has a limit of 1 million rows, which isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things.)

      It’s bizarre, though, because in the data analysis world, Excel isn’t a thing anymore. A heavy focus on that is a turnoff for prospective applicants, because very, very few companies these days are looking for expert level Excel skills. If that’s what you want, then you just told me that you won’t help me advance my marketable skillset, and if I join your place, you’re going to help me render my skills obsolete ASAP. So pass, TYVM.

      Side note, because I’ve been there… I rejected a job because, well, I just wasn’t going to take it. Apparently, they were having trouble recruiting for that role, because they didn’t take that rejection lightly. They called to pressure me a little (ok, a lot), but *not* offer me a carrot in the form of a (much) needed pay bump to be competitive. It’s funny… I think most people on the hiring side are so used to people wanting offers that when they get rejected, some of them don’t know how to handle it. And it’s a super weird look if you let your desperation show to a candidate. If a candidate rejects you with bland reasoning, they’re not open to negotiation. If a candidate rejects you with a reason (such as pay), they’re probably giving you an opportunity to counter.

      1. Ariaflame*

        Tell that to the people doing the Trace stuff in the UK. (Seriously…. column data???). Excel is useful for some things, but not for others.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I use Excel a lot, but it’s typically for very small data sets (eg putting together a quote with maybe ten columns and twenty rows) and involving calculations and lookups.

          Also, I’m a paralegal, not a programmer! My tech spouse was literally speechless when the Excel news came out.

      2. Granger Chase*

        Sometimes employers don’t seem to know what to do when you reject because of pay/benefits though!
        I had interviewed for a job at the beginning of this year, and while they were upfront that my pay rate would be matched, I’d be moving from salary to hourly, which I was okay with. When I got the offer, it turns out the great insurance benefits they kept mentioning in the interviews were only partially subsidized by the company. I rejected the offer and let them know my current insurance was 100% employer-funded, meaning their offer would essentially mean a $3/hour pay cut, plus their insurance had a deductible that was a minimum of $2000 higher than mine, and even more if you opted for a better plan. The HR Rep accepted my rejection and was very understanding, but then the head of the recruiting company they were using set up a call with me, and the conversation still has me racking my brain months later.
        Recruiter: “I understand the offer on the table would essentially be a pay cut for you because of the out-of-pocket insurance expenses, but they really want you to take this job.”
        Me: “Yes, it would mean an x% cut overall due to the extra expenses. I’d either need an hourly pay increase of x or x amount of the insurance covered to accept the offer. Can they match that?”
        R: “Yeah, well they really want you to work there. They think you’d be a great fit.”
        Me: “Okay…did they provide you with a counter offer? Or do I need to email that to the HR Rep to discuss with her?”
        R: “I really think you should consider the offer. It’s a great company to work for and you’d learn a lot.”
        This went on for a few more exchanges, but ultimately they apparently didn’t intend to counteroffer and just…wanted her to try to convince me to accept and offer that would leave me worse off than the job I already had? Like wtf?

        1. JM in England*

          This conversation kinda matches similar experiences I’ve had with recruiters. At the end of the day, all they want is their commission and sod the poor candidate! In one instance, the recruiter wanted to put me forward for a role that paid less than half of my then current salary, I asked them if they were taking the p***!

        2. Antilles*

          The recruiting company typically gets paid when you take the job so if you’re a viable candidate and there’s an offer on the table, they have a clear incentive to push you to take it.
          I would guess that the actual hiring company had nothing to do with her pushing you. The company themselves understood that the cost was an issue, but the recruiter just wanted to make one last-ditch effort to try to salvage the ‘sale’.

        3. 653-CXK*

          After the last sentence, I would have said, “I’ve said numerous times that I would lose money if I took this insurance and unless they raised the hourly pay or increased the amount of insurance, I would not consider the offer. I’ve told the HR representative this and she understood my stance, and I am going to reiterate that I will not be taking this position, and consider this matter closed.”

          If they still badgered you, I would end the phone conversation and block them on email and phone.

        4. jasmine*

          I’d suggest to the recruiter that if they thought a salary cut was such an insignificant factor, they should be happy to voluntarily give me a fraction of their own salary to make up for the difference.

      3. JBI*

        The job was working in the HR analytics section of a large investment bank. It was using Qlik, an elderly business intelligence tool. I’d give myself about a 6.5/10 in terms of my skill with it, but my background is in business intelligence and data engineering consulting.
        I just didn’t want to go into a job concentrating on clapped out technology.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I did this too, but in my case, I bailed halfway into a tech screen with a senior developer or developer lead. 30 minutes into what was supposed to be an hour-long call, she asked, “how do you feel about being on 24/7 on-call support?”, which is a deal-breaker for me. I said “I wish this had been listed in the job description, or that someone had told me about it sooner. I’ve done it before and absolutely do not want to do that again, so I’m sorry, but I’m thinking I probably shouldn’t waste anymore of your time.” asked her a couple of questions about how their rotation worked (because I had done it for six years and was curious how theirs was set up), wished her a happy holiday season, and we ended the call. I then received an email from the HR saying that I’d withdrawn. We seemed to all have parted on good terms and I honestly just wanted to give my interviewer 30 minutes of her work day back. No idea though, if I am blacklisted or not. I’d been really wanting to work at that company in the past, but then heard more things from someone who had recently worked there, that kind of took the wind out of my sails, and I never applied there again.

  9. Kathlynn (canada)*

    I find it interesting that blacklisting a candidate for withdrawing from the interview process even occurred to the LW. I recently had to withdraw from a hiring process, because I applied before I got my current job, and they took over a month to start looking at resumes and contact me. Like the idea that I could get blacklisted for turning down a phone interview in field a, because I got a job in field b before the first employer even reached out, is not a good idea. And kinda frightening. Though if this is actually happening in some business, I support anyone doing that to continue, because that seems to me to be a light house sized red light (instead of red flag). And I’d rather not work for those people.
    Though the LW could be like me, and look at extremes, and feel compelled to mention them.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      I don’t know that any reasonable employer would blacklist you for having already gotten a new job before they even contacted you. That’s pretty extreme and someone expecting you to sit around and wait for them to call you for an extended time is unlikely someone you’d want to work for. (Honestly, as a hiring manager, I’d never even know because I only see people who’ve been screened my highly competent internal recruiter.)

    2. SuperDiva*

      “Blacklist” sounds extreme, but it’s smart to carefully consider *how* you withdraw from an interview process. If the employer has invested significant time in considering you, and then you withdraw at the last minute and give no reason, or a bad reason (like a conflict/misfit you knew about early on), a reasonable person could feel burned by that and decline to interview you for a subsequent job. It makes you look flaky and inconsiderate. The answer isn’t “you may never withdraw from a hiring process,” but just to be conscious of when and how you do it.

      1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

        The LW thought about black listing someone for withdrawing from the process for reasonable reasons. And in a lot of jobs the interview process is one or two interviews. And I learned more information about the job I currently have in the second interview then the first one. The idea that not liking job à means I shouldn’t be considered for job b is a red flag for me. And not all hiring processes take a long time. For example, I was hired in 3 weeks from applying. And no more than a week between interviews. Not a lot of time to consider the position and requirements. And it could be that issue 1 would be something that I could tolerate until I found out about issue 2.
        So yeah. If I as a reasonable candidate, give a reasonable response saying that I don’t want the job, and a company blacklisted me over that. Well, I think that the problem is with the company not me. For easier reference here is the paragraph I’m referring to.
        “As a hiring manager, if someone withdrew their candidacy after the interview process, explaining that they realized the role structure/responsibilities were a different than what they initially thought, would you mentally blacklist this candidate for future opportunities? “

        1. jasmine*

          It definitely sounds like the problem could have been with the company. They may not have made the job description clear enough for candidates to figure out what the job entailed.

  10. anonnonaanon*

    #3: I hate videoconferencing and honestly, prefer phone calls. Talking with someone on the phone feels far more connecting to me than Zoom etc., because there’s none of that weird disconnecting “I have to look at the camera to look like I’m looking at you, so I can’t actually look at you” business.

    1. Dan*

      Yeah… I’m a software developer/data analyst, and we don’t do much video calls. Much of my call is focused on some code I’m working on, so I’m either *looking at my code* or do doing a screen share with my boss. And if I’m looking at code without a share, he’s probably looking at the same stuff on his side of the repo. None of us every fee the need to look at each other’s smiling mug in real time.

      1. Violin Player*

        However, as letter 3 is about teaching music, it’s a very different experience.
        Unless you’re teaching high-level students who have already got a good grasp on vocal/instrumental technique and should be able to self-correct according to the teacher’s instructions, the visual component is extremely helpful in online music lessons. It’s very important for students to develop good posture and correct playing habits from the start to avoid physical problems. Video allows the teacher to model these things and check that the student has understood… try using only words to explain to a child how to hold a violin bow, or explaining to a parent how to tune a violin when they don’t even know the names of the notes!

        With regard to the question in letter 3, 100% agree that there is no need for a check-in meeting with staff to be on Zoom.

  11. Dan*

    #2

    This is all weeds stuff that really doesn’t matter, but for some reason I’m going to bring it up anyway.

    Much of this is really dependent on the particular circumstances. Are you unemployed and *actively* looking for the “right” opportunity? In that case, if you decline Job #1 this week but apply for Job #2 next week, they could wonder what the deal is with Job #1. If you’re currently employed and probably won’t apply for the next job for six months, then this doesn’t matter. Is this a large company or a small one? At a large company, Job #2 could very well have little clue that you declined Job #1. I mean, they’ll have a database that tracks this stuff, but if you’re a good fit for Job #2 and a not so good one for Job #1, the reason for withdrawing from Job #1 is rather perfunctory, and “not quite what I was looking for” will suffice. If you’re applying for a bunch of jobs in succession at a small company, you’ll need far more plausible excuses than you would at a large company where you are selective to what you’re applying for.

    BTW, and perhaps more directly related to your question… remember, you’re interviewing *them* for a job, just as much as they are interviewing you. Telling them it’s “not a match” is just fine, especially if they agree with you! This isn’t a one way street where your goal is to land the job at all costs, just to reject it down the road. On the hiring side, I would *not* want to waste any more time considering you than I have to, so if you know it ain’t happening, you’re doing everybody a favor by telling them. It’s entirely possible that if you interview with them again and you gave them a bland rejection the first time, that they could ask what was different about the second job than the first job. At that point, you’ll have to have some good talking points lined up. Until then? No need to worry.

  12. AnNina*

    LW1:
    My vote for business casual. Even if you are dressed more formally than others for couple of days, they will very well understand. Everybody knows you want to make a good impression at first. Just adapt to the culture when you get familiar with it. Good luck!

    1. Dan*

      Yeah. If you wear a suit where “casual” is the norm, people will get a good LOL. But business casual when casual is the norm? You’ll get some sympathetic nods, and somebody will likely point out directly that it’s ok to dress down a little.

      1. Green great dragon*

        I don’t think it’s much different to pre covid. Everyone thinks ‘bless, new guy’s looking smart, it’ll wear off soon enough’.

        1. Brooks Brothers Stan*

          When our fall interns joined their first videocall they all were dressed quite smartly. Meanwhile I was wearing a United kit, half the team were in hoodies, and our grand boss was wearing a t-shirt. It caused a minor laugh lol

          1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

            If this is a common occurrence it might be worth communicating with new arrivals in the future rather than laughing.

            1. Agnes*

              I think this was “gentle chuckle, directed mostly at ourselves for being such slobs” rather than mocking the newbies.

            2. Brooks Brothers Stan*

              While we were definitely chuckling at ourselves, we did let the interns known “for our internally facing calls we are totally fine with being completely casual. Anything outward facing we expect [expectations.]” It was both a laugh at ourselves, and a lesson that we needed to communicate this beforehand in the future.

      2. Snow Globe*

        Where I work, most people are pretty casual on video calls, but there are always one or two that are dressed nicely, with properly styled hair and make up. No one is laughing at them, just – we all are different people, you be you.

        1. Daffy Duck*

          Yeah, this! I certainly wouldn’t laugh at someone who was dressed nicely for a Zoom call ( you only see the top part usually, who knows what the rest looks like). Maybe be a bit impressed they can pull everything together so well, but certainly not laugh or mock them. Show up in obvious PJs, swimsuit, or holes in your T-shirt and I may wonder about your choices tho.

        2. NotAnotherManager!*

          One of my peers and I were just chuckling over this last week – our boss always looks fabulous and her “dressed down” is still better than our in-the-office days. She’s effortlessly stylish and put together, and I’d require an in-house salon team to come close. Putting on lipstick and mascara makes her feel more human, and far be it from me to criticize what anyone else is doing right now to feel human!

        3. OrigCassandra*

          I wear my usual workwear — dresses on the quite-casual side, mostly — to WFH. Nobody woofs, or even notices.

          This is academia, so the definition of acceptable work dress is… broader than most places, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t take advantage of that. In my shop, though, most folks are turning up to calls in t-shirts and hoodies, so I’m still a step up.

          We’re all getting through as and how we can, in my shop. Dress policing in any direction wouldn’t be helpful.

  13. Roeslein*

    I find it can be worthwhile to stick with business casual even when others don’t, unless of course it’s completely out of touch with the culture. Personally I always prefer to dress a notch above others at my level / clients – so I have no qualms about wearing, say, a button-down shirt (and maybe throw on a blazer for bigger meetings) while others are wearing sweatshirts. I find it does make a difference in how people who don’t know me respond to me. In my experience more senior people, especially men, can get away with dressing casually and still get taken seriously in a way that I, a youngish-looking woman with a foreign accent in in my first leadership role can’t quite pull off, PhD or no. Also I enjoy dressing for work (since pregnancy and maternity leave I have come to hate shapeless jersey clothing – 4 months in I would have given anything for an occasion to wear a nice tailored outfit to own a client meeting and feel like a competent professional again!) and am not willing to give it up because of the pandemic!

    1. AnNina*

      This is me! I like dressing more formally when everyone else in my office are very casual. And the very same reason! I feel more… Capable and fresh when wearing formal clothes.

      Personally I started dressing up after I was already friendly with People. I think taking very different route in your looks is more difficult in the beginning of a new job. Obviously some People “tolerate” being different better than others! :)

    2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      ” In my experience more senior people, especially men, can get away with dressing casually and still get taken seriously in a way that I, a youngish-looking woman with a foreign accent in in my first leadership role can’t quite pull off, ”

      True – but in the US at least, it’s *white* guys who can get away with the casual – it’s hard for black men. I’m one, and often dress one level higher. Or, when everyone is formal, I’m the same. When white guys are casual, I’m one level up.

    3. LDF*

      I really relate to being so over “comfy” clothes and wanting to wear something nice. Never been pregnant, but my cats get their claws into EVERYTHING so I’d always change out of my nice stuff as soon as I got home. Of course now I’m home all the time… Being able to throw on my favorite sweater and non-sweatpants just to like go grocery shopping is a treat. I can’t wait to wear a blouse again one day.

    4. Paris Geller*

      I often do this too, and I find that optics plays a large part in it. I’m a young woman with coworkers who all are older than me by at least two decades. I find I’m not taken seriously by those outside my organization unless I’m dressed to convey that I have some level of authority.

  14. Allonge*

    LW1 – we are business casual mostly (depends on your department). I could not even tell you what anyone is wearing now that we are online.

    Wear whatever makes you comfortable in the business casual range, take notes on what everyone else is wearing.

    And, you know – you are working from home, so it’s not like you cannot take off a blazer or whatever if it turns out that it’s too much – a big part of the issue with what to wear to the office normally is that once you leave home, you are committed. Working from home, not so much.

  15. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1 – it won’t look strange. We’ve all been there, and being slightly (or even very) more formal than colleagues in first few days while you get used to your new office’s norms is absolutely expected. They’ll get it!

  16. So sleepy*

    Definitely agree with AAM’s advice re: dressing for video calls at a new job. The standards for my team have gone hilariously down – we recently had a call where my boss decided she wanted to test a video feature and unexpectedly we all had to turn our video on. I was SURE I was going to be the worst by far – I literally threw a sweatshirt over my pyjamas – and I wasn’t even close (one colleague had wet hair, another had a ponytail *on top* of her head, and one had a backwards cap). We would all normally be in business casual, leaning more professional at times.

    With all that said, if someone was new to the team, it would definitely throw me off if they were in super casual clothes from day one. 3 days in, we’ve gotten a sense of what you’re like, and will assume you’ve adapted to what we’re all wearing, but you don’t want people wondering if you’re serious about your job on your first day.

    No one’s going to judge you for dressing like you’re going to work your first few days. After that, dive in to the casual wear, or keep a sweater you can throw over your “I moose be sleeping” jammies as needed and call it a day.

  17. NotJennifer*

    If I were OP1 I would just ask my manager what the norm is for Zoom meetings. I don’t think that’s out of place at all. And while, as Alison said, the hiring manager’s outfit might not be indicative, I think it’s at least enough of a clue that it’s not out of place to *ask*. Where I work, I’d feel secondhand embarrassment for a new co-worker who showed up to a zoom in business casual. We rarely even dress that way in person, and it would make a weird impression because it’s so far outside the norm for our company culture. I mean, I don’t think it would hurt long term to be overdressed for a zoom. But it would be an unusual first impression.

    Of course, depending on your lighting and your connection speed it might be hard to tell a business casual top from a nice but truly casual shirt, anyway.

    1. Uranus Wars*

      Yes! Your last sentence matters too. I wore a higher end sweater on a call last week – really nice, lightweight knit, but it also has a hood on it.

      On camera it looks wildly similar to a hooded t-shirt I bought brand new for $15 at a local running store.

      When I am not sure how to dress I default to a long sleeve black tee shirt and fix my hair. It can go either way, but never look TOO casual.

  18. Kuddel Daddeldu*

    In this particular case, there just might be a point to ask for video: LW’s team is teaching by video call, so it would be useful for the team lead to see the teachers’ setup and potentially coach them (“Wakeen, shirts with small patterns tend to flicker on video, which can be quite irritating to students. Could you try more solid colors? Also, congratulations on your uncluttered background, that looks great!”) and offer help where needed (“Cersei, your webcam appears very blurred. Is the lens scratched? We can order you a new one for home delivery”).
    Otherwise, I’d not insist on it.

  19. Jessica*

    For LW3 — does it make a difference that the staff in this case are working with clients over zoom? If the LW hasn’t had a video chat with all the staff since March, I can see the benefits of touching base via video to make sure that the instructor’s video set-up, screen presence, etc, still look like they are working for students. Maybe that type of evaluation should be separate from the formal check-in, but I could see the argument for just combining them as well. In other words, while the answer to the general question of whether or not formal check-ins should be over video is no, it seems like the exact circumstances of LW3’s situation (supervising instructors who work with students over zoom, whom the LW hasn’t video chatted in 6 months) seems to make a video chat more necessary.

    1. OP3*

      Hmmm, that’s a good point I hadn’t thought of. We have had a couple of team meetings with videos on since March — the last one was right at the beginning of September — where everyone looked appropriate and had a good setup, and I talked a lot about appropriate Zoom conduct in our group meetings, so it didn’t occur to me to spot check. But I can see your point.

  20. CupcakeCounter*

    #1
    I mentioned above that my go-to was yoga pants, a soft tank, and some type of cardigan or button down to throw on top for meetings. I interviewed during the shut down and I wore basically this same outfit just with a suit jacket instead of a cardigan. Worked great.
    If it is still warmer where you are, look for comfortable tops that have some interesting elements. I have a couple shirts that are super soft t-shirt material but have a nice neckline with a sort of criss-cross element happening. Elevates the look while riding the line of comfort and work appropriate (I would wear these under a cardigan or jacket to the actual office as well). Another option that works perfectly are Polo style shirts. They are only going to see the top 25% of you so focus on neat, clean hair and face and some kind of top that has character to it. A collar, fancy neckline, etc…

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      This is spot on. We’re in this for the long term – it’s worth finding some comfortable, good-looking and flexible tops. Almost any kind of long pants will work so no need to focus too much.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Just PLEASE wear pants. You never know when you have to get up unexpectedly or you don’t realize the camera angle is showing more than you planned on.

        Sidenote, my husband finds it hilarious that I dress for Zoom Court in a suit jacket, dress shirt, jewelry, fix my hair — and then put on jeans. I do take off the unicorn slippers though.

        1. JM in England*

          This reminds me of an urban myth circulating in the UK in the 1970s and 80s. Back then, people were debating on whether or not tv newsreaders were wearing trousers when sat at their desks in front of the cameras….

  21. Researcher*

    #3 – I completely concur with you and Alison on this. Whatever your mode of communication is, if it works for both parties, it works. However, I want to point out that there are *some* conversations that I feel should be held on video to mimic face-to-face interaction if at all possible. Performance evaluations are top of mind. I don’t even feel that interviews need to be on video, but your employees work hard for you year-round, so if video is feasible, it’s nice to “show up” for that conversation.

    For the rest, nope. I’m with you. Starting *every* video meeting with “can you see me? can you hear me?” is getting tiresome.

  22. Khatul Madame*

    OP1 – are you assuming there will be video meetings, or you’ve been told? Not all workplaces are heavy on video, and some have course-corrected and moved to a sensible amount of video on calls.
    In any case, a cardigan over any clean top magically makes any outfit business casual, as several people commented, so start with that, and proceed based on your observations.

    1. Paulina*

      As long as it’s clearly a cardigan. In the early days of our closure, I was one of the interviewers for an internal interview. One interviewee might have been wearing a long loose belted cardigan, or it might have been her bathrobe. My impression was more the latter.

  23. Birdie*

    I understand that people are a bit fed up of camera meetings but I totally agree with the OPs boss on this one. This is our new normal and asking someone to comply with a video chat once in six months is hardly a big request! It is important to be flexible and collegiate and showing your face/facial expressions is a very normal thing to want someone to do. This isn’t the same as having a traditional telecommuting job where a phone call or IM is expected, we’ve all completely entered a new world of work and I think people need to get on board. As a department head myself I require my team members to be on camera for our ONE team meeting per week and their 121 meetings. The rest of the meetings are at their discretion but this isn’t too much to ask and it is VERY demoralizing to be the one leading all these calls and to feel like you’re talking into the void. I totally get that it’s annoying to look at yourself on camera blah blah but we should all be collaborative about it and it’s equally annoying and exhausting to spend months talking at people’s pictures and getting no visual or auditory feedback. I think a lot of people don’t get that the etiquette of work life has totally changed and what might have felt weird or intrusive (cameras) in February is now how we build connections, get to know people, communicative effectively, show that you’re listening and engaged. As someone who leads many, many meetings each week, I am very grateful for people who put their camera on and nod along!

    1. mlem*

      1. You, as management, prefer video and therefore assume it’s entirely positive for everyone. OP3 has said in comments that they actually don’t prefer video themselves but purposely left the choice to their (all-Zoomed-out) staff. OP3 is being far more considerate by offering the choice.

      2. Regular comment on my team’s required-video meetings lately: “Okay, everyone? [pause] I’m screen-sharing, so if you’re nodding, I can’t see you ….” Some of our other meetings exceed the grid-view maximum, with no indication of which people can see which others; and some people choose the “spotlight” method of foregrounding whoever is talking/chewing/sighing/having a toddler scream past at any given moment. We’re nodding into the void here anyway.

      3. I’ve found that I literally cannot look at other people’s video feeds if I want to speak coherently. (This year has been such a voyage of self-discovery!) So it’s not as if I’m making some ~deep connection~ with whichever one person’s mini-face I might otherwise happen to be glancing at on the feed.

      4. As other commenters have pointed out, you can look at people’s pictures, or you can look into the camera to simulate ~eye contact~, but you can’t do both; and some of our team don’t have their video feed on the same monitor as the one supporting their camera, so there’s even more of a disconnect. That’s much more distracting than just listening to someone on a phone.

      People are different. Video is not *inherently better* for every single person in every single situation, and management who assume that their preferred way is of course the best and only way gets *really* old.

      1. Birdie*

        I think you misunderstood me. I don’t at all assume it is positive for everyone but there are benefits (not just me making this up, actual studied benefits!) that you simply can’t replicate on a phone call. That’s just how it is. It is fine for OP to not want to do it and for her staff to not want to do it, but also fine for her boss to say that video DOES present a degree of connection that phone calls don’t.

        Also it’s not just about you. I’m speaking more broadly than the OP’s question here but just because YOU can’t talk and watch or find meaning doesn’t mean the other person wouldn’t find it useful. We’re all in these tough times together and plenty of people need or want human connection in whatever form, especially if they live alone right now or are new to the company.

        I never said that I assume my preferred way is the best way. I just said I think people need to be more pragmatic about things and accept that this is the new norm. If I was insisting on cameras 24/7 that would be unreasonable. 1.5 hours of their week is absolutely not problematic in anyway.

        It’s like if we were pre pandemic and people were saying that they’re in too many physical meetings so instead will be calling into the next one. That probably wouldn’t fly.

        Finally you’ve made the assumption that this is my personal preference. I actually hate being on video. I also prefer not to work long hours, do budgets, etc. But if I’m delivering a meeting about important priorities I think my team deserves to see my expressions and gestures so they understand how I’m coming across, can get to “know me” when they’re new, can see me smile and convey warmth etc. and in return, once or twice a week, I ask them to turn on their own cameras so that it’s not a one way relationship. It also means I can get a better sense of their stress levels, look at their body language and so on. “Inherently better” doesn’t mean personal preference but the totality of pros/cons that might be more important than one staff member feeling “zoomed out”.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          I think the real question about this “but there are benefits (not just me making this up, actual studied benefits!) that you simply can’t replicate on a phone call” is:
          But are those benefits significant for this particular meeting? A lot of the time, the answer is nope. Which is why I think OP3 is being extremely logical and reasonable, and OP3’s boss is not so much, in the context of what the letter asks.

    2. EPLawyer*

      It’s a Zoom meeting — after a day of teaching on Zoom. It’s not like they are working from home and then have team meetings. Their jobs are literally on Zoom all day. If they want a break from it, they should get it.

    3. hbc*

      I agree. A twice-yearly video check-in call with people who *have* to be good on video to perform well* is not too onerous. I feel like there’s a lot of people who hate VCs who think their dislike trumps whatever usefulness they bring because it’s new. No one would get away with saying, “I don’t want to talk to my boss on the phone every six months, I was on the phone all day, it’s too draining.” Or “I drive for the company, and I just don’t want to drive into the office to meet with my boss.” This doesn’t have to be more than 15 minutes.

      *My kids are getting remote music lessons, and it’s hard for the teachers and the students. Their teacher is independent and has had to make adjustments as she figured out what worked best. I think it’s bordering on negligent to not check in on the teachers, get a view on how their set up is working, and make suggestions on how they can improve that environment. If they need to be provided screens because they’re in a heavily-trafficked area, for example, that would be good to know.

    4. OP3*

      Just wanted to clarify some points, as the letter writer:

      – My staff spend 100% of their working time on Zoom, cameras on, teaching. These are not people who are otherwise working in isolation and asked to come to a one-off Zoom meeting and resisting; these are people who use Zoom daily for several hours at a time.

      – I am the one conducting meetings, not my boss. I understand the difficulty of “speaking into the void” (my partner teaches high school, so I’ve seen how it can be tough) but that’s not what’s going on here.

      – I have Zoom meetings with my boss probably 3-4 times a week, and I always comply, with my camera on, and have never complained. I get it, it’s the new normal, I don’t love it but there’s lots of things I don’t love about my job. I’m not anti-Zoom call, I’m pro-giving people a choice when I don’t think it’s essential. That’s where my boss and I disagree.

    5. Kimmy Schmidt*

      This doesn’t sound like a team meeting, but an individual one-on-one appointment. So you wouldn’t be talking into the void, but participating in a back and forth phone conversation like any other phone conversation.

    6. anonforthis*

      I completely agree with this comment. If this is the first 1-to-1 check-in since March, I agree it should be face to face. Not because it’s demoralizing to the manager leading the meeting, but because it does foster connection and allows you – the manager – to read nonverbal cues. If a meeting would be in-person, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to expect that you do a video call in its place.

      1. anonforthis*

        Also – given the strength of LW’s objections (and everyone elses), do you even think it’s necessary to have a one-to-one? I’m not in education, so I’m not aware of norms, but to only have a one-to-one every six months, in a pandemic when everyone is teaching a subject like music remotely for the first time seems strange. However if that is the norm, I think it is completely acceptable to request that the twice a year 1-to-1 meeting be a video meeting. I mean, I dislike having check-in meetings too with my boss and direct reports and would love to do away with them (they are monthly and every two weeks, as opposed to twice a year). However, they are important to getting work done.

        1. OP3*

          Letter writer here – we never did formal check-ins before. My team are all part-time contract workers who only get paid for teaching hours, so I try not to waste their free time. Under normal circumstances, I might chat with them casually once a week or every other week when they’re on a break and get an update on anything that’s going particularly well and/or they need help navigating; the exception would be a new staff member who I’d spend extra time with training and checking in. It was a very casual system, not regimented or required by my boss (in fact, before the pandemic, I used to get flak from my boss about wasting time talking to the staff, so *shrug*).

  24. Scott M*

    #3 Some management at my company prefer video calls, because they feel can can them very the employee is at home instead of out doing other things besides working.
    However I agree that shouldn’t be a issue if the manager has a good handle on their employees work progress.

  25. My2Cents*

    #3, for the first call, make it a video zoom call to not directly and immediately defy your boss’s wishes. But from then on, slyly tradition to an audio-only zoom call.

    Personally, for me, it’s incredibly frustrating to be offered a choice just for my selection to be ignored, so I think it’s important to honor your team’s preferences when and where you can.

  26. anon73*

    #1 – Why don’t you just…ask? If you were going into the office, wouldn’t you inquire about the dress code? If it’s business casual, I’d lean more into business at first, observe and adjust. I feel like the same goes for working virtually. Say something about realizing people are dressing more casually from home, ask what is expected, and then err on the side of slightly dressier until you’re able to observe what others are wearing.

  27. Firecat*

    #4 Why are you both sure the candidate is trying to get a leg up?

    This is how I’ve always received and sent informational interview requests. I thought the whole point was to get more info about a company or role before applying. The candidate didn’t say they had applied to the role, but that they were interested in applying (which reads to me as: I’m interested but not sure so would like 15 minutes to get your take).

    Since this way is apparently the wrong way to go about it; how are you supposed to ask for information interviews without seeming like you are vying for an unofficial job offer?

    1. D3*

      Any time it’s anywhere in the process, that’s why it’s done. Why do you want to “get their take”? So that you can know more than others applying!
      You may have done your own mental gymnastics to convince yourself otherwise, but that’s why you’re doing it. Extra contact and information that other candidates don’t have. Or in other words “a leg up”

      True informational interviews are not part of a job application process at all.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes — they’re about learning about a new field or getting the lay of the land when you move to a new area, not about getting an in on a specific job.

      1. Firecat*

        I usually want to get their take to decide if I want to apply or not. Typically if I don’t hear back and I have questions about the role that would determine the seniority or focus of the role then I won’t bother applying if they don’t answer those questions. But I work in a field whose job titles and descriptions are notorious for being used to mean vastly different things.

    2. Forrest*

      I wouldn’t see them as something you do when there’s an official job opening, but as something you do more generally to find out more about an industry or a particular organisation in general, particularly if you’re a student or someone new to that sector. I’d assume that if there’s a job open there would be formal ways to find out about the company and role.

    3. Reba*

      My understanding is that informational interviewing is about the field/company/type of role you’re interested in, *not* about a particular job opening. I mean, if you are seeking info about an open competitive process–even if it is genuinely asking for info, not just “getting your resume to the top of the pile”–that is looking for a leg up on other candidates, no?

      Either way, it’s ok for OP to not have the time to do it and to decline politely, or even to not reply or do a form reply.

      1. Firecat*

        Oh I agree it’s Ok. I was legitimately confused since it seems I had used informational interviews wrong. I always thought they were for roles you weren’t sure you wanted to apply to but figured you could be a strong contender so it makes sense to learn more and have an informal informational session before going through an hour+ long application process.

        1. OP4*

          Interesting! I’ve always specifically been told that they’re very much not for learning about a specific job opening, but are instead more to learn about the industry, like Alison says above. I was cautioned to never outright ask for a job or anything along those lines in an informational interview, so somebody doing that to me definitely threw me off since it’s so ingrained in my mind to not do that.

        2. The New Wanderer*

          Firecat, in the past I have asked for information interviews for the same reason – interest in a set of related positions at a company and not sure from the JD what they were actually looking for and what the job would actually be like. I requested from a few established LinkedIn connections who work there, not cold-emailing someone, but did not get any responses. This explains why (if it were seen as a way to jump the queue) and that’s fine with me too.

          On the flip side, I’ve done info interviews for people interested in my field and they were much more like what people here are describing a true info interview is for.

        3. Frank Doyle*

          Hiring managers can’t be expected to give fifteen minutes to each candidate before they’ve even applied! That would be an incredible timesink for no return.

          1. Forrest*

            This is a weird difference between the UK and US! Here it’s very common to see “Please contact XXX for more information” on a job application, and I always counsel applicants to use it if they’ve got genuine questions about a role.

            I get the impression that the filtering processes happen at different stages of the hiring process in the UK, though. For most job-jobs here (ie. not graduate schemes or other situations where they are planning to recruit in large numbers), it’s job ad (often including manager’s contact details) > application > selection > interview > job offer. Very senior roles might have a multi-stage interview process, but it would be very usual for anything outside a senior management position. And for applications for large companies, public sector, or anywhere else with an HR-led recruitment process, it would be common to require a fairly detailed application form which will take a couple of hours to complete, detailing how you meet the specific job requirements. So it’s really NOT unreasonable to expect hiring managers to speak to potential candidates before they devote a couple of hours or more to completing an application form.

            I think in the US it’s more like, job ad > CV/cover letter with some but not a massive amount of tailoring > phone screen > one or more interviews? So the CV is basically asking people to express interest in the role without a significant investment of energy or time, and the filtering happens much later.

        4. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          All this is to say, why not just apply and learn about the position if you feel that you could be a strong contender? Seeking an info interview in this context looks either like you’re trying to do an end-run on the hiring process, lack confidence in your qualifications for the position, or are looking for extra endorsement of your application. None of those things are great, but the first and third in particular may look like serious red flags.

          I want you to think about this from the company’s POV: other than the fact that this takes up time that a hiring manager doesn’t necessarily have, it does put them in an awkward position if you’re already going through the actual interview process. You might be more successful if you’re looking for informational interviews with non-hiring managers, but again, there’s a potential that they’ll end up on the hiring panel.

          Maybe I’m coming at this from a very risk-adverse place, but it’s probably best to avoid the optics risk that comes with timing informational interviews this way.

  28. Bookworm*

    #3: As someone who feels exactly as you do (tired of video calls), I thank you for writing this letter and agree. Unless there is some dire need for every phone call to be a video call, stick with giving these options.

    In general: some of us are really introverted and find video calls as draining, if not more so, than in person meetings or phone calls. The pandemic makes it worse. Managers, please take this into account if you really mean it about being more flexible during these times and acknowledging different people have different needs.

  29. CosimaSays*

    #3 – Send your boss an article about Zoom fatigue! It’s so real, and many of my friends are feeling it

    1. Filosofickle*

      Fast Company just put out a fascinating article about audio being better for difficult conversations. Video gives you more data about the other person’s expressions and body language, but the data can be misleading because we’re better at masking our physical signals than our voice. So when you really need to hear their underlying emotions and connect, it’s better to skip video so you can focus on what you hear not what you see. While the OP wasn’t talking about difficult conversations necessarily, if the point of the call is a 6-month check-in then listening between the lines would be important.

      FWIW, I’m pro-video and have leaned on it a lot for years to connect better and win over long-distance clients and research interviewees. But this gives me something to think about, especially for qualitative research. Hearing what they’re not saying is really critical in that work, so I should consider when to video isn’t helpful.

  30. Spearmint*

    #4 – I hope you don’t judge this candidate for reaching out the way they did. There’s a lot of contradictory and bad networking advice for entry level job seekers, and given that (they sound like) someone who’s newer to the workforce, they probably don’t realize how it comes off.

    On a side note, the emphasis on networking in job seeking advice is weird, especially for people trying to get their first job out of college or switch industries. There’s this faith that doing informational interviews and connecting with people on LinkedIn will somehow give you opportunities you wouldn’t get from just applying online, but I don’t see how that works. Of all the people I know who are early-ish in their careers, I can only think of one who got a job in part due to networking, and in that case the person who recommended him for a job was a college friend with the same major, not someone he met as part of deliberate “networking”.

    1. OP4*

      I definitely wouldn’t hold it against them (and actually I literally cannot hold it against them because I’m not the hiring manager–I just used to work in the position that’s open now). I know there’s a ton of bad advice out there for young grads and people new to the job-searching world, which is why I wanted somebody else’s take on this and how to respond!

      I agree that the emphasis on networking is pretty weird, though. I did get my job largely because of connections I had in the industry, so it can be super important to network in the field I’m in, but none of it came from informational interviews anyway. I don’t think they’re the most helpful way to build relationships.

  31. Firecat*

    I hated video calls too until we switched to Teams for work and Duo for home. Something about having separate programs has made a huge difference.

    I’m actually on video a lot more since switching jobs but I feel a lot less video call fatigue. We are even planning to do a Duo Thanksgiving this year,and I would have never planned that if we were still using zoom. It was exhausting dealing with that app especially the free account restrictions. The video quality was terrible and the apps weird AI to “pick a presenter” kept cutting people off and leading to disengagement. Duo doesn’t do that so our weekly friend game night is much smoother and I haven’t seen Teams do that yet either at work.

    I honestly think Zooms pick a presenter feature was responsible for most of my video fatigue, you can only get talked over so many times before giving up. That and the poor video quality.

  32. Database Developer Dude*

    A piece of advice if you’re male or male-presenting: No t-shirts, whether they have designs or words on them or not. It just does not look good.

    I kind of already knew this one, but I “learned” it the hard way when a last-minute video call was scheduled at the very end of the day, and I was teleworking in a t-shirt and jeans, and the t-shirt had a symbol on it that offended someone else. I got called on the carpet for that.

    1. Firecat*

      I don’t think that is universal. I think it makes sense to be careful what is on your shirt male or female.

      All the guys I work with sport Tees daily and it has not been an issue.

    2. Random Commenter*

      This sounds like it had everything to do with the symbol, and nothing to do with being male-presenting or t-shirts.

  33. JM in England*

    Re #5

    I have had a fair few contract jobs and a rule of thumb I devised was to wait until between the halfway and two-thirds mark of the contract length to ask where I stood regarding renewal. Told my then bosses that I needed to know so that I knew whether or not to ramp up the job search.

    That said though, I kept my job search going from the start of each contract, working on the assumption that it would not get renewed….

  34. knitcrazybooknut*

    #1 – I agree with Alison’s advice. I interviewed for and started a new job during the pandemic, and it’s been really tough. Training without anyone to help except remotely is the worst.

    My tongue-in-cheek complaint is that I haven’t been able to follow my traditional routine. When I start a new job, I always dress really nice for the first month or so. Once you’ve done that, you’ve established your “rep” as a natty dresser, and you can relax into business casual-esque for the rest of your employment. Everyone will still hold that idea in their minds. Life hack!

  35. zebra*

    # 3 — you should continue to offer your team a break from Zoom if they want it. Your boss is weirdly aggressive about forcing the zooms. I’m not usually a fan of lying to one’s boss but maybe next time you could just…glide over the details a little bit re: the method of communicating.

    Also, an idea, if the weather and time of day accommodates and people are into it: earlier in the summer my boss and I started scheduling our 1:1s as phone calls while we both were taking walks outside. If you don’t need to be sharing screens or anything, it’s a great way to *really* get a change of pace from sitting in front of the computer all day. And I’m the type who tends to just sit here at my desk all day without really noticing, so having an actual calendar appointment to go outside and take a walk is very beneficial! Just an idea, if you think any of your people would be into it.

  36. Allison*

    My boss requires video on for meetings and I dislike it SO much. She thinks it makes us more “engaged” but it has the opposite effect for me.

  37. Pikachu*

    LW1 – I stick with sleeved tops in plain colors or very simple patterns plus a statement necklace to bump it up a notch.

    I’m not even gonna pretend I’ve never pulled a shirt out of the laundry hamper to accomplish this look for a last minute call. Accessorizing covers a lot of remote work wardrobe sins.

  38. Cynical B*****

    #5: don’t count on there being a permanent position for you, unless you were told when you were hired that the job was contrct-to-perm. Some companies have a habit of keeping a position as a contract for a set number of time (like two years) before they even consider making it a permanent role. If you’re told three months, they should tell you by the end of the second month whether the position will continue as contract.

    If they’re going to hire you permanently, they will literally have to buy you out from your contracting company and that takes time and money. The closer this happens to your start date, the more expensive it is for them.

    Definitely let people know you’re happy and that you’d love to work there permanently, but keep all your options open.

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