update: I’m stuck in endless interviews with a company that can’t make up its mind

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer who was stuck in endless interviews with a company that couldn’t make up its mind? She’d already had four interviews, two of which ended after 10 pm, plus a paid trial work day, and they’d said they were sending an offer but then asked her for a fifth interview. Here’s the update.

Despite asking what this last minute follow-up meeting was about (as you suggested), they would not elaborate until I was there. In the interview preceding it, I had left feeling confident that I finally had a clear sense of the role, but when I returned, they explained that the three of them had walked out of that same meeting questioning whether I was “comfortable with process.” Bearing in mind that this was now mid-January and my first interview there had taken place in October, at this point, I was losing patience. Furthermore, if I was not comfortable with executing processes (still not sure if this is even what they meant), the job would be impossible for me to do! I told them they were wrong, and they interrogated me with a series of existential, unanswerable, often overly-personal questions. They would also try to tell me how I should answer or react to their questions or observations. Basically, aggressive gaslighting. I left feeling frustrated and discouraged and honestly hoping they would never call me again.

Many commenters on my original letter picked up on my use of the word “desperate” to describe how I felt about leaving the industry I was working in at the time. So, to shed some light, I was working in a restaurant and had been for many years, but I have a MA in an unrelated field and had been searching for work in that field for a long time. Anyone who has worked in hospitality or retail can tell you that it’s easy to feel desperate to get out if it’s not where you want to be! So, despite the weirdness of the last meeting, after a few days I followed up with the organization suggesting that many of their questions would be better addressed by my former colleagues/supervisors. They agreed to contact my references, and eventually they did speak to one of them, who told me the conversation was “bizarre” and that they seemed “out of touch with reality.”

Soon after, they did actually make me a formal offer. Based on all of your advice about negotiating salary, I requested a follow-up conversation about the compensation package, since there were some discrepancies between what they told me over the phone and what they presented to me in writing. It took them a full week to make time for a phone conversation about this, in which they seemed extremely insulted that I would ask for more money, or clarity about benefits (which they were not offering). At this point, they also stated that the position was not new (as they had previously said) and that I wouldn’t even be meeting all of their needs in this role anyway. The entire conversation was incredibly strange and long, and full of gaslighting and emotional manipulation.

At this point, I was certain I definitely could not work for this organization. I reflected on many of the LWs you have provided advice to, whose dysfunctional or abusive work environments have caused them long-term psychological and professional harm, and I could see the writing on the wall. They said they would get back to me, but I did not hear from them for over three weeks and assumed they had unceremoniously moved on. Not one to leave loose ends, I sent them an email thanking them for the opportunity and saying that it seemed clear that this was simply not the right fit. Shockingly, I got a response right away, filled with excuses for the radio silence and requesting a phone call that evening! I politely declined and have not heard from them since.

That was late February. In March, I was laid off from both of my jobs and was unemployed until the end of November. Throughout that time, I continued to apply for jobs in my field, and I FINALLY got hired by a great organization, to do a job that combines all of my skills, and is directly relevant to my career goals. I just finished my second week on the job and it still feels like a dream. I know that no organization or job is perfect, so I have approached with cautious optimism, but so far I am feeling extremely lucky, as well as genuinely appreciated by my new team!

Alison, I have learned so much from reading your blog, especially since I have been out of the office-world for a very long time. Thank you for your advice, and thank you to everyone who affirmed that the above situation was, in fact, crazy, and that I could do better, even if it didn’t feel that way at the time.

As an aside, throughout my years-long job search I really yearned for advice specific to those of us trying to transition out of the hospitality industry – especially those of us with graduate degrees. So many people in the hospitality industry are being displaced and trying to pivot right now, and there is no guidance out here for us. Most hiring managers outside the industry seem to disregard this kind of work experience entirely. It’s incredibly discouraging and demoralizing and we really need your help! I would be so grateful if you would address this in your blog. While I am fortunate enough to have “gotten out,” there are so many others who are not there yet.

Thank you again!

{ 76 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    Goodness, OP, what a mess that place sounds like. Glad you found somewhere good to be at last!

  2. Kes*

    Wow, what a roller coaster update. I was worried it was going to end with you working there after all to get into the field, finding out just how toxic it was, and looking to move on as soon as possible. I’m so glad that you were able to avoid them and get a job elsewhere in a great company in your desired field. So many red flags from that company – I think you dodged a bullet and I wish you luck in your new position

    1. RealPerson01*

      I wouldn’t ever want someone to be stuck into a role with this company because they seem so absolutely insane that I can’t even fathom even walking through their doors.

      But oh boy, do I wish I could read some stories about working there on a day to day basis. Because I’m sure this is only scratching the surface of the disfunction in that place.

      1. Gymmie*

        I can’t even imagine being a part of this hiring process as one of the people doing the hiring! Good lord!

    2. Amber*

      A hiring attorney where I used to work loved to hire people with hospitality experience. Said it showed that they could handle anything. Just so you know some people will see it as a plus, those skills translate really well to a variety of fields.

      1. DangerPossum*

        I’m a corporate recruiter and I LOVE hiring people with a hospitality (and retail!) background. People who have experience in these types of roles usually have great customer service and communication skills, as well as the ability to handle big changes on the fly. It’s definitely a plus!

        1. Wintermute*

          I think a lot of people do, and that background is super common too! I think here the issue is the combination of background and degree: hiring entry-to-lower-level with a primarily retail background is super-duper common because that’s often the experience a fresh graduate or other young worker will primarily have. It’s rare to find anything else to be frank.

          But here they have a master’s degree, and that means the nature of their competition for these jobs is going to be much different and include people with much more relevant experience. It’s somewhat uncommon for people to come out of that much education without even an internship or work study at some point, only restaurant or retail.

          1. TheLW*

            I’m the OP and just to clarify, I do have other kinds of work, work-study, internship and volunteer experience! But that never seemed to matter much when the bulk of my working life had been spent in restaurants. Also, there are many people working in hospitality who hold MAs in a variety of fields. It’s fairly common to use the flexible schedule of restaurant work to make school and internships possible.

        2. TooCold*

          I wish more people thought like you. Most do not, in my experience. We moved and I was unable to find a job in my field, so took a retail job. I rapidly rose through the ranks into higher management which, I think, shows my ability to quickly and thoroughly acquire new knowledge and skills, as well as customer service, communication and personnel management skills. Throughout my time in retail, I kept applying for jobs in my field and was rejected over and over due to “failure to show commitment to the profession” and “most current work experience is irrelevant to the field.”

          1. PT*

            Yup “the skills are transferable and you have experience, but it’s not in the right sort of ENVIRONMENT.”

            1. Wintermute*

              That isn’t entirely invalid when you’re talking long-timers in food service, specifically, because things fly there that absolutely would not in any other workplace (relationships between staff, drug use, etc) it’s pretty widely known that there are different norms there.

              Not that this should stop anyone, because most people are intelligent enough to be aware that those things don’t fly or can be told, but the environment of food service is very very different.

    3. LTL*

      Yes, I’m so happy for the OP. Can you imagine how the company would act if they had taken the job? Don’t want to do something unreasonable? Time for gaslighting. Which would chip away at anyone’s self esteem over time, regardless of how one may try to convince themselves otherwise.

      1. TardyTardis*

        Yes, I’m glad that they used this blog as a guide to “yes, these people really are batshirt crazy and I should not work there”.

  3. Lizard Breath*

    Yesssss. I am so glad that you didn’t rationalize yourself into thinking it was a foot in the door of your preferred field or a stepping stone, and even happier that you’ve found a great place to land.

    1. Momma Bear*

      Same. I was worried OP was going to report that they’d taken the job. Glad to hear that was not the case.

  4. lb*

    OOOFFF. Were, by chance, the three people you were interviewing with the founders of the company? Or higher ups who had been there since the very beginning? (This specific level of disfunction, of not knowing what you want from someone & constantly tinkering with job descriptions, has always come from people REALLY disconnected to the day-to-day in my experience.)

    1. Krabby*

      Yep, was gonna say the same. People high up get involved in creating the job description and don’t listen to the people who would actually be assigning the person tasks.
      Good for you for dodging that, OP :)

  5. The Rural Juror*

    To speak to that last bit the OP wrote: Most hiring managers outside the industry seem to disregard this kind of work experience entirely.

    The first job I had out of college, after waiting tables and working at bars all through school, was for a small company that needed someone who could wear many hats. I was hired to do sales, which I found to be pretty easy because I was used to talking to people and taking care of customers. They quickly realized I could handle a lot (not all, but a lot) of things thrown my way, and my job expanded pretty quickly. Not only was I doing very well at sales, but I also started doing all of their marketing and training as their company grew.

    I excelled at my job because I was used to having to do so many things at once. That’s not to say a server never forgets anything, or that I never forgot anything, but I was very good at keeping my clients happy and like they were the only clients that mattered. If someone ever called to ask a question, I very rarely had to refer back to my notes on their order because I was very good at recalling information quickly.

    I’ve moved on from that job and into a different kind of position now, and I realize I’ve lost a lot of those quick recall skills. I was really sharp back then…I’m not dull now, but not nearly as sharp (haha)!

    So to all the hiring managers out there in AAM Land, don’t disregard service industry work experience!!!

    1. RosyGlasses*

      I highly agree! I myself have never worked in hospitality or retail outside of a short college stint working front desk at a hotel and a shorter stint at a Gymboree that was ill-advised) – but I have contributed to hiring two staff at our marketing tech firm that have been both exceptional and able to tackle pretty much anything thrown at them. Neither of them had strong experience in our field, but were referrals from folks on our team (which we usually weight a bit more heavily) and were impressive in how they interviewed and how eager they were to just dive in and learn whatever they needed to to succeed.

    2. RedheadRoJo*

      I agree with this sentiment so much! When I graduated from my degree program and applying for my first licensed healthcare position (direct patient care), I included my previous restaurant/hospitality experience. Of course I was told that was “unprofessional” but I argued it would be more of a positive than negative. It came up in my interview and I pointed out that the skills I gained waiting tables would be quite useful, as juggling multiple patients on tables was not that different than juggling multiple patrons at tables

      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        I gained experience training and supervising less experienced workers in youthful summer jobs that was invaluable 20 years later when I finally got to be a boss in a degreed professional job.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I’m medical adjacent, and was told that they hired me specifically because I have prior hospitality/hotel experience. They figured if I could handle everything that would come at you in a hotel front desk (especially the night shift) – then I should more than be able to handle all the wackiness that comes at a scheduling dept.

      3. Wintermute*

        yeah but the key for both of you is it was your FIRST job out of college. That’s really common, because unless you get (and can afford) an internship or work study the majority of experience most young people have is restaurant and retail.

        But once you’re a little older and looking to change fields, the entire ballgame changes, you’re competing with people that have much more direct experience.

    3. Vx*

      I worked in retail and service for over ten years, full time through my undergrad, a career as a trainer and manager, and part time as a manager through my master’s degree.

      I learned so much about time management, organizational workflow, and training pair to do unfamiliar work effectively. My boss told me he didn’t think I was cut out to be a coffee shop manager. I did a career change.

      I took all those years as a trainer and became a college professor. I am damn good at it, and I had way less issues leaning to manage a classroom than some of my peers.

    4. Amazon Refugee*

      Another way to look at it is what the job means about you. I got screwed over when the company that provided the vast majority of my freelance work abruptly stopped doing that business and took a job at an Amazon FC to, you know, remain housed and fed. For the entire year I had Amazon on my resume, in order to not have a gap, I got no calls, and in several cases was rejected within 20 minutes. I got an interview for a job I was highly qualified for at Amazon and the recruiter redefined the position over the phone as a justification to avoid hiring me. She redefined it by changing it to a job I had even more experience in, proving she never read my resume, but it went from in-house editor to globally-travelling instructional designer with some extremely niche skills I happen to have. (I did not get an interview even after pointing out that I was even more suited for the job.)

      I also have a Masters from Oxford, a number of years of experience in my field, and several jobs that have been created specifically for me. But I was doing menial labor, so eff me, I guess. And yes, my cover letter explained the situation. But taking a job to survive is somehow a negative.

      1. selena*

        I feel this is one of those things that a lot of hiring managers are dishonest about: if asked directely most will insist that the best thing is always to stay busy and embrace whatever job you can get, if need be with menial labor.

        But in reality most think it is a huge red flag if you got that kind of demotion, a flag so red it casts doubt on any diploma and non-menial job you had before (you must have reeeeeaaally screwed up there).

        To them the issue is not that you were unemployed for long stretches of time, but you need to be unemployed in the rich-person way (pretending to fill your days doing charity stuff, or even just pretending to do a sabbatical year).

        If you search for a job without realizing that dishonesty (as in: you are proud at the fact that you worked every day, even after your career tanked) you will get very few actual job interviews and mostly pretend-interviews where a bored hiring manager asks you to detail your tale of woo.

        1. TardyTardis*

          Sometimes it depends. The place I ended up working at for 15 years seemed to be impressed that I’d picked up a little contractor job between my previous job and the one I was interviewing for (previous job, boiler room/call center, contractor job phone book distribution, new job accounts payable, later accounting).

          I must admit, it was refreshing to have a job with benefits!

    5. BananaPants*

      I absolutely agree. After many years and years in food service (I only left because my knees couldnt take serving anymore) I got my first office job 5 years ago. I left that job after only a year, and at my exit interview they asked what in my background was the most helpful. I said “retail and foodservice experience” and urged them to seriously consider other former servers. They seemed surprised– but I hope they took my advice! ( I believe I said “nothing will ever be as stressful as working a split shift on game day at a wings restaurant.”)

      1. TardyTardis*

        Being the front person at a food booth at a fair on both Friday and Saturday nights is close! I will admit that every once in a while I had to take a break from ‘front’ and make enchiladas.

    6. Kesnit*

      I worked retail while looking for a job in the legal field. I finally did find a job, which I left about 18 months later to take the job I have now (criminal defense work). When I got hired, my now-boss made a flippant comment about working retail. In reality, what I have found is that having that retail experience helps when I am handling either a shoplifting or an embezzlement case. I know the procedures and know what to look for.

  6. Mel_05*

    What a nightmare!

    I’m glad you dodged that bullet & got a position somewhere better.

    I’ll second your request for more advice on transitioning out of hospitality/service positions.

    My husband’s got a degree, but got stuck managing a restaurant. He’s longing to get out, but it seems like there’s no way to do it.

  7. glitter writer*

    I am so glad you did not take their job offer. That has “dodged bullet” written all over it if anything ever has!

  8. Mimmy*

    Wow you definitely dodged a huge bullet!!!

    I too would be interested in reading advice for transitioning out of hospitality/service jobs. I’m not in those fields but have been stuck in an entry level job that I had no intention of keeping for as long as I have (4 years this coming March).

  9. Mina*

    the last part of this might even make a good ask the readers section someday, there might be others out there with experience to add.

  10. Dream Jobbed*

    I am so glad you listened to your gut (and Alison’s) and did not take that job! It wasn’t meant to be, and you valued yourself enough to get what was meant to be. Congrats on your great escape (both from gaslighting company and from an industry you did not want a future in) and best of luck in the new position!

  11. Finland*

    I’d love to chime in about service-related job experience. I used to work in a large amusement park that mainly serves the entertainment industry and those types of roles, as has been described, will put you in a myriad of circumstances and (if you do well) you walk away with tons of skills that are not always obvious, but really sing when they are needed. I’m talking about negotiation skills, multitasking, conflict resolution and de-escalation, etc.

    I constantly heard jokes that people in the service industry didn’t study hard enough (or are drop-outs), or they couldn’t get a job anywhere else, or that they were just biding their time until Hollywood calls. But I found some of the most hard-working, dedicated, reliable people I’ve ever met. I also found some major goofballs, to be honest (mainly in managenent).

    I really think organizations sell people short as a general rule. I’ve found, overall, that people who move generally through the high-end primary education to prestigious university to plum-job conveyor belt come in with little ability to do anything outside of their realm (IMHO). Meanwhile, people who come from backgrounds where they didn’t go to the top-choice school, they had to hustle for everything they earned, and they learned on-the-job, were quicker to pivot and more able to do whatever was needed, regardless what category it fell into.

    This isn’t at all an aspersion to education or to studying, and I hope it doesn’t read that way (I majored in the sciences), but I’ve just observed this in every place I’ve worked at. It’s like evolution: it’s not the strong who survive, but the adaptable.

    1. Boof*

      “move generally through the high-end primary education to prestigious university to plum-job conveyor belt ” er, I would be a little careful dumping on other people’s life paths if your message is people shouldn’t dump on a path that goes through service industry (I would also say it’s fine to have service industry as the ultimate destination, but my husband waited tables and I do understand how one can want to get out if it’s not the lifestyle one likes; teaching though seemed to involve much of the same skills and politics, but with more money/benefits at least!)

    2. MK*

      Honestly your whole comment is just another flavour of the same prejudice you complain against. Not everyone comes out of years in the service industry with transferable skills, and plenty of people are adaptable without going through adversity. Also, for a lot of roles being excellently trained for your own work is more important than being able to turn your hand in lots of other kinds of work, and being saddled with other stuff because you show you can do them isn’t always rewarded and can derail your career path.

      As for workers in the hospitality industry and retail work, frankly they are unlikely to attain the respect and compensation they rightly deserve as long as such jobs are seen as prime opportunities for underage children to learn responsibility and earn pocket money (or save for college) and for creative industry hopefuls to pay the bills till they make it.* In my country these jobs used to be filled by experienced professionals who were sought after and compensated well. Then the 2007 recession happened and suddenly you had lots of andom people desperate to earn a little extra and businesses willing to hire them for lower wages. The quality of service declined and the “respectability” of these jobs as a career choice also. It is very hard for public perception of a profession to remain high when it is staffed to a large degree by non-professionals.

      *To be clear, I do not mean this as a negative for people who are trying to make their way as best they can and are following the norms of their culture. I do not even know if the perception that most people working these jobs in the U.S. are doing so temporarily is accurate or a (social and not) media-born myth. But this perception certainly exists and is supported by many reports, it’s not purely prejudice.

      1. Finland*

        You’re right, I see that my comment is biased as well. I work with a lot of extremely educated, highly trained people (myself included) and I agree that service experience is not a guaranteed ticket to success. Fortunately, I did not experience devaluation of my labor because of it. I left the hospitality/service industry to enter the biotech industry, and then government.

        I should have tried harder to explain that my comments were a result of my personal experiences with my coworkers. I’m not trying to say that service experience is a requirement for multifaceted skills, or that no one else has had to work hard, but it was one of the things that has helped me excel at my current job, as those skills are essential to my work.

        I can’t speak to the difficulty of leaving the hospitality/service industry now. I just wanted to show that those skills are transferable and have value. My apologies for the offensive comments.

      2. kt*

        I’m going to agree with Finland and disagree with a number of other commenters, including you, MK. My disclaimers are that I come from a recent-immigrant background (though was born in the US and benefit from the simplifications that come with being a US citizen), went to a prestigious university after normal but good public school, and then went into an academic/educational path in my field before realizing that I had bigger bills and more geographic constraints than would fit with that path.

        What you say is not an aspersion on studying. A reasonable number of people I knew who were on that conveyor belt didn’t really study; they had great teachers and tutors who were paid well to help them through, and since they attended the right colleges they made the right connections and also were offered jobs by their uncle in finance. I know at least a few rich kids like this who *also* studied really hard — like got their PhDs in microbiology or whatever, because they truly did work hard to maximize their talent. That’s a little different.

        I also knew my coworkers at Los Angeles area restaurants. Some of them were math teachers in Mexico before coming to the US — and they were waiters dishwashers here. I know these guys had legal status, too — but that’s how their path broke down. All of the people I worked at were adult men supporting families (one or two women, no teens) and the waiters and chefs were really good at what they did and taught me a lot. In fact, they taught me a lot about rich people in America that I had never known, as an immigrant-background Midwestern bumpkin.

        If I’m reading the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2017 numbers right, 55.6% of workers paid below minimum wage at 25 or older. 26.4% of workers paid below minimum wage are 25-34 years old, 12.7% of workers paid below minimum wage are 35-44, and 15.5% percent of workers paid below minimum wage are 45 or older. (You might ask, how can a business pay below minimum wage? Oh, work that might involve tips, haha!)

        I don’t think that your last sentence is accurate at all, MK. Sure, the perception that people are working low-wage jobs temporarily exists, but it is inaccurate overall. If you’re working a low-wage job as a teen, it might be the case — but for the solid majority of people working at or below minimum wage (who are over 25) it’s a prejudice that traps them.

        1. MK*

          Eh, I think your comment actually helps my point rather than otherwise. You speak of people doing this kind of work who were driven to it by circumstances, not chosen it as a career, you say they are “trapped” there.

          Also, you know rich kids who phoned it in and those that worked hard, but all the service workers you knew were hardworking and talented? No offense, but that’s more likely to be bias on your part than accurate?

          1. christmastree*

            As someone who has been rich and poor the romanticising on both ends is frustrating. Being rich doesn’t make you a good person or mean you’re talented, in my country chances are it just means you inherited. Being poor is not always noble! I know plenty of lazy criminal jackasses who make no attempt to improve their lives. I know great people at all ends of the income spectrum.

            As a very, very long time on off server people do the job for many reasons. Some are great at it, some suck. Same as any job! It’s not special, it’s just a job! I have friends who are cleaners, grocery store workers, lawn mowers and so on. They don’t bring the same hang up’s to their jobs that hospitality workers bring to theirs. You’re not a hero because you wait tables! It’s just a job like so many others at that level, get over it people. It’s been a handy job for me but that’s it. There’s nothing more boring than people who make hospitality an identity.

    3. Jonquil S*

      Part of the problem, unfortunately, is while there are people whose work history in service-industry jobs granted them skills they can apply in the office, there are also many people who get stuck in the service industry because they never attained the literacy or numeracy skills necessary to thrive in a setting where work involves documents, spreadsheets, or basic software programs.

      Where I live, in the United States, the majority of adults have an 8th-grade reading level or lower. About 1 out of 4 adults has a 4th-grade reading level or lower. Writing skill level, skill in navigating new tools and software, logic, and math skills have roughly the same spread.

      Only 34% of adults in my state have any type of post-HS degree.

      There are many reasons for this, all of which are depressing. Yet, when it comes to hiring for an office job, the priority becomes making sure anyone we hire meets that baseline level of literacy. So, all jobs posted require at least an associate’s.

      And…I just hate it. I know we end up discriminating against people who can read and write and use a spreadsheet just fine, but who just can’t afford post-secondary education and have done hospitality work since they were 18. I don’t know what to do about it.

      But, yeah. That’s why most adults in my state “can’t get a job anywhere else.” It’s not a stereotype, it’s discrimination and an under-resourced K-12 system.

      1. Elsie*

        I get what you are saying and totally agree that education shouldn’t be a job prerequisite unless it’s truly needed. It feels like there is so much educational inflation where jobs that used to require a high school education now require college and jobs that used to require college now require graduate school.

        One thing that might help employers screen out people with low skill levels is by giving a test rather than requiring a certain degree. My Mom was an office manager and she would get candidates who didn’t have basic administrative skills like alphabetizing. So she gave a short test on the types of basic skills needed for the job which helped a lot in hiring. Would be better if employers could do things like that instead of requiring degrees that aren’t necessary for the job

      2. Finland*

        I understand. I had a coworker who was from overseas that was a doctor in their country and didn’t speak English fluently. They worked alongside me at the amusement park. It broke my heart.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Oh boy, yep. An acquaintance of mine, fled a tyrannical regime. They were a college professor in that country before the crisis. They spoke SEVEN languages but not English. They convinced immigration to allow them in the country and began working on citizenship. In the course of looking for jobs they said, “I won’t work as a professor for $20k per year. I can’t do it.” They ended up doing construction type work. And eventually developed their own business. But they never taught anywhere, ever again.
          By the time I met this person, they spoke English just as well as any of us. They said that they had to focus on the fact that they and their family would not be alive if they had remained where they were.

          I walked away from the lengthy conversation humbled and crying. This person could have been such a huge human resource for our country. Just listening to them talk about walking away with nothing but the clothes on their backs and hoping they could trust the next person in their “underground” escape was an incredible thing to hear. They learned so much and life had showed them so much.

          To anyone struggling, know that you are very much NOT alone.

    4. christmastree*

      My experience is the kids I know who did the full conveyer belt of prestige from kinder to job tend to have a lock on the best jobs and are doing a great job. Not everyone who went through this came out well but the ‘top end of town’ in my country is certainly dominated by these people and no, they’re not failing.

      People love to claim such people can’t do this or can’t do that or are nepotism hires or can’t think creatively or are rude. But actually the sucky thing is that really the prestige conveyer belt turns out some amazing people and the unfairness isn’t that they aren’t good at their job but that they had every opportunity to become great, an opportunity denied to many other kids.

      If you look at the top ranks of self made (or kind of self made) like Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos they are smart, well educated decent background and so on. The idea you need to be broke to have motivation is a myth people with a chip on their shoulder tell them.

      I certainly know many entitled rich people I’d like to avoid but I also spent time with the basically criminal level of poverty and after getting robbed by ‘friends’ more than once in filthy holes of places to live I’m not keen on how so many people romanticise the school of hard knocks. Give me the middle any day.

    5. Gymmie*


      You need to take an individual and holistic view when hiring with a new person to your particular industry or job. I never “struggled”, but I was an elite swimmer and I can assure you that took more dedication and work than any job I have had in my life.

      Just graduating from an elite school wouldn’t impress me, but study abroad experiences, getting a double major “just because it was interesting”, working your way through elite school, being a scholarship athlete, etc etc etc. All of these seem like qualities that MAY translate to the position I have open.

  12. Why isn’t it Friday?*

    OP, I’m sure you felt like that crazy company was wasting your time (they did), but in a sense the interviewing process worked exactly as it should. You learned about the company and its culture and realized you didn’t want to ever work there! At least they didn’t hide their lunacy, so you didn’t have to work there for months before realizing something was off.

  13. Tuesday*

    So happy that things worked out for the OP! What a happy ending!
    About the endless interviews and general weirdness with this company… I would love to know what was going on. This seems like way more than your run-of-the-mill dysfunctional organization. I can’t figure out who was benefiting from all those lengthy meetings and dragging things out like that.

  14. Goldenrod*

    “Anyone who has worked in hospitality or retail can tell you that it’s easy to feel desperate to get out if it’s not where you want to be!”

    Wow, I so agree with this! I left my retail job for office work TWENTY YEARS ago….and I STILL feel a little thrill when I remember how it felt to finally make that transition. It’s so hard because none of your experience counts so you feel like you’ll be stuck forever.

    So glad you got a great new job in your desired field, OP!!

  15. TimeTravlR*

    OP: My husband successfully moved out of hospitality and, you’re right, it isn’t easy! You tend to get pigeonholed as “only” having restaurant (or other aspect) experience. He was able to translate his into a government role that had a food service element, and then grow from there. Now he works on the financial side (still federal govt) but it was never easy. Translating your skills well in your resume is critical!

    1. le beef*

      I did something similar by transitioning into a analytical role for a restaurant supplier. Anyone looking to leave a hospitality role may do well to focus on highlighting their knowledge of inventory calculations and other data-driven processes within their current role.

  16. Mystic*

    Wow, that first company seems like it has…a lot of red flags.
    I’m glad you found a job you like! With good co-workers to boot.

  17. Maltypass*

    Damn, that last paragraph could have been written by me. Kudos to you OP for staying the course despite the ‘desperation’, you’re amazing!

  18. Four Top*

    I could so relate to how useful service industry skills are in a professional setting. I was a server for a few months prior to an out of state move. When I went back to working in
    dentistry, clearing and resetting an operatory felt almost exactly like quickly resetting a table for the next patron!

  19. Kali*

    I’m so glad the Op didn’t take the job!

    I wonder what internal story the interviewers were telling themselves that convinced them they were doing something reasonable? I don’t think there was any kind of rational or logical thought process, but most people tend to think they are doing sensible, reasonable things, and I’d love to figure out how they managed that.

    My current theory is: they had a perfect unicorn in mind, maybe someone exactly like the last person in the role. The Op was not that person. Maybe there was internal disagreement about whether the OP was sufficient to fill that role in the unicorn’s absence, hence more interviews. The weird questions were maybe inspired by Google’s lateral thinking questions, and the answers were what they had convinced themselves the perfect Unicorn would say. Maybe the last person in the role had given their answers, and they expected the replacement to give exactly the same answers? That would require the last person to be in communication with them still, since I feel like that interview and the questions were a last minute compromise between those who wanted to hire OP and the unicorn-lovers. Maybe the last person in the role had moved up and WAS the unicorn lover, trying to replace themselves? That might explain the weirdly specific ideas they seemed to have about who they wanted to hire. End of story, the OP-supporter won, but the company felt like they were doing the OP a favour, hence the attitude.

    Another commenter suggested that the disfunction might be because this is a start-up company, and the owners had no experience in hiring (can’t recall if that was in the story, can’t check while typing, on mobile and tired). I think this fits a lot, especially if the previous person in the role was an owner. They’re now successful enough to hire someone rather than having to do that job themselves, but have no idea how.

    I can’t figure out why they weren’t searching for other candidates, if they were convinced the Unicorn was a realistic goal. But then, they didn’ t say that, did they? Maybe the OP was the best candidate who applied, maybe the job posting had a load of red flags or they have a bad reputation in the industry, or the post was just insufficient to encourage the unicorn to apply, like maybe it didn’t properly explain what they actually wanted. Maybe they kept hoping for the unicorn and that’s why they kept dragging the process out?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      The cynic in me wonders if they decided to pick someone then deliberately beat them down through the interview process.

      More realistically, I think they were probably all arguing among themselves. When there is no group cohesion for whatever reason, we can see some weird, weird stuff. I was thinking of an example of Joe wants a Purple Unicorn, but Jane wants a Purple Unicorn with blue eyes and a gold harness. Bob does not care about any of this but unfortunately Bob is the one who has to call OP. Bob’s predicament is that he has to sound convincing about talking points which he, himself, does NOT believe to be of any relevance. Behind closed doors they are all disgusted and ticked at each other.

      OP, if you had taken this job, every. single. decision would have played out the way your hiring process went.

  20. MissDisplaced*

    Good for you OP!
    As much as you must have desperately wanted that job (at least initially) you stuck your resolve. I can only imagine what they would’ve been like to work for, and it’s worth listening to your instincts.
    On a side note: I wonder if they did ever actually hire anyone? Because it sounds like they wanted the proverbial Purple Unicorn but wanted to pay them Monkey wages.

  21. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    re the place that dragged things out for months…

    You were in an interview cycle for four months, and had five interviews, and a lot of non-response? Any place that does screening and hiring like that is truly MESSED UP and they may also have an attitude about themselves, that they’re the “cat’s (rear end)”. And if they do that during the interview process, what’s it like inside that place?

    There was one high-tech company in my area that in the 70s and 80s, set up a hiring process that was a three-ring circus. By design. That company is gone – it offered a technology set that became obsolete almost overnight.

    The problem with dragging things out – the managers aren’t serious about filling the position and moving forward, and companies that play games like that often lose out on the best candidates. While they drag their feet, the job-seeker is continuing to look at other situations and will probably accept one before the “turtles” get back into the process. I don’t know how many times that happened to me in my career.

    And if you should ever get into a management position where you’re involved with hiring, unless it’s a super rare skills set you’re seeking – get the hiring process done QUICKLY. Once you have a viable , capable candidate – extend the offer. Don’t keep looking and hemming and hawing.

    1. Wintermute*

      You make a really good point– Hiring **IS** a race, you are out there competing with other companies for the best candidates, trying to get them to pick you before they get a better offer elsewhere. If you’re hiring for good, highly-qualified people then you are absolutely racing the clock because the best of your candidates will have options.

      It is death to a company to end up a place where people only work if they don’t have options, whether that’s because you suck so much anyone who can get a job elsewhere does so and leaves, or because you can’t get to the good candidates before others do, or because your hiring processes are so absurd that good candidates decide not to put up with them and pick a job elsewhere. Your application system, your interview process, everything needs to be set up so *people with other options* don’t look at it and decide you’re not worth the candle.

  22. christmastree*

    I work in hospitality and I have good degrees. I have noticed some people in hospitality seem to think this experience is special in some way. Over and above people who work in places like supermarkets or cleaning and never claim it has amazing transferable skills. Hospitality seem convinced it’s special. It’s not. All customer facing menial jobs are the same really IME. Yes, I learned skills. Could I only have learned them serving? Doubtful.

    I went to college with people who have gone on to very impressive careers. Most of them never held down a menial job due to their parental finances allowing them to focus on relevant internships and experiences. If menial jobs had value then top companies would look for that experiences and impressive parents would push their kids to do a summer of serving or retail.

    These wealthy parents and families seemed to have it all figured out and it never included menial work unless the finances didn’t stretch to providing beer money for your kids. I had most of college paid for but needed money for fun stuff, so I worked menial jobs. None of these clued in people who seem to control ‘the system’ put any value on menial work.

    I think some people in hospitality are kidding themselves. Instead of trying to make something out of nothing focus on using the money you earn to upskill. Give up on the idea most people are going to care about your industry experience. Instead focus on getting what the rich kids have figured out is ‘the’ CV: relevant internships, relevant experiences, impressive volunteering, degrees, courses, skills, networking and value added extra curricular.

    The sooner hospitality workers realise no one cares and they start focusing on what people do care about the better.

    Overall I don’t even think hospitality is a bad job. Of all the menial jobs you can do it’s one of the better ones.

    1. PT*

      Back when I worked in fitness, one of the locations in a very tony neighborhood (such that most of you would recognize it by name) was having a hard time recruiting new lifeguards to staff their pool, because most teenagers were involved in resume-building activities during the summer, not summer jobs that paid near minimum wage.

      So the pool director created a junior lifeguard training program, and called it the “Aquatics Management Internship Program.” Suddenly they were was awash in applications for “Interns” to train in “practical application of lifesaving and first aid skills, ideal for pre-med students” and “customer service and networking experience applicable to business career paths.”

      Same job, new twist.

    2. N0PE*

      Yikes, this is a lot of assumptions about rich people knowing better than those who need to work to meet their basic financial needs. What you describe is clearly a result of class discrimination and gatekeeping by the haves, to keep out the have-nots. I mean, god forbid the person who cleans your toilet or serves your martini gains access to resources, amirite??? Also, how is paying for grad school with a “menial” job failing to use your (apparently worthless) work experience to “upskill”?

      1. christmastree*

        I don’t make the rules. This site is full of people who are overly idealistic. People need to be more realistic. The reality is serving experience is next to worthless. As a server myself I may not agree with this, but I don’t make the rules. Don’t shoot the messenger.

        As for rich people, again I don’t make the rules that they guard the gates. Nor do I agree with it. But the reality is they do. If serving experience mattered you’d see rich kids doing it all the time. You’d see it on successful professional’s LinkedIn. Fact is, no one cares.

        People can either come to grips with what the professional workforce asks for or they can stay shut out. For the record I think the standard professional entry level CV is cookie cutter boring and any middle class or up kid can sleepwalk through it with a bit of effort and parental support. It shows nothing other than an ability to check the current in vogue boxes. But that is what companies are saying they want and I’m just the messenger. If you want to get a ‘good’ professional job you have to do what the powers that be have decided.

        You can either complain about how unfair life is or you can play the system. I don’t make or approve of the rules.

        1. N0PE*

          I mean…the other option is working to advocate for change. It’s not that cute to just accept that you must step on others or be stepped on to succeed, and that we should just accept the status quo and work until we die. I don’t think it’s overly idealistic to want to change what we deem useful or worthwhile in our society – as long as we also understand that fostering real change takes hard work! If the alternative to idealism is your attitude, then I choose to keep mine.

  23. Sabrena*

    Yes, I spent 15+ years in a family business in restaurant/bar pretty much doing everything from doing payroll, purchasing to cleaning restrooms. When trying to move on I decided to get MBA thinking it would help in the “real” world to add on to my experiences. All my experience did not translate and pretty much was only offered entry level customer service positions. It is frustrating since that time didn’t seem to count for anything. I am still behind where I think I should be for my age group plus now have student loans for a useless degree. I have a decent job so not really complaining considering the state of the world.

    1. Pretzelgirl*

      I did a lot of restaurant and retail in college. I even did a more professional type retail (where most people held degrees). When I tried to move on, I either interviewed with people who loved that I had the experience or people who scoffed at it. I do think they helped me with time management skills, and people skills. I somewhat enjoyed my time in retail. I am not sure I would want to go back, but it was fun when I was young and had no kids.

  24. selena*

    What a wonderfull update. I’m so happy for OP that things seem to be working out for them.

    I think the restaurant-to-office special they are asking for could be interesting because a lot of people in that age-group are in the same boat: got a degree that was worth far less than promised, settled for the then-booming service industry, are rethinking their future because of covid (and dreaming of fi-na-lly getting a starter-job in the field they studied for).

    While i was never in the service industry it took me approx 5 years post-graduation to get a degree-relevant job, and i’m so happy. Even if this job of career doesn’t work out i will at least know that i ‘have done it’: that there wasn’t some huge talent wasted by my choosing to go into a different direction.
    With previous jobs i always felt bad about not doing enough to stay within reach of degree-relevant jobs. But now that i have had this job for a while it won’t bother me all that much if it eventually turns out my biggests talents lay elsewhere.

  25. B.*

    I’m so glad to hear you didn’t take the job in the end! I was really concerned when you were negotiating with them!
    I know exactly what you mean about the hospitality industry. After years in it, and a location where it was the majority of the economy, and one very toxic job in particular I got a job that was okay by the standards of the industry but it became clear that I couldn’t do it any more and I wouldn’t have the capacity to improve my mental health until I got out.
    After a period of travel I moved to a bigger city and determined to pivot. I was able to get a job as a bank teller then a banker. While there are things say my company I really don’t agree with, it has let me focus on healing my mental health and reach a better place in life. After being open all through covid they’re closing our location in the spring, but since I was leaning to go back to school next year anyway it will work out.

    All that is background information, and to show that it is possible. I guess my advice to people trying to pivot out is believe in yourself and don’t settle for something that’s going to be just as bad just because the industry as a whole is better or it will give you experience, unless you go into it eyes wide open. Surround yourself with people who believe in and support you. I couldn’t have done it without the support of my loved ones. Bringing up a potential obstacle in a constructive way is understandable but constant naysaying won’t help you. And think about looking into temporary jobs, if you feel it’s feasible to potentially only be employed for a short time then have to search again. I was able to get in because they didn’t care that much about whether a temporary teller that would only be there a few months was the perfect fit, and I figured it would at least get me a track record and references and I would be able to find something else.

    Good luck to anybody trying to pivot out of hospitality or any industry they’ve decided is a bad fit, and I’m so glad you found a job that sounds like a wonderful fit for you LW!

  26. Big D*

    OP, congrats on your new role, and for listening to your gut. I’ll second the need for guidance transitioning out of hospitality – I don’t have a degree and it took me years to claw my way out.

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