my interviewer asked if I “needed” the job

A reader writes:

I’m job searching and just interviewed today. It went really well, but they did ask me one question that tripped me up: They asked me if I needed the job. I do, but I stumbled on my answer a bit. I figured if I said yes, I would look desperate, but if I said no, I would look uninterested. What should I have said?

Eeeww. What a terrible question.

Most people need a job. That’s why we work — for money. But asking you if you need this particular job is weird. Are they hoping you do so they can lowball you / overwork you / otherwise mistreat you because you’re desperate and don’t have other options? Or if not, why don’t they realize it will sound that way?

This question reeks of an employer that has had employees leave for better pastures because they could — and rather than do the work to make people want to stay, they’ve decided they prefer employees who won’t feel they can leave. An employer that doesn’t like competition dislikes it for a reason, and that reason is never because they’re treating their employees well.

As for how to answer, here are a few possibilities:

“I think all of us but the independently wealthy need a job, but I’m here because I’m interested in this job in particular.”

“I have a job that I like, but I’m interested in a role like this one because ____.”

“I need a job, like most of us, but I’m interested in this one because ____.”

“That’s a surprising question. Can I ask why you asked it?”

Employers have held most of the power for a long time. As some of that power shifts toward employees, some companies are being awfully open about trying to grasp on to it as tightly as they can.

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. Librarian of SHIELD*

    I’m absolutely tucking “That’s a surprising question, can I ask why you asked it?” into my pocket for future interviews. That’s such useful phrasing!

    1. Betty*

      It’s hugely useful for a lot of situations, not just interviews. I think Miss Manners advocated it (or just a pleasant-but-faintly-confused “Why do you ask?”) for all manner of intrusive personal questions. (It make the merely nosy either acknowledge that or withdraw in embarrassment, but leaves open potentially legitimate questions– e.g. asking “Is she your daughter” not because the questioner is flummoxed that a parent and child are different races but because the kid in question just stuck a piece of playground mulch up her nose, asking “Are you planning to have children” because you’re an eccentric distant relative deciding whether or not to bequeath a vast fortune to your cats or nah, etc.)

    2. Public Sector Manager*

      I love the phrasing and I love it as an answer to the OP’s question. It’s such an odd question to ask!

    3. KayDeeAye*

      I love this idea, but the one that immediately came to my mind is, “Do you need *your* job?” Probably a bit adversarial and I probably wouldn’t think of it in time if I were put on the spot like the OP, but it’s what I’d truly want to know.

    4. Dasein9*

      (I totally just looked three times for the noun being modified by the adjective and presumed euphemism “tucking” in your sentence!)

    5. Jinni*

      Classic case of return awkwardness to sender. I used this IRL all the time because as a black woman I get asked a lot of inappropriate questions. But I do wonder if I used this in an interview context would it be considered to ‘angry’ or ‘aggressive.’

      1. BubbleTea*

        If you wanted to layer on the polite bewilderment (not that you should need to, but I understand the concern given the context), you could say, “that’s a surprising question, I wasn’t expecting to be asked that. Please could you give a bit more context so I can make sure my answer is relevant?” or similar.

        1. Karen*

          that’s great phrasing, BubbleTea. Relays how one can be taken aback by such a question, but frames it as being helpful to the asker and therefore not combative. Thanks!

      2. J3*

        Yeah, I agree that unfortunately this might be seen as ‘argumentative’. I think a slightly more demure (boooo) way of getting at the same thing might be to ask “I’m not totally sure I understand the question, could you clarify?”

      3. TootsNYC*

        just sounds curious, not combative. That’s where the intro “that’s an unusual question” can help.

    6. Jennifer*

      Same here. No matter how well you prepare for an interview, there’s always that one question that completely stumps you. This question would have left me sputtering for an answer.

    7. MakingMistakes*

      I also love it for things outside of job interviews because it allows me to drill down to exactly what someone is wanting information on, it helps keep things succinct.

      1. Kate in Colorado*

        Do you NEED your employees?

        *insert crying laughing emoji here* hahahaha yes- I love that response!

  2. Artemesia*

    That is a waving red flag from a hiring manager; suggest they are of the ‘be grateful for the job’ rather than ‘how can we make this job work for you and us’ school of management.

    1. Susanna*

      Yep. Like the folks who talk only of their reverence for the “job creators.” Never mind the job doers, right?

    2. Few_Short_Cucumbers*

      Absolutely. This clearly reads as “I need a candidate who will be so dependent/desperate that I can treat them like total garbage and they’ll take it.” Like the majority of employers in the US, they don’t want an employee, they want a slave. I hope the OP (had the luxury of being able to) ran away!

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    How weird.
    Is that just a hamhanded way to ask if you’re currently unemployed?

    1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

      Cynical take here: if the LW is a woman, a hamhanded way of asking if she’s married to a breadwinner.

      1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        Ack, per Alison’s rule, no needless speculation without offering advice.

        If this were the case, I would say something about not being independently wealthy and therefore working isn’t optional, then pivot to describing what about the job *and long term career trajectory* is appealing. Talk about how the role aligns with your experience in teapot handle sourcing, and how it can grow into larger strategic sourcing of all teapot parts.

      2. PT*

        I am a woman and I have had TWO different interviewers ask me if I have my husband’s permission to be working. In 2016 and 2018.

        1. Hippo-nony-potomus*

          Back before I got married, I had people ask me why I needed a job with a 401k and benefits. I finally started telling them that I was the sole breadwinner for my household; sure that household is “only” myself and my cat, but the cat has resisted all attempts to become an Instagram celeb. Someone needs to pay for his food and vet bills, someone needs to pay the rent, and the cat isn’t into being a SM star, so…. here I am.

          1. Clumsy Ninja*

            I have two cats and people are always bugging me to take more in. I always say that I can’t, because then I’ll have to get divorced, and I won’t be able to maintain my cats’ lifestyles in the manner to which they’ve become accustomed. ;) I feel you on needing to support the cat who refuses to pay his/her own keep.

          2. Critical Rolls*

            Whaaaaaat. I have something I keep in reserve for true overstepping: “I must have misheard you, I thought you said X.” With optional “which I’m sure you didn’t because Y.” You can tune it with “warm and generous” delivery or “coldly displeased.” It might have burned a bridge in an interview setting but at that point, unless you’re really desperate, who cares?

            1. PlainJane*

              That’s an excellent riposte strategy, but what on earth can you be “certain you meant….” in this case? “I’m sorry, I thought you asked if I had my husband’s permission to look for a job. I’m sure you just meant to find out if he was on the verge of being transferred… to the moon… thereby leaving you without an employee…” Or maybe “I’m sure you meant, are you able to work overtime when needed?” (Without worrying about a childcare issue or someone’s ill health needing to take priority.) But… but…

              YEEEEGGGGGH. That question is creepy.

        2. RVA Cat*

          *picks jaw off floor*
          What did you say to that?! “Yes, and we agreed I could sleep with Don Draper since he must work here…”

        3. Curmudgeon in California*

          WTF? Wow, I would have expected that in the 80s, but not after 2010…

          That’s just nasty.

          1. Lily of the Field*

            In the 80’s? That was not okay in the 80’s, either! I NEVER got that in the 80’s, the 90’s, or now, because not only NO, but H-E-double hockey sticks, NO!

        4. SpaceySteph*


          I’d probably say something snarky like “well I outrank him,” because seriously WHAT?!

        5. new*

          This freaks me out, I’ve been in the professional workforce since 1978 and have NEVER been asked this. It’s kinda illegal now, isn’t it, sex discrimination and all. Was it some kind of religious organization?

          1. Avery*

            Sadly, “illegal” and “never done in the business world” are not always the same thing, religious organization or no.

          1. Camellia*

            Yeah, but then they would probably think no, you didn’t have your husband’s permission, and they CAUGHT YOU and now you have to slink away in shame at being caught going against your husband’s wishes. I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of that, I would prefer a snarky answer that would burn every possible bridge. And then just sit and see how they take it.

      3. Araminty*

        Absolutely par for the course in non-profit jobs in Silicon Valley. There’s a glut of tech wives who’ll work for peanuts to “do good”. Can be flaky, since they’re not required to be earning a living wage.

        1. pancakes*

          Can take low-paying jobs, surely, if they don’t need income, but even severely under-resourced non-profits need employees to not be flaky.

    2. Ally McBeal*

      If that’s why they’re asking, how silly of them – that information is likely in the candidate’s resume and/or cover letter. Seems to me like it could also be a way to subtly suss out whether the person is married or single, or other related financial information.

  4. quill (and the bees agree with me)*

    I would have reflexively and undeniably sunk my chances by replying with something sarcastic. But it really does feel like they’re fishing for information that they just don’t need for the hiring process, since from yes or no they can always ask “why?”

    1. anne of mean gables*

      “No, I’m independently wealthy, but grooming angry llamas is my passion, and my life just wouldn’t be complete without it. So, I don’t need this job financially, but spiritually? Yes.”

      1. SpaceySteph*

        I am in fact extremely passionate about affording food. When my 4yo asks why I have to go to work I always say “because I like food.”

        1. JustaTech*

          I had a coworker who had a greeting card stuck to her cube wall (a gift from one of her friends).
          The outside said “Reasons I come to work”.
          The inside said “because I like to eat”.

          The card was brilliant because 1) it’s funny 2) it describes that coworker to a T, and 3) it reminds you why you’re at work too.

    2. NotRealAnonForThis*

      Absolutely. And if I hadn’t, I’d have sunk my chances by full on returning the awkward “I’m sorry, not quite grasping. What do you mean?” (Have gotten significant mileage out of that one this week alone)

      1. Decima Dewey*

        “Do I need this job? Well, I didn’t flee the interview after you asked that question, so I suppose the answer is yes.”

      2. BubbleTea*

        Perhaps too blunt for job interviews but I have found that, when said sincerely and honestly, “I don’t understand the question” works well.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I can’t tell if the correct answer is “I am independently wealthy and will do this job just for the sheer joy” or “I am desperate and will take anything you offer.”

      From those two extremes, I guess I could triangulate that this is code for “The pay is absolutely terrible.”

  5. OP*

    Hi, I wrote this question, so I wanted to add a little more context for the commentors.

    My interviewers told me that they had been having trouble filling this role, and that people kept leaving. And they specifically told me they were looking for someone long-term. So, I *think* they asked me because they wanted to make sure I needed to work so I would be less likely to leave. Also, I have been officially unemployed since 2020 but have been sustaining myself through freelancing (which is on my resume), so I think their question translated to, “You’re making enough to support yourself already, so are you going to work here for 3 weeks and then decide you’d rather go back to freelancing and leave us in the lurch again?”

    That said, I did try to make it clear that I only freelanced out of necessity and not because I really wanted to (lack of a steady paycheck is stressful). The interviewers were really nice and the office seemed positive, so if I did get an offer I’d probably take it. The question did kind of annoy me though.

    1. MsM*

      Yeah, that sounds more like really lousy phrasing than a red flag. Still probably worth digging into why people keep leaving if you don’t feel like they addressed that to your satisfaction, though.

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I feel like a better way to phrase that question would be something like “we’re hoping to increase stability in this department and our ideal candidate would be someone who is interested in staying on for a few years. Does that sound like something you’d be interested in?”

          1. Amethystmoon*

            And why don’t they want to admit it to the candidates? If it’s a toxic work environment but they don’t want to change it, the turnover is a huge red flag.

        1. Anon for Now*

          Indeed! Thought I also don’t know employers would necessarily be able to give a meaningful answer to that even if they wanted to be honest.

          I worked at a 30 person business that lost 9 people in under a year. I was one of them.
          Technically most of them had reasons that weren’t really related to the horrific management.

          Marriage, kid, moving, getting a job in the family business, etc.
          I told them I just couldn’t do a job without benefits anymore, but that like reason number 20 on my big list of reasons why I had to get out.

          To them it was all just a string of bad luck.

          Then there’s lying.
          When I asked about turnover at the job I was going to – they made it sound like only person had been in the role before me and she had left for “personal reasons” which I was clearly intended to believe were health related.

          There were three people in the role before me and they all left because they absolutely couldn’t stand my micromanaging grand boss for one more minute.

          1. PT*

            I had this happen too. I asked why the position was open and they told me, “Oh well Dan had this job for 8 years and moved on to a promotion. Then we hired Ray and Ray stayed for a year, and then decided to go back to school.”

            What actually happened was that the hiring manager I was interviewing with was a toxic bully and she’d placed Ray in her “ingroup” at first and then after a few months, she decided he was in her “outgroup” and started bullying him. She harassed his employees and took away his office as punishment for not playing her in/out games. So he applied to jobs like crazy and took the first one he got, in a completely unrelated field.

          2. Stargazer*

            OMG – are you me? I JUST found out there was yet another recent predecessor I was unaware of when someone casually mentioned their name in my hearing!

            Pretty sure this isn’t going to be a “forever job” after all, just a “stay till I save up enough & it doesn’t look bad” job now….

            1. Anon for Now*

              This happened to me too! My coworker had been at the company forever and started regaling me with stories of the stuff the people before me would do. Just funny quirky things, not related to the job. And I was like, “Wait, there were more people in this role than just Patricia?”

              And indeed. There were.

              1. Stargazer*

                One particularly bad place, there seemed to have been more predecessors than the timeline allowed! I found o
                one’s resume drafts in a hidden folder, otherwise I would have started looking for bodies hidden behind the office building!

          3. lolly pop*

            That one time I found out my predecessor left because the business owners were so awful her husband threatened to commit violence, or at least show up in person to give them an earful, and she quit rather than work for such crazy-making people.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Or just “Where do you see yourself in a year, or two, if you were to be hired for this job?” But the employer should first talk about how they try to promote from within, offer support for professional development, and provide a safe and comfortable work environment, because if you don’t offer those things, the interviewee’s answer should be “Somewhere else!”

      2. Qwerty*

        Just asking about the freelancing directly would have been fine. I’ve known some writers/artists who can support themselves on freelancing and its not unusual for them to be asked directly about. I’m in tech so sometimes we get someone who has been working on turning their side project into a startup and we’ll generally ask about that to see if we’ll be getting someone’s full attention or if they are planning to jump ship in a few months

        (yes, some do admit they only want to stay on for a couple months until they get VC funding. We follow up to find out what kind of things would get them to stay on longer and whether we’d get value in a short time frame)

    3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      “Do you need the job, or are you just testing the waters / using it to get a counter-offer from your current employer / otherwise wasting our time.”

      Still not the greatest, but I guess I understand their motivation.

      1. Shirley Keeldar*

        “Do you need me as a candidate, or are you just fulfilling a quota before making an internal hire / making sure there’s somebody else available before you fire Jamie in Marketing for clipping his toenails into Angie’s salad / going to make me an offer and then ghost me?”

      2. Nanani*

        Still, it has the same vibe as people who spend a first date complaining about their ex and makign sure the new date isn’t like the ex in really specific ways, instead of actually getting to know the new person.

        1. Le Sigh*

          I sat in some deeply uncomfortable interviews with my then-boss that felt like a bad first date. He was still mad about the last person, who was often late and didn’t listen to him (honestly, I don’t blame the guy the place was terrible). He would grill candidates about their ability to be on time instead of the things that we needed, which resulted him asking inappropriate, and a few times illegal, questions. One candidate bailed on our offer (good call) and the next clearly had no idea what he was doing and basically stalled until he was fired.

        2. Ray Gillette*

          Like the time in college where I didn’t get a part-time job at the bar and grill three blocks from my apartment because I didn’t own a car. The job didn’t involve any driving, the hiring manager just wanted to be really sure I had reliable transportation and apparently being able to walk there in less than 10 minutes wasn’t sufficient.

          1. Le Sigh*

            And what’s weird about that is, walking three blocks seems….more reliable than cars? People can get hurt and have mobility issues, but it’s way more likely a car will break down, you’ll get stuck in traffic, etc. You had none of those issues!

            1. SarahKay*

              So true. I live 1.5 miles from work and walk there each day. My commute is reliably 20-25 minutes, depending on how fast I’m walking; I’m a lot faster on cold days than hot.
              Heavy traffic – doesn’t affect me. Closed road – pedestrian access is still open. Heavy (for a southern UK value of heavy) snow – increase that to 30 or maaaybe 35 minutes; meanwhile all the drivers with more than about a mile to go are struggling and significantly delayed.

          2. mlem*

            But what if you dare to have a life and go somewhere that isn’t your home, and he wants to call you and have you drop everything to race over and cover a shift immediately!? How dare you not have a car just in case he wants you to attend him!!!

            1. Salymander*

              I had a job just a few blocks from my house, and when I started walking to work those were the reasons my boss gave for why she didn’t like that. She said that. Out loud.

              Sometimes people are so terrible that they are unintentionally hilarious.

        3. Sleeve McQueen*

          You’re not wrong. Occasionally I find myself tempted to overcorrect on the previous person in the role and have to tell myself “this is an interview, not therapy”.
          It’s the line between “I want to be clear that the reality of this role, how do you handle situations like X” and “Are you able to not ignore my feedback and then make the same mistake again in the same week even though I explained in detail why the mistake was a massive problem and then lie when you said it wasn’t your mistake but a source probelm? ARE YOU??”

    4. Hlao-roo*

      That makes sense with the context, but it’s still not a great question. The company would be much better served asking “why did you decide to apply for this role?” and “what do you know about the company?” and “where do you see yourself in five years?” to suss out whether a candidate is likely to stay on long term.

      I hope you land a full-time position soon!

    5. ThatGirl*

      I think asking about why you want to go from freelancing to a FTE job is a valid question, but asking it the way they did is definitely weird and annoying.

    6. Just J.*

      You know, I think your interview would have gone (felt?) better if they SIMPLY asked you: “You’re making enough to support yourself already, so are you going to work here awhile and then decide you’d rather go back to freelancing?” A question like that is akin to “why are you leaving your current job” which is a legit question.

      But “do you need this job”? Well, um, duh, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t………

      BTW, I’m also self-employed and totally understand the desire for a steady paycheck. So, I believe that is a legit answer as well.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Yes, this! The interviewers had time to prepare the questions and that’s the best they could do?

        With the added context, it doesn’t sound as red flaggy as it might if the question came in cold, but there should be a specific conversation about the previous turnover (what were people’s reasons for leaving, is there a known issue with the position). I interviewed at a place that had recent massive turnover in the type of position I was a candidate for. The interviewers were extremely candid about past history and current challenges and how they were addressing those. Ultimately I didn’t take the offer but that’s the way to handle that situation – tell people what they might encounter. Otherwise they’re coming across exactly as though they hope you’re desperate enough to take anything they offer.

      2. Ally McBeal*

        But having a stable job with health insurance and PTO and a 401k is why so many freelancers decide to quit freelancing. The only reason I can imagine leaving an FTE job to go back to freelancing is if my workplace had become deeply dysfunctional/toxic and it would be easier to fire up my old client list than apply for another FTE position elsewhere. So, basically, if people keep leaving a job, the answer isn’t to only hire desperate people… it’s to change the environment they’re expected to work in. It’s so obvious that the question feels like a BIG red flag.

        1. pancakes*

          Yeah. While I was being hired from a contract attorney position to a staff attorney position at one firm, one woman who interviewed me told me — not asked, told — that I “must like the freedom” of freelancing. I said no, actually I’m really looking forward to job stability and health insurance, which I didn’t have at the time. The firm later merged with another and I didn’t shed any tears when she was made redundant. This was pre-ACA and it also turned out that I needed surgery that would’ve cost me at least $7,000 out of pocket shortly after my insurance kicked in.

        2. Snarktini*

          It’s not an unreasonable fear, even if it’s a dumb question. I’m currently in an FTE due to life glitches that made the stability more valuable temporarily but as soon as I can go back out I will. I don’t actually want to work for other people, I just have to right now. (And asking about need doesn’t solve their problem — I “need” this job temporarily but that still doesn’t mean I’ll stay.) I agree that most people end up as FTEs but in my experience companies are extremely suspicious about freelancers coming back inside and fear they will be unhappy as someone else’s employee.

          1. pancakes*

            It’s not reasonable to think that fear can be effectively assuaged by asking a question like this in interviews, though. The question is going to put off just about anyone who feels they have other options.

            1. Snarktini*

              We don’t disagree! It’s a terrible question that won’t reveal anything useful and can only push candidates away.

      3. hbc*

        Exactly. It should be asked directly like any other potential issue you see in their candidacy. Will you be able to switch from manager to individual contributor? Will you be okay with everything that’s involved in moving from bespoke crafting to mass production? Gritty steampunk scifi seems to be working well for you–why are you proposing a non-fiction history of the Russian revolution?

        It’s always better to be direct, if only because most of the time when people are indirect, they’re trying to suss out something that’s *bad* to ask about directly.

    7. Drag0nfly*

      That motive is still creepy and dysfunctional, though. If turnover is high, the company should figure out what THEY are doing wrong and address it. I would ask them why the position is constantly empty, and what they are doing to address the issue.

      1. irene adler*

        Yes-this! A deeper dive is needed here. Those who held the position prior to this interview almost assuredly “needed” the job as well. Very few of us work for sport. And they left. Big clue there.

        The company gains very little by hiring someone who “needs” this job. More work is needed to identify the ‘staying factor(s)’ needed to keep the position filled long-term. Question is: what is company willing to do to identify and provide these ‘staying factor(s)’?

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I can definitely see a scenario where the company hires people desperate for a job and then because the job is not a good fit, those people jump ship pretty quickly (because they are overwhelmed by the work and/or find a job that is a better fit). And it just becomes a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle.

          Far more likely that there is something structurally wrong with the position, though. Too much work, bad pay/benefits, terrible manager, etc. And that’s on the company to fix, of course.

          1. pancakes*

            So is consistently hiring people who are a bad fit! If it happens often it’s probably not just bad luck, but something wrong with the hiring process or the work itself.

    8. TrackingCookieMonster*

      I mean, even beyond the poor wording that’s still a poor move. You (or whoever they hire) could fully intend to be there long-term and still wind up not doing so if it winds up being a crappy place to work. The company would be better-off doing some self-analysis to determine why they’re having such turnover.

    9. Don*

      Maybe I’m just in an uncharitable mood here but I’m not sure I think that makes it any better. “It would be best for us if someone would stay because they have to rather than just because it’s a tolerable job.” Sorry for your recent difficulties, employer, but perhaps you should spend more time thinking about the one thing they all had in common: you.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        To offer the charitable take – strings of bad luck happen and people leave jobs for all kinds of reasons that aren’t the job sucking. Spouse moving, going back to school, winning the lottery, etc.

        However, to you OP, I would be sure to dig into that a little more before taking an offer.

        1. Observer*

          Sure, the turnover could really and genuinely not be their fault. But their RESPONSE is very troubling.

          1. SpaceySteph*

            These people aren’t gone though, they’re on a leave of absence. If a company regularly has employees go out on maternity leave and then never come back they probably should consider if they have policies/behaviors that are driving out new parents.

      2. Observer*

        This is pretty much where I come down. To me the context makes it MORE of a red flag, than less. Because their response to “we can’t keep people” is not “Figure out the problem and try to fix it” but “Keep people who have no other options.”

      3. BRR*

        I think the most charitable view would be that people keep flaking out on the employer. BUT even if it’s 100% the employees and not the job/company, the absolute worst way to handle it is trying to hire an employee who was essentially desperate for the role. One who would be in serious trouble if they lost their job.

        So you’re not in an uncharitable mood. The interviewer’s question cannot be interpreted in a good way.

    10. Observer*

      To me, this additional context tends to put the question into Alison’s Are they hoping you do so they canoverwork you / otherwise mistreat you because you’re desperate and don’t have other options? category.

      But I’m also wondering about demographics. Like, maybe someone who thinks that you are freelancing for “fun money” rather than to actually support yourself.

    11. Sara without an H*

      OP, given what you’ve just told us, it sounds to me as though this is just a clumsy interviewer, rather than an indication of something similar. If you get called to a second interview, you might try to suss out why people keep leaving.

    12. AnonBeret*

      As others mentioned, I’d ask them if they could speak to why the role is empty or just ask more directly about turnover.

      Also, 99% of employers want people who will stay. Unless it’s a temp, seasonal, or contract job, that’s often the underlying assumption, just like the underlying assumption is that employees want employers who create the kind of workplace that will make them want to stay. But the reality is that you may not stay, and it’s your prerogative to leave. So even if they had phrased it better, this place is still essentially asking if you can promise that you’ll stay, while also knowing that you don’t have nearly enough information to know whether you’ll enjoy working there. That feels at the very least like a yellow flag, particularly when combined with knowing they’ve had a hard time filling this role.

      Absolutely go ahead if you have a good feeling and you don’t feel you can turn up the stability, but also just keep in mind that no matter what you said about wanting to stay during the interview, you can leave earlier if you want to.

    13. Jennifer*

      Definitely check out their Glassdoor reviews if there are any, or ask to speak with current employees before accepting an offer.

    14. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      If they want to make sure people don’t leave, they could try PAYING THEM. I’m just saying.

    15. Susanna*

      Well – if they aren’t keeping people, I’d be tempted to ask them why they thought that was the case.

    16. Pobody’s Nerfect*

      “People keep leaving” and high turnover are the only clues you need to know not to accept the job! Big red toxic scary flags.

    17. Batgirl*

      No this is still horrible. Even if they had a run of horrible luck with one candidate moving for a spouse, and another winning the lottery, they’re really not sure they can offer a workplace or deal that can compete with your temporary freelancing? I would definitely ask how unavoidable the previous turnover was.

    18. LemonLyman*

      I could make the argument that someone who NEEDS a job might take whatever job even if they aren’t committed and that someone who DOESN’T need a job might take it but then a few weeks later decide that it’s not for them and leave.

    19. just a little salty*

      I know how hard it can be to fill a role where people keep leaving and I get why they’ve asked this. I even noted to recruiters that we need to make sure whoever fills our open roles actually needs this job. Recently I’ve seen coworkers leave for all kinds of reasons like “I’m planning my wedding and can’t work and plan the wedding, so I’m going to focus on my wedding,” “I realized I don’t like working behind a desk, so I’m moving to Hawaii,” and “I don’t have another job lined up, just want to take a break from work.” I also work in an industry where many of those who go into this career path are just waiting to be a stay at home wife/mom (there have been studies on this — surveying those in college with this major and the career path that those who enter this field take). As someone who loves my career and only has one income/needs the money, it can be demoralizing to see people leave for these reasons and then ask those who need this job to take on those people’s work in addition to their work.

  6. Drag0nfly*

    “No, I’m just slumming it because I can’t access my trust fund unless I’m gainfully employed, and this job just looked the least boring.” Said in my best Cheryl Tunt voice.

    Honestly, that question just looks like a red flag. Fire-engine red.

    1. MBK*

      See, I’d be tempted to dig into my theater background and start singing the middle section from the opening number of A Chorus Line: “I really need this job / Please God, I need this job / I’ve got to get this job!!!!”

  7. Ebaum*

    I’d love if you replied, “Do you need the job filled?” If they’re having trouble retaining employees, the onus shouldn’t be only on you to make a commitment or feel interested.

    1. Jessica*

      Exactly what I was thinking. Are you just running this company for funsies, because I don’t want to go work somewhere that the CEO might get bored, lay everyone off, and shut up shop. Do you really NEED employees?

  8. Trout 'Waver*

    “I’m lucky to be in a position where I can be selective about the jobs I take. I like what I’ve heard so far and am interested to learn more about this position.”

    That’s how I answer similar questions.

  9. Eat Your Veggies 24-7*

    Ew. Maybe the OP is female and they want to know whether her male partner earns more than she does. Or whether she may in the future have babies and decide to stay home with them. Or just find out more about a person’s family life. Sounds like a sexist question. My old (nonprofit) workplace definitely got away with a lot by assuming that many/most employees’ spouses jobs offered a decent healthcare plan (as their health plan for spouses was unreasonably expensive), and possibly even a higher salary and connections useful in fundraising. Gross.

    1. LKW*

      I had the same reaction (although the LW has since provided more context).

      A question like this makes my sexism radar go off the charts. For me it’s the unspoken second part of “or is this just a lark for you because someone else is the main breadwinner?”

      1. Ally McBeal*

        I had an interview at a small business last year. The work was interesting enough – admin/office management for a wealth advisory firm – but they could only pay $35k/year and no health insurance. I felt a bit insulted that they even considered my resume, because $35k is NOT a reasonable salary in my city unless you are fresh out of college (even then it’s not great, especially without health insurance), and I have more than a decade of experience under my belt. I could only infer that they wanted to hire a stay-at-home mom/wife trying to transition back into the workplace (but then it should’ve been part-time or flexible hours).

        1. Kay*

          Just wow! Kinda makes you question their wealth advisory services if they can’t even afford to properly compensate staff. Perhaps they follow the aggressive penny pinching method?

          1. Ally McBeal*

            Yeah, my thoughts exactly. I can accept that it’s a small business and sometimes small businesses can’t absorb those kinds of costs, but I also live in an area that was originally colonized by the Dutch, who are known (at least among ourselves) for stinginess, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a combination of both.

    2. Jinni*

      This has happened to me many times – getting asked this question. At the time I was interviewing in the mid-2000s my partner did indeed earn more than me and had bought me a small luxury car for my birthday. I live in LA, so didn’t think too much of it. BUT I got this question a lot, especially when people saw me drive up and park my car. It felt so very unfair. It was worse when I finally got a job and people found out what my partner did (mega law firm partner). Then it was like…why do you need a raise? Etc. I was in my 30s then and REALLY needed the money to pay off our HUGE student loans and pay for our house and live in a high-cost area. Now, I’ll admit I quit the moment I paid off the last loan. But the environment was such that either people stayed for 6 months or 20 years. And those old people were grandfathered in with fewer hours, WFH, etc., and the newer people were expected to work 2x as hard for fairly low pay. So it was a red flag question/situation.

      1. Nanani*

        Ugh, I’m so sorry you have to put up with this crap.
        “Why do you need a raise” JFC. How hard is it to pay people what their work is -worth-


    3. Nanani*

      My first thought was definitely along these lines, like “do you -really- need this job, or can we give it to a straight white man with a family to support” type of archaic but sadly not dead yet nonsense.

  10. BethRA*

    It smells like either something they read in a blog – a made up “Famous Person used this one question as the key to hiring!” “hack” they invented to fill space – or a bad attempt to resolve a real issue.

  11. Browniiis*

    I guess my go to phrase “I was looking for a job when I got here & will be looking for a job when I leave” wouldn’t go over to swell.

    1. irene adler*

      That would certainly be my sentiment.

      “Only until grandma kicks off!” wouldn’t do much better.

  12. Hermione Danger*

    “ As some of that power shifts toward employees, some companies are being awfully open about trying to grasp on to it as tightly as they can.”
    I think you could’ve just written that sentence as “As some of that power shift toward employees, some companies are being awful.“

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Feel like if it were written that way, it would have to be “are still being awful”

      1. Hermione Danger*

        Excellent point. It’s not like they suddenly started being awful once the job market shifted.

    1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I’d have been tempted to get all philosophical, “What is need anyways? Beyond basic survival supports like food, water, and shelter, does anyone need anything?…”

  13. Testing the Waters*

    I don’t know how to word it professionally enough, but I’d love to ask, “Is there something about the position that is now more attractive to potential candidates?”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! I think you could say it this way: “Have you been able to figure out what was behind the turnover, and are there changes you’ve made in response to that?”

  14. sea-hags-travel-fast*

    Ex-recruiter here. I can’t think of a good reason to ask a question like this, but I see the additional context from the OP indicates it’s probably just poor phrasing. As others have said, you could use their response (“people keep leaving, we want someone long term”) as a point from which to learn more about the challenges and culture of this workplace – perhaps in further rounds of interviews.

    When people keep leaving, you can be sure there is probably something on the company side, even with extraordinarily bad luck factored in – not hiring the right people, bad management, unsettled or unhealthy team/company culture, unrealistic expectations around performance, a poorly defined job or unclear responsibilities…there’s a million causes behind high turnover and as an applicant, I would want to know what I’m getting into. Actually, even without them creaking open the worm-can by mentioning turnover – you’ll be spending a lot of your own time at this place, and you have a duty to yourself to figure out if it’s the right fit for you.

  15. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    I’d probably have blurted out, “I dunno, do you need your job?”, so I need to save the, “That is a surprising/interesting question, why do you ask?” response in case something this weird happens to me

  16. Ponytail*

    I got asked in one (supposedly professional) interview if I was doing all right for money. With all the other red flags in that interview, it never occurred to me until much later, that the reason for that was not concern for my financial position but to see if they could get away with paying me bottom of scale.
    I’ve recently found out that a work friend applied for a similar role at the same organisation, 15 years later, and they’re still trying to get experienced people to accept entry-level wages! We have both turned down the job offers from there…

    1. urguncle*

      In a phone screen for a position years and years ago, I brought up salary right away because I’d recently been burned. “I see this more as a passion project,” was the response, followed by a salary that wouldn’t have met minimum wage for a job that required a BA in a major US city. Probably not the nicest thing to do, but I hung up on her.
      It’s fine if you see your own small business as a passion project, but don’t expect employees to see it that way.

      1. ICodeForFood*

        In a phone conversation years ago to set up an interview for a job in New York City (which not only has a higher income tax than where I lived and worked in New Jersey), something about the conversation just felt “off.” So after we’d set up the time for the interview (for which I would have taken a vacation day and travelled into the city), I asked about salary range… And he was “thinking of” a number that was about what I was already earning! And he KNEW my current salary!
        The only thing I could think of was that he was trying to check the box for interviewing enough candidates to make a choice…
        Of course, I cancelled the interview.

  17. SoThenISayish*

    One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was in college was that most people wouldn’t choose to get up and work a full time job if they didn’t have to to support themselves and their family, so when career shopping, don’t aim for the perfect career that doesn’t feel like work, because it is work. Instead, find one that doesn’t sound as soul crushing as the others, then do that. It felt a little pessimistic at the time, but I’m glad I followed it. I like my work, and in turn I strive to do it well, and in turn I’m compensated. But if I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t have any job a month from now.

    This question needs that professor to professor it.

    1. BasketcaseNZ*

      This is really smart.
      I do the work I do right now because I’m good at it and it pays *very* well for contractors who can walk in and just do their thing.
      But I don’t love it.
      Hanging out for a couple of years time when we move to another city where I can undertake some work I genuinely hope to enjoy more because its more related to stuff I do for fun and doesn’t involve sitting in front of a computer for 8 hours a day…

    2. allathian*

      Yeah, absolutely this. Your professor was smart, far too many people, and I suspect this is especially true of millennials, have been raised on the idea that you need to find a job you’re passionate about. Being passionate about a job may work for some people, but I think it’s a toxic idea. If you’re passionate about something, it’s very hard to treat it as a simple business transaction, work for money, and it’s all too easy for employers to exploit you. People who’re emotionally invested in their jobs are also less likely to take critical feedback as it should ideally be given and taken, as in, criticism of the work product, rather than the employee as a person. You aren’t a failure as a human being even if you fail to excel at a particular job.

      I like my job, and I’m consistently told that I’m good or even great at it, and I have no particular wish to change jobs at the moment because the salary’s reasonable and the benefits and work/life balance are excellent. But I still wouldn’t do what I’m doing without getting paid for it, even if I were independently wealthy. I work to live, I’ve never lived to work, and I frankly can’t understand people who live to work. I’ve never heard of anyone on their deathbed wishing they’d spent more time working.

  18. Eden*

    Employers have held most of the power for a long time. As some of that power shifts toward employees, some companies are being awfully open about trying to grasp on to it as tightly as they can.

    On the money as usual. I accepted an offer recently with a company that is by all accounts a great place to work, and while I was on the phone negotiating with the recruiter, she mentioned that the sign on bonus (maybe even other terms?) would only be valid if I signed by the next day. And it was pretty late in the afternoon. This is as a software engineer, where sign on bonuses are common (theirs was on the low end if anything) and juggling offers has been common for long before the Great Resignation. I was happy to accept in any case since it was an otherwise good offer but didn’t love that part, felt pretty desperate on their end and not very respectful of me. Definitely squares with Alison’s analysis of grasping onto power. Really weird, since they pay a lot and have a great reputation in the industry for their culture, so you’d think those would be enough… Guess not.

  19. Nick*

    There was a post on REDDIT yesterday, a guy whose daughter runs a grocery store in a wealthy area posted. She told him that she only hires young, attractive people with wealthy parents that don’t need jobs. She says that is how she retains people. The reasoning is that if you don’t need the job, then you are there cause you want it, if you are young and attractive you will find working to be a social event and therefore make it to work more often, and if you are young and attractive then you probably are pretty dang healthy and won’t be calling in sick. If your parents are wealthy you will have a nice car to drive that wont break down. She literally asks if candidates need the job and takes note of the car they show up in, in addition to using illegal selection like age and disability status. He seemed proud of her “logic”. Said he couldn’t find any holes. I asked him if it being immoral, unethical, or illegal counted as holes. No response yet.

  20. OP AGAIN*

    Hello all, I just wanted to come by one more time and update everyone with…I just accepted a full-time position! It was not with the company that I was referring to in this question–I’ve actually had a couple of interviews over the past few days. One of them called me just a little bit ago and offered me the position, AND they offered me a little more pay than what I asked for. I’m so excited!

    1. SpaceySteph*

      Congrats! Although I am a *little* disappointed that we will never get an update as to what bees were in the other house, there.

    2. Observer*


      I am very glad that you got a job with a company that sounds like they try to keep people by treating them well, rather by playing on desperation.

  21. El l*

    It’s good preparation in general to have a few ways to politely deal with vague/ambiguous questions like this. Two scripts that I’ve used:

    “Can you say a bit more on what you want to know by that question? I could see a few separate things you’d want to know by that.”

    “Would it be possible to provide some context to that question? It’ll help me best speak to the point.”

    1. anonymous73*

      The question isn’t vague or ambiguous, it’s unprofessional. If someone asked me that in an interview, my first thought would be “why are you trying to see how little you can offer me if I seem desperate enough?” And the additional context the OP provided up above makes it worse. They can’t find candidates and people keep leaving. Those are all signs that there is a major problem with the company and you need to run away.

  22. GBH Hornswoggler*

    Just barely on-topic, but there’s a very similar exchange in Michael Swanwick’s novel The Iron Dragon’s Mother that may be amusing:

    After a quick glance at her application he said, “Why do you want to work here, Ms. Gallowglass?”

    “Money,” Cat said.

    “Excuse me?”

    “Oh, I’m sorry. I misspoke myself. I meant to say that this would be a fabulous opportunity for me to express my talents, unleash my inner potential, spread my wings, drink from the fountain of wisdom, kneel before the lingam of the numinous, learn humility and discipline from the best and wisest, be the change that I want to see, and become something more than anything I could ever possibly be. Unfortunately, at this present time, what with food and rent and such, I require a salary. But rest assured, if I were ever to find myself as wealthy as you obviously are, I’d definitely be taking this job, with its utter lack of career potential and a management culture that is obviously both demanding and condescending, for no money at all. That’s how highly I regard the position of File Clerk I. It’s something of a dream job for me.”

    The interviewer stared at Cat. “Was that meant to be amusing?”

    “If it were, I am almost certain you would have noticed.”

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      I’d never heard of that series, but I looked it up and it sounds awesome! Definitely added to my to-read list.

      Also that’s hilarious and very fitting to the topic at hand.

  23. LMB*

    I definitely have interviewed at, and even worked for, smaller companies that have the opposite motive that Alison suggests—they want people who are independently wealthy because they pay very little and don’t want to pay for health benefits. And these companies do somehow manage to find a people with rich spouses or trust funds. A friend of mine had an interview where he was asked if he was single, and the interviewer said “I only ask because it would be difficult to work here and live in this area without a partner who’s highly paid.”

    1. LMB*

      (Just to add, I worked for one of these companies very briefly because I was NOT independently wealthy.)

    2. ICodeForFood*

      I once interviewed at a small ad agency, and the interviewer actually said to me something along the lines of “What we really need is a housewife who wants to get out of the house but doesn’t need the salary.’ (Yes, she used the word “housewife.”) That was shortly after she said “We don’t need any clockwatchers here!” Sounds like the kind of company you mention, LMB.
      Oh–I didn’t get an offer, but luckily I wasn’t desperate, so I wouldn’t have accepted an offer if they’d made one…

  24. BrokenDownChevy*

    Regarding asking about high-turnover, I wonder if this is where it pays to ask to talk to potential co-workers rather than managers? Example: I interviewed at a place years ago where there was a lot of turnover, and I didn’t get much in the way of clarity when I asked the HR person doing the main interview. But when they took me around to chat with the rest of the team (presumably to see if I was a good fit), I asked one of them what was up with the turnover. Turns out the owner of the company used to do the job I was applying for, and could be a micro-managing hell-on-wheels person to work for if you were in that specific role, and nice as pie to everyone else. Needless to say I didn’t pursue the position any further, and the company got bought out shortly after that anyway. But if you get a chance to talk to potential colleagues rather than managers, it can be really useful.

    1. BrokenDownChevy*

      Just to clarify, “Micro-managing hell-on-wheels person to work for” was not what the person said literally, but what was made clear in my conversation. They were super careful to say things in the most polite possible way. But it was also one red flag after another.

  25. SuperDuperHRLady*

    I worked in HR for a business owner who disliked competition because he would do anything in his power to NOT treat his employees well. He once professed how disloyal employees are who ask for the context of merit reviews. Yikes.

    Anyway, he asked something like this once. “I want to be sure you want this job, and you are wanting to stay in it for a long time.” The candidate’s response was that she had been interested in the job, but it wasn’t her responsibility to create an incentive to stay in that role — that is on the business. He obviously passed on her candidacy because she would have asked too many questions, but I thought it was truly wonderful.

    PLEASE LISTEN WHEN EMPLOYERS TREAT YOU BADLY DURING INTERVIEWS. If they are not on their best behavior in the ‘speed dating’ stage, I absolutely promise you it will only worsen once you’re in a committed relationship. RUN.

  26. Just a Thought*

    For some reason the following Meatloaf song is ringing in my ears …
    I want you. I need you. But there ain’t no way I’ve ever gonna love you ….

  27. Anon for this one*

    I’ve asked something similar (not in those terms – more indirectly – but essentially that) because I wanted to ensure the job went to someone who needed it rather than someone who was independently wealthy and just doing it to get out of the house for a few hours or whatever. Available jobs are a limited resource and I didn’t want it to be “wasted”.

    1. Observer*

      I imagine that it didn’t do anything for the quality or satisfaction of your staff.

      Was everyone aware of your magnanimity?

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      A candidate’s wealth status, other sources of income, etc. are really none of their prospective employer’s business.

    3. pancakes*

      In addition to what everyone else has said so far, I want to add that the idea independently wealthy people would immediately reveal that about themselves simply because someone they’ve just met seems to be asking is quite naive. “Independently wealthy” is not synonymous for “credulous” or “no filter.”

      1. Avery*

        Yeah, aside from everything else I doubt you’d actually get honest answers from this one. Wherever you fall on the spectrum from “will literally die of poverty if I don’t get this specific job right now” to “working like a peon sounds like a fun lark”, you’ve got reason to be cagey about your finances in a job interview.

    4. Batgirl*

      I’m going to assume you don’t mean that to come across as patronising, and it honestly sounds like a scarcity mindset. I know we are used to thinking of jobs as a scarce resource but that’s only because employer power is used not only to lowball salary but it also expects employees to commonly work extra hours for free or do two or three roles at once. There is plenty of work to be done in the world. If you find yourself a dedicated and realistic minded employee who brings a lot of desirable qualities to the table there’s no they’re going to reveal or leverage their personal circumstances to get a job anyway.

  28. Anonymous Hippo*

    Based on the places I’ve worked, to me this question means “we have high turnover, and don’t have the wherewithall to figure out why, so are just assuming it’s the employees problems, so we are going to try and find someone without choices so they have to stay”. It would worry me a lot. I’m always really clear about the fact that I don’t need a job, and that the money isn’t my #1 concern, because I want to set the expectation from the beginning that I’m not putting up with crazy.

  29. Hogwash*

    “I’m not sure what you mean by ‘need.’ Can you clarify?” Make them say the quiet part out loud.

  30. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    I’d be in a heap of trouble after that question because there is no way my sarcastic brain wouldn’t come back with “no, I just like coming to interviews, it’s a hobby of mine”

  31. Lobsterman*

    One of my previous employers asked questions like this, because they were explicitly exploitative and wanted to bring in people who didn’t have other options. So I’d consider a question like this to be a big red flag.

  32. mreasy*

    I put my foot in it once with colleagues by saying something in conversation like “I mean I love you guys but if I were independently wealthy I wouldn’t have a job” – and one of them is independently wealthy but just wants to work…

  33. RB*

    Came here looking for snarky or facetious answers to the interview question and was mostly not disappointed. Thinking back to when I was unemployed, I was never just applying to one job at a time, so my answer probably would have been, “well, that depends on whether any of my other applications pan out.”

  34. HollyGolightly*

    I applied for a job several years ago. I was years out of college and had quite a bit of experience in my field (so was not interviewing for entry level.)

    The woman asked me if I was supporting children because the salary wasn’t great.

    (Something tells me she wouldn’t have asked a man that.)

  35. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Ohhhhhh, LORD, the temptation…. I mean, never, ever, ever, EVER say it, right; but….
    “Do you need a job?”
    “Do my mink turban and Givenchy sunglasses give you pause?”
    “Are you actually asking me if I need money to live on?”
    “No, I just wanted something to do when my lavish villa in Angkor Wat is threatened by small arms fire.”
    “Anything for a good cover story.”
    “Like, I guess? Like, Grampa is on, like, whatever a “board” is, and he, like, said I should?”
    (Wild-eyed guy staring) “I just need an official address. For packages. Really big packages.”
    “Duuuuuuuuuude, yah. My friends all told me that being a seventh-year senior is so not cool, man.”

    Feel free to add!

  36. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    I will never understand why an employer needs you to have a specific motivation for wanting a job. If you do quality work, who the heck cares???

  37. Tib*

    How about…”Thank you, that’s very kind, but you needn’t worry about me if you select another candidate.”

  38. Lizzo*

    Alison, kudos to you and your professionalism for being able to provide…well, professional (!) responses.

    If you ever decide to write (using a pen name, of course) the counterpoint to this blog, where you answer the same letters with an emphasis on snark/burning bridges/flipping tables/quitting in cod, I would very much enjoy that. Just sayin’. :-D

  39. ArtK*

    Sarcasm mode: ON
    Please skip this comment if you are in a location that does not allow humor or sarcasm.

    If you’re at all musical, you could sing the opening to “A Chorus Line.” The song is “I Hope I Get It” but part of the chorus is “I really need this job. I’ve got to get this job!”
    Sarcasm mode: OFF

  40. Belgarion*

    When I was younger and more stupid than I am now, I got that exact same question. Not thinking much of it, I just shrugged and replied, “As much as you need a new employee, I guess.”

    … Anyway, I didn’t get it. I wonder why. /s

  41. Caroline Bowman*

    Ew (shudders). This takes me right back to a time when I had a job, my first formal office job on my return to my home country / town since becoming a parent, and the owner / boss had EXACTLY this attitude. Oh he was all smiles and friendly charm, but he pretty much only had people working for him who felt (rightly or wrongly!) that they had no options and had to take whatever he dished out in terms of working conditions, pay, benefits (spoiler, none that weren’t legally mandated).

    When he tried to get us all to sign amendments to our contracts agreeing that we’d do no other work in our spare time (some of us were part time), in any capacity, for anyone else, ever, and that our overtime rate would be the same as our normal, pitiful hourly rate, I refused to sign and resigned, prompting several other resignations.

    He’d definitely have wanted to know if you ”need” the job. That would have been catnip to him. Horrible, opportunistic person.

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