too unattractive to get a job, old boss expects me to keep working for her, and more

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

1. Am I too unattractive to get a job?

I’ve noticed that when I send my resume out, I get a lot of requests for interviews, but rarely get jobs. At first, I thought I was merely a bad interviewee. However, with Covid, I’ve had three phone interviews: I was offered the job for all of them. I dress up formally, I sit up straight, I don’t have nervous tics (we had a project for university where we had to evaluate a video of ourselves, and the outside evaluators also gave me very good reviews). But I honestly think my appearance is just horribly off-putting. I’m worried that when I graduate from grad school that I won’t be able to find a job. What do I do? I’m pretty sure I can’t just say, “Hey, can we do a phone interview so that you don’t have to see my face?”

There is data showing that appearance discrimination is a real thing, but it’s also unlikely to be the dominant factor in your job search or a universal disqualifier that keeps you from getting hired. People at all levels of attractiveness are hired every day!

If you’re concerned, though, looking put together and polished can really help counter this type of bias — meaning things like ensuring your clothing fits you well, putting extra care into grooming, and paying a lot of attention to the details, even if you otherwise might not care to invest in that side of things. You shouldn’t have to do more of that — simply being neat and clean should be enough, and it sucks if/when it’s not — but it can help.

2. Should I tell a recruiter about the unprofessional CEO I interviewed with?

Last week I interviewed (virtually) for a HR management role, the first of its kind at a growing start-up. I spoke first with their in-house recruiter and then with him and an operations manager. Both of them seemed great and I was excited when they asked me to meet with their CEO.

Red flags started popping up immediately, starting when the already after hours interview was bumped an hour, five minutes *after* it was supposed to begin. Even though this now was going to affect my dinner/whole evening, I tried to keep an open mind but I probably shouldn’t have.

The CEO came across as aggressive and off-putting. He talked a lot, peppering in corporate-speak and start up cliches (we work hard, we play hard!), and suggested more than one genuinely harebrained employee engagement idea (a big area of focus for me) and demanded to know my thoughts. I was honest, pointing out that many of the ideas risked being non-inclusive.

The next day I spoke to the recruiter and attempted to revoke my application because it clearly wasn’t a good fit. He was shocked, as the CEO loved me and they were ready to send me an offer. He said that the CEO was just making sure I would stand up to him, but he’s really a wonderful guy. Best boss ever!

I agreed to have one more zoom call with the CEO. This time, I asked a lot more questions (I couldn’t get a word in edgewise before!) and he was friendlier, but he also dropped in two off-color remarks (which didn’t really sink in for a few days, like “my god, that is what he said!”) and I didn’t enjoy speaking to him. Technically though, he answered my questions in a way that was acceptable.

The recruiter sent me a quite attractive offer, and I asked for the weekend to think it over. All weekend I just couldn’t shake the “no, no, no” feeling, so yesterday I sent a polite decline explaining that I didn’t think it would be a good fit. The recruiter replied very professionally, and I felt like that was the end of the experience.

Last night, around 8:15, I got a phone call from an unknown number which I didn’t answer, then four text messages back-to-back from the CEO demanding to know why I declined their offer.

I don’t think it’s off-base to have found this completely inappropriate, especially because we hadn’t had any communication over my personal number before. I haven’t responded and don’t plan on engaging further with this man. But should I share what happened with the in-house recruiter? I would want to know if I were in his shoes, but perhaps I should just block and move on?

You could send a note to the recruiter framed as letting him know you heard from the CEO and prefer not to engage further — something like, “I appreciate how professionally you’ve handled this process. I did receive four text messages from Gary last night wanting to know why I declined the offer. I’d appreciate it if you could convey our conversations to him and I would prefer not to have further discussions with him. Thank you!”

That’s not a direct “your CEO is out of his gourd” but it does get the essential points across. You could instead send something more direct if you’d like (perhaps without the gourd reference) but this language keeps things relatively neutral while still conveying what you want him to know.

Read an update to this letter

3. My old boss expects me to keep working for her

Two separate companies work in my same office. Company A is full of distrust, heavy micromanagement, and chain of command to the detriment of vital communication. Company B works alongside them but is in every way better. They’re big into open discussions, new ideas, flexible work schedules.

This month I was hired at Company B after years with A. The pay is significantly higher, and the duties are in same field but with different roles and less pressure. I have a new boss and my old one is now relegated to just another person in the building. My coworkers readily adjusted, but my old boss hasn’t. She has openly lashed out at me in front of coworkers. She has told me daily to stay late, or to take on my old duties. My new boss says she wants to see if me addressing it fixes it. For reference, my old boss has zero control of my work. I could see her putting out a no-contact directive to ostracize me among the coworkers even though it’s only her behavior that’s causing issue. What phrases can I use with my old boss at the moment she oversteps her bounds?

Am I understanding correctly that you no longer work for Company A at all, but your old boss there is still trying to tell you what to do? Is there some kind of relationship between the two companies that means you need to tread carefully and be more diplomatic than just “I no longer work for Company A so I won’t be doing any work for you anymore”?

I’m going to assume there is (but if not, that’s the language to go with), so in that case you could try a week or two of very breezy “all my time is booked up with my new job, can’t help!” statements. If that doesn’t reset her expectations, then at that point you should say very directly, “Now that I’m no longer employed by Company A, I can’t do any work for you.”

You can’t control whether your old boss puts out a no-contact order to your former coworkers and it’s possible she’ll do that no matter how perfectly you handle this because she sounds like a jerk who’s rather disconnected from reality. But you can certainly make it clear, polite and professionally, that you’re not going to keep doing work you’re no longer employed to do.

4. How to say you don’t have a plan beyond staying in your job

Everyone in my company has to create a performance plan every year, and they’re usually full of pretty generic company goals for each department that we’re told by our managers to use, followed by a write-up of how we specifically plan to help meet those goals. But this year, my boss’s boss has decided that he wants everyone at our terminal to include a 3- to 5-year plan on where we want our careers to go.

The thing is, I don’t have a plan other than “stay employed.” I give 100% while I’m at work not because I’m in any way passionate about it, but because I love the time off, pay, and benefits. Plus I take a lot of pride in a job well-done, no matter how indifferent I am about the work. I have no idea how to phrase that I essentially have no ambition with my job, and my direct supervisor isn’t sure how to help me either. He understands that I (and honestly 99% of the others in my position) am perfectly happy where I’m at, with no plans to go anywhere or do anything else. But he doesn’t want me to write that down in the plan, because it might make his boss think that I don’t really care about my job. Could you maybe give me some pointers on what I could say in my plan that won’t come off as “this job means nothing to me outside of work”?

Your goal is to “increasingly build my skills as a ___ (current job), becoming better and better at what I do.” If you want to fluff it out further, add that you’d like to be a resource for others and the go-to person on your team for ___ (whatever you do now).

5. Interviewing when you have pre-planned vacation time

I am job searching (as a physician so time off is usually first come, first serve among partners but can depend on practice setting) and hoping to start sending resumes in the near future. At what point in the process is it appropriate to inform/inquire jobs about vacations that have already been planned? For example, my family plans to spend two weeks over the summer overseas, and these plans are concrete and non-negotiable. Is this something I bring up after I have an offer in hand, that I’ll be taking vacation at this time? Wait until the offer has been accepted? Bring it up during the interview if it goes well and we are mutually interested? I want to be respectful of my family’s time (a big part of why I am job hunting) without coming across as demanding.

Wait until you have a job offer and bring it up at that point as part of your negotiations, before you accept. It’s very common for people to be in this situation, and you can usually arrange for the time off to be approved if you raise it at that point. (You might have to take it unpaid if you won’t have accrued enough time by then, but usually you’ll be able to do it — unless that happens to be a crucial time for the position or there’s some other unusual set of circumstances.) Bringing it up earlier than the offer stage can feel premature, and you definitely shouldn’t wait until after you’ve accepted the offer since at that point you’ll have less leverage and it can feel like you’re springing something on them after the fact. More here.

{ 407 comments… read them below }

  1. prof*

    Maybe I’m just in the mood to watch everything burn, but I’d probably just tell that CEO from letter #2 exactly why I would never work for him (I find you both personally and morally repugnant is that statement that comes to mind). He’s certainly shown OP2 that they made the right decision! And then block him. Yuck!

    1. sacados*

      Yup. Something like, “honestly Bob this right here is exactly why I turned it down.”

      I wonder if this is one of those situations where the employees are totally brainwashed by the working environment, or if the CEO puts on a good enough face that they actually think he’s a good boss.
      (Or heck maybe option 3, they know how awful he is and are so desperate for someone to come in and fix it that they’ll lie through their teeth lol )

      1. LW2-saw-red-flags*

        I do have a theory option three might be it, the two employees I spoke to were very effusive about the CEO, in a way that he just didn’t demonstrate at all during our interactions – but I also caught some probable truths. One said they had no structure, another said some teammates were fired for performance issues but blamed the job descriptions for being too vague.
        These are things I could help with, but they are also things that show the CEO is not “perfect”… so some honesty is important.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          My only advice in addition to Alison’s is to block that number and block the CEO in e-mail, social, etc.. This guy sounds like the kind that might get trolly

        2. SheLooksFamiliar*

          It doesn’t concern me that the CEO isn’t perfect or that a start-up needs structure and expertise in building job specs and talent management processes. It’s not even usual to me that a CEO’s interview style would be different from a recruiter’s, or that a CEO would test the candidate – not okay to be aggressive about it, but I understand wanting to see if you’d ‘stand up’ to him. So Option 3 makes a lot of sense to me, too, and it’s clear they need you, OP.

          What concerns me is, first, the aggressive way he messaged you, demanding a reason for turning down the role. Entrepreneurs can be…paternal?…about their companies, and his response seems over-the-top personal to me.

          Second, you were genuinely surprised he liked you because he deliberately kept you off-kilter. That’s faulty, manipulative, disingenuous, and/or deceptive communication. If I were hired, I’d wonder how the CEO might be shading his communication with me, the team, our investors…

          Yeah, bullet dodged, OP!

          1. Chauncy Gardener*

            Came here to say this! I love working at start-ups, but not with complete egotistical lunatic CEOs

          2. AnonInCanada*

            100% this. Who knows how else his conniving ways will affect you if you took this job offer? When last I checked “I was just doing my job!” is not an acceptable defense in a criminal court.

          3. Rose*

            I used to work in a job where I dealt with some very high profile people (diplomats, CEOs, etc) who could be demanding and or just nuts. My boss was intentionally scary and a little mean during the middle portion of our interview. There was a genuine need to see how I’d do under that kind or pressure. BUT by the end of the interview I liked her and felt good about the job and by the time I took it I knew why she had done this and was happy to have been warned what the job would entail. There’s a reason someone might deliberately make you feel so not great feels but there’s also a very right and very wrong way to do it. This CEO was made of red flags.

        3. Librarian of SHIEILD*

          Oof. Those are some very red flags. I’m so glad you saw the signs in time to turn down the job!

          1. Abogado Avocado*

            x 100! Wanted to thank you, OP#2, for giving us a master class in listening, processing, and determining when a workplace isn’t right for a particular job seeker. You clearly dodged a very difficult job with this CEO (as has been said here before, when someone tells you who he is, believe him) and I appreciate your taking us through your journey. Makes me think there are loads of companies that will be ecstatic to get an HR professional who is as thoughtful and has as much self-knowledge as you do.

            1. LW2-saw-red-flags*

              Thank you! Learning to trust my instincts professionally has been it’s own journey, but if sharing can inspire anyone to listen to their inner voice while job hunting, that makes me so happy!

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Yeah, and I think Alison’s wording is perfect. As tempting as it is to tell this dingdong he’s completely off the rails, I don’t think anything like that should be put in writing, ever. The polite note to the recruiter and blocking him is enough.

        4. Beth*

          I kind of hope that you do tell the recruiter at least some of the details of how awful the CEO was. I wonder if they (the recruiter) have any real idea of just what kind of undermining is going on?

        5. tamarack & fireweed*

          Well, the one thing that isn’t a red flag is that this place urgently needs an HR department and know it.

          In the same way King Augeas needed a stable manager.

      2. Koalafied*

        ANGERY BOSS:
        Why won’t you accept the job?
        I demand to know why you turned down our offer!

        In a word: this.

    2. Loulou*

      Would you really? Someone makes a comment like this on every letter, but there’s a reason people don’t generally talk like that in real life. Alison’s script gets the message across and I do think if OP wanted to they could elaborate a little more (like, “CEO made X comment that I found offensive and I realized I would not want to work with him.”) Saying “I find you repugnant” is so out of proportion to the behavior OP has described that it would reflect poorly on them even if they were right.

      1. GammaGirl1908*

        Agree with Loulou. While I think we all would love to play the manic Pixie dream girl or antihero like in a movie, the fact is that people know exactly what it means when you say something like, “the CEO was a little bit abrasive when I talked with him, and then the fact that he kept texting me after I declined was a little bit much.” You can be classy and dignified and still get your point across.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Exactly. Speaking work is kind of like speaking diplomat. On paper, everything is polite and reads as anodyne to an outsider, but to the ones speaking and hearing the “You are repugnant” comes through loud and clear.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            Especially when your intent is to pointedly reference someone else’s inappropriate behavior.

        1. GammaGirl1908*

          Or, as an online writer I respect noted, “…everyone’s cape flutters beautifully in the breeze of the subjunctive tense.”

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            That is excellent! The grammar pedant in me is compelled to point out, however, that the subjunctive is a mood, not a tense.

            1. mreasy*

              thank you for being the pedant so I didn’t have to. That aside, a fantastic way of expressing this truth!!

              1. Koalafied*

                Tense and mood are commonly conflated with each other, but tense deals strictly with when an action took place – past, present, or future. Mood deals with the state of mind – like, is it a fact that it did happen/is happening (indicative), are you giving a command that should happen (imperative), are you postulating what would/could happen if conditions are met (conditional), or lamenting about something that would/could have happened or been happening if the situation were different (subjunctive).

                Not all languages have all the same moods or tenses, but in all languages, tense is what we call conjugations that communicate the time frame of the action and mood is what we call conjugations that communicate conditions/intentions.

              2. Richard Hershberger*

                I have no specific knowledge of the vocabulary used in French grammatical analysis, but if it calls the subjunctive a tense, it is using “tense” differently from in English, and is using some other word for what English calls “tense.” They simply are two different things, and both English and French have both features, ultimately derived from Proto-Indo-European.

                Both the English and the French traditions of grammatical analysis descend from the Latin tradition, which borrowed heavily from the Greek tradition. It is possible that the French tradition juggled the terminology around, but it is more likely that it is simply not true that French analysis calls the subjunctive a tense. Consider how non-specialist English speakers routinely conflate tense, mood, and voice, often proclaimed in a confident tone. It seems more likely that French speakers do the same thing.

              3. In a French mood*

                I asked my spouse the retired French professor about this. Spouse looked it up to be sure about it, and informed me that the subjunctive is a mood, “le mode,” and it has tenses (“le temps”) as do the non-subjunctive moods.

          2. Leems*

            Hah! Also jotted down on my wall of classics is: “Everyone’s cape flutters beautifully in the breeze of the subjunctive” (craftily avoiding the mood/tense sitch.) Glad to meetcha, fellow Tomato National, etc.

            1. GammaGirl1908*

              Likewise! **elbow bumps**

              For those asking, the source was a piece by Sarah D. Bunting on her site Tomato Nation discussing the Jerry Sandusky situation at Penn State, which obviously was a horror all the way down, and which wasn’t helped by all of the screen/chair jockeys loudly blustering about what THEY would have done if they were the ones who knew, when so many people awkwardly just grimaced and looked the other way.

              (Also, as noted above, I apparently added the word “tense” myself, so blame me, not the original author. I, also, remember battling with the subjunctive specifically as a tense when learning Spanish.)

              1. GammaGirl1908*

                Exact quote (I was close, considering that this was 10+ years ago and I didn’t look it up):

                I would love to tell you that, coming upon a grownup raping a child, in the act, I would grab the nearest heavy object and brandish it and yell at the grownup to get away, and stuff the child into some clothing and drive him to the nearest police precinct. I would love to tell you that; we would all love to tell ourselves that. Everyone’s cape flutters attractively in the breeze of the subjunctive.


              2. Beany*

                Tomato Nation! Sars was awesome, though I missed that discussion.

                (I was at grad school at Penn State before this all blew up, so I got to see a lot of handwringing on pro- and anti-Paterno sides).

      2. anonymous73*

        This. I had a terrible interview once where the interviewer answered emails and calls while I was trying to answer his questions. I wanted to walk out and say something snarky, but instead I left, immediately called the recruiter and told her that I’m not sure how he could evaluate my ability to do the job because he was hardly paying attention to me.

        1. prof*

          Generally I only speak like this when calling out bigotry at work. It’s definitely bridge burning and such. Honestly I only suggest it here because why not? This person has no power over OP, they don’t want to work there. Lighten it and be more circumspect if you want, but they should hear how they’re coming off.

          The exit interview I will be giving when I hopefully leave this job soon is going to be pretty much this. I have no cares left to give about burning that bridge and they need to hear it.

      3. Cold Fish*

        While I agree with you whole-heartedly. I think the world would be better off if people did push back on this kind of behavior a little more aggressively. OP could call or email Alison’s script to the recruiter, but no one wants to tell the big boss he is a jerk who is reflecting badly on the whole company. That is a good way to get fired. I have a feeling that it would stop at the recruiter and never make it back to CEO that HE IS THE REASON. At least theoretically OP has nothing to lose by being blunt with the CEO. (I also don’t think softened language or implication works with people like the CEO. They just ignore, deflect, or misinterpret to their “advantage”.)

        1. Loulou*

          There’s a difference between being direct and being aggressive, though, and OP should go for the former if they want people to take them seriously. “I’m not interested in this job because of the CEO’s inappropriate behavior, which I will now describe” is direct. “You are repugnant” is aggressive and comes off as unwarranted.

            1. Cold Fish*

              Yeah, I was thinking more of being more assertive than confrontational when saying people could be more aggressive. But direct is a good way to put it.

      4. If You See Something*

        I have definitely told people the who and the what for. I value direct communication. Alison’s script does kind of hint that CEO Gary’s behavior is unwanted, but if I were the recruiter, that wouldn’t tell me how big of a problem Gary is. There is still a lot of room for misunderstandings and misinterpretation here. Recruiter doesn’t have the context of the aggressive messages on the personal cell. From Recruiter’s perspective, it sounds like it could be that CEO Gary sent texts asking why. 4 Texts could be “Hello. It’s Gary. From Company X. Can I ask why you declined?” There’s really not a lot wrong with that.

        To be clear, I am not saying OP is wrong and that their feelings are off. I am saying that the script doesn’t clearly show how egregious the boss is being.

        To me, being more direct would look like “CEO was aggressive and bullying. He texted me 4 times after I declined. He’s the reason I’m declining.” Maybe even “I was excited about this job until I met him, but his personality and aggressively bullying behavior really soured my impression of this company to the point where I don’t want to work here.” To me, that’s being more direct without being rude, and clearly conveys that yes, CEO Gary is THE problem.

        Of course, this is if you WANT to communicate what the problem is. If you don’t want really engage, that script is fine. But if you really want to make it clear that the CEO is off putting to the point that they need to change something in order to get good employees, being more direct would be helpful.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          “I escalated so far in retaliation that he left a CEO-shaped dust cloud behind as he fled” is fine as fantasy, but in practice “Jerk is escalating, I am saying “good call gut,” blocking, and ignoring” is better for your physical and mental well-being.

          The CEO isn’t going to follow the script of acknowledging how that zinger made him see the error of his ways.

          1. Beany*

            Agree. I often wonder how air-tight rhetorical arguments actually fare in real life.

            There was an early episode of The West Wing where President Bartlet takes issue with a moral-majority Biblical literalist (MMBL for short), reciting a whole bunch of ridiculous rules from Leviticus that *nobody* follows in modern life, while said MMBL just stands there and takes it. Bartlet leaves room, end scene. In real life, those rules have been ridiculed for years and years (Sorkin didn’t dream up that spiel from scratch), and I don’t think any real-world MMBLs have shriveled up and blown away as a result.

    3. Magenta Sky*

      “You called me and sent four texts demanding to know why I turned down the offer. The reason is that you seemed like the sort of nutcase who would call me and send four texts demanding to know why I turned down the offer. And I was right.”

      And maybe add a bit about practicing my bullet dodging skills this week.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I was in a group that had excessive emails and they were very long.

        Finally, I said “I am done here.”

        I got back a massive email that basically said, “WHY????”, but the email went on for pages.

        I simply replied. “This right here.”

        I got back, “Thank you”. And that was the end.

    4. The Dogman*

      Directly is the only way to deal with it really, LW 2 should tell the CEO that he is the sole reason they do not want to work there.

      “I find you both personally and morally repugnant ” is well put! ;)

      Then copy those texts to the recruiters and ask them to not send you info on jobs run by nutters!

      CEOs like that will never get decent feedback from employees, only people like LW 2 can possible crack the shell of bullshit that surrounds them.

      Not their job though, so I get why they just want to be done with it.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Noooo, this is not the only way for LW to deal with it. It’s *a* way to deal with it if they want, but letting the recruiter know is also a way. Ignoring him, and blocking his number if he continues, is also a way. It’s not LW’s job to fix this dude.

        1. Here we go again*

          There is something satisfying about blocking someone and imagining them create long rage filled texts and voicemails that never reach you.

      2. Antilles*

        CEOs like that will never get decent feedback from employees, only people like LW 2 can possible crack the shell that surrounds them.
        Nah, he won’t listen to OP either. I’ve dealt with people like this in the past and I’m 100% confident that his response to OP would NOT be a thoughtful admission that leads to changed behavior. Instead, the response from CEO is absolutely going to be some combination of the following:
        1.) Returning to vague corporate-speak cliches about how “we always push for the yes”.
        2.) Defensiveness over OP’s criticism because you just don’t get why we do things this way / this is start-up culture / etc.
        3.) Condescending dismissal of OP as a person because OP is clearly a quitter who wouldn’t have worked out here anyways so who cares about your opinion.

        1. LW2-saw-red-flags*

          Yes, to all of this.

          Actually, I wish I had your list of reactions when I had the second call to address my concerns, because I was trying to pinpoint this red-flag vibe I couldn’t shake. Part of it is how they deal with conflict/disagreements/no

        2. The Dogman*

          I know, it is unlikely to work, but the only chance anyone would have is a situation like a wanted employee telling the CEO straight…

          Which is why I had

          “Not their job though, so I get why they just want to be done with it.”

          at the end of my comment, it is not LWs responsibility to fix that corporation.

          I just wish someone would confront this sort of boss, since that sort of boss needs telling!

        3. Zennish*

          Yeah, nothing anyone says is going to get through, realistically. All the CEO is going to process is “I am awesome. My company is awesome. You obviously do not appreciate that and are therefore Not Awesome.” A complete inability to self-reflect is kind of a prerequisite of the personality type.

      3. LW2-saw-red-flags*

        You know, I’m genuinely concerned about escalation. Or would be, if I were too direct with this petulant man child of a CEO.
        This person has my resume, it would be very easy for them to get in touch with current/previous employers. My anxiety is imagining getting embarrassed on LinkedIn or worse!
        I do think telling the in house recruiter is a good call, and being direct as a professional courtesy.

        1. londonedit*

          I agree that there’s no point/too much risk in saying anything to the CEO himself, but I definitely think a well-placed ‘I saw several red flags in the way the interview process was conducted, and this was compounded by the fact that when I declined the offer, the CEO called my mobile phone and sent me four texts demanding an explanation’ to the in-house recruiter wouldn’t be a bad idea.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think just a quick FYI the CEO made multiple attempts to contact me and further discuss why I declined the job to the internal recruiter is a good idea as well. But I would aim for my tone of delivery to be that of “this color blue paint is subtly changing as it dries” level of excitement and engagement.

          And then blocking the number that CEO called and texted me from.

        3. Dasein9*

          LW2-saw-red-flags, I’m glad you went with your gut.

          Satisfying as it might be to tell someone off, they will likely not hear you.

          But say this CEO did listen, what then? Is he going to make a genuine effort to change, or will he simply adjust his tactics? My worry would be that he’d just get better at hiding the very qualities that made your gut cry out “Avoid!”

          Do future interviewees a favor: don’t help this guy get better at hiding the red flags.

          1. The Dogman*

            “Do future interviewees a favor: don’t help this guy get better at hiding the red flags.”

            Also a good point!

          2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            I don’t think he would. He would be more likely to brush off any criticism. These guys have a “take it or leave it” attitude. I know, I worked for one. The nicest thing he could say would be “I can see that OP wouldn’t be able to hack it here”.

        4. The Dogman*

          That’s totally understandable, escalation is a worry.

          If he did you could maybe sue… but who needs the stress…

          And it is not your job to reform idiot CEOs anyway!

        5. Chauncy Gardener*

          Yes! You have nothing to win by escalating his escalation. With someone who appears to be this weird/unstable (*vainly searching for the correct term here*) neutral disconnection is your best bet, IMHO. Good luck OP!

  2. I AM a Lawyer*

    I am so confused about letter 3. By the different descriptions of the two companies, they seem wholly separate. But I’m confused why New Boss wants to see if the LW can address the issues with Old Boss

    1. BuildMeUp*

      Yeah, it sounds like they’re separate companies, but OP is using “coworkers” to refer to people who still work for the old company… I’m confused as well!

      1. Jolene*

        I’m guessing the two companies are separate for a legal reason of some sort (conflict avoidance, compliance), but are still bound by personal relationships between owners/partners.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          That would make sense, but then I would expect the language of the letter to be different to reflect the hierarchy and conflict of interest issues.

        2. Artemesia*

          That feels right. I assumed this was in a foreign country where women are also very subservient and view worker protections and that the old boss assumes s/he can continue to badger the OP because she works for her brother in law or something. A and B are not as separate as you hope.

        3. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          I once worked in a shared-space situation where there was no relationship at all between the companies in a legal or business sense, but they were both small enough, and the space was small enough, that maintaining good relationships was important for everyone’s comfort. On top of that the respective owners became friends from mere proximity. So I could see a pushy ex-boss like this just making everyone in the vicinity miserable and creating pressure on the OP that way even if there’s no formal mechanism for her to harm the OP.

          And the ‘coworkers’ thing could just be force of habit – it’d be hard to get the mental separation of considering them ex-coworkers if OP still sees them every day.

          1. Rose*

            This was my guess/take too. It isn’t a great sign for the new boss though. Obviously OP should be pleasant, but anyone who’s demanding she keep working after she quit is being unreasonable and shouldn’t be catered to. Honestly there are so many details missing here and I’d love an elaboration and follow up.

      2. Bilateralrope*

        Sounds like the two companies are sharing some parts of the building. Maybe it’s just the break room and toilets. Maybe they are sharing some workspaces.

        It could be fun to LW3 bring up the legal issues with them working unpaid for their former employer. Because there is no way to spin this as anything else unless their new employer tells them otherwise.

        But it would be better to just reply with “I no longer work for {old company}” to every request. Unless it gets bad enough that the lack of action from the new employer says bad things about them.

      3. turquoisecow*

        It kind of reminds me of the setup at my current company, where we have some vendors and outside contractors who work on site but aren’t part of our reporting structure. We work together on some projects and the vendors often take direction from us or us from them depending on what’s going on but we are paid by different entities.

        If OP is working closely with their old coworkers and boss in a way that the companies are connected rather than just sharing space, I could see how it might be confusing. Regardless, they changed roles, so old boss should know they’re no longer doing that job. It feels like new boss needs to step in and tell old boss not to assign work to OP anymore and I’m kind of worried they haven’t done that, but I guess if they all have to keep working together he wants an amicable solution.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Yes I’m surprised Alison didn’t say that OP’s new manager needs to start managing.

      4. birb*

        Then SURELY they wouldn’t have a function to add employees of the other company to a “do not contact” list? I’ve definitely worked and interviewed at places that operated out of a shared building or had shared warehouses with other companies. Maybe its that sort of thing? I would really love an update or clarity from the writer on that one. I could see a bad boss being too lazy to solve a problem themselves and saying “this is ridiculous, they’re 100 feet away, and they left me this mess* I’m going to go make them do it!”

        *Not implying she left a mess, but a manager with this poor of people skills likely didn’t do a great job of managing the transition or filling the role or training, and has likely “justified” her insane behavior in that way.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My guess is that the new boss thinks if it can be handled with a minimum of drama, that’s preferable to her having to have a big talk with the old boss about it. (But it doesn’t sound like she’s saying she won’t, just that she’s asking the OP to try handling it herself first to see if that takes care of it.)

      1. Loulou*

        But why should New Boss have a talk with Old Boss at all? It sounds like they have no professional connection and wouldn’t even know each other were it not for OP. This situation is baffling.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I asked in my response if there’s some kind of relationship between the two companies that means the OP needs to tread carefully, and that’s what I’m guessing is in play — that the two companies work together and care about maintaining relationships.

          1. Mockingjay*

            This kind of relationship is common in government contracting: companies can be teamed equally or as a prime/sub contractor relationship. Work tasks can be shared – whichever company employee is next available picks up the new task, or split up – A does this part, B does the next piece. Contractors often share spaces or are located in the same office park for convenience.

            Sometimes it works well. Sometimes it doesn’t (Ex-Toxic Job was a stellar example of failure, because my company allowed Company B to walk all over us, including trying to task us.)

            I strongly urge OP3 to ask her boss to intervene NOW and nip this behavior in the bud.

            1. 1LFTW*

              This is where my brain went, too. My workplace is shared between a government agency and a contractor. There’s a ton of overlap between the services we provide, and it can be *very* confusing, even when both managers are competent, ethical people. When they’re not? Hoo boy.

              I agree that OP3’s current boss needs to intervene.

          2. Alex*

            I’ve once worked for an organization that used to be one company, but was split for some legal reason.

            What they did NOT split was the office building, so both companies were operating out of the same shared office, where everyone was still using the same break room, the same conference rooms, and some even shared an open floor “flexdesk” area.

            I assume something like this is in play here.

          3. Temporarily Anonymous Technician*

            I can speak from personal experience here! I work for one of two separately taxed and accredited entities under the same roof, doing different work within the same highly regulated industry, and the quality of each side’s work directly affects the other. Think Teapots going from one side where they are made, to the other where they are decorated, and then back to the first for assembly and packaging. It’s a VERY close relationship despite the fact that they are legally different entities. To further complicate things in a way similar to what the LW is experiencing, I was initially hired by Teapot Construction and subsequently poached by Teapot Decoration, where my skill set is a perfect fit and I’m much happier.

            Especially within QA/QC and Production Planning, there is a VERY REAL and constant shall we say… dabbling of toes in the neighbor’s swimming pool. It’s usually harmless, and the communication can even be helpful, but certain individuals facing certain pressures have historically been prone to serious overstepping of the divide. The worst scenario is a Construction manager barking direct orders to a Decoration hourly employee, which was happening quite a bit, coming from a couple different managers.

            The way I’ve dealt with it is to absolutely make it my boss’ problem. Polite but firm “please route these requests through my supervisor for scheduling reasons” type of statements. Or “I’m sorry, I can’t take on this project without my supervisor’s permission; please talk to him about it”, or “Sorry, super busy with this Thing my supervisor just assigned!” LW, your current boss needs to step in and set this boundary. If they won’t do it just from your request, I think you need to make it clear to Old Boss that you’re being paid by a different entity now, and doing Old Work on New Job’s payroll is wrong and could put you in jeopardy.

            What I’ve found after a couple years of being really firm about routing all requests for my time through my boss is that the direct requests tapered off and ceased. It took a while but now all the annoying little stuff has been weeded out, and legitimate requests that make sense for BOTH entities that I be involved in are approved by my supervisor- I rarely even have to interact with Old Managers any more!

            Talk to New Boss again! Good luck!

          4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            It could be sister non-profit 501(c)3 and a lobbying group/PAC that started out as a lobbying group and then spun the non-profit side out to be able to get grants to address the issues. I have seen this a couple of times with groups that started out lobbying as representatives of historically excluded groups who realized that the communities are best served by organizations that were built for them, so the built up an independent non-profit.

          5. ThatGirl*

            I worked for a large wholesaler for most of a decade who had employees of other companies under our roof – notably a graphic design firm and an outside marketing firm; there were a few people from each who were specifically contracted to us so it made sense for them to work closely with us in our building. It doesn’t sound like that’s quite what’s going on here, but I could see something like that.

          6. Bee*

            I used to work in an office suite that had two companies in it, both very small – this isn’t unusual in my line of work, where rent is really expensive and a lot of companies have between 2 and 10 employees. (My current company is considered mid-size at 11 people.) These two had been sharing office space for something like two decades by the time I left, so while they were completely separate business-wise, they were rather personally interwoven and shared a lot of resources. I actually interned at one of the companies and then got a job at the other! Everyone there was reasonable and no one acted like this, but I can see why you want to escalate slowly if you’re all going to be in the same ten rooms every day.

        2. liquidus*

          My only guess is that maybe it’s two companies contracted or otherwise subordinate to one parent company/organization. So while you can switch companies you’d still be within the same parent company/org. It’s the only way I can see that Boss A thinks she still has some kind of supervisory or managing authority over LW3.

        3. MonkeyPrincess*

          I used to work in an office like this… big corporation contracted with two companies to do basically the same job, in the same building. So we basically had to work with people who worked for a different company and had different bosses. It made things politically tricky, and there was definitely jealousy when one company had a luncheon or something and the other company got to go about our business pretending that there wasn’t a party going on in the other room, but overall it mostly worked.

        4. londonedit*

          You see it in publishing, too, where larger companies will have one umbrella organisation with several ‘imprints’ that will all publish different types of books. Ultimately the same big bosses are in charge of everything, but on an individual level each imprint will have its own publisher/editorial director, and they might even be grouped into divisions above that. So if I’d started out as an editorial assistant working on books about wildlife, then my line manager would be the publisher of the wildlife imprint, and their boss would be the head of the non-fiction department. But if I then made a move into a new job as an assistant editor with the politics imprint, while my ultimate boss and everyone else’s would still be the head of the non-fiction department, my immediate line manager would then be the publisher of the politics imprint. The wildlife publisher would no longer have any responsibility for me, and it would be extremely weird if she tried to ask me to carry on doing work on wildlife books. And that would absolutely be a situation where the publisher of the politics imprint, or potentially even the head of the non-fiction department, would need to have a talk with the wildlife publisher and tell her to stop trying to get me to do work on wildlife books when I’m now working with the politics imprint.

          1. I edit everything*

            This sounds more separate than that, but yeah, the analogy fits. I can’t even fathom my former publishing job crossing the streams the way the LW is describing, between, say, the educational publishing division and the ac/trade division, unless there was some subject-area overlap.

    3. Heidi*

      I think “addressing it” could just mean cutting ties so that peace is restored in the space, not fixing Old Boss’s labor shortage problems. It also sounds like Old Boss is not fun to deal with, so I’m not that surprised that New Boss doesn’t want to engage if she doesn’t have to.

      1. anonymous73*

        Managers don’t get the option of not engaging with difficult people just because they’re difficult. I don’t know what new boss is able to do since these companies seem to be separate entities, but they need to have their employee’s back and do something if old boss won’t stop their behavior.

        1. Birdie*

          Exactly. I’m stuck in a very similar situation as the LW and despite me going to my boss numerous times, her response is always “Wellllllllllll, if Bob feels like he needs you on this project, he can always come to me and talk about how to rearrange your priorities.” Which, one, is BS because I don’t work for Bob, period. Two, I’m coming to you because Bob keeps trying to make me do his team’s work and me setting boundaries isn’t working. Three, Bob is trashing my reputation and telling people I’m “not a team player” and “won’t step up to help.” I’m telling you, as your direct report, there is a serious problem here and you refuse to deal with it at all.

          I’m currently interviewing, no big surprise.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yes I think that just meant that the new boss was going to let OP try to get the old boss to stop harassing her on her own before maybe needing to step in. The companies might have a relationship or they might not but I don’t think that would change the fact that someone has to say to the old boss “Stop asking OP to do work.” OP will try first, then presumably if the old boss for some reason keeps it up the new boss will speak to her.

        1. Heidi*

          Agreed. It’s being in the same space that makes this whole situation so weird. If they were different companies in different buildings, I don’t think that New Boss would have any standing to intervene on behalf of the OP. It would be entirely up to the OP to manage their relationship with Old Boss. But since they’re all in one place and the behavior of Old Boss can affect both companies, I can see how those boundaries may need to be different.

    4. Jen*

      I understand New boss’s perspective but if this was my employee, I’d want to reinforce that line myself.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I’m surprised that NewBoss has asked LW to resolved this themselves, but apparently not given them any coaching on how to do that. That seems like a logical step for a manager to me!

        1. Workerbee*

          New Boss’s concerns are rightly on how her new employee can handle her new work, not also have to manage what has now become more interpersonal relations outside of her new job. Yes, it gets a little tricky with Old Boss being a boss and therefore a potential wrecking ball toward one’s career…maybe…and still being in what sounds like an almost-immediate vicinity, but I did take from the letter that these are simply companies sharing the same office building in suites. I too would be asking my employee what she’s tried first to mitigate or shut it down. And OP writing in is a good step.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I would definitely prefer my employee to take responsibility for dealing with their old boss themselves, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t want to help them figure out a solution fast, and writing to a problem page and waiting for an answer seems slow! If it was a case of them getting contact from an ex-boss via email a couple of times a week, then that seems like a good approach, but when it’s someone interfering with their work on a daily basis, in the shared space where they are working for me, I’d want something a bit quicker to happen.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              In OP’s defense, often people don’t realize how long a turnaround time there is for publishing. Especially web publishing, becsuse people are used to the internet being Google-fast. And everyone hopes to be the rare letter that catches a columnist’s eye and get bumped to the top of the stack.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Same. If I were the LW I would start with Alison’s scripts then, if those don’t work use, “Sure thing, just email NewBoss. All external requests have to go through her.” It worked a treat for me when bosses from one department couldn’t get it through their heads that I was now in another department

    5. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Small companies in rental offices often share facilities and social activities.
      My husband’s old company was in a complex like that. There’s no easy vocabulary to say how we met those friends.

      1. Mimi*

        I use “worked out of the same shared office/coworking space,” but it feels less weird if it’s actually a designated shared office space, and not an office that happens to be shared by two companies.

      2. Mostly Managing*

        I worked in a set up like that. Three separate companies doing work in the same field, and sharing some resources including the photocopier – which was right by my desk.

        Part of my entry-level admin role was photocopying and collating for my company. One day my boss saw me making copies for a guy from one of the other companies.
        Boss asked why I was doing someone else’s job.
        I explained that part of MY job was to keep the photocopier working. And that guy somehow managed to jam it every time he looked at it. It was more efficient for me to do his few copies than to spend held and hour fixing the machine.

        1. Junebug*

          Wow there’s some weaponized incompetence. Not sure what else you can do if his boss is fine with him damaging company equipment.

    6. Lynca*

      I wish we knew whether the companies are just sharing a workspace or if they’re doing work together for a parent company. I think that would explain the approach better.

      If they’re legitimately just sharing a workspace and that’s the only thing, having OP cut the tie does make some sense even if Old Boss goes scorched earth. You would want OP to feel like they can stand up for themselves against this really odd behavior without needing management’s permission.

      Maybe that’s my experience coloring the situation. I’ve had to go through standing up to companies that tried to order me around or treat me like I worked for them.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Sometimes companies take a department and turn it into another company. This can be done for legal or insurance purposes, maybe tax purposes too I dunno.
      We have an appliance store and appliance repair place here. Both companies are under one roof. The sales people interact with the repair people regularly. But they are two separate companies. One is Smith’s Appliance and the other is Smith’s Appliance Repair.
      I can give many more examples.

      If OP’s companies are dependent on other, this maybe complicated to describe how everyone is interrelated.

    8. Lucious*

      >>I’m confused why New Boss wants to see if the LW can address the issue with OldBoss.

      Judging from OldBoss’ reaction, they likely vehemently disagreed with LW3s moving on to their new role at Company B. Which -potentially- soured New Boss on any interaction with OldBoss after the promotion was done. Now that OldBoss is throwing predictable tantrums, NewBoss wants no part of the dialogue unless absolutely necessary.

      It’s not perhaps the bravest stance, but understandable if NewBoss had to campaign behind the scenes against OldBoss to ensure LW3 could shift roles.

      1. Birdie*

        It’s not understandable, it’s cowardly. If New Boss isn’t going to have LW’s back on this, what else will they not back LW up on?

    9. Lacey*

      I have twice worked in an office with technically two separate companies, but the companies were closely connected and often employees from A might be asked to help out with company B and vice versa.
      Both companies have one or more owners in common.

      In my current job I officially am employed by company A, but I do a lot of work for company B which they are billed for by company A. If I piss off company B it will be a problem for me, even though no one there is my boss.

    10. Esmeralda*

      Because the two companies are in the same building, they apparently see each other a lot, and they need to be able to get along with each other. (Might be business reasons as well).

      I do think the new boss is punting this one…OP should tell new boss, here’s what I’m going to do, if it hasn’t improved within a week, here’s what I’m doing next [following Alison’s scripts), ask boss for assistance if it continues after that.

    11. Napkin Thief*

      If they are, in fact, completely separate entities, it makes even more sense for OP to be the one to set the boundary with Old Boss. If the companies weren’t sharing a building, no one would think of this as an issue for New Boss to handle – it would seem really strange, in fact, to expect a current boss to call up your old boss and tell them to leave you alone. Barring special circumstances, this is all on OP.

      1. bamcheeks*

        But they ARE sharing a building– which means OldBoss has access to OP on a daily basis. It’s about communication channels, for me– if OldBoss were contacting OP through private/personal channels like their mobile phone number or email, it would be 100% OP’s responsibility to handle it– she’d have full ownership of the method of communication, the ability to block OldBoss, or to not check her personal phone / email during the working day. But when the aggravation is happening in the place that OP has to come to for work, and that means she is being interrupted on a daily basis whilst at work, it becomes NewEmployer’s problem too.

        If I were managing OP, I’d certainly ask them if they could deal with it in the first instance, but I’d also want to check they were confident about doing that and coach them if necessary because it’s someone using our workspace to harass them. And I’d want that sorted out sooner rather than later.

        1. Daisy Gamgee*

          +1. I would definitely rather work for you than for many people in this thread who would pretty much leave their employee without help or options.

    12. RagingADHD*

      My first thought was that Company B is building management and Company A is a tenant. Or that Company B provides outsourced services to Company A.

      So that, although OldBoss is not LWs direct supervisor, it is still within Company As purview to make requests of Company B, and OldBoss is taking advantage of that in order to try to boss LW around inappropriately.

    13. Symplicite*

      I had a situation similar to the OP, except that I wasn’t in the same building.
      What happened was that I moved from one legal entity (Legal Entity A) in the corporation to another legal entity (Legal Entity B) in the corporation. Because it was the same “company” per se, A felt that they could reach out at any time and I could provide information / advice / assistance whenever they requested it. The first two months of me moving over was filled with their requests, where I started to ‘block’ them on the IM programme, then delayed responding to their emails. It got to a point where I went up the chain of command above my old boss and her boss to the director, and indicated that “occasional” help / assistance was one thing, but an almost daily barrage was quite another.
      The end result was that my current boss and my old boss had an ‘agreement’ where they were cc’d on the email requests for assistance, and that there was an agreement that that wouldn’t happen often.
      I had occasional requests for at least 3 years after moving over. Unfortunately, I am blessed / cursed with a good memory, so a lot of my knowledge could still be applied years later.
      If a direct cut is required, it might be advisable to get new boss to send a polite “LW doesn’t work for you anymore” email and cc the appropriate chains of command, as that will get the attention it requires to cut that crap out.

      1. Green Beans*

        Just because you remember something doesn’t mean you have to admit to remembering it! You can say “I believe that should be in the transfer files or with Name, but can’t tell you anything more specific than that,” or “I’m not sure anymore,” even if it’s not true.

    14. Eleven*

      I used to work for a company which had a branch that was a completely seperate entity. We shared an office, served the same clients, and attended meetings together…but people employed by that department had a completely different employer, benefits, reporting structure, etc. So we were still co-workers even though we technically had different employers. I don’t think it is terribly uncommon! That is what I am imagining for this letter writer and it would help explain why the situation is so tricky.

    15. University Schlep*

      I used to work for a angel cap company that was housed within the offices of a larger venture cap company. We had no overlapping employees, however we were deferential to the larger company because a) it was their space and b) they were our best point of contact for taking our angel funded companies to the next step. The working relationship was important. But both companies were good about boundaries. When big company found out my background they wanted an education on that industry, they went up to the top of my management chain and back down to me, they didn’t ask me directly.

  3. Mordin*

    #1 There are so many possible reasons for this pattern that I’m incredibly doubtful your appearance is a factor. But it sounds like maybe you are self-conscious about your appearance, is it possible maybe YOU perform better over the phone?

    1. Loulou*

      I thought the same thing. It’s like when people have a lucky blazer or whatever. Nobody’s hiring you because they like or dislike your blazer, but feeling great about what you’re wearing can change your whole demeanor (and so can feeling bad about it).

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        The Lucky Blazer Effect is real, and it is spectacular! I have worn the same lucky blazer, which has a crimson satin lining that makes me feel like a vampire queen undercover among mere mortals, to important meetings and events for about 10 years and can confirm its almost magical performance-enhancing effects!

        1. Critical Rolls*

          I have one with an aggressively lux gold detail on the inside that absolutely feels like some kind of powerful secret. The psychology of clothes is really something!

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I have a black shirt with ruching in front that makes me look fantastic and it pairs well with a scarf. A blazer works on top of it, although I don’t really like them because they feel restrictive.

        3. Rose*

          Well that’s just a very silly superstition. Unlike my lucky vintage onyx ring and green underwear. Those totally work. :-)

      2. Librarian of SHIEILD*

        I have a family friend who is in her 90s now, but in her career she counseled young women interviewing for jobs for the first time. For interviews and speaking engagements and that sort of thing, I follow what I call the Mimi Principle. Find something (an article of clothing, a way of styling your hair, a particular color of eyeshadow or lipstick, etc) that makes you feel good about the way you look. On days when you feel sick or nervous or otherwise not at your best, break out that thing and wear it. Feeling good about yourself can make the other obstacles you face seem less insurmountable somehow.

        1. Erika22*

          Similar, but for some reason when I feel gross I think about that line in Breakfast at Tiffany’s where Audrey Hepburn is putting in lipstick in the car, and that association makes wearing lipstick a pick me up/confidence booster!

        2. Librarian of SHIEILD*

          I should clarify: by “sick,” I mean chronic illness stuff that makes me feel not great, but still able to function and not harm anyone. Not sickness that I could pass on to anyone else.

      3. Smithy*

        Different side of the “lucky blazer” coin – as a geriatric millennial, I was definitely raised that women should wear blazers/suits to interviews. Ultimately, I had a career where blazers weren’t a regular thing and so I’d only dig mine out when I was interviewing, find out they didn’t fit anymore, needed to be replaced, new ones didn’t fit amazing either, had stress about it, etc.

        When I finally realized that a) I could wear a blazer unbottoned or b) not wear a blazer at all – it was amazing the surge of confidence all of that brought. Where I started wearing items I felt much better about and then would identify various “power” items that brought that surge of confidence.

        Hilarious end note for all of this – got a pair of shoes that I felt would really make one interview outfit. Absolutely aced the interview, walked outside in my all black interview outfit, looked down in the sunlight, noticed my shoes were in fact navy and not black.

    2. Willis*

      I can’t tell if OP is comparing their pre-covid, in-person interview success with their during-covid, phone interview success, but if so, a huge factor could be changes in the job market over the last couple years. There’s likely less competition for the jobs now, leading to more offers, and having nothing to do with OP’s attractiveness.

      1. Jaydee*

        That was my first thought as well. The job market during the pandemic was/is so different from pre-pandemic, that it could truly have had nothing to do with the LW’s appearance or qualifications and everything to do with supply and demand. More open positions and less competition from other applicants = more offers for LW.

        Especially if LW is relatively fresh out of school, pre-pandemic employers were likely inundated with applicants with similar qualifications to LW, and some may have been holding out for applicants with more experience. During the pandemic employers no longer had that luxury.

    3. hellohello*

      Right. Attractiveness absolutely can come into play with career success, especially for women, but it’s much subtler (and consequently harder to prove, unfortunately) than this letter is suggesting. A person isn’t going to lose out on every job they apply for because they are less conventionally attractive, but might be the runner up instead of the chosen candidate one or two times in their career, or will be judged slightly more harshly by a boss, or have a slightly harder time networking. The kind of stuff that isn’t obvious in the moment but adds up over time.

      In this case, though, I suspect most of what’s happening is either a) the OP is more confident over the phone or 2) candidates are in higher demand in the mid-pandemic job market in OP’s field.

    4. ExpatReader*

      Additionally, it sounds like #2 may be earlier in their career, in which case it’s likely there’s more competition for the jobs they’re applying for. (Just a guess based on the ‘grad school’ part of the letter.)

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        Yes, the LW is still in grad school and I think that itself could be another factor – maybe as someone still in school they just didn’t have a lot of experience or confidence when they were applying pre-covid (which, after all, would be over two years ago now). Maybe now that they’re closer to graduation they’ve simply improved as a candidate.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      I have never considered myself to be one of the Beautiful People.

      OP, it’s worthwhile to put a little bit more into prepping for the interview. This could be appearance-wise but it can also mean putting more planning into what you would like to say. Clothes can boost our confidence but this can be artificial if we privately know that we have not planned out our talking points that well. So I worked on these aspects of the question.

      There is another aspect. I am not really interested in an employer who wants to hire based on looks. I can’t approach life and work on such a superficial level.

      I do have a thought. Since you were on the phone, you were not distracted with worry about what THEY were thinking. If you can recreate that undistracted mindset on an in-person interview you might feel differently and get different responses. People do pick up on insecurity- but they do not do well on picking up the correct cause of that insecurity. Practice using that confident voice, I like to suggest while standing in front of a mirror.

      1. Mimi*

        There are also ways of holding oneself that are supposed to make one feel more confident, even done before the interview. TBH I mostly forget to do them so don’t have enough data to say if they help me personally, but it’s a thing to think about. Google “power pose interview.”

        I figure it doesn’t hurt anything (assuming you can remember to do it).

        1. londonedit*

          Just don’t try the power pose during the interview if the interviewers can see you, or you’ll look like you’re at the Conservative party conference (Google Tory power pose!)

    6. Dust Bunny*

      This was my thought. I’m not attractive but so far it seems not to have affected my employability. My first guess is that OP is self-conscious and doesn’t present well, and has latched onto “attractiveness” as the problem when actually it’s general demeanor that’s giving interviewers the impression that s/he isn’t as competent as s/he is. I’m much, much, more confident, interesting, and funny on the Internet than in person.

      I’ve known a few people who were outliers who thought that “attractiveness” basically meant anything approaching within-normal-ranges grooming and would go to interviews in bombed-out clothes and unwashed (like, to the point of being smelly from several feet away) hair and then insist that appearance bias had prevented them from being hired when in fact they were just pretty gross. But that’s been a scant handful of genuinely strange people.

    7. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

      Seriously, I agree that you are probably not scaring people off with your appearance. I am 56 years old, very fat, not super attractive to begin with, and I get jobs. Maybe not as many jobs as I would get if I were 15 years younger, slim, and conventionally pretty, but I get them. And I work with people who are cute, normal-looking, and kind of weird-looking. We’re all here to do our jobs, it’s not a beauty contest.

      I’m not diagnosing here, just making a suggestion: Body dysmorphia — believing oneself to be ugly and experiencing obsessive thoughts and anxiety as a result — is a thing that exists, and IF your thoughts about your attractiveness are getting in your way professionally and/or personally, it would be worth exploring that with a therapist. (And if I’m miles off base here, feel free to ignore.)

      If you’re concerned about your performance in in-person or video interviews, perhaps enlist one or two friends whose judgment you trust, and have them act the role of employers in mock interviews and give you their honest perspectives on how you come across.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        Yeah, I’m a little concerned by the formulation from a young person that they aren’t getting hired because their appearance is “off-putting.” Almost no one’s appearance is genuinely off-putting, especially in the context of hiring. Are you okay, LW? Because I really really doubt the way you’re talking about yourself reflects reality.

        1. PollyQ*

          Yes, this was my reaction as well. LW, may I suggest some therapy around this issue? Per board rules, I am not going to attempt a diagnosis, but I do suspect that there may be some issues on this subject than treatment could help withl.

      2. Smithy*

        Very gently and kindly, I have to second this.

        I came of job seeking age when I was told I needed to have “interview suits” that I then never wore when I actually had a job. So when I’d interview for my next job a few years later, I’d find my interview suits didn’t fit anymore as I’d gained weight and would feel poorly about myself more broadly speaking. I’ve been most successful addressing my relationship with my own body as well as discovering clothing that makes more sense in my life that also works well for interviewing.

        It can also get very easy to get stuck when you’re just thinking about yourself. I once heard a friend say that she felt she’d interview better if she lost 30 lbs, and it was a crystalizing case of wanting to champion my friend so much to not have that view…..and then realize I didn’t always afford myself that kind of care.

      3. LW #1*

        I’m LW1. Here’s the thing: I don’t think I look that bad. I think I look 100% average. However, people close to me have pointed out that I am NOT pretty. Absolute strangers have called me a freak (more than once). I once passed by someone who immediately turned to their friend and exclaimed, “Did you see her face!?”

        1. Barbara Eyiuche*

          You might come from an abusive family if people close to you are saying you’re ugly. That doesn’t mean they are right, it just means they are abusive. Strangers can be jerks. Just because someone says you look like a freak doesn’t mean you do. I really feel for you. Try to present yourself as well as you can, but honestly it is harder for less attractive people to get hired, on average.

        2. Rose*

          What the actually…??? Ok I am so angry for you. Everyone I know thinks they’re less attractive than their friends/loved ones.

          Whoever is close to you and saying that is being a huge dirt bag. I’m sorry if that is insulting a family member or close friend, but this person either doesn’t have your best interests at heart and isn’t really on Team You, or they do/are but they have some very serious issues. Full stop.

          Strangers on the street, mean people in school, yada yada… I think you should chalk that up to the human experience. I think I’m fairly conventionally attractive and that’s happened to me and my really pretty friends. It’s a combo of “some people suck and they’re usually loud,” and stuff you’re just not going to see, like that stranger was talking about the person behind you, or you had something on your nose that you wiped away before you saw a mirror, or… idk one time my friend deeply insulted a woman we walked by because she was talking about a whale watch but out of context things sounded very, very different.

          I agree with the other commenters that confidence, changes in the job market, and random interview luck are likely at play far more than your appearance.

          I have a crystal that’s supposed to instill confidence and calm and even though I don’t believe in crystals, I keep it in my pocket for big work things and when I touch it I get a confidence boost. Maybe something similar would help you? A lucky charm of some kind? And also… some nicer people around you because you deserve it.

        3. Ellie*

          I’ve had all of those things said to me as well, and I am 100% a conventionally attractive person. Some people are really messed up, I don’t know what they get out of insulting people like that. I know its easier said than done, but you can’t let strangers control how you feel about yourself.

        4. MigraineMonth*

          Ugh, that’s awful. I’m so sorry. I’ve only ever had strangers ask me if I’m pregnant, which–no, and I wouldn’t tell you if I were.

    8. Prairie*

      Yeah, having a number of interviews that don’t turn into jobs is very normal. We are always looking for reason and patterns but the reason is probably that there were better candidates or internal candidates or the boss’s friend decided to apply for the job, etc. OP, congratulations on the offers from the phone interviews! Sounds like things are on a positive track.

    9. lunchtime caller*

      Yeah I agree with this, especially since it’s a little unusual to assume “oh it must be because I’m just SO HIDEOUS LOOKING that no one could bear the thought of working with me every day.” Having worked in many an office, outside of publicity jobs (which do tend to favor pretty people), there is QUITE a range of looks and in fact most people land on the average side…since that is indeed what average means. But if you’re really uncomfortable in person, people probably sense that and it works against you.

    10. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

      Don’t you mean…
      Many possible reasons for pattern. Doubtful appearance is factor. Perhaps self-consciousness about appearance leads to… (sharp inhale) better performance over phone.

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Weirdly, while I’m not LW, this does makes me feel better about my appearance. The power of a scientist salarian?

    11. Ally McBeal*

      I believe that, at least in Zoom (not sure about Teams), there’s a way to hide your own window, so you don’t have to look at your own face. This was a huge relief to me when I was interviewing last year.

      On a higher level, though: When the pandemic started I had to lean in hard to get used to seeing my face so frequently, as I have some self-esteem issues too. I’ve been working on this for years, including even cutting my mother off for several years while I tried to excise her voice from my head, but Covid put it into overdrive. OP seems resigned to the fact that they’re unattractive, and I hope they seek out intensive help to combat that perception. (I remember one exercise I came up with – sitting on the city bus and mentally finding something beautiful about each of my fellow riders. This can also be done if you’re in the right corner of TikTok, where diverse bodies and body positivity abound.)

      1. Allonge*

        An alternative I can recommend is to learn to be ok with being unattractive. I know, easier said than done but…

        Some of the most confident women I know are nowhere near ‘conventionally attractive’ and learnt to treat this as a mostly value-neutral fact (some people are mediocre cooks, some people have difficulties learning foreign languages, some people are not beautiful, the sky is blue). It’s surprisingly freeing!

        It also has nothing to do with grooming and style, you can get dressed to the nines and definitely keep a neat appeareance.

        1. Ally McBeal*

          Completely fair! I think it’s two sides of the same coin – understanding that “attractiveness” is a construct dictated by dominant societies… and also realizing that very nearly everyone has something about them that’s attractive. Even if it’s “just” cosmetic – a great sense of style, the most phenomenal eyelash extensions, a well-groomed beard – the whole face/body doesn’t have to be conventionally and cohesively attractive in order for me to find something beautiful about them.

          1. Allonge*

            Oh, absolutely, either of these can work really well, and it’s about learning to be ok with the reality, one way or the other (also, focusing on others is a really good idea in just about any case when one is lost in their own head).

            I think your way is easier to start in small steps? So that is definitely a plus.

        2. PollyQ*

          It would be AMAZING if we, as a society, could get to that level of wisdom about beauty, especially for women. Some people have great, inborn talents as athletes or musicians, so why shouldn’t we put beauty in this category, and appreciate it where it’s found, but not make it a fundamental requirement for every woman.

        3. Rose*

          I have a sister very close to my age who is incredibly attractive. Men stop on the street to do double takes, guys message me to ask for her number, etc. It can be a lot. Esp because we’re each other’s biggest cheerleader. The only person who thinks I’m prettier than Ali, is Ali.

          One time I was talking to my moms vet wise best friend about it and she asked me “So what if you weren’t pretty? What would happen if you were? Would you be happier? Would people love you more?”

          It’s something I really think about a lot. There’s nothing big that my sister has that I want. We’re both in great relationships, we both have steady jobs, good friends, etc. OP I know being unemployed sucks and that is very, very real (it’s happened to me and my stupid-gorgeous sister). It can be self esteem crushing. But I would strongly advocate for striving towards a healthy mix of being ok with how you look, pointing out a few features you like in the mirror every morning, and accepting that you are not the prettiest girl in the world and questioning the value of being any prettier.

          This is diverting a from the actually advice you asked for at this point, and I know research shows pretty people DO get things easier (although truly I think everyone we come across underestimates Alis intelligence but that’s a different story…) but idk…. It felt relevant?

    12. Annony*

      I once interviewed a person that was recommended. I thought they were a shoe in, until they showed up in an old Mickey Mouse sweatshirt and jeans. This was for an office job. They probably could have performed the job well enough, but I could not get past the super casual wardrobe.
      All that to say take Allison’s advice on the polish and extra grooming.

    13. Mama llama*

      You did mention that you wear “formal” clothes to interview – is that your normal wardrobe? Is it possible you’re uncomfortable in them and that’s coming through in your body language?

    14. The OG Sleepless*

      When I left a job, my supervisor who I was close to gave me a slim, elegant bangle that I love. I always think of her support when I see it/wear it. So I wear it a lot when I really want to remember that I have Team Me behind me.

    15. LW #1*

      That’s the thing. All of this is retrospective. It’s not, “I’m not going to get this job right now because I’m ugly,” it’s looking back on things and evaluating the situation. I’ve never been self-conscious about my appearance (which may be why I think I look fine when apparently I don’t).

      1. Rose*

        If you’ve never been self conscious about your appearance what makes you jump to that now? So many people wrote in about not getting jobs, it’s so, so common, and most people don’t jump to that.

  4. Turanga Leela*

    OP #1, my heart ached for you as I read your letter—it’s horrible to feel unattractive, and worse to feel like it’s holding you back. (I’m familiar with both feelings.) If you’re comfortable sharing here… is there a reason you think your appearance is a problem, and it’s not just that you got more experience and were a stronger candidate on the phone interview jobs?

    I agree with Alison’s suggestions, because even if your experience ISN’T about appearance, following her advice might help you feel more confident in your in-person interviews. One thing I’ve seen people neglect is skincare, and that can make a big difference in how you come across. Find a face wash and moisturizer that work well for you; treat any acne or rosacea, if you can.

    1. Baroness Schraeder*

      I am 42 and have had acne for over 30 years. Believe me, if there was a face wash and moisturizer, or a special diet, or some kind of enchantment I could whisper seven times under the light of a waxing moon while sacrificing virgins in an anticlockwise direction, I’d have done it by now. I’ve tried everything, so I really hope people don’t look at me and assume I’m neglecting my appearance.

      1. Gnome*

        Same deal, but replace the acne with rosacea. It’s fine unless I’m hot, cold, nervous, or embarrassed… In those cases I look like a stop sign (at best) or like my head is going to explode like in a cartoon.

      2. Fran Fine*

        I have a similar issue at 34. I’d tried everything people swore would help clear up my skin short of Accutane, and nothing worked for years. I finally found a skincare routine that works for me – but I still have the acne scarring from when I was a teenager and I still get the occasional breakout (my right cheek seems to be the biggest problem area).

        Honestly, before I started wearing makeup to cover the scars, I just made sure my hair was always done nicely and my clothes looked good and were properly tailored. That seemed to make people focus less on my face and more on my overall appearance, which I was always complimented on. Then when I started wearing no makeup makeup looks, the whole thing came together and I started getting opportunities I never got before. I like to think it wasn’t because people suddenly thought I was attractive, but more so that I was more confident. I think the confidence boost from being in school and doing well is helping OP and maybe there was less of it before, which is why she didn’t have much luck job searching then.

      3. Chauncy Gardener*

        Great user name, Baroness!
        I had terrible rosacea. I tried every over the counter and natural treatment and nothing worked. I finally got laser treatments, not covered by insurance because they were “cosmetic,” and that worked! But man, looking like I had poison ivy all over my face was tough, I will say. I had to just to tell people, “It’s just rosacea, FYI”

      4. Turanga Leela*

        I don’t think people make that assumption! Skin stuff can be extremely challenging (as you and other commenters note). I’ve also known a surprising number of people who had skin issues and ignored them or assumed they were untreatable, or who just generally didn’t know how to take care of their skin. I only learned how to manage my (mild) rosacea in my 30s.

    2. Dee*

      Please do not discriminate against people because of their skin ailments. Many people are blessed with great skin or can manage minor issues with over the counter face wash and moisturizer. I am not one of those people. I ultimately had to do multiple rounds of accutane because that was the only thing that worked. I tried many different over the counter skincare lines (drugstore and $$$), facials and peels, prescription face washes and topicals, prescription antibiotics, “natural” masks I made at home, using a silk pillowcase, removing dairy from my diet, the list goes on and on and on. I drink TONS of water and generally eat healthy. Taking care of my appearance in another way (exercise) made my acne worse due to sweat. The only thing that worked was an intense prescription medication that requires the user to get monthly blood tests and (if you are a person who could become pregnant) the use a prescription contraceptive. I tried all of those things over 20 years, it’s not like I was doing this all in rapid succession and causing more damage to my skin. I was doing this under the care of aestheticians and dermatologists. This was not neglecting my skincare, it was due to unfortunate genetics. My mother and sister also had very stubborn acne like this into their late 20s/early 30s.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Fellow Several Rounds of Accutane veteran here. The topical treatments they had in those days literally gave me chemical burns but didn’t clear up the acne. Fun times. My skin is so much better in middle age, ironically.

      2. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

        Also, for Zoom interviews, there’s a “touch up my appearance” filter you can turn on that smooths out your skin. I’ve used it to good effect — my colleagues (who only know me online) all thought I was 10 to 20 years younger than I am!

        1. Fran Fine*

          I love that feature! Completely eliminates my acne scarring. Too bad I only use Zoom for school and not work (we’re a Teams company).

        2. Drago Cucina*

          I like that you can do a subtle touch up in Zoom. Not changing how I look in real life, but getting rid of some of the odd lighting shadows that make me look haggard.

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          As a young teen, about a week before my period I would get a fresh breakout of severe acne. That cycle stopped in my late teens through my late forties; now in my early fifties, I’m getting the same thing: a breakout of severe acne the week before my period. I think it must be hormonal changes.

          Anyway, I had a zoom interview this afternoon (as a panelist, not as the candidate), and I was delighted to discover the “touch up my appearance” filter — it worked very well!

      3. Rose*

        Ugh this is me. I’ve finally found what works and the only way to keep things under control is 1) always be on the pill 2) keep expensive facials as part of my routine 3) use retinol and only expensive brands have helped so far. 100% not accessible to many people.

        My husband washes his face with HAND SOAP about 3x per week and has perfect glowing skin that makes me want to scream.

        I think there is always some subconscious bias around attractiveness but as long as you don’t look aggressively unclean (wash your face in the morning and blotting papers right before, and have clean hair) people don’t judge and know skin stuff just happens. I’ve found BareMinerals to cover well and not break me out worse. And I’m aging slowly like everyone always promised, so take heart youngins.

      1. Hazel*

        Did that happen during the pandemic? I’m curious because my psoriasis got worse and weird and in new spots on my face after the pandemic started. I’m sure it is mostly due to stress. In case it’s helpful, I’ve used Cordran Tape on some spots, and it has really helped. You really can barely notice it (it’s transparent).

          1. Batgirl*

            I got a handle on it and it doesn’t visibly appear anywhere now. Stress is a big factor in mine – didn’t appear at all till my father’s death and it’s a big factor in deciding to limit my hours to something very life balanced. In my case I found some diet triggers (gluten intolerance and alcohol), and coconut oil/sea salt in the shower works for me. That’s very me specific though. Most psoriasis people are impacted by stress and how much sunlight they get (worse in winter etc), though so I imagine the pandemic did a number on a few of us.

      2. londonedit*

        I’m also sorry this is happening! I can relate – it seems to be under control now, but one of the delightful symptoms of the autoimmune condition I was diagnosed with at the end of last year is/was a red, papery, scaly rash that started on my neck and then for some inexplicable reason spread to my eyelids and all around my eyes. I think the fact that my medication is now starting to kick in, plus Eucerin face creams for day and night, sorted it out, but it was utterly horrible and I felt self-conscious from the end of October until just a couple of weeks ago (I’m convinced last year’s Christmas photos will be known as ‘oh yeah, that year londonedit had a really weird rash’). I was really glad I’m still working from home, and really glad I only have one or two meetings a week where I need to be on camera. I’d have felt really self-conscious in an interview.

      3. Bee*

        My psoriasis is ONLY on my face, sigh. Well, also my scalp, which was really bad until I got the good steroids. I had a year or two when nothing would make a dent, and I was miserable and felt like it was the only thing people could see when they looked at me, but other people told me it was hardly noticeable. On the plus side, when I finally found something that could cut through the cycle of irritation, it was followed by a year of absolutely amazing skin & hair, like my body was so grateful to be rescued that it pulled out all the stops. (I mean, also the steroids. Three months of steroids directly into my hair every day probably had something to do with it.)

      4. jumped all the sharks*

        I am so hoping mine doesn’t decide to go there. I had so much anxiety when my workplace started to reopen about masking since I had no idea if the constant pressure would trigger a flare. So far so good, and letting my bosses know helped a lot in that I was moved to a private office so I’m not always masked and have the privacy to dress for flare ups on other parts of my body.

    3. OrigCassandra*

      Meh. Been unquestionably ugly most of my life, can’t manage to care about it.

      The assumption that it must poison my life to know I’m ugly places beauty in a position of power and authority that I don’t want to give it, and that I frankly don’t think is terribly healthy.

      I’m ugly. It’s okay. It should be okay!

      1. Critical Rolls*

        Nobody should be judged by their face any more than they should be judged by their body. But I find it hard to be confident in LW’s self-assessment when they describe themselves as “off-putting.” The connotations are so harsh, and (IMO) very few people’s appearance is actually in that category (and even if it is, A) people still shouldn’t treat them differently, and B) it is highly unlikely to affect their ability to do their work).

      2. Rose*

        This made me lol. IT IS OK!!!!! I wish we’d stop saying “all women are beautiful” and start saying “you don’t need to be pretty, be kind and clever and earnest and work hard.”

        I’m sure the people who love you love looking at your face. My second favorite face to look at is my 92 year old grandmothers and I understand she’s not like, going to wind up on a runway any time soon, but she’s beautiful to me in that looking at her makes me happy.

    4. Drago Cucina*

      Unfortunately people can be judgmental about appearance. I once hired someone that had missing teeth. People just couldn’t understand why he didn’t spend the money to get them fixed. This was someone caring for his disabled brother, foster daughter, and another family member. He had a lot bigger worries. (Didn’t know this until after I hired him.)

      The fact that in every other way he was the best candidate was what mattered.

    5. LW #1*

      I’ve had family tell me I’m ugly. I’ve had strangers on the street and on the subway proclaim that I’m ugly. I will take your advice about skin care, because I do have some acne (which my mom has pointed out is ugly). But I never even thought it was that bad…

      1. Ellie*

        Its probably not. In my experience, the people who jump to ‘ugly’ as an insult are just trying to cut you down, and its rarely true. If your mom has given you specific advice about skincare, or clothing, or makeup, etc. then its probably coming from a kind place. If someone just says ‘ugly’ though, then what help is that going to give? Its only purpose is to make you feel bad. No, I wouldn’t listen to them at all – they’re just being nasty.

        Honestly though, looking smart and professional is a much bigger factor when it comes to getting a job than just looking pretty is. Think about people like Anjelica Huston, Dani Devito, Rosie O’Donnell – do you think any of them were held back by not having a perfect face?

      2. Critical Rolls*

        Nobody who tells you you’re ugly is someone you should listen to. It’s a mean, unambiguously hurtful thing to say, regardless of your appearance. People who go out of their way to hurt you are not being “honest” and their assessment is worthless because what they’re doing is not assessing but insulting. This is like listening to someone who calls you stupid for not magically intuiting how to use a new computer program.

        I’m not trying to convince you you’re conventionally attractive, I have no way of knowing that. But do not take the word of people willing to demean you.

  5. Jolene*

    #1 – I agree its unlikely that level of attractiveness is a universal disqualifier. If related to appearance, it’s more likely that LW feels self-conscious about appearance, which is affecting how LW comes across at the interview. On phone interviews, LW feels more confident and comes across stronger.

    Total guess, based on how differently I act when I feel confident or not, which is usually based on things in my own head, and not things other people are actually thinking.

    1. Ellen N.*

      In my experience it’s likely that appearance is a factor in hiring decisions.

      I am obese and have a wandering eye (like Marty Feldman). I worked in finance, entertainment business management.

      One recruiter told me that most companies only want to hire people who look like supermodels.

      Another recruiter set me up with two job interviews. She then asked for a video call so she could see what I looked like. The next day she told me that both companies had chosen a candidate.

      One firm I worked at subletted some of the office space to recruiters. At that time I often covered for the receptionist. Whenever I would tell them that a female candidate had arrived, they would ask me if she was cute and thin. I refused to answer each time and they expressed their frustration with me each time.

      1. hellohello*

        I’m not going to argue that appearance – and especially weight- lead to discrimination in hiring, but I really think your specific industry is also coloring your view a lot here. This type of treatment of people just isn’t the norm in most fields outside of ones, like entertainment, where there is an incredible focus on looks and conventional attractiveness. The stuff you’ve been through and seen happen is inappropriate, discriminatory bullshit, but it’s also almost certainly not what OP is going through unless she’s in a similar field. For most careers, discrimination is going to be much subtler, and I highly doubt OP is getting rejected from every single job she applies to because of her appearance.

        1. hellohello*

          typo in there: I meant to say “I’m not going to argue appearance and weight *don’t* lead to…”

        2. Fran Fine*

          This. Entertainment is a notoriously superficial industry, so I’m not surprised that happened. Not sure if this is OP’s industry, though.

        3. Mimi*

          There is absolutely discrimination, but I have had plenty of coworkers who would be considered “conventionally unattractive,” so it’s certainly not a total bar to getting hired, at least not in reasonable fields. (“Is the candidate attractive?” tells me that this is NOT a reasonable field.)

      2. AnotherLibrarian*

        I do not in anyway which to invalidate your lived experience, but I can’t help but wonder if this has something to do with working in the entertainment industry and may not apply to other fields. I have see an emphasis on appearance in sales as well, but again- not really in other industries. Perhaps others have more experience to share, because I would be curious.

        1. alienor*

          I work in marketing, and most people range from pretty average-looking to “attractive, but not supermodels.”

      3. WS*

        I’m also obese and have experienced discrimination, but not to the direct degree that you have. More “Oh, we don’t think you’ll fit our image” or “We’re not sure you’ll fit the job requirements” after seeing me. And only one “We won’t have a uniform in your size,” which is now illegal in my country, hooray.

        1. Mme Pince*

          You’ve just reminded me of a retail job I had once where the uniform t-shirt they ordered for me was a women’s cut and barely met the waistband of my pants, so the petty manager gave me a men’s fit t-shirt that was easily 4 sizes too big. In protest, I left it untucked and as sloppy looking as possible. Before the too small t-shirt arrived, I had been allowed to wear any plain top in the right color, so I was really annoyed at being made to wear an ill-fitting t-shirt that looked much worse to match their brand.

      4. Drag0nfly*

        I agree with the others that your being in the entertainment industry is coloring your view. Your industry is one of the few besides modeling where the candidates’ looks are a legitimate factor. Actors can legally have headshots submitted with a resume, but teachers and web designers and accountants wouldn’t.

        The OP doesn’t say she’s in a looks-based profession, so it’s unlikely her experience is as extreme as yours.

        1. Ellen N.*

          I was in finance, entertainment business management. I took care of personal finances for people in the entertainment industry. I don’t understand how “looks” would be considered a “legitimate factor” in bookkeeping.

          1. Drag0nfly*

            Looks are not a factor in bookkeeping. Looks are indisputably a factor in the entertainment industry, which is the sector you said you worked in. That is an industry where you may have noticed you can put out a call for people to do a job based on whether they are tall, short, middle aged, young, redhead, brunette, black, Asian, etc.

            Bookkeeping is not looks based, but if you are bookkeeping in a looks-based industry you’re going to see some bleed over of that mindset. The only job I ever had where colleagues remarked on how badly someone was aging was the job where the colleague in question worked in front of the TV camera. They talked about how much “work” it was with makeup and lighting and camera angles to keep her from looking like the “crypt keeper.”

            Then there were was the celebrity who wanted to exclusively use photos from his personal photographer, who airbrushed him to disguise the weird way *his* skin was aging. Nothing like these incidents ever happened when I work in normie industries, where such remarks in the former case would be considered egregiously rude. Fighting words, really.

            The point we’ve all been making is that there’s no reason for the OP to be anxious about looking “ugly” 9 times out of 10. The tenth time would be if she (or he) is working in the media sector, where looks are scrutinized and nitpicked in ways that would not be tolerated by normal people outside those sectors. Since you do bookkeeping in that industry, you’re exposed to that extreme. But it is an extreme, and it [thankfully] isn’t the norm elsewhere.

            1. Rose*

              Research has shown that workplace discrimination based on weight and attractiveness is very much a real thing. It seems unlikely from what OPs said that it’s the only or #1 factor at play.

              I’m sure it’s worse and more common in entertainment than most industries, but by no means does that mean its not a factor 90% of the time. It also doesn’t mean that’s coloring Ellen’s view. She said it’s been her experience that looks are a factor, and the research says she right.

              It’s pretty frustrating to read all these people telling her her experiences are wrong/a very isolated incident specific to entertainment when the research (and let’s be real, common sense) says what she’s telling us she’s experiencing is very real.

          2. Oh No She Di'int*

            I feel like people are downplaying Ellen N.’s experience by saying that this is mostly happening because she is adjacent to the entertainment industry. Ok, perhaps it is happening MORE because of that, but these forms of overt, looks-based discrimination happen all the time in every industry.

            1. Salsa Verde*

              Agree. I’m sure we all wish this was relegated to entertainment, but it’s absolutely not. Not sure why people seem to be downplaying or explaining away Ellen’s experience.

            2. Loulou*

              I think people are reacting to “most companies want to handle people who look like supermodels,” which is just a fantastic claim and, if someone really did say that, not generalizable.

              1. Dust Bunny*

                This. I’m in libraries. I’m not saying that looks are 0% a factor but they are very definitely not this big a factor. Certainly nobody is asking if our candidates are cute.

                I don’t think anyone is downplaying this experience but they are trying to point out that it’s not universal and that some career areas are going to be a lot more demanding about it than others.

                1. Loulou*

                  Ellen, nobody is saying employers don’t discriminate based on looks. Of course they do. We are saying that “most employers only hire people who look like supermodels” is an extraordinary claim and really not supportable. The unemployment rate would be much higher if this were the case.

              2. Canadian Librarian #72*

                +1 I know looks-based discrimination happens, in every industry and to varying degrees. But “most companies want to handle people who look like supermodels” is simply too far-fetched a claim; I’ve worked in a variety of industries (non-profits, professional services, universities) and job types (CSR, circulation staff, sandwich maker) and while my appearance has been “managed” by my bosses, it always had to do with dress code and not things about my body or face that can’t (or shouldn’t have to) be changed.

                We all know that bias affects fat people, people with facial anomalies, people with noticeable acne, physically disabled people, and so on, but usually the bias is a) unconscious* and b) significantly more subtle – people will subconsciously prefer the sighted person over the person who’s blind in one eye, or the man with a full head of hair over the one with a combover, or the thin woman over the fat one. But they will rarely not hire someone because they’re average looking rather than beautiful.

                *Not always unconscious, of course. But I think the unconscious lookism happens a lot more often than we wish it did, and conscious bias unfortunately is sometimes a factor too.

              3. Rose*

                Of course it’s a crazy claim. They very likely meant something more like “the women we hire are under age X and weight Y, wear makeup, and have a good fashion sense.”

                I bet the company doesn’t ACTUALLY only hire accountants that look like models, but that doesn’t mean they’re not discriminating against anyone who’s not conventionally attractive, and a recruiter might very well phrase it as “super models” rather than “
                “attractive people” for a lot of reasons.

            3. Daisy Gamgee*

              This, so much this. Ellen N., thank you for sharing your experience, and I definitely know you’re not being overblown in your descriptions.

        2. Four-Eyed Freak Myself*

          Having just read an article about James Watson (of Watson and Crick fame) and how he openly talked about not hiring women scientists and only hiring hot women as departmental secretaries — I think you underestimate how many fields make attractiveness part of the job requirements. My husband is currently not working in the field he trained for because he was yelled at (and disciplined) for hiring “too many ugly chicks” and then retaliated against when he reported those comments (and the abuse of the normally-attractive women he’d hired) to organizational HR.
          That’s not to say you can’t get a job if you’re not conventionally attractive. But a lot of folks here seem to be prettysplaining how it’s totally not a thing, and it totally is a thing. Some folks seem to be taking it personally that their own position might not be entirely down to being the most qualified candidate.

      5. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I think it is industry dependent. In my field we are either staring at numbers all day or working with community members, so, as far as appearance goes, supermodel looks or general attractiveness are neither a plus nor a minus. For the folks who are out and about in the community, if there is any appearance “criteria” it would be looking warm and approachable, 95% of which is demeanor. I kind of wish the LW had included industry, because if it is entertainment/front-facing PR/sales appearance will play more of a role than, say, accounting, IT, archivist, etc.

      6. starsaphire*

        I hear you. I “have the T-shirt” myself.

        It’s not just the entertainment industry – there are quite a few industries where appearance matters a LOT more than most people are willing to admit.

        Travel and hospitality? Check. I lived in a “tourist town” in my 20s and all the hotels were hiring like mad – but every time I’d show up to interview for a customer-facing position that sounded over the phone like a sure thing, I’d get the shocked-face, look-me-up-and-down, and then the oh-we’re-so-sorry-there-must-have-been-a-mistake speech.

        Front desk/reception can be tough as well, regardless of industry. Sure, most companies just want someone competent out there – but quite a few of them would rather have a pretty face and a bright smile and a nice pair of…

        Anyway. Appearance/size bias is a thing. It sucks, it exists, and the only way around it is to just keep looking until you find a company where it isn’t. I promise you there are a lot of them out there. Honest!

      7. Kiko*

        I am not at all dismissing your experiences here Ellen, but I bursted out laughing at the company who only wanted to hire supermodels. They must not be able to hire very many people then, since supermodel and supermodel-adjunct looking individuals probably make up 1-2% of the population (and I’m being very generous here). Seems like a bad hiring model to function under.

    2. Captain Vegetable (Crunch Crunch Crunch)*

      Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Jolene
      I’m begging of you please don’t take my job

      (I will show myself out now!)

  6. Shannon*

    I found your response to the writer of letter 1 disappointing. They said they dressed up formally, and they have had very good reviews from outside evaluators when doing practice interviews. But you imply they should do what they said they’ve already been doing “even if you otherwise might not care to invest in that side of things.” It seems to me that this person is already doing what you recommended and you didn’t offer any new advice.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wearing formal wear isn’t the same thing as what I was suggesting, which was really leaning into looking extra polished and pulled together. You could dress formally but not be doing that — for example, a suit that doesn’t quite fit right, less attention to grooming/accessories, etc.

      (If others think that wasn’t clear in my answer, please let me know and I’ll fix it.)

      1. Mouse*

        I think that was clear, and honestly I really appreciate this answer. I’m involved with some women’s leadership programs right now, and these appearance/professionalism topics have come up a bit. The conversation always seems to begin and end with “we shouldn’t HAVE to do these things! it shouldn’t matter!”

        Yes. That’s true. But there’s the way we *want* the world to be, and the way it *is*. While we strive for the former, we have to deal with the latter. I think Alison’s realistic take is refreshingly helpful.

        1. Anonym*

          This is such an important distinction. People often seem to conflate the two. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had to tell someone a version of “yes, that’s definitely a society level problem we should see how we can help address, but for today, let’s focus on what Jan needs to do right now to get a job in said problematic world.”

          1. Hazel*

            And because we do live in said problematic world, feeling put together makes me feel more confident because I can stop thinking about how I look so my brain has more space for whatever the task at hand is.

            Yesterday I had a meeting where I had to use the video, and I thought I had found a solution to my bad hair day (head scarf). But when I saw myself in the Zoom, it was not at all how I wanted to present myself at work! During the whole meeting, I had to work so much harder to focus on everything except my appearance. I should have just hidden my video from myself.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Honestly, though, Zoom makes you look like crap even if you don’t.

              The last time I had a Zoom interview, I got ready, looked in the mirror, and thought I looked smashing. Then I tested the camera beforehand and WOOF.
              I currently do not have good lighting in the only space where I can interview. And the camera makes people look weird. I had to fiddle with it for five minutes before I looked like a living human and not the Corpse Bride.

        2. Daisy Gamgee*

          I dunno. If we never pushed back on any of these requirements we would, for instance, not have the CROWN act movement to prevent people from being fired/disciplined for wearing ‘natural’ hair. I’m old enough to remember being pretty much required to chemically straighten my hair for my first couple of jobs, and I’m really glad that standard is changing.

          1. Canadian Librarian #72*

            The person you replied to mentioned “striving” for better, which I don’t think it “never pushing back on” these unfair requirements. I read them as saying we need to advocate for change, and also recognize that things will not change literally overnight, so we need to find short-term workarounds that are reflective of our current circumstances.

        3. LW #1*

          I think this may be my problem. After I sent my letter, read one of Allison’s previous letter replies when she mentioned that people should groom their eyebrows. Which struck me so hard because I HATE the idea that I have to make my Middle Eastern eyebrows look thinner and more like a white person’s. In Iran, an old man noted that I “have the realest eyebrows in Tehran” (not in a cruel way – he said it as a compliment). But other commenters on AAM had agreed with the eyebrows comment, which made me think that might be part of the problem.

          1. Myrin*

            For what it’s worth – and without having read the particular advice/comments so I don’t know what exactly was said -, “grooming eyebrows” doesn’t necessarily mean making them look thinner or like a whie person’s! Like, I’m sure there are people who use it that way but generally, it just means making sure the single hairs don’t go every which way.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              This; it’s just cleaning up stray hairs and the shape of the natural brows. I have thick brows, LW, and I don’t thin them out. If people don’t like it, they can go suck an egg.

          2. Sea Anemone*

            LW – eyebrows grow back*. If you don’t get a job via a phone interview, just go to a threader or waxer, maybe go to a make up counter and get some interview make-up recommendations, get a good, flattering haircut, etc. It’s just like wearing a suit. It’s performative and means nothing about how well you will perform the job, but looking a certain way is expected and interviewers will judge you if you look different. Once you get the job, put the suit back in the closet, let the eyebrows grow back, and stop doing all the other things that you only did for the interview.

            * yes, I’m aware that sometimes when you shave them, they don’t, and I’m only putting a disclaimer bc I know someone will point that out if I don’t

          3. Rose*

            I feel you! I get my thick (I’m Mediterranean/Middle Eastern/Scottish) eyebrows threaded and it keeps them tick but groomed. If you want to get them done to see if it helps I’d highly recommend finding a good threading studio rather than waxing. But that’s a big “if.”

            1. Lady Danbury*

              Same. I specifically ask threaders to clean up my brows but keep them thick. If it’s a makeup worthy occasion I’ll also use some type of product (pencil, wax, etc) to further define them. Groomed doesn’t have to mean thin.

          4. Ellie*

            I’m sorry to say it, but its possible you’re just experiencing common racism, which is coming out more when you’re physically present. Its horrible, but if your grooming/clothing makes you look more western, then you’re going to be more likely to be hired by white people. In many cases, its not even going to be conscious… you’ll just look more like you’ll fit in. Of course you don’t have to do that, especially if you’re still getting jobs?

          5. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            Saying this as a non-Middle Eastern WOC, I don’t think that grooming your eyebrows is supposed to be about trying to meet a Eurocentric beauty standard. If you live in an area with a sizeable South Asian population it might be worth checking out threading services that cater to that community. They’re pretty common and they’re not about making their clientele’s brows look less, well, brown.

            If you live in a diverse area and are observant, you’ll notice that there are lots of WOC of all ethnicities who have brows that make sense phenotypically but are trimmed and don’t have stray hairs everywhere. For that matter, you’ll see lots of White women with thick yet groomed brows.

            I mean this gently, but it may be worthwhile to give some thought to what grooming practices you’re not reading as culturally congruent.

      2. Roeslein*

        I think it was clear! I suppose it just depends on how people define “extra grooming”. Many people we read as “conventionally attractive” are just putting in a lot of effort in their appearance and would not actually be that attractive in ill-fitting clothes, without good skincare and dental care (and in many cases years learning how to do their make-up in a way that is flattering on them), without doing their hair / with an unflattering haircut etc. Sure the shape of your face or whatever plays a small part but most of it is just effort / knowing what works for you.

        1. BubbleTea*

          Yes, I know someone who is on television quite often (she is a presenter for shows about sex and relationships) and she looks really different on camera, when Out out (as in, for a night out, made up and dressed up) and when just at home. It’s about makeup, time spent on the details, and lighting. I’m glad I don’t need to care about my face for my job, because I could not spend the amount of time she does caring about the shape of her eyebrows.

          1. Leilah*

            This is why I invested $600 in microbladed brows. I’m actually pretty terrible in makeup skills, but it makes me look professional without having to do literally any other makeup. It was honestly an investment, and it has paid off.

      3. AcademiaNut*

        I know a fair number of people who look scruffy and unkempt even when wearing a suit. Mostly white men, so it’s not a racial bias about what looks polished, it’s more that the suit doesn’t fit well, their hair and beard are unkempt, the colours don’t match well. In one case, they were wearing scuffed white running shoes along with a dark suit, in another, they appeared to have pulled out the suit and tie they were married in 30 years before.

        1. lunchtime caller*

          this is unfortunately me, partly because my hair loves to go out of control and partly just because I never can quite figure out sharp, professional clothing! But as a result I just lean even more into “whirlwind of a person stuffed into a sweater” and make the layers and wild hair look more deliberate, and also work a job that doesn’t require business casual 9-5, 5 days a week.

        2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Same here, and the lack of polish draws a lot more attention that it might otherwise because they’re wearing something that’s supposed to be formal.

      4. Caroline Bowman*


        the first thing that jumped out at me with OP1 is whether they might be struggling with a perceived appearance issue, like dysphoria (I’m no psychologists so I may have the terms wrong, but you know what I mean). I want to understand why OP1 feels they are so unattractive and that this is why they cannot have any hope of finding a job. It’s worth them interrogating whether this might be the case, because it really is upsetting to think of a person thinking this of themselves. I know appearance is a factor of course, and that it varies per industry, but assuming they aren’t looking to be a model or some very appearance-focused role, I hope they don’t really feel this way about themselves.

        1. ecnaseener*

          I don’t see anything in the letter to suggest LW has dysmorphia (which sounds like what you’re thinking of). Let’s take them at their word that they just aren’t conventionally attractive — some people aren’t, and LW isn’t asking for us to interrogate WHY they think they aren’t.

          1. lunchtime caller*

            honestly the very question does seem to suggest that–it’s pretty extreme to jump to “ah yes, it’s my UGLINESS that’s preventing me from getting jobs” outside of some clear “we only hire beautiful people” evidence.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Eh, if this is a younger OP I can easily see how someone would think this, especially if their perception of what is “conventionally attractive” is based on TV and Hollywood standards. If you think all lawyers–dating myself here–look like Calista Flockhart it’s not hard to think it’s your looks that are holding you back, even though that’s not what 99% of people, including actual lawyers, look like in real life. I think it’s really common when you’re a certain age to think that appearance is a much bigger part of the game than it [usually] is.

            2. ecnaseener*

              It’s really not that big of a jump to see a pattern of only getting offers when people can’t see you, especially if you’ve noticed similar patterns your whole life. And then to *ask* an advice columnist about it.

          2. Just Me*

            I agree @ecnaseener. Tons of people just don’t fit the mold of beauty in the Western world that praises youth, whiteness, facial symmetry, tallness, thinness, etc. etc. etc. and it’s unfortunately true that hiring managers can carry that bias with them. (Conversely, I’ve worked with some complete idiots who were also very conventionally attractive and got away with a lot because they were all of the aforementioned things.) I think we need to acknowledge it and discuss it.

      5. Insert Clever Name Here*

        I understood what you meant, but it may be from years of reading the site. Sometimes when grooming/looking polished comes up in an answer, you’ll give a few examples (make sure your clothes fit well and are free from visible tears, hair neat and clean, etc).

        I think what Shannon is missing is that connection — you may never blow dry your hair for your regular day, but it might be worth doing it for interviews if it makes it less unruly* for example.

        *I realize this could be taken to mean that only straight hairstyles accomplished with a blow dryer or flat iron are polished and that is not at all the intent — people with curly hair or natural Black hairstyles absolutely look polished, but since I do not have that hair I can only speak to what it takes to make *my* hair look polished.

      6. SJ (they/them)*

        Hmmm. I wouldn’t say the answer wasn’t clear, necessarily, but it might be worth re-reading over with the frame that you have been (unknowningly, unintentionally) indoctrinated with a belief that attractive people are clean and competent and careful, and unattractive people are lazy, unhygienic, clumsy, have poor attention to detail, etc. Assuming that indoctrination exists and is inevitably coloring your perspective to some degree, is there anything you might change about the way the answer is written, in order to counteract that?

        For my part the “even if you otherwise might not care” did jump out, when the OP specifically wrote that they sit up straight, which is a detail so many people don’t think of, it sounds to me like they very much do care about these details already. My impression is that that evidence of OP’s individual care for the detail of how they present themselves, maybe got mentally glossed over by the powerful societal assumptions I mentioned.

        Just some food for thought.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          “even if you might not otherwise care” refers to stuff like accessories, makeup, etc. There’s nothing in any way wrong with not caring about that stuff (nor is not caring about it connected to hygiene, laziness, neatness, etc.) but this may be a case where leaning into that stuff would help counter a bias she’s worried about.

      7. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I wondered if OP might simply look uncomfortably like it’s a costume.
        Or if conversely the industry is more casual.
        Both worth investigation.

      8. ThursdaysGeek*

        I was hoping for an answer that also pointed out that hiring patterns have changed from pre and post-Covid, and looks are not likely to be the reason. But that the OP’s thinking it is looks might indicate that they do better in interviews when looks cannot be considered. Sure, being put together is important, but the OP seems to be making assumptions that are leading her the wrong direction, and your answer didn’t address those assumptions.

    2. Batgirl*

      I think Alison was suggesting that instead of just ‘formal’, the LW go formal plus with a side of attention to detail. Everyone has seen a situation where a conventionally attractive person A can get by in a top, blazer and messy bun but to get the same response from TPTB, Person B needs a button down, matching separates, and dressy hairdo (not an exact recipe btw). OP probably doesn’t need to do that, but if they are concerned it can be reassuring to know you’re knocking it out of the park.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        That is what I was thinking. The LW needs an interview outfit that makes them feel like they look good and comfortable with it. I wonder if seeing a stylist, if it is in the LW’s budget, would help pull something together? An objective outsider’s opinion could be helpful here. If budget is a problem, there have to be advice sites where the OP can upload pictures and get assistance from commenters

        1. Esmeralda*

          Or that put-together friend who would love to help with an interview-ready-makeover.

          When I first went on the academic job market, I took such a friend with me when I went to get interview clothes. She noticed things that I not only didn’t notice, but I didn’t even know were something that needed to be noticed. (Like, the location and length of a kick pleat in relation to my bum and the way it did/didn’t fit the way I walk. Who knew? I wore that skirt for ages.)

          1. Batgirl*

            Oh fit is everything when it comes to looking polished, and sometimes even when it comes to basic presentability. I have a young colleague who I know was getting silently tutted because she was wearing the slightly longer than a mini length skirts which were everywhere at the start of the season (and I know this because I won’t wear that length and I couldn’t find anything else at all). There were other people in her age group pulling it off (kinda sorta) because they have no overt hips or bum, so their skirt hangs straight down, and their hem is the same front and back. On them it’s: “shortish, has an edge with a small e, wearing it with opaques makes it totally fine”. My colleague’s skirt flares out at the back over her bum so if she was looking at her front perspective in a mirror it is a similar effect, but when she walks up a hill on our campus, or stairs it’s; “here is my bum, where my skirt isn’t covering me and the opaques are stretched sheer”. Tldr: Don’t just pay attention to how others are dressed, pay attention to the fit (and flare).

            1. Dust Bunny*

              ALL OF THIS.

              Most styles that you think you “can’t wear” you can, in fact, wear but they have to fit correctly, and you can’t always do that on the fly (I also have ample rear and thighs and pencil skirts are not a thing unless I’m able to invest in serious alterations).

              1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

                I also have an ample rear and thighs, and I miss when both Ann Taylor and Loft had curvy fit pencil skirts in most stores. A regular pencil skirt off the rack is just not going to work well, but there’s pretty much nothing I’ve ever looked more polished in than a curvy fit pencil skirt from AT. I literally credit a lot of my early professional success to those skirts. AT still has them around online.

                1. Roeslein*

                  Off topic but curvy fit is amazing! I don’t know why so few brands offer it in small sizes, people of all sizes can have a waist and hips. A few years back I discovered an outdoor brand that makes women’s hiking trousers and shorts in a size 0 (EU 34) curvy fit and it has been a life changer after a lifetime of never finding outdoor clothes that fit (because women who hike have no waist or hips, clearly).

    3. Also not super attractive statistician*

      THANK YOU. I was also very disappointed by the response to #1. Alison, you say there is data suggesting appearance discrimination exists and has statistically significant effects on hiring. But also, it doesn’t? Which studies are you citing here, and what is backing your conclusion that the effect sizes are negligible in real life?

      That being said, if appearance really is an issue, there are no easy answers other than looking for jobs that do phone interviews as a matter of course. I also would recommend looking at jobs in federal/state government (which are more strictly scrutinized with regard to hiring discrimination compliance, and in my experience are more likely to do phone interviews) or look for jobs that advertise as full time telework/100% remote work as these are also more likely to utilize phone interviews all the way down the line.

  7. Turanga Leela*

    OP #4, is there anything you’d genuinely like to do in your role in the next 3-5 years? Maybe there’s a conference or training you’d like to attend that would teach you Skill X? You could say in your plan that you’d like to work on Skill X, or connect to the Skill X community in your industry. Or maybe there’s a task you’re planning to take on in your role anyway, but your company could give you some support to make the task better/easier/more interesting.

    You can use this as an opportunity to tell the company how it can help you be the best [current job] you can be. Who knows if it will work, but it might be worth trying.

    1. Librar**

      Along these lines, saying you’d like to do these things (conference, training, etc) to stay up to date in your field is a good point to include in a performance review. “Staying current” is a good way to demonstrate that you want to stay in your job, but you aren’t going to stagnate. You’re committed to doing your job well, and that includes learning new things as they are relevant and necessary.

    2. Missy*

      Yes! I think the “3-5 year career question” is trying to help the company retain employees by meeting those demands. For some people it might be “I want a promotion” but for plenty of people it will be a focus on the parts of the job they like. If you have a job that involves customer service and data entry, and you really love customer service and tolerate data entry, then say that. “In 3-5 years I hope to be doing more on the customer service side of things with the company because I really enjoy that part of the job.”

      Maybe they find out that someone else loves data entry and they can redistribute job duties to make people happier and thus more likely to stick around. This desire to retain employees also may be why this question popped up this year when it hasn’t been in previous ones: because the job market makes retention essential.

  8. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – you could make your career goals things like continuing to do training / education in your field, keeping up with technology advancements, learning best practices in your industry / functional area.

    These would be good ideas no matter what, because even if you are perfectly happy in your job, your industry and function are going to continue to advance in the technologies they use and the skills they require to work with those technologies.

    1. Fourth and Inches*

      I came into the comments to say this! Also, if there is a specific tool or software you use frequently, you can look into going to trainings given by the company that makes it. I’ve found it can be fun to learn tricks to make life easier with various software, and sharing them with your department can be a big plus when it comes to yearly review.

      (Though, only if you’re okay with being a Subject Matter Expert and having people come to you when they need help)

  9. Jen*

    For LW1, it should be noted that unless you’re experienced with it, a lot of people find watching videos or hearing recordings of themselves off putting. So that absolutely could have factored into your discomfort watching your own video.

    As for the interview/job ratio thing, that simply could be thr market right now.

    My guess is if you showed any of us your video we probably wouldn’t find your appearance off putting.

    1. Drag0nfly*

      That’s a good point. Whenever I hear myself on recordings I’m convinced I sound snooty and posh, like I belong in a Grey Poupon commercial. But that’s not at all what people who talk to me in person ever say about me; I apparently sound perfectly normal. OP may want a trusted friend or family member to take up your suggestion of looking over the videos.

    2. Deejay*

      It’s a very common thing. The face you see in a mirror is not the same as the face you see in a recording. It’s flipped around and no face is completely symmetrical. Similarly, the voice you hear when you’re speaking is heard through your skull so doesn’t sound like a recording.

      They look and sound “wrong” to you, but are completely normal to others.

      1. Anonym*

        The mirror function on Zoom is so helpful for this! My face looks normal to me in the mirror, but photos (which naturally show the reverse) just look wrong to me. It’s a bummer, and one I don’t need replicated during work or interviews. For anyone who hasn’t tried it, look for that little checkbox! Total brain-hack. And of course, no one else notices, because no one looks as closely at anyone’s face as they do at their own.

        1. Imtheone*

          I think they see your face the normal way. I work with students one-on-one, and sometimes I need to check that they know which is left. It seems like mirrored for me is normal for them.

      2. Elenna*

        Kinda funny thing, my voice and my sister’s voice apparently sound basically identical, although of course they don’t sound that way to me (or, presumably, to her) since we’re hearing our own voices through our skulls. So when I hear a recording of myself, it doesn’t sound “wrong” at all, it just sounds like my sister made the recording. :D

        1. mf*

          Same for me! When I hear a recording of myself, I’m like, “Hey sis!”

          It still sounds weird and trippy to my ears, but to make myself feel better, I tell myself she recorded it, not me.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      I recall a past example here where the only person on the team not quite surprised at how they looked and sounded on a video was the one person who did stand-up.

  10. AnotherLibrarian*

    #5: I just wanted to say that I have made offers and had candidates tell me they had vacations planned and it has never been a dealbreaker. I would be annoyed if I found out after I hired them, but it has never been a problem to sort ahead of time. So, just reaffirming that this is totally a normal thing that is not usually a big deal, and you should wait until the offer stage to mention it. So, basically, everything Alison said! Good luck.

    1. Panda*

      What about a planned vacation, plus you have an online class every Tuesday from 8-10 in the morning for the next year? I’m in that situation now. I have the third interview today with a company and trying to decide when to bring up the class.

      1. anonymous73*

        You could ask about the hours being flexible and then bring up the class. Even if they say no, they need to know and may be willing to bend the rules if they really like you for the job. Honestly I would have brought it up sooner, but that’s moot now. I’d be pissed if we offered you the job and you said “Oh by the way I can’t work until after 10am on Tuesdays because I have a class”.

      2. Essess*

        If it is an every-week class for the next year, that’s a serious schedule issue that needs to be brought up early because you’re regularly not available for part of normal work hours and could be a deal-breaker in hiring depending on duties.

        A planned vacation is a one-time event that normally doesn’t impact the decision of whether to hire you unless it’s right in the middle of some deadline that they were specifically hiring you to perform.

      3. All Het Up About It*

        A counterpoint to this is that this would not have been an issue at all at the last two places I worked, because flexible hours were a thing. You should DEFINITLY ask about that as well as about support/opportunity for education.

        This could be a deal breaker or it could not, but if it’s something you are dealing wit you should definitely be asking questions to figure out if will be a deal breaker for the individual company.

      4. Joielle*

        I’d bring it up at the offer stage, same as Alison’s advice for the vacation. I’m sure there are some workplaces where that would be a dealbreaker, but in my current job at least, it wouldn’t be a big deal at all. You’d just work later that day, or work an extra half hour the other four days, or whatever. Definitely something that could be worked out during the offer negotiations!

      5. AnotherLibrarian*

        So, I think you can ask about scheduling at the third interview stage, I think. It’s pretty late in the process, but I don’t think it’s always a dealbreaker. In fact, I just hired a great person who can’t work Thursdays, because of two back to back grad school classes. Instead, they are working Saturdays which we sorted out during the offer stage and got special approval for. So far, not problems. So, yeah, don’t assume they can’t make this work- you just want them to want you and until the offer stage, you don’t really know how badly they want you.

    2. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Professional chiming in to say that it is perfectly normal to negotiate things like this at the offer stage. During my job search, I had planned some time away to see family. By the time I got a job offer, the plans were set but the time away would occur during my probationary period, when I shouldn’t have been taking any time off except for statutory holidays or emergencies. So I negotiated a few days off as part of my offer. I got zero pushback because this is a very reasonable thing to negotiate over.

      Family’s important! Don’t hesitate to ask for the time.

    3. Raspin*

      I started a new job last November. I negotiated vacation time, as I have a 3-week European vacation (twice Covid-postponed) in August instead of salary. That part was no trouble at all. However, new boss did not at all like when I mentioned that I also had a week off planned next November after I had started. So definitely bring it up now!

    4. Joielle*

      Agreed! A number of years ago I was starting a new job, and my wedding and honeymoon were already planned for a few months later, and it was during the new job’s busiest period. I brought it up at the offer stage – like, “I would be thrilled to accept your offer, but I have to let you know that I’m getting married in June and everything’s already planned, and I’ll need about three weeks off for the wedding and honeymoon. I know that might be difficult with the busy period coming up so I wanted to bring it up now. Will that work on your end?” And of course they were very accommodating and it wasn’t a problem at all. Everyone understood that when you’re hiring a human being with an existing life, sometimes this kind of thing will happen!

    5. MissMeghan*

      Agreed. I started a new job a couple years ago, and at the offer stage said I could start on x date but had pre-planned vacation 3 weeks later. It was no problem at all. I took it as unpaid leave since it was so early on, and they preferred to get me in sooner than wait until after the vacation to start.

  11. Iseult*

    For LW1: I think there’s a much more obvious explanation (that Jen already mentioned); the job market is very different now. LW1 mentioned that she’s in grad school, so I’m assuming she’s applying for entry-level positions, for which there was traditionally a lot of competition. Things have shifted now so that these entry-level positions are often less competitive (people with experience are less likely to apply) and so people who are still in grad school are now getting offers of jobs, rather than just interviews. I’d put the possibility that the LW is too unattractive pretty low on the list of possible explanations, but I do agree with the other commenters that, if you’re uncomfortable or lacking confidence in your appearance, the interviewers might be subconsciously picking up on that.

    1. kiki*

      Yes, I was coming here to say the same thing! I don’t know about LW’s field, but the job market has definitely changed in favor of job applicants in the last year or so.
      Also if it makes LW1 feel better, I am peacefully ugly and gainfully employed.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, we hired someone this summer. One candidate seemed really nervous and consequently disorganized and bad at communication. We hired someone else. Nervous Guy might have been technically slightly better-looking than the other guy, but the other guy seemed only normal, interview-level nervous and it didn’t short-circuit his communication skills.

  12. LemonLyman*

    OP #1 – I second what everyone else has said about how difficult it is to get a job right now. I’ve been in my field for over 12 years and I can barely get a screening let alone a full interview.

    However, since you’re concerned there’s an issue, here’s my advice. It sounds like you’re still in a grad program so perhaps setting up an appointment with your career center (I know, career centers aren’t always the best but hear me out) to run through a mock interview with the clear intention that the career counselor is there to give constructive feedback regarding pose, polish, and professionalism. You mentioned a project for a course that included a video but didn’t specify that it was a video interview itself. Therefore, simulating everything from dressing professional, making small talk, and having to think on your feet and then having someone give constructive feedback would be really beneficial. If your school’s career center isn’t helpful, then maybe a mock video interview with a respected professor or professional mentor. You want someone who will be honest about how you’re presenting yourself in the video interview and can give you suggestions, if any, on how to improve; there’s also the added bonus that this kind of practice is helpful no matter what. We all have ticks and habits when we are nervous or stressed but we often don’t notice them in ourselves. Enlisting someone to help discover these can be helpful.

    One more tip: turn off the view of yourself when you’re in the interview so you are distracted by your own video. I swear I will often lose my train of thought because I am thinking to myself “your expression is weird”, “you use your hands too much”, “did you just roll your eyes?”

  13. Zaphod Beeblebrox*

    A no-contact order? What does that actually mean? OldBoss is going to tell your former colleagues “you’re not to talk to them anymore because they are with other people”?

    I’ve come across that kind of behaviour before, now..let me think…where was it…oh yes, it was in the playground.

    1. Cmdrshpard*

      It does not only happen on the playground. My family for ages had a no contact order against another family. One day a few young guys from THAT family crashed a party of ours. One of the guys from THAT family fell in love with my cousin and my cousin with him. Some of my family was mad about the crashed party and went to confront the guys that came, a fight broke out, the guy my cousin loved killed another one of our cousins. The guy ran away to hide, my cousin wanted to go be with him so she faked her own death, only the guy didn’t know it was fake. He ended up killing himself. My cousin being upset then also killed herself.
      In short this could all have been avoided if the no contact order had been maintained.

      1. David*

        See if only this comment had been around for me to read in middle school, everything would have made so much more sense :-P

      2. alienor*

        Oh, I don’t know. If there hadn’t been plague in Mantua, the message would have gotten through and everything would have been fine. :-P

      3. Elenna*

        Weren’t they also young teenagers? It would be nice if LW’s old boss had more maturity than a 14-year-old, but so far all evidence is to the contrary.

      4. RagingADHD*

        You should probably check the county records office to see if they were secretly married. THAT family could be your in-laws now.

    2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      There are, quite sadly, a lot of adults who never managed to grow up beyond playground level behavior.

  14. Mialana*

    “four text messages back-to-back from the CEO demanding to know why I declined their offer.”

    That’s one of the reddest flags I’ve ever seen.

    1. LGC*

      For real. I’m half expecting this CEO to end up standing in LW2’s front yard with a boombox and a giant bouquet of flowers. I want to get a restraining order against this guy and I don’t even know him.

      This behavior is unacceptable if you turn down someone on Tinder, let alone IN A JOB INTERVIEW. Like, I guess LW2 could be neutral, but I’m skeeved out by this.

      1. LW2-saw-red-flags*

        Hi! LW2 here – it did give me Tinder “nice guy” vibes honestly. Luckily there hasn’t been any escalation yet (knock on wood) but the whole thing really proved my gut feeling right!

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          I worked for a guy like that. I was so flattered, he REALLY wanted me to work fir for him! So I did. I also knew him professionally, a teeny bit. I mean, it was way outside of my professional comfort zone, the wooing, but hey, he must really want me on his team!

          He was the worst person I have ever known. Just awful. Used vulnerability as a weapon. Lied constantly. Treated experienced people like children. Good for you for trusting your gut here! I didn’t and I spent years in therapy recovering from 18 months at the worst job I have ever had.

          PS If this dude didn’t believe in trash cans at your desk… you definitely did the right thing.

    2. Love to WFH*

      Founding a company requires a great deal of self confidence. The line between that and “jerk” can be narrow. I’ve working in startups, and the person most likely to be a problem is the CEO.

      It’s great that you got the opportunity to meet them, so you knew to avoid the company.

      1. sadnotbad*

        Okay hear me out: is there really such a fine line between the qualities necessary to found a company, and the qualities of a jerk, or is this a cultural script we’ve created that gives people a pass for being jerks as long as they can justify their behavior with business success?

        I don’t think it’s impossible–or even that hard–to start a company *and* be a good person. I think maybe a lot of people who start up companies are just bad at multitasking so they don’t attempt both at the same time.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      He’s playing hard. Yep, even when it’s not the correct course of action. I can just see what would be expected of OP if OP went to work there.

    4. LW2-saw-red-flags*

      Right? I knew I was making the best choice to walk away and this proved it for me beyond a shadow of a doubt.

  15. Ed123*

    A lot of (if not most) people are in a similar situation as #4. People go on about promotions etc. But in a lot of jobs there are nowhere to be promoted. Or you can get to a point and that’s it. Or the only options are workerbee or director. I’m jn a job where there is nowhere to advance even when changing the companies. Except to manager if a position opens. To these types of questions we usually give specific skills that we would like to work on and what type of responsibilities we would like to get and personal goals regarding time management and customer service skills etc.

    1. The Dogman*

      Honestly this sort of thing makes me think less of a corporation/company.

      Meaningless bullshit is the best they will get, it seems to me that they will want a very specific set of “goals” written down that will make the management team look good on their end of year reviews.

      Nothing in those exercises of nonsense will assist a worker with their career, whether they want promotions or not!

  16. TheEndIsNigh*

    OP1 Yes as Alison suggested well dressed and properly groomed can negate on how you look in most cases. I have seen in it action how interviewers measure up well dressed people.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      This is true of course, but there are also many appearance biases, mainly those around age and race and weight.

      And it doesn’t matter how well dressed or well-spoken you are if you’re triggering one of those categories.

  17. Varthema*

    Hi OP 4! One potentially useful area could be to ask yourself if there’s anything you could learn to make your job easier and more efficient? For example, I’m not a project manager, but there is a lot of low-key project management involved in my job and I’ve learned all I know ad-hoc. So one of my goals for this year is to do some kind of online course or certificate in project management. (My company is paying for it though.) Could be a thought, and as a bonus, diversifying your skill set would help you become even more employable for better money should anything happen to your current job.

    1. C in the Hood*

      This, plus if you find some way of how it ties it in to the corporate goals, that’ll check off the grand-boss’s boxes.

  18. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: A (I think) quote from the great Captain Picard – “it is possible to make no mistakes and still lose”. It could just be a run of bad luck, something not under your control that they didn’t like, a confidence issue, hesitation etc. The list is long.

    I do know that ‘but what if it’s my looks?’ thing though, painfully well (am over 40, disabled, fat, not white…its not great in my field for my demographic). Along with the general making sure I’m looking neat I have a few confidence building things I do before an interview. Personal favourite is walking round the house with a sword (or a pretend sword but I actually have a real one) and pretending like I’m Psylocke from the X Men or similar.

    1. alienor*

      I’ve been involved in a lot of hiring processes, and honestly most of the time, there’s more than one person who would do just fine at the job. There’s nothing wrong with the candidate who doesn’t get the offer, we just had to pick someone and it was the other person–maybe they had slightly different experience or said something extra insightful in the interview or who knows what. So I agree with Captain Picard that you can make no mistakes and still lose. (I remember the episode where he said it, too. I was 15 or 16 when I saw it and went “Oh” because I’d never thought of that before.)

  19. UKDancer*

    Love the sword idea! I shimmy. My bellydance teacher suggested it. So before an interview I put my favourite song on get my coin belt and shimmy to remind myself I’m amazing. It makes me feel a lot more positive and improves my scores.

  20. Debora*

    For #1, something I haven’t seen mentioned yet: is it possibly scent related? For instance, some people literally cannot smell their own body odour and don’t know when they smell like sweat. Some people use way too much scent (perfume / body spray). Some people chain-smoke and don’t realize they smell like a walking ash tray.
    I may be way off here. If you can smell your own body odour, don’t or sparingly use perfume, don’t smoke, then this obviously isn’t it.
    But I wanted to put it out there because scents can have a strong effect on us and on the extend to which we are willing to be near others, while societal norms also mean we don’t tell people we think they smell.

    1. Lacey*

      That was what I thought of too. I had a coworker who smelled very bad and didn’t seem to realize it.
      I can see someone not wanting to have to start off by saying, “We think you’re great, but you need to take care of that smell”

    2. Sue*

      That was my first thought tbh. Ask an honest friend. At the very least you can outrule it and that can be a comfort.

  21. HLKHLK2019*

    LW#1 broke my heart. I was there too. But let me tell you – any employer who would reject you for looks (unless you’re a top supermodel maybe?) is an employer you do NOT want to work for. Do you want to work being judged for what you look like or what you do? I had been severely obese my entire life – age 12+. When I applied for my first job, I DREADED that first face to face – I thought they would see this fat person and go “nope, no budget in our office for chairs for her”. They saw my passion, my drive, my intelligence, and my desire to learn and work hard and they hired me. It was the best job of my life. I gave them 150% b/c they invested in me and I had been SO afraid that nobody ever would. Looks don’t matter. Character matters. Drive matters. Ability matters. Please, trust me on this – I have literally been there. Don’t apologize for your looks and don’t put up with those who ask you to apologize or defend them in turn. Hugs because YOU HAVE GOT THIS ok?! (signed, a proud member of the C-Suite (CCO) of my company).

  22. The Lexus Lawyer*

    OP1 – I have one word of advice for you.


    If you go in there thinking you are off-putting then you’re already putting strikes against yourself. Go in there with confidence and sell yourself. You can do it

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      It’s so true that confidence makes a ton of difference. Hard to achieve but worth the work.

      I am not conventionally attractive. I have bad skin, a weird brow, a profile to rival the Wicked Witch of the West, unruly hair, and a bad case of RBF which turns mean-looking when I concentrate. I’m also overweight. So I wear clothes that flatter me, a little bit of makeup to manipulate some things, scarves to hide my reddening chest, and I smile a lot. I stand up straight, I am warm, I am personable, I lead with humor.

      It took a loooong time to get here and I am still seriously insecure but they don’t know that. I show up, in person or on screen, and my first goal is to make them want to keep talking to me. When I was a kid I decided that being smart was more important than being pretty because I knew that if I was smart, I could make myself pretty. Now I’m in my 40s and it’s not an either/or– everyone is attractive in some way, and that includes you.

      1. alienor*

        My great-grandmother was absolutely gorgeous in her youth and even into old age, and my grandmother said that when she was a kid, she knew she could never be as beautiful as her mother. So she set out to have a great personality instead, and she succeeded. She was a warm, kind, funny, wonderful woman and everyone adored her–when she retired from her last job at 70+, there was genuine weeping and wailing because no one wanted her to go. I honestly couldn’t tell you if she was pretty or not because I loved her so much that I can’t look at photos of her objectively. (In contrast, her beautiful mother was a bit of a snob and a tyrant.) I think about that all the time when issues of attractiveness come up.

    2. GigglyPuff*

      Yeees. It’s so hard to be confident and relaxed but it makes such a difference.

      I remember the first time it happened for me in an academic job interview. I’d ended up getting second in-person interviews at like four different universities in four different states within like six weeks of each other. The last one, by that point, I just…didn’t care? I mean it helped that I’d been answering essentially the same type of questions for weeks since I have issues with thinking quickly off the top of my head, so I was essentially just really prepared. But I loved that feeling of knowing I could do the job, and learning more about it, but not really caring if I got it or not (fortunate to have a stable job so I could be picky). It really boosted my confidence and I definitely went in with the whole Alison mentality of “I’m interviewing them too”. Ended up with an offer two days later…then had a complete meltdown because I’d never turned down a job before and didn’t really know how, lol

  23. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    Ooof. I feel you OP1. I was in your shoes more than once at the beginning of my career. In retrospective, I assume it was a mix of anxiety, cluelessness and a minimum budget for clothes. Heh, I still remember when I made the mistake of arranging an interview with a startup and Deloitte the same day, and attending both wearing jeans, a cheap blue shirt and school shoes. It looked I was cosplaying a quirky lesbian character from a cheap sci-fi tv show.

  24. FashionablyEvil*

    #4–can you add things that benefit your company but are basically what you’d be doing anyway? Things like completing training or certification, supporting onboarding and mentoring of new staff, supporting your company’s DEI efforts by being inclusive in your work? Giving it a flavor of how your goals benefit the company can make it easy for the higher ups to approve it/not ask questions about why your goals aren’t bigger.

  25. Exhausted Trope*

    OP4, you and I are in the same space when it comes to work. At this point in my career, I just want to keep my job and fund my retirement which is about 10 years from now (I hope). I’ve got no other goals and I’m not ambitious at my age. I just want to do meaningful work that challenges me and funds my life.
    I love Alison’s advice and I plan to use it for my approaching 1 year review. It’s excellent!

  26. Falling Diphthong*

    I really appreciate #4 as an example of “There are conventional words around this that sound business appropriate yet not a blatant lie, right?”

  27. LMB*

    Some of us will never look “polished” no matter what we do. I’m one those people. When I was younger, thin, and reasonably attractive, I would spend so much money for interviews, buying new suits, getting them tailored, having my hair and make up professionally done—it was a source of untold levels of anxiety. And I would still never, ever achieve that “polished professional” look and feel so self conscious in interviews. Some people have frizzy hair, some
    people are fat (try shopping for professional looking clothes over a certain size—and they will never “fit well”), some people are just hard to fit, some people have acne, some people can’t wear heels or certain types of dressy shoes. Everyone deserves to earn a living—the idea of interviews where you have to look perfect needs to go away. I’m a middle age woman with an endocrine disorder that causes acne and skin problems and weight gain—I gained nearly 100 lbs in pregnancy. I’ve been working from home for two years since then and am terrified to go back to the office—looking “professional” is so far from possible now. I actually feel like I like I have to stay in my current job I die now, just because of my appearance. My appearance doesn’t even bother me outside of my fears of how it will impact my earnings.

    1. Chronic Foot Injury*

      Ohh the dress shoes thing is interesting. I have sesamoiditis (the peskiest foot injury) and there are very few shoes I can wear. currently wearing my tennis shoes to work when I go into the office because I couldn’t find any closed toe shoes that I liked that had a removable insole so I could add my special orthotic.

      For open toe shoes, I have some support sandals that I’ve added a metatarsal pad too, they’re profesh in a sense but not dress shoes.

      If I ever interview again, I’d probably warn them :P

  28. Jean*

    At the risk of triggering a flood of “How dare, I’m a C suite exec and an empath” replies, I’ll say that #2 reminds me of the old CEO’s are statistically way more likely to be psychopaths that the general population chestnut. Glad OP listened to their gut on that one. And yes, the recruiter needs to know about how all that went down, so they can figure out a way to mitigate it in future hiring processes.

  29. anonymous73*

    #2 – don’t be vague. Be honest with the recruiter. You don’t have to say “I think he’s a jerk”, but tell them a few details that were off-putting to you. Not that you owe anyone anything, but it’s not doing anyone any favors by just saying “it’s not a good fit”. It is 100% inappropriate that he called and texted you multiple times after you declined the offer.
    #3 – you say these are 2 different companies so assuming old boss has zero control over you anymore, why are you letting her bully you? “I don’t work for you anymore and I need you to stop this immediately.” Then walk away. If it continues, you need to look into a way to report her for harassment.
    #5 IME most interviewers ask at some point when you would be available if they’re interested in moving you along in the process. This is the perfect opportunity to bring this up. “I would be available after a 2 week notice at old job, but we do have a family vacation planned on X date.” If that question doesn’t come up, then yes wait until the offer stage. With my current job, I had to obtain a public trust clearance which takes 6-8 weeks. I had my interview in early June, and vacation planned the first week of August. So I let my manager know when she asked in the interview and it was not a big deal. I ended up starting my job right after I came back from the beach.

  30. Small Village*

    LW1, my heart goes out to you. I’m not very conventionally attractive and it’s hurtful to think employers are passing you over because of your appearance, which isn’t something that can be controlled. Not only am I not a 10, I’m also covered in visible tattoos (got them when I was young) that cannot be hidden because of their locations. Furthermore, I do not wear makeup at all (unfortunately women are still judged for not wearing any makeup). So as you can probably tell already, I have lots of strikes against me.

    What helps me in interviews is making sure I ask well thought out questions. I’m honest about my skill level….in the interview for my current job, I was up front with them that I was not very skilled in the tasks they perform and will need thorough training. Regarding my appearance, I just make sure my outfit looks nice, such as making sure I’m wearing the best colors for my skin tone and not too tight/baggy. I wish I had better advice for you, but please just know you’re not alone in your experiences and I wish you the best. I know it’s so frustrating, but hang in there.

    LW3: I have very low tolerance for pushy, bully bosses and/or coworkers. Use Allison’s script, let this former boss know very clearly that you no longer work for her and cannot take directions from her. If she continues to push, walk away from her and get your own boss involved (new boss should have your back). I understand you may have to be diplomatic about it, but you can definitely be professional while letting former boss know she can’t push you around anymore.

  31. La Donna*

    OP 1 – all great points by AMA. Another thing that can help that a lot of people don’t think of is finding colors/styles that look good on you. I’m by no means an expert, but a friend of mine talks a lot about “finding your colors” that match your skin tone, hair color, and eye color, and it really is a thing! For example, I cannot pull off black at all. I have red hair, green eyes, and my skin has a mixed underdone. I see other redheads pulling it off great but they usually have blue or brown eyes.

    I’m also assuming you’re female, I don’t know why, but if you’re male then plz ignore this. I’m a huge fan of having the barest face possible, with just a little makeup to accentuate. I use a brow mascara, eyelash mascara, and cheek stain for cheeks and lips. Super easy, minimal, and always looks good.

    1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

      This can make a big difference. I look better in fall colors or bold colors. Things like purples, reds, forest green, turquise blues, and browns. Pastels make me look like I’m a sickly orphan about to die off in a Dickens Novel.

  32. EventPlannerGal*

    OP1: honestly you sound like your confidence has been shaken a bit here, so could I offer a different framing of what you’re saying has happened?

    – when interviewing pre-Covid you got lots of interviews and what sounds like a couple of offers (“rarely” getting offers =\= never)
    – you’ve been in grad school and therefore are now a lot closer to gaining whatever qualification you’re working towards
    – you got great feedback in your mock interviews
    – and now that you’re doing phone interviews you’ve gotten an offer for every one that you’ve done

    Obviously I don’t know if there’s some pre-existing reason you feel that your looks are holding you back here, but the way that you’ve framed the situation really feels more like a confidence thing than anything else. You sound like you’re doing pretty well, to be honest! There are a lot of reasons why you might be having more success now that have nothing to do with your appearance (different hiring landscape, you’re closer to graduating etc etc), so I really wouldn’t worry about this too much. If making a little extra effort with clothes, grooming etc makes you feel better and more confident then absolutely do that, but I feel like there is a much more positive angle on what’s been happening that is just hard for you to see right now.

  33. Emily*

    The advice for #1 is good, but also, if you try that and it’s still not working (whether it’s actually because of appearance or because you feel self-conscious), asking for a phone interview as opposed to a video one is totally fine, and you don’t need to give the real reason. I’ve had video interviews become phone interviews because the tech wasn’t working anyway, so just pre-emptively putting that forward (“I’ve been having some issues with my camera this morning” or whatever) shouldn’t be a problem. You can’t really do that for an in-person interview (or rather, you can suggest it but it’s going to be stranger), but even if you can just get past that first round, you don’t feel self-conscious, they like you, it might be better.

  34. RagingADHD*

    For #2, even in the “super neutral and professional” version, I would probably add a line to the effect that

    “I was very surprised to receive several texts from CEO on my personal number, since I didnt provide it to him.”

    Because either the boss is a stalker or if you gave it to the recruiter, they passed it on.

    If so, it’s pretty obvious that the reason the internal recruiter thinks he’s the best boss ever, is because the recruiter is an enabler and is therefore awful too.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I don’t know – it could be a case that the internal recruiter is resigned a bit to the “boss is never going to change” and is doing his best to clean up the mess boss makes around the edges – and is just beaten down to the point that it’s a case of “which battle today most needs my minuscule store of energy” as their operating mantra.

      The CEO does sound like a boundary stomping nightmare.

    2. Raboot*

      Every time I’ve interviewed someone, I had their resume which generally has a phone number on it. Knowing OP’s number isn’t a mystery to solve tbh.

  35. alienor*

    #5 most companies are really reasonable about planned vacation. I’ve hired someone who had a trip planned for soon after they started, and where I work now, someone started late last year and then left on a month-long trip a couple of weeks later (both of them involved overseas travel, so not something that could be rescheduled easily). It wasn’t a big deal either time.

  36. Essess*

    For letter 3, I would suggest OP contact the HR department of the old company (or even contact the legal dept if they have one) and let them know that you are being harassed and bullied by one of their employees (your former boss). That person has ZERO authority to give you orders or to speak to you unprofessionally when they see you in the building.

  37. GigglyPuff*

    LW 1, my guess is like some other people mentioned, it might just be nerves. And honestly I feel like 99% of the advice about video interviews out there makes it worse. Like the bull of always smiling or staring at the camera not the screen. No one stares at you 100% of the time in a job interview.

    I’ve found I get such a better response to my interviews when I’m just relaxed (which even for me is still the hardest thing in the world despite going on a lot of interviews the last few years looking for the right position), so I started doing relaxation breathing beforehand and it’s really helped. Even if it’s a stretch position or I can’t answer all the questions.

    My suggestion, just cover the computer screen, don’t worry about staring directly into the camera, and see if that makes a difference. And also, like Alison recommended, make sure your clothes fit decently. I always have to test my blazer with the shirt/sweater underneath in the mirror because I’m plus size and sometimes when I’m sitting in formal wear it adds bulk to my shoulders and makes me look like I have added extra shoulder pads or something, lol.
    Good luck!

  38. theletter*


    In 3 years, you’d like to be a senior llama groomer, in 5 years, a lead llama groomer.

    Then you sign up for an industry newsletter and copy down any new trends or upcoming tech they write about.

    Worst case scenario, get some Project Management coursework – project management is applicable everywhere, and sometimes the classes are fun. I took a course at a continuing studies school as a student-at-large, and the teacher told us war stories and then we planned hypothetical technology upgrades and weddings.

    1. Esmeralda*

      I would not put move-up goals like that if I had no intention of following through. Because OP may be evaluated on these (= not making progress towards goals) and because OP may start getting moved towards or even into these roles. Expressly not what OP wants.

      Better goal would be: Learn about X and Y, research X trends in [name of OP’s industry]. I have a reading/education goal every year. Now, I do work at a university, but I think it can be phrased appropriately for OP’s field.

  39. Salad Daisy*

    #3 I’m not sure why new boss is not supporting you. If you came into work and said to them, “Every day when I park my car this sketchy dude comes up to me in the parking lot and asks me for money/tries to sell me drugs/makes inappropriate remarks/etc.” Wouldn’t you expect you boss to do something? This is happening on company property of the company you now work for.

  40. Dr. Tea Blender, PhD*

    #1, some unconnected thoughts:

    I don’t know what type of grad program you’re in, but I noticed an uptick in offers/more interviews moving forward to later stages of the process/interest when my resume reflected that I was almost finished with grad school (in my case a dissertation defense date and a graduation date to show that I was really almost done, everything from here forward was a formality). If you’ve got a bit more of your program to go, it may improve once you’re really close to finishing your degree or have finished.

    I’ve also been thinking a lot about how virtual interviews may eliminate some unconscious bias. I’m on the spectrum, but not super noticeably, like it just presents as awkwardness, and I got my current job in 2020 early Covid times. The stages of the interview process that would have normally taken place in person had pivoted to online and I’ve thought a lot about how that may have been to my benefit because the sort of intangibles that factor into decisions which really translates to “we could tell you were nervous” or “was slightly awkward during elevator small talk between official parts of the interview” were no longer relevant. I don’t have a great amount of advice on this-in general I feel like the removal of unconscious bias is good, on a personal level though, I feel like I’m getting away with something, which is probably just internalized inferiority that I need to work on.

  41. wino forever*

    OP1, it’s in the recruiter’s best interest to have you accept the job, no matter how awful it would be for you to accept it. Block the CEO’s number and cut ties with the recruiter, as they clearly do not have your best interests in mind.

  42. rolly*

    On #4 – if there is no big risk of job problems, the OP should write something similar to what they wrote to AAM: “I have not particular plans other than continuing to try my best in my current role.”

    if they push you to have a plan, insist you don’t have one or feel the need for one. This would be a service to others who do not have plans, and possibly the company as a whole, by telling the truth.

  43. No Dumb Blonde*

    #3: Ask old boss how much she will pay you for the work and when you can expect to see a written agreement to that effect. That should provide the “Duh” this boss needs.
    #5: The term “pre-planned” was coined at the Department of Redundancy Department.

    1. Really?*

      I was actually about to respond to #3 along the same lines. However, I would suggest something along the lines of “I’d be very happy to help you during the transition period; it would have to be outside business hours, of course. My hourly rate would be $_____ (the number should be whatever amount would make you willing to put up with her BS, and don’t be shy!), for up X hours per evening. Then ex-boss has a decision to make. If she agrees, send her an engagement letter, and get her to sign it. Another alternative, if the companies are related, would be to refer her to current boss, “Because CB controls my schedule, and I don’t think I have the time to fit X in.” If you go the first route, at a minimum, make sure the rate you set is at least double your overtime rate. If she bites, you’ll likely have to pay self-employment tax on the extra income as the company will issue a 1099.

  44. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP#1: I don’t think this has to do with physical attractiveness. I have been involved in interviewing a lot of candidates during my career, and my personal experience has been that lack of physical attractiveness (such as one’s facial characteristics) didn’t play a role in the hiring selection. It may well be that attractive candidates benefited from a subconscious favoritism, but I really didn’t see that play out on a noticeable, obvious scale.

  45. Middle Name Danger*

    4, I’ve dealt with similar expectations about creating goals. I’ve done Alison’s suggestions and then either made things up or exaggerated my current duties to make them sound like something to work for. I’ve added things like “start researching adding X machine into the department” which is not a huge personal thing but outside my normal duties. It feels like a department goal, not a me goal.

    I’m in this job until I graduate/find something in my field of study and I have no desire to move up. This is not a secret. I have to do these goals anyway.

  46. animaniactoo*

    LW3: I might just be uberhelpful. “Oh, Jane. I think you may have a misunderstanding. Company B is not just a separate department that I work in now. It’s actually an entirely separate company. Now that I work there, you’ll have to find someone who still works for Company A to do that.” (calm understanding smile/tone) “Oops, Jane, I think you forgot that I work for a different company. Sorry, I won’t be able to do that/help you with that/etc.” “Jane, I’ve mentioned this several times, but I do not work for Thingamajigs anymore. I work for Whatchamacallits. Is there a reason you’re having problems remembering this? Maybe you should get checked out by your doctor?”

    (Okay, Evil Me™ wrote that last sentence, probably should not use that one.)

  47. Abogado Avocado*

    OP#1: I join everyone else in saying that I doubt your appearance is off-putting. However, even if what you are saying were true (like, say, you have poisonous snakes for hair that you haven’t told us about), let me tell you a story:

    I once knew a trial lawyer who was short, overweight, and dressed in clothes that did not flatter her figure. Her hair was brushed, but was unartfully cut. Hollywood never would have cast her as the winning lawyer in a courtroom drama. On sight, you might be forgiven for thinking, “Who is that woman? She doesn’t look like she belongs here.” And, yet. . . judges, juries, and opposing counsel loved her because once she started lawyering, it was clear she was comfortable with who she was — a lawyer who wasn’t a clothes horse or particularly good at choosing a hair stylist, but she knew the law and she knew her cases. She routinely got excellent results for her clients.

    So, what’s my point? If you can find the ability to love yourself for who you are, not who you or someone else thinks you should be on first sight, the rest of the world will see you and appreciate you and hire you.

    1. Generic Name*

      I love this story. I bet opposing counsel underestimated her all the time, at their peril. :)

  48. Water Everywhere*

    LW2, I would definitely contact the recruiter and while my language would be professional and matter-of-fact it would also include the line “This behaviour is unprofessional, inappropriate, and to me is a serious red flag which has reinforced my decision to decline this job offer.” I don’t think there’s any need to avoid or soften the facts.

  49. Carol OLeary*

    LW4: The phrase we use is “Individual Contributor” – i.e. someone who isn’t looking for a promotion into management. The point you want to convey is depth and breadth of growth, not upward growth.

    Word to the wise, be cautious about singling yourself out as the person who plans to stay. My very-bad former boss used that as his license to dump anything anyone else didn’t want onto me; after all, what was I going to do about it? (I made a “retirement countdown” on my whiteboard and I’d update the count every couple of days. He was so small, that worked!)

  50. Andi*

    I just want to speak up and let LW1 know that they’re not imagining it. I am good-looking, I think, and very good at my work, but I also have a pancreatic tumor that makes me gain extreme amounts of weight; I currently weigh over 400lbs. I’ve gone through two job searches in the past 3 years (pandemic layoff) and experienced the same thing both times: tons of interest in my resume, lots of excited phone interviews, but no job offer if we met in person. Sometimes the company would say this was because of my size in coded language. I heard at least three times, “We’re looking for someone with a more professional appearance,” even though I wear clean, new business clothing, appropriate makeup, and have my hair done. One company flat-out said, “We aren’t interested in having someone who looks like you represent our company.” So it’s awful, and probably illegal, but it is REAL.

    I deal with this by posting my photo on LinkedIn and on professional sites (I don’t want to surprise anyone) and by simply persevering. I remind myself that any company who would hire based on appearance isn’t someplace I want to work, either. The same crummy circumstances happen to POC, disabled, and older employees all the time. My job searches took longer than they would have for someone else of my experience and skill set in this field, and it’s not a bad idea to prepare yourself for that. BUT I landed a spot at absolutely wonderful, supportive companies both times in the end, including my current position. You will too! Keep going until you meet the right team, people who will respect you for what you bring to the position, not what you look like.

    1. Wendy Darling*

      I am a fat woman in a male-dominated field. I also have a skintone that makes me look like I died and was dredged up from the bottom of a lake and am even fatter than I actually am on a lot of video. Especially video on cheap cameras with iffy white balance, so MOST WEBCAMS.

      4 out of 6 jobs I’ve held I was hired without anyone seeing my face until after I was hired. I have gotten a lot of jobs that started out as temp contracts via staffing agencies where I was interviewed by phone, and then I was converted to permanent later. I don’t think this is a coincidence. I think a lot of people don’t even realize they’ve internalized a lot of negative beliefs about fat people, and I have had people online straight up tell me that they wouldn’t hire a fat person because fat people “have no self-discipline” (barf).

      I’ve learned how to do my makeup so I don’t look like a corpse on video calls, and spent a little more time and money than I should probably have to ensuring that I have good lighting. I bought an external webcam so I could control the angle because my personal laptop’s webcam is at the bottom of the screen and I do not want interviewers staring into my nostrils all interview. I am very purposeful in how I dress and wear my hair for interviews. It is annoying, but I am gainfully employed, and people have a much harder time discounting me because I’m fat once they’ve actually seen me work.

  51. Curmudgeon in California*

    Op #4, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best at your current job! That said, many, many people can’t grok “lack of ambition” here in American society. Managers don’t know how to motivate or reward someone who doesn’t want to “climb the ladder”.

    In my previous career, there was a lab chemist, let’s call her “Trish”, who a supervisor friend asked me whether they should hire (after I’d left the company). I had known her at a previous job, but that company folded. My response was an unequivocal yes. Trish was an experienced, senior lab chemist who was a reliable producer – consistent, quick and accurate. But she also had no desire to advance past that. I told my friend that. Trish was excellent at her job, dedicated, hardworking, and with no desire to “move up”. She worked to live, not lived to work.

    My friend didn’t really grasp what I was saying. She called me after a year or so and asked “How can I motivate Trish? Advancement doesn’t interest her!” I had to point out that people like Trish were a bedrock for any organization. They literally showed up consistently, did their job with attention to detail, and were reliable as the sunrise. I could only suggest things like giving her the pick of tasks, maybe continuing education, and the thanks of the organization for being there as a reliable, consistent and rock steady contributor.

    So you aren’t alone, but in many ways you are a rare and valuable commodity. In my current field you would be pointed toward a senior engineer, SME (subject matter expert) kind of non-managerial role. IMO, there are too few of these type of people around.

    What you would do is point yourself at that kind of role: “I wish to expand the depth of my knowledge and experience as a Teapot Designer. I may take courses in materials science to understand better the thermal characteristics of the materials we make our teapots from. I want to become the company SME in Teapot Design. Then I can mentor and train junior designers as well as be a resource for the rest of the design team.”

    Essentially, your “career goals” are becoming more and more expert in your current role, extending perhaps to mentoring others. You don’t have to move “up” to have goals – improving where you are is also a goal.

  52. HollyGolightly*

    A friend of mine once told me that her boss told her that he hired unattractive people because he felt they were less likely to have exciting social lives and would be more devoted to their jobs. I thought that was a DISGUSTING thing to say (especially to a person you hired?!).

  53. GooglyMooglies*

    Maybe someone mentioned this already, but I am a little surprised by the reply for #3… I noticed the language “what phrases can I use when she steps out of bounds” and while having scripts on hand is really powerful and can make a huge difference in a dialogue, from personal experience, I would caution LW3 against thinking there’s a “magic phrase” that can snap former boss out of it. The fact that former boss is acting like this at all strikes me as a “go to company A HR and complain, get former boss’s manager involved, because former boss is beyond reasoning.”

  54. BR*

    “I want the job, I really do. It’s just that the rest of my family is in the Finger Lakes region right now.”

  55. JSPA*

    #3: if old boss is bad with memory things, that may be part of why the communication was both rigid and ineffectual at your old company. Old boss sees you, Old boss has a nagging sense of not having gotten anything from you in a while*, and the canned response pops out.

    I’d therefore go with,

    “Patterns are hard to break, aren’t they? but remember, I quit company A, and work with Company B. Presumably you’ve hired someone else for [oldjob], and you need to ask them about [topic].”

    Bodies are not well-wired to let go of inputs. People going deaf can be troubled by phantom sounds, amputees often feel pain, itches, positional feedback, pressure and cramps from the absent phantom limb.
    We also don’t “let go” of people effectively.

    I’ve noticed this after people die. I’ll “see” them in a dream, and be hurt or curt with them, because…it’s been so long since they bothered to talk, call, email, write! And now, they won’t even engage properly in the dream–they keep walking off, standing apart, turning their faces away, not listening, not speaking. Eventually they say, “but hon…I’m dead.” The clear, kind-yet-firm, “I’m really gone, even if you still see me” message is the only thing that eventually registers.

    Now, if your boss is saying, “I know you don’t work for us anymore, but I still need you to do X as a personal favor,” that’s a whole different level of problem.

    “Boss, you’re mistaking my presence for availability. I have n one. Please treat me the same way you’d treat someone who left the company and moved overseas with no forwarding address, and use the documentation I left behind.”

  56. Olivia Oil*

    #1: Maybe it’s irrelevant, but did the LW accept any of the jobs they were offered by phone?

    But based on what is written in the letter, there is nothing to suggest that their rejections have anything to do with attractiveness.

    Going on a ton of interviews and getting rejected is pretty common. I’ve been there, and relate to the theorizing your brain falls into as to why you keep getting rejected. While it’s good to look for ways to improve, make sure the conclusions you draw are based on evidence, NOT your jerkbrain looking for confirmations of your worst insecurities, which is a common reaction to disappointment.

    I don’t want to deny their are advantages to being attractive, but in my experience, it doesn’t weigh that heavily in non-image centered industries compared to good experience, skills, and being overall nice to work with. I would just chalk it up to a tough job market.

  57. Dennis Feinstein*

    It sounds like #3 moved from Dunder Mifflin to Vance Refrigeration & Dwight Shrute still thinks he can boss her around…

  58. Lobsterman*

    LW2 is totally in the right.

    I’d start with blocking the CEO and recruiter. 90% chance that ends it. If they STILL harass, I’d get a lawyer and file a stalking complaint to get a TRO. I can’t imagine it escalating past that.

  59. Private_Eye*

    LW1 There may be something about how you stand or hold yourself perhaps. One good resource that I’ve used for dating is photofeeler dot com

    They also have a section for business photos – you can get lots of people to rate your photos on various characteristics, and some kind souls leave feedback.

    It’s free if you are willing to rate other people’s photos. I have found some of my favourite photos of myself don’t rate as highly as others, so for dating purposes I know better which ones to choose!

  60. Rex's Mom*

    LW2. Oh the famous “Work hard, play hard.” I quickly learned that with any employer who shoved that one in my face it was code for “Work your ass off, don’t play at all and don’t expect to take vacation.”

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