can I ethically hire when the company is a mess, employers that want a reference from your current boss, and more

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

1. Can I ethically hire when the company is a mess?

I love(d) my job! Great executive leader, great team, great work. However, our beloved leader has departed and the replacement that has been hired is a tyrant. All kinds of red flags – executive assistants have all fled, half the leadership team has voluntarily left with no next steps planned (“to explore future opportunities”) and there’s a general feeling of panic. It’s not great. I’m skipping a lot of the details here for brevity!

I had a medically-related departure on my team. While most positions have been frozen, the job is critical enough and I’m allowed to hire. I have a candidate in the final stages — they are great. However, more things are crumbling every day and I’m now making a plan to be out of here in about six months; however, I can’t not hire someone for the current work. I’m feeling bad about this; I’m going to hire someone, bring them on, train them, and then I’ll probably be leaving a few months after that and leaving this new person in a lion’s den. They are leaving a comfortable to them position they’ve had for 10 years in order to advance their career and I’m concerned that with all the chaos over here, it’s going to end up being the wrong choice for them.

Is it ethical to hire this person? Is there a way I can convey this to them?

Yeah, it’s unethical to hire the person if you’ve led them to believe the culture there is different than what it is. Be up-front! You might think that if you do that, you’ll never be able to hire anyone but there are people who aren’t that bothered by cultural stuff (often because they have thick skins and just want to come to work and do their jobs, and things that bother other people roll off them). You shouldn’t say, “This place is a disaster zone, run!” (and if you feel you’d have to, you’d be better off avoiding hiring right now) but you can say, “I want to be up-front with you that we’re going through some challenges. We have new leadership that’s changing the culture, a lot of people are leaving, and there are concerns about XYZ. I can put you in touch with people who would be your peers in this role if you want to talk one-on-one with some of them to hear their perspectives.”

Read an update to this letter

2. Candidates don’t know what the job they’re interviewing for is

Over the past two years, I have been working in a role closely associated with a public university that involves hiring young / student employees (part-time, minimum wage) to provide support to students with disabilities.

More often than not (like 60-70% of the time) in interviews, it is quite apparent to me that the applicants have literally no idea what our nonprofit does or what the services the role they’re interviewing for provides. I stopped explaining my role when I introduced myself because I found that interviewees would just parrot back what I said my job was. (I do not do what the role they applied for does!)

If it only happened with a few people, I would feel comfortable not moving forward with the applicant, or even ending the interview and ask them to come back after researching. But I am so short staffed right now that I am starting to feel worried that the bar of even knowing what job someone is interviewing for is too high for where I am at right now.

Is there anything I could be doing to reduce this happening? Or anything I may be doing wrong with candidates or in the interview process? I unfortunately can’t control the pay rate (the university does), the job posting has a full position description, and we have an easy to find website.

Assuming these are scheduled interviews that your candidates had time to prepare for, my guess is that it’s partly the job market (they may have a ton of other options right now and not be prioritizing this one) and partly that you’re dealing with an inexperienced applicant pool.

One thing you can try: when you’re confirming the interview time, include something like, “As part of this interview, I’ll be asking questions about XYZ, and we ask that you familiarize yourself with our organization (LINK) and the job description (LINK) ahead of time.” Should you have to spell that out? Nope! But given what’s going on with your applicant pool, you might as well try it and see what happens. In fact, you could look at it as an equity practice, in that not every college student has been taught the basics on to how to interview well.

3. Interviewers that want a reference from your current manager

A friend of mine recently applied for a job in a department she used to work at. They asked her to give her current supervisor as a reference. My friend was very hesitant to do so because she wasn’t ready to reveal to her current employer that she was considering leaving. Ultimately she did give the requested reference (and got the job), but she was very uneasy about it.

This past week, I was approached to interview for a job within my large government agency. I’m not currently looking, but I’m always open to new opportunities. I (respectfully) reiterated this multiple times to the hiring manager during the interview.

The interview otherwise went well, so I was not surprised they asked for my references. However, they too asked for my current supervisor! There’s no way I’m going to jeopardize my current job for a new job I’m not sure about, so I’m withdrawing my candidacy.

Has it always been this way? Is this new? I’ll admit I’ve been out of the job market for a few years, but I cannot recall encountering this in the past. I have no idea what I’ll do when I’m actually ready to leave my job.

It’s always been pretty common to do if you’re applying internally; in that case you’ll often be required to notify your manager before you even interview.

But requiring a reference from your current manager when you’re applying outside of your organization is much, much rarer and rightly so, since it can put your current job in jeopardy (with no guarantee that they’ll offer you the new job, or that you’ll want to accept it). Most employers understand that and don’t do it as a result. But a small number of employers always have.

If that happens to you with an external job, you can try pushing back before you withdraw. Sometimes they’ll back off the requirement if you spell out what should be obvious to them but apparently isn’t, and offer an alternative instead: “My employer doesn’t know I’m looking and I’m not comfortable alerting them to that at this stage because it could jeopardize my job. However, I’d be happy to put you in touch with previous managers and colleagues.” If they won’t budge after that, they’re showing a real disregard for your job security (as well as professional norms) and withdrawing is the right move.

4. What does this change in reporting lines mean?

Two colleagues of mine, “John” and “Steven,” have been working together as peers in the same team for years, under the supervision of “Sharon.” John and Steven have several reports each, with some fluctuations during the years. They work in product development, on different aspects of the same product. If we were baking cakes, John would be in charge of making the dough and Steven of the preparation of the glazing of the same cake. Something like that.

At a recent company-wide meeting, it was announced that from now on Steven and his team will report to John, who will continue reporting to Sharon. Steven will keep his direct reports. The content of their roles hasn’t been restructured at all; each of them will still be responsible for his part of the cake. The change was announced as a “change in strategy,” even though we won’t really be changing anything. We won’t be making other types of cakes or changing anything else in what we do. The change wasn’t presented as a promotion for John, either.

Personally, if I was in Steven’s shoes I wouldn’t feel that was right. It is not really a demotion but it goes a bit in that direction, right? From now on he will have an additional layer of management above him and he will report to a former peer.

My husband thinks this is just a change like any other that a company might do. Am I being too delicate? Or better, would I be too delicate if it would happen to me? Is it a sign that management trusts Steven a little bit less? Or am I totally off-base and this is just normal?

It’s likely that there are reasons for it behind the scenes, which you might not know but John and Steven very well might. For example, it could be a matter of Sharon needing fewer direct reports to manage and John being better suited to manage Steven than vice versa — which Steven might not be thrilled about but would still be a reasonable business decision. It could be that Steven needs a lot of support and coaching (either in his management of his team or in something else) and John is well positioned to do that. Or plenty of other explanations that people outside those directly impacted wouldn’t have a need to know. It’s hard to say whether Steven should feel slighted without knowing more of the details.

5. What rights do we have when our company is sold?

I work for a small company – 12 employees total. All of our manufacturing/warehousing is off-site. Our CEO (I am his administrative assistant) has decided to sell the company and we are currently in the due diligence phase with an interested buyer.

What rights do we as employees have? So far we have not been given any information as to whether or not we will still have jobs, given severance packages, nothing, no information whatsoever.

At what point is it reasonable to expect that we would be assured we will still have jobs or that we will be let go and our jobs will be taken over by the buyer’s company?

You almost certainly won’t know until after the deal is complete, and even then you might not know right away. You can ask your CEO if he can negotiate some kind of job protection (or barring that, severance) for your company’s employees into the deal, which he may or may not do — but it’s a thing that can happen. You can also simply ask for information. He might have some insight into what the acquiring company’s plans are.

{ 312 comments… read them below }

  1. Re*

    LW2 – An extra set of eyes from the outside might come in handy. Your complete job description may not be as clear as you think, and your easy to find website might not have the information applicants need.

    I’m not saying this is your situation, but I’ve seen many, many, MANY job postings that are full of sheer gibberish and jargon to the point that after a couple hundred words I have utterly no idea what the employer does. I’m sympathetic toward your applicants!

    Ask someone who doesn’t work in your industry to review your materials and offer candid feedback. You may be surprised by what you learn.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      It’s also pretty common for students applying for their first job (or they’ve only applied for things like fast food before). I’ve hired for summer research internships, and when a student has read up the project and has questions about it it’s definitely a plus for their candidacy.

      I like the idea of spelling out in the job listing that they should look at the related materials in advance, and have links to clear information. If a student is keen but ignorant of job-application practices, they’ll take a look.

      1. Cj*

        That explains not looking up the non profit, but I think Re has the more likely explanation for not knowing the job duties.

        1. alienor*

          I remember interviewing for a job straight of college where the interviewer asked what I thought the duties entailed, and I did my best to explain. He said “That’s a very high-level description,” and I knew so little about anything corporate at that point that in my head I was panicking, thinking, What does that mean? is high-level good or bad?! I ended up getting the job (and learning what “high-level description” meant) but it was so stressful and confusing.

          1. Need More Sunshine*

            Yes, I remember when I was very young in my career and first “high-level” meeting/discussion/idea/etc and thought that it meant it was suited for higher-level employees, like the leadership team. It was only later I realized that it could also mean “general/less-detailed” depending on context.

      2. BethDH*

        I can recall thinking it was almost cheating if I researched the company ahead of time. Not sure ewhy I thought that; maybe because the job posting was “official” and anything besides that seemed off-limits?
        I second that job descriptions are hard for people new to employment to understand. Even when there’s nothing I would call jargon, I see lots of things like “administrative support tasks” and “assist in day-to-day operations of a busy department” listed without further explanation. I think partly entry level jobs include a lot of random stuff that wouldn’t be possible to enumerate, but I’m not surprised people who have read the description still don’t know what they’d be doing.
        That said, I’m wondering if OP is seeing a difference because I wouldn’t really have expected that to change.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          My nearly 50 year old friend was hired for an office manager job and was shocked that she actually managed some people. She said she assumed the job title was inflated someone calling a cleaner/janitor a “custodial engineer.”

          Admittedly this friend has only a small amount of office work in her career history and from what she’s said a very small amount of work in a non-toxic office. But to someone with limited experieince it’s a reasonable question to ask what in an office needs managing by an office manager. Even with experience, it’s easy to have a history where offices handled the duties quite differently.

          1. As per Elaine*

            I have a dent amount of office experience and would assume “Office Manager” manages stuff/space/vendors rather than people, unless otherwise stated. (Though I’d hope the interview questions would make it clear!)

          2. Elizabeth West*

            Some job posts are sketchy at best. And titles can vary so much across industries and companies.

            I have a Zoom interview today for an administrative assistant – [location] office manager job in academia where the description is all stuff/space/vendors. Because of the title, “Will this person have any direct reports?” is one of the first questions I added to my form.

      3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I remember applying for my first real job. My prior interviews were, at most, “What days can you work?” “Have you been to prison?” “What size uniform do you need?”. It didn’t matter if I was being hired as a cashier, stocker, fry cook, whatever and they certainly didn’t care if I knew anything about EvilMegastore, FastFoodGiant, or CheapExploitiveClothesCompany.

        In the LW’s shoes, I’d make an email template with a link to the org and the job description attached with instructions to read the materials before the interview. Send it 1-2 days ahead and then see what happens. One thing that is nice about students is they understand the concept of doing homework, they just might not know you need to do it for a job interview

        1. Jora Malli*

          I took a course called Business Communication my last year at university, and I wish it was a required class for all degree paths. We made resumes, did practice interviews, practice performance evaluations, those sorts of things. For one assignment we were given a list of common job interview questions and told to prepare possible answers we could give in interviews. Before that assignment, I didn’t even know studying for a job interview was a thing that could be done.

      4. Cat Tree*

        It’s also really common for very young adults to be used to basically being told what to do. They often don’t realize that they have some control over their job and they actually get to decide what they they do and don’t want to do, and are allowed to factor that into their decision.

        For their whole life so far, their path has been pretty much laid out for them. They could decide to join a sport or learn an instrument but once they make that decision the coach or teacher tells them how to do it. They can decide whether to go to college, where, and what to study. But then the requirements are laid out pretty clearly with only electives being up for a decision and even then with constraints. Also most things have had a specific, time-based goal up until this point (pass this test, get a driver’s license, graduate).

        It can be a big adjustment for many folks just starting out. Many of them are going into the interview thinking that they need to prove they’re worthy and then it’s up to the boss to tell them what to do because that person is the boss. I would give a lot of leniency to folks interviewing for an entry level role.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          Or, it can also be an adjustment for people in their 40s who thrived at being obedient (aka, me).

          Honestly, I’ve been in the working world for quite a while now, but any time I take on anything new like volunteering with a new organization or joining a committee, I VERY much need someone to explain to me what I need to do in great detail. Just last year, I joined a place and they said, “You can do X from now on” and just added me to the Google Drive. At first, they emailed me with documents to do X, but later, they stopped. I had no idea I was supposed to go into the Google Docs and find the documents and do X myself until weeks later when they asked why I hadn’t done any updates. You all didn’t tell me to!

          I’m really working on this, but as an A student (who kept going to school until I had a Ph.D) and an athlete who was a coach’s dream player, I really don’t have much idea of how to take control of things myself. Also, I do come across as smart, which, ironically, means that people assume I know what to do without them telling me first.

          1. De Minimis*

            I had this issue when doing a career change from a more blue-collar type position. I still have some trouble with it, over a decade later. I still think my favorite job was my first job where I just did data entry all day and it was clear what I needed to be doing.

      5. Susan Ivanova*

        I’d done my research for one company, only to find that the position I was interviewing for was on a small team that had recently been talent-acquired for something only tangentially related to what you could find on the website. The hiring manager didn’t hold that against me because it was a known problem :)

    2. it's just the frame of mind*

      I remember job-searching fresh out of school. I applied at a company whose product I had long been aware of and that many of my colleagues used (I used a freeware version). Even though I had a good understanding of that type of product, I had so little visibility into how companies that make products work that I had absolutely no understanding of what the job would entail. On the product-development side, I made so many comments that I now understand made absolutely no sense; from the day-to-day work side, I was asking questions like, “Would I be on a team or is it just one big team?” and “Oh, so you have clients?” and not even really understanding the answers. It’s hard when you’ve never worked!

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Adding, it can be hard when you have worked. I can’t count the number of job openings I have read through and I have no idea what they want the person to do. The best ads actually list off daily responsibilities and/or a list of routines under the employee’s watch.

        I think OP could tweak their phone screen also.

        1. Stuckinacraxyjob*

          Nod. Tbh a lot of newbies get through the interview and training and are like ” so what do we do here again?” I’m able to explain but…

        2. quill*

          Or if you just haven’t worked in that specific role / in that industry before. The number of times I’ve had to google acronyms…

    3. Well well well*

      I echo this job description comment! I read one yesterday that was half acronyms and impossible to decipher. I have decades of related experience but half of these abbreviations were nothing I had heard before and certainly not common in my field. I think people often don’t realize how confusing their job descriptions are!

      1. ferrina*

        Yes! And how the same job title can have really different responsibilities at different companies (for all kinds of reasons). I used to work at a hyper-niche business in a department that was unusual to find in that type of business (but not unusual in the corporate world). As the interviewer, I always started the interview with a thorough description of what the company is and what the job is. It made the interviews much smoother.

        Added benefit- I got to see who could learn quickly from my brief description. Some people quickly digested the information, asked smart questions and ran with it. Some candidates clung to their preconceived notion of the job even after I told them what the actual job was. Being able to think on your feet was a job requirement, and I got a real life display of that during the interview (ended up being one of the main predictors of success at the job).

        1. Antilles*

          And how the same job title can have really different responsibilities at different companies (for all kinds of reasons).
          Personal example straight from the AAM comment sections:
          In my decade-plus of experience in engineering at multiple companies, I have exclusively heard the term “Staff Engineer” used as an entry-level role; often held by someone who’s so green that the ink on their diploma isn’t fully dry yet.
          I once said that in a comment thread here at AAM and nearly immediately had someone chime in that in their experience, “Staff Engineer” worked the exact opposite – an extremely senior title with decades-plural of expertise.

          1. Environmental Compliance*

            Yup – recently had a somewhat confusing conversation with a family member who was in engineering about a higher title I got. In their old company, you started at a high number (engineer level 5) and as you raised up in tasks/title/seniority, you moved to lower numbers. Eng I is higher up than Eng V. In my company, it’s the opposite. So they were quite offended for me that I “dropped” a couple levels and I was excited that I *moved up* a couple levels.

            I’ve seen that as well in my field for “manager”. People thought I managed staff when I was an environmental manager. Nope, just managed the program, it was just me, myself, and I.

            I’ve also seen plenty of job postings where even with multiple years in that exact industry and field, presumably doing that exact job…. I legit have no idea what the position actually does other than support some vague things and magically appear to have all the answers for….things.

            1. De Minimis*

              I keep imagining someone comparing the higher graded “I” job to criminal charges…”Well, it’s like how first degree murder is a bigger deal than third degree murder…”

          2. fhqwhgads*

            Oh that’s interesting. In my experience, “Staff Engineer” isn’t an indicator of seniority. It implies the engineer works on internal products – for our company’s use – rather than the stuff our customers get from us.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            We talked in my Project+ classes about the difference between a Project Manager and a Project Coordinator. The first one implies a lot more responsibility and oversight of the team/budget/work, and the other is more like an assistant and is or can be closer to entry-level. Except in the case where some companies call a PM a PC, or a PC functions as a PM in the absence of a PM, etc. etc. wrrggggggbbblbll. *bangs head against wall*

            You have to read the job descriptions very carefully to figure that out, and sometimes you can’t even tell!

            1. Huttj*

              heck, I remember an example from AAM where someone came in as a Project Manager and the letter writer was complaining that this guy was trying to tell people what to do and set deadlines.

              Comments had a lot of back and forth there.

          4. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            Here’s an example from real life: I’m currently looking for a new job in a specific niche. I applied to a “Sr Llama Manager” position, which from my understanding is the equivalent to a “Director of Llama Grooming” at another organization. When I told my friend and mentor, she was sure the “Sr Llama Manager” position was just like the “Sr Director of Llama Grooming” at her organization and was surprised I thought I’d be a competitive candidate. Even within one specific field with very experienced candidates, it’s confusing!

        2. quill*

          Not to mention that some people have seniority going up in a numerical scale and some going down. If you’ve been a Microbiologist 1 at a place where that’s entry level and you interview somewhere where Microbiologist 3 is entry level and a Microbiologist 1 manages the whole lab…

    4. NoviceManagerGuy*

      Yes, and I can’t get a job posting put up without a bunch of incoherent words being put on either side of what I request. When interviewing entry-level candidates or people who don’t know our business, I always start by explaining the job. After all, part of the purpose is making sure the person would like the job.

    5. ecnaseener*

      Agreed. When 60-70% of candidates are having the same problem, it’s time to look at the one common denominator: the information they were given.

    6. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Even with job descriptions that aren’t full of gibberish and jargon,* it can be hard to figure out what the job actually entails. I’ve seen lots of postings that talk about the goals and general job areas, for example, but that don’t say what you’d actually do. It’s the difference between, say, “Responsible for ensuring teapot quality across the full product line,” and “Hand-inspects each teapot for defects before it’s packaged and shipped out.” The former is a responsibility, which could mean anything from leading a quality-control program to doing the actual inspections.

      *Gibberish and jargon, BTW, can be a fun way of figuring out who “company confidential” job postings are really for. It’s sort of amazing how often these “anonymized” postings leave in jargon that’s specific to a company.

      1. Grey Coder*

        Oh yes. I always enjoyed working backwards from the recruiter’s “anonymized” posting to the actual company. “Proactively utilize synergy to create customer ecstasy”, eh? Sounds like the Llamas, Inc mission statement…

      2. quill*

        The idea that you shouldn’t know who is hiring, other than that they are “a fortune 500 company” is itself a problem.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      I wondered if the applicants are coming through some university work-study portal, where the program website has a detailed job description in clear language, and the general website is “stuff with llamas, $12/hr.” And yeah, they’re young and new to work and how to find the detailed description (or to suspect that it exists somewhere they can access) escapes them.

      OP2, I’d try to frame it in your head as “I have received plenty of information that what we are doing right now is not enough for the majority of interviewees to know what the job entails. So my opening line for the meeting is “Hi, I’m the program director, in this role you will be responsible for shampooing the llamas; llama hoof maintenance and llama braiding are handled elsewhere.” ” Sort of like an informational interview.

      1. Rock Prof*

        I was wondering something similar. I’ve encountered some work study programs were students were more or less randomly assigned positions and basically told just to go to X place at Y time.

        1. Zephy*

          That was basically my work-study experience in undergrad. Go to X place at Y time and stay until Z. What does this position do? What you’re told.

      2. Kelly L.*

        I’m thinking the same. They are probably getting poured into some kind of general pool, and maybe don’t even know they’re being put there.

    8. Delta Delta*

      I was thinking this, as well. The actual description might not be clear, and when the interviewee asks OP what their job is, it isn’t necessarily helpful since they’re not the same kind of position.

    9. BigHairNoHeart*

      Yes! On top of looking at the existing job description, it also might not be a bad idea to start each interview with a really quick run down of the job and it’s duties (5 minutes max, very straightforward, and give students to ask questions at the end of this before you get into your interview questions). This is something I’ve seen occasionally throughout my career, and it can be a nice way to start out the interview with everyone on the same page.

    10. Anon for this*

      Due to the nature of my particular industry, my job involves doing A LOT more of one specific thing that in other industries would be only one of many (think grooming llamas, grooming alpacas, grooming cats, grooming dogs). So I’m able to talk at length about llama grooming, because most of what I do now is llama grooming, and while I can say I’m familiar with the process of grooming other animals, I don’t have much hands on experience with that. And most companies don’t want outsiders to know what animals are being groomed there, so it’s rather difficult to know ahead of time what to prioritize. That said, what the company actually DOES doesn’t matter much to me, except in the negative of not wanting to work for a company that I find unethical. Most places need generic animal groomers of some type.

    11. Software Engineer*

      Also, why would you expect quality applicants if you’re paying minimum wage? If I could literally walk into a fast food place and have a job that afternoon FOR THE SAME SALARY, why should I spend time preparing for your interview? If you want better applicants, offer a higher salary!

      (If you CAN’T offer more money, then you need to lower your expectations accordingly.)

      1. tiny_strawberries*

        This! I worked as a student staff at a bunch of different places. Three were minimum wage, one was tiered depending on how long you’d been there, obviously that one had the longest staff. Two of the minimum wage jobs were structured as such – lots of downtime, doing HW during shifts, etc. At the third, where I’d previously held a fellowship, the ED kept complaining that staff would do HW instead of studying to give tours. Why should they? You’re paying them 10.25 an hour, for shifts that were only about 2 hours long. Thankfully my University raised the student minimum wage to $15.

      2. DrRat*

        Yeah, I was thinking this: the job sounds like high difficulty for low pay. What student wants that?

        When I was in college, people went for one of 2 types of part time jobs. Option 1: minimum wage “fun/easy” job where you could go in stoned or just be a warm body. Option 2: part time job that was more demanding but paid well, like UPS.

        There are many jobs working with people with disabilities and some are extremely difficult. The fact that this place is chronically short staffed is a clue.

        For a job that pays 6 figures? I’m going to practically take a graduate class in what the company does ahead of time, including what kindergarten the interviewer went to. A minimum wage job? You’re lucky if I show up to the interview fully dressed.

        Honestly, LW, I would suggest accepting that this is something that is unlikely to change.

    12. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      This. Also, does a “full” job description here mean a long, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink job description? Because if you have people applying who are casting a wide net in their job search and have a lot of other responsibilities besides job-hunting (school, a current job, etc.) that kind of description can easily lead to skimming for keywords instead of really reading for comprehension. Something shorter and more precise might help you *and* the candidates.

  2. Rachel*

    Regarding Q2, I always ask interviewees how they prepared for the interview. It gives me an opportunity to see how interested they really are, and what they know about the role and the organization.

    1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      Even for a minimum wage, part-time, probably first job? That seems like it’s expecting a lot of prep for low returns.

      1. Willis*

        I think so too. The OP is short staffed and needs workers. Why not offer the people who are interested enough to apply and show up to your interviews a conversation about the job rather than a quiz about their research?

    2. Lance*

      Not sure I really like that question, since it’s so broad and seems to be asking about what they did in the lead-up, when it sounds like what you’re really after is what they know. Speaking personally, I’d have no clue where you were going with such a question or how I’d even be supposed to respond (and to pre-empt someone replying to explain it, the point is that there are others out there that would think along similar lines).

      1. Not So NewReader*

        “I showered and washed my hair. I filled my gas tank.”

        I think asking directly, “Did you have a chance to look at our website?” might be more productive.

        1. ferrina*

          Yep. Even then, for some businesses the website won’t give you a lot of information.

          I like to ask, “Can you give me a brief description of what you understand ThisCompany to do? I just want to understand how familiar we are with us- I’m happy to fill in the gaps”. But that was more to inform the candidate than to test their knowledge or skills. For a small niche business I used to work for, “Have you heard of ThisCompany before you applied here?” The answer for most folks was No- which absolutely made sense! And even those that looked at the website were pretty confused (not their fault, the website was confusing). It wasn’t a predictor of success at the company.

        2. quill*

          Yeah, be as specific as possible, especially with people who have never really interviewed before.

        3. Elitist Semicolon*

          The committee that hires students for a very specific position in my workplace asks, “what about our website stood out to you?” But we also include “please look at the samples on our website at X and Y before applying” in the job description AND tell candidates to look at the samples when we send them an interview invitation, so if they step into our office and can’t answer that question, that’s on them and they don’t get a job offer.

      2. Rocket*

        Yeah, I don’t think I really like it either. You need to know that I understand that material, not how I studied for the test. For me, preparing is mostly glancing through the website and reading the job description. I don’t need to do a lot else. Just because someone else spent hours scouring through the linked in of every senior member of your org and rehearsing their elevator pitch doesn’t make them more interested in or more qualified for the job.

    3. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I totally understood the question and would have answered with the research I did to prepare for the interview.

      If you answered what you did to prepare your appearance, I can always follow up with, how did you prepare to answer the interview questions. It might mean you take things very literally or that you are new to job hunting and did not know to prepare for the content. But anyway you answer tells me something about you and can give insight into how thorough you are.

    4. Babbalou*

      During a period of unemployment, I applied at a major retailer for a (minimum wage, seasonal) part-time job.

      I read their annual report, prepared questions to ask them, wore a suit, etc. They interviewed me (multiple interviewers) for 3 hours.

      And I was rejected because I was over qualified.

    5. NotRealAnonForThis*


      I’m wondering too (sounds like I’m not the only one) if we’re dealing with work study through the local university. A million years ago, I was handed a printout of available work-study that was considered part of my financial aid. Maybe a five word description of what the job was, a pay rate, and projected hours (timeframe and number thereof).

      I was old enough to NOT be applying to jobs via the university by the time I learned that you should prepare for an interview. I’m not a first generation college graduate, but it never came up when I was living at home (because retail and such).

    6. Spcepickle*

      I also ask this question in interviews, we don’t hire many for their first job, but we do hire the entry level position for our company. I think it breaks people into two groups: 1) I did some research, asked around, looked at the website or 2) they kind of stare blankly.
      It is not a make or break question, but it does help tell me about the candidate.

  3. Willis*

    For #3, it sounds like at least in the second example this was an internal position, unless I’m misunderstanding what OP means by “my government agency.” I don’t think it’s that weird that a current supervisor’s input would be sought and considered for a different job with the same employer. Seems pretty typical to me.

    1. allathian*

      Yup, totally normal even outside the US. I work for the government in Finland, and at least at my agency, managers are expected to be invested in the career development of their (ambitious) reports. The government sector as a whole is considered to be one “corporation” and managers are expected to help their reports by providing references if they want to switch jobs to another agency or department. Selfish managers who don’t want their high performers to leave and sabotage their chances are unlikely to be successful for long, and managers can’t block a report from switching to another department or agency, either. Job rotations to other departments or agencies are fairly common, and they can be anything from a few weeks to more than a year.

    2. Lynca*

      It’s incredibly common for government jobs to talk to your current supervisor if you are doing an internal application or even switching agencies. On our internal applications, you have to list your current manager to process the application if you are a current employee. And they will be checking the reference they give against the performance managment documentation and your other references.

      It’s also not uncommon to have to let your manager know you’ve applied to another internal position before the interview stage either.

      1. Stevie*

        I attended a webinar about the hiring process for federal positions (for those who are already federal employees ) and the presenter said the same thing.

        She said that they will have to contact your current supervisor at some point, and suggested that you talk to them in advance.

      2. Elitist Semicolon*

        My (state government) workplace is required by law to talk to the current supervisor before making a formal offer. They can make a verbal offer/informally express intent to make an offer, but HR cannot issue the final, written offer before having that conversation. Both job announcements and interview invitations here often include language like, “confidentiality cannot be guaranteed for finalists” for this reason.

    3. LW3*

      LW #3 here! In both mine and my friend’s cases, we work for organizations with interconnected sub-organizations. She works for a university within a state university system. I work for an agency with sub orgs that largely operate independently. In both cases we’d still be within the same system, but we’d more or less be moving to completely different organizations. I thought it was odd because in both cases, the hiring manager would have no other connection to the current manager, except to be able to look up the name in the system directory.

      1. Anya Last Nerve*

        As a hiring manager in a large private organization, I find many people foolishly do no contact the internal applicant’s current manager before making an offer and end up taking a poor performer (and as a result, poor performers can bounce around for years/decades). Smart hiring managers check in the the current manager for internal hires to make sure this isn’t the case. I have benefited from this in the past by having problem employees move internally without a reference check from the hiring manager.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          Yup. I had an internal applicant who looked great on paper, but when I spoke to their current manager, found out that the reason they were looking for a new position was that the current manager had enough documentation of the multiple times they had been spoken to about being aggressively nasty to all their coworkers that they were going on a PIP.

          1. L.H. Puttgrass*

            That has me wondering how much value the “contact the current supervisor” requirement actually has in federal government. If it’s really hard (though not impossible) to fire a poor performer, would you give absolutely glowing reviews of your worst employees in hopes that they’d become someone else’s problem? Oh, professionalism, reputation, and relationships with other managers might prevent that, but it would be really tempting.

            1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

              And I’ve had that too — on my previous team, we hired someone who had rave reviews from her current manager, “she’s great, picks up everything, she can do anything you need,” and then when she couldn’t hack it in training, we went back to the manager we’d hired her from to be like “She’s not picking it up, is there something that you found worked better?” and it became “Oh, I’m not surprised, she didn’t deal well with change and we had a heck of a time training her on anything new.” I think our VP got involved, because if we’d known that our manager wouldn’t have hired her, she wasn’t cutting the mustard with our team to the point where it was causing huge legal and compliance issues, so we had to either find something new for her at that point or fire her, and nobody wanted to fire her because she had been with the org for almost 30 years and it wasn’t her fault her previous manager lied to get her into a position she couldn’t handle. (We ended up transferring her back to a different team she’d worked with previously who knew her limitations and capabilities and whatnot, but it was a whole mess. I wasn’t the hiring manager, so I don’t know what happened, but I’ve never heard from the previous manager again :P )

            2. Lizzianna*

              I can’t speak for every agency, but mine is a small world. If I give a glowing reference to a bad employee, that’s going to come back and bite me because there is a good chance I will end up having to work with the new supervisor at some point, or reach out to them for a reference.

              I also think it’s on the reference checker to ask good questions. Most people aren’t good liars, and if you ask follow up questions, like, “What do you mean by that?”, “Could you give me an example of that?”, or “What does it look like when that happens?” you’ll get past the breezy, “Oh, he’s great!” answer.

          2. tamarak & fireweed*

            Ideally that alone shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. Of course, if the reason the person is on a path towards a PIP is a generalized checked-out attitude or profound disorganization, yeah, that’s a bad sign. But a lot of people with performance problems are simply in the wrong role – too much/not enough purely technical work, works better/worse with people, is good at [small aspect] but not [big picture] . In a larger organization in which managers are expected to be supportive of the careers of their reports (the mediocre ones just as much as the star performers!) it would be good to help someone move into a position that’s a better fit.

      2. doreen*

        I don’t think it’s odd even if the hiring manager had no connection to the current manager, but even if the sub-organizations operate independently and there isn’t any particular reason to think that the hiring manager knows the current manager, they still might. Chances are that you and your friend aren’t the only people who have considered moving from one sub-organization to another. People were often surprised at my government job when I knew someone who worked in a different , unconnected program on the other end of the state – but it was usually because we had worked together to some extent years before and had taken different paths.

    4. Lizzianna*

      Yes, I’m in a government agency where the typical career path is to move to several different offices/roles to gain a broad experience before moving into leadership, so managers (typically) don’t take it personally when a good employee is applying for different roles within our agency or agencies that do similar work. As a result, it’s pretty normal within our culture to reach out to current supervisors as references once we’ve narrowed it down to the top few candidates.

      I have had a couple of people ask me not to contact their supervisor, and I respect that, but I’ll ask for other previous supervisors and/or a peer or someone else in leadership in their current job who can speak to the quality of their work.

      1. Drago Cucina*

        I’m a W2 contractor for federal agency A . I applied for a civil service position with agency B. The options for contacting my current supervisor were:
        Not At This Time
        I liked the third option. It gave me a chance to not announce my application, while not saying “don’t talk to my supervisor”. I knew they’d want to if I was seriously considered for the position.

  4. learnedthehardway*

    OP#3 – echoing Allison’s comment that requiring current manager references without at least having made an offer to a candidate is a nasty business practice. Frankly, expecting candidates to provide any references before the hiring company has made some kind of commitment is a bit entitled – references don’t need their time wasted and companies should be making their own assessments of whether a candidate is appropriate, with references used only to confirm a decision and verify that there aren’t major issues with the candidate that the interviewing process wouldn’t have uncovered.

    1. Empress Ki*

      In the UK, it’s pretty standard to request a reference from the current manager, unfortunately!
      Many of the applications I fill even ask if it is okay to contact references before interview ! At least they ask permission, but many employment advisors advise to tick yes, as it can look bad to say no.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        I would say it’s uncommon in the UK to check references before a formal offer, though. I’ve never been asked for references before I had resigned.

        That said, I work in a relatively tight “word of mouth” industry where a hiring manager will already have found a couple of people to talk to about you informally in a kind of “hey you were at $BigLaw, do you know General von Klinkerhoffen and would you work with her again?” kind of thing. People know better than to say “hey your associate is interviewing with us” though!

        1. workswitholdstuff*

          Yes, I don’t think I’ve ever had the issue where they’ve asked for references before interviews.

          (in my case I wouldn’t have been overly bothered – but thats cos for the main times it’s applied was – a) I was looking to switch sectors and my current organisation was well aware of this – I didn’t hide going off for museum interviews :) and then b) In the midst of a big restructure with a potential job loss – so the managers were well aware that most of the ‘at risk’ people were looking around (and indeed I had one of said managers as a reference – I directly asked them would they if I got to that point!). As it stood, I moved sideways into another position and it became irrelevant.

        2. londonedit*

          Yep, same in UK book publishing (also a small industry). The way it’s always worked in my experience is that references are checked after a formal offer, so you hand in your notice at your current job and then you let your new company know that you’ve resigned and they’re free to contact your manager for a reference. It’s not common to have to provide references as part of the initial job application – it used to be a thing that people were advised to put ‘References available on request’ at the bottom of their CV, but even that’s seen as old-fashioned now (because it should be obvious that you can provide references if you’re asked for them).

          1. Jora Malli*

            What happens if the person’s references are bad at that point? Does the job offer get rescinded and now the person who’s already resigned their previous job is unemployed?

            I had a candidate once who seemed reasonable and I was ready to move forward with her, but when I did reference checks I got some really troubling information and realized it would be a bad idea to hire her so I ended up not making the offer. In the UK system where people get the official job offer before references are checked, can poor references be taken into account at that point?

            1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

              Offers are typically offered and accepted “subject to satisfactory references”.

              For better or worse, most references are kind of empty. HR replies with a boilerplate “I can confirm that General von Klinkerhoffen has worked for us as a Teaspoon Assessor from 1 June 2016 to date.”

              So yes you’d lose your new position if you had lied on your resume and said you were a Teaspoon Designer since 2012, but generally speaking it’s a formality.

              That’s aside from the informal “hey would I regret hiring this person” chats that likely come before an offer.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                To clarify, those informal chats are because it’s a small industry so you’ll already have someone in house who has worked with them before.

        3. tamarak & fireweed*

          In my UK experience, references were checked during the 3-month probationary period. That speeded up hiring, but it did make passing the probationary period a little more nerve-racking. But on the other hand, myself and everyone we hired with my input did in fact pass, and it also takes out the sting from a mediocre former boss – that is, if someone gets lackluster references but does the work just fine, they won’t be penalised for the references, even though getting the same reference before hiring might have put a big question mark over their candidacy.

    2. Jaxgma*

      I had this happen to me. I work for a private school in the US. I had been through 2 rounds of interviews at a different school and all looked good. Then, the the afternoon before my school had a week-long break, the new school called and said they needed to speak to my current supervisor. I mentioned that I had given them my previous supervisor as a reference but no, they wanted the current one. Since the first 2 interviews had gone so well it seemed like a final confirmation type of thing, (he definitely hinted in that direction), and I didn’t have time to think it through due to the pending break, so I gave them the info and called my supervisor to give her a heads up. She was shocked but professional, and when they actually called her she said they had a very good conversation (she actually picked their brain about their processes of handling some logistical issues that my position handles at both schools). I have no doubt she gave a good reference. After that, silence from the new firm for 2 weeks. I followed up, and they made an excuse about a board meeting. Finally, nearly a month after the break I got a call – they had a “late candidate” they decided to go with. I told them that they had left me in a very awkward position and hung up. My boss did not fully trust me for several years after that, constantly asking me to document my procedures and have a list of my work-related passwords available. In hindsight, it was a red flag and I will NEVER give current supervisor info again.

    3. Office Lobster DJ*

      In the US, and I’ve encountered application systems that want your references immediately, i.e. part of the initial application/cover letter/resume package. Nope. No thank you, please.

    4. Elitist Semicolon*

      But it’s also a waste of a committee’s/employer’s time to go through the process of making some sort of offer/commitment only to then find out that a candidate didn’t disclose a crucial and have to rescind the offer.

      1. Lizzianna*

        It also puts the candidate in a much worse position. They may have taken some kind of action based on the preliminary offer that they wouldn’t have taken had they just understood they were a finalist but no commitment had been made.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          Yeah, pretty sure no employer is going to lose their house based on needing to rescind a job offer. The risk is absolutely not symmetrical.

      2. Eyes Kiwami*

        Yeah but then they can just go to someone else from the candidate pool, there’s no long-term effect for the employer. Meanwhile the employee may have just tipped off their current boss that they’re job hunting and have sacrificed their position and trust and their current job.

    5. Lizzianna*

      I disagree about references generally. Although I agree that you shouldn’t contact a current supervisor until the decision is near-final, checking other references is an important part of the hiring process.

      I often use references to make a final decision between the top 2-3 candidates. I’ve had situations where a really good reference actually bumped my 2nd or 3rd choice to the top, and situations where a really bad reference knocked someone out of consideration.

      There is info you can get from references that you can’t get from anywhere else. Some people are really good at BSing their way through an interview. Other people are not the world’s greatest interviewer, but excel at things the interview doesn’t highlight. Technical questions/exercises don’t necessarily tell you a lot about culture fit.

      I’ve definitely talked to references where nothing was specifically disqualifying, but when put into the overall portfolio, tipped the scales in a different direction.

      It also puts the references in a rough spot if you make a commitment to the candidate, then pull it back after reference checks. References are going to be less candid if they know that the candidate will know that they are the reason the offer got pulled.

      I mean, I don’t think you need to check every reference for every candidate. But I also don’t view providing references as a waste of my time. It’s usually a 10-15 minute phone call, and it’s just part of being a supervisor.

  5. Moira Rose*

    LW3: you said the job was *within* your large government agency? I was in federal service for about a decade and a half, and it was totally standard to coordinate hiring between the “giving” and “receiving” managers. I did a bit of hiring as a fed and I would expect to be able to speak with whomever I wished in the prospective transfer’s current sphere in order to make my decision. It’s just a different ballgame when it’s intra-agency.

    LW2: if these interviews are on-site, any way you can ask them to show up 10 minutes before you actually intend to speak with them and have a receptionist hand them a printout of the job description?

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I was thinking something similar for LW2. Something like that might be odd outside of the school environment, but if you are hiring students and this is a really common problem I think that could be a pretty good approach to make sure everyone has the right information.

  6. nnn*

    A few things that crossed my mind while reading #2:

    1. How much time elapses between when the candidates apply and when they’re called in for an interview? Is it possible that the time elapsed is long enough that they don’t remember which of the many jobs they’ve applied for?

    2. Are you using recruiters? If yes, are you sure they’re giving the applicants all the information?

    3. Is it possible your applicant pool has never been in a position where they’re expected to have done research? I know that when I entered college, my only job experience had been in a fast food restaurant, where “It’s a fast food restaurant. You’re preparing and serving fast food” was all the information I was expected to know upon applying.

    4. What would happen if you told applicants what the role involved rather than expecting them to have done research? Would there be any actual disadvantage, or is it just that you think they should have done research?

    1. Willis*

      We usually start off all our interviews with your #4. Something along the lines of “We can start by telling you a bit more about the company and this role, and then we’ll talk more about your background/experience/etc.” It doesn’t take that long and helps to ground the conversation. And really, if the OPs having trouble filling these positions, what’s the harm in spending a few minutes of the interview explaining the position to people? It seems like a hell of a lot less work than asking to reschedule until they do some research!

      1. Allonge*

        Exactly. I have done that in hiring – even for higher level positions – when the first few minutes of the interview include a description of what we were looking for, the main job duties etc. It does not have to take long! But it gets you on a common ground.

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        This makes a lot of sense. LW2 says, “I stopped explaining my role when I introduced myself because I found that interviewees would just parrot back what I said my job was.” So why not replace that with an explanation of the role they’re hiring for? An applicant is probably less interested in what the boss does than in what they would do if hired. When a boss explains what they do, I could see an applicant would assuming that’s what they’ll do, too, especially if the applicant is new to the workforce.

        Also, LW2 didn’t mention this exactly, but I’d interpret “what do you do?” in an interview as asking what the organization does—and then use it to pivot into the related question that they didn’t ask, but probably need to know, which is, “What would I do in this job?”

        Oh, and yes, I think the bar of “knowing what job someone is interviewing for” may in fact be too high for a part-time, minimum-wage student job. Unless the job is something that many people will avoid once they hear about the duties (in which case the job description should make that really clear), just assume that the applicant’s decision process about applying to this job was, “Does look like it will work with my class schedule, and does it pay money?” Wanting them to research the non-profit or the services it offers, for a minimum-wage, part-time student job, does seem to be a bit much to expect, IMO. Maybe not unreasonable, but unrealistic.

        1. quill*

          If you’re paying people the same wage as they would get swiping people’s cards in at the campus cafeteria, you’re going to have to lower your expectations about what they’ll know about you starting out.

          Also, students are more likely than anyone else to be spam-applying for minimum wage jobs. The criteria that brought them to you is probably along the lines of “oh my god, a job where I’m allowed to sit down sometimes!”

      3. BigHairNoHeart*

        Yes, I can think of a few interviews I’ve done where the hiring manager did this, and I appreciated it! Even though I’d already done my research, it was still good to see what they identified as the biggest job duties/core responsibilities, and if any of it differed from the job posting, because that helped me recalibrate what I wanted to focus on when we eventually got to the interview questions. Also, I’m mid-career, so OP, you don’t have to think of this as a practice that benefits only entry-level applicants.

    2. Jackalope*

      I would especially underline #3 if the interviews are with students. I was a number of jobs into my working life before I applied to something that really needed any sort of research (beyond the aforementioned fast food example, or, “It’s retail. You work the cash register and put out merchandise.”), and so it took me awhile to figure out when I moved on to jobs where more research would have been appropriate. Looking back now it seems obvious, but you don’t know what you don’t know.

      1. Humble Schoolmarm*

        I agree that, depending on the job, this may the first where research is needed or expected. My work history is full of jobs where what you do is fairly obvious from the name (teacher, cashier) and I would expect that to be true of a lot of the jobs students tend to do. Your posted job might also have a name (like library clerk) which is obvious to people already working in your industry (it means shelver), but not to a newcomer (I don’t think I fully realized my whole job was going to be shelving books until the interview and filing test).

    3. Warrior Princess*

      #2 could even be expanded to ask where most of these folks are coming from. Is there a particularly incompetent temping agency/career center/resume generator? Has the listing been posted somewhere where resume bombing is common?

      It’s also a chance to check how interviews are selected: do most people who walk in the door get an interview or is there some form of resume screening to check for basic fitness?

      And finally – how easy is the company information to find, really? Is the website decently organized (not common in govt and not for profit places, in my experience)

    4. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

      I found myself wondering if a college career center is helping students find job listings that match their majors. If you’re getting a lot of unprepared students from one college, think about if it would be less frustrating for you to tell the career center what you need the students to know before they come in. (And factor in career center turnover, because you would probably have to repeat your information.)

    5. ecnaseener*

      And a sub-point to #1: by the time you set up an interview, has the job posting already been taken down?

      1. Pocket Mouse*

        Yes! It was a while before I started saving PDFs of the job postings I applied to, as I applied to them. If they’re no longer available to link to, attaching it when reaching out to schedule interviews would be kind.

      2. Rayray*

        This is an excellent point. When you’re actively job hunting and have dozens of pending applications, it’s hard to remember exactly what positions and companies you’ve applied to. I learned the hard way to make sure I save Job descriptions. You can sometimes find the job listings still up on some of those sites that pull job ads and such though.

    6. anonymous73*

      #1 comes across to me as an excuse though. I keep records of every job I’ve applied to so if I’m called for an interview, I go back and refresh my memory on what the job entails. Now if someone calls me based on my application submission I may need a refresher, but a scheduled interview is a different thing and requires a candidate to be prepared. If you can’t bother to do a little prep, why should a company bother to hire you?

      1. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

        In this instance, they should hire you because they can’t fill the role and apparently don’t have the option of hiring someone who has done prep.

      2. Pocket Mouse*

        Do you think young candidates who evidently haven’t been adequately advised on interview prep have been advised to save copies of the job postings they apply for? Good on you for doing it right from the start, but I suspect this is extremely rare when people are just starting out in the working world.

        1. anonymous73*

          Not knowing is another excuse. I didn’t prep back then like I do now, but I also knew better than to come to an interview knowing NOTHING.

          1. Pocket Mouse*

            The LW didn’t say the candidates know nothing. The candidates may be very well prepared to talk about their strengths and interests, but not have access to the job description anymore. Or, as we hear on this very blog, candidates sometimes get called for interviews and it’s not clear which organization or job title it’s even for. Or maybe candidates *do* have interview experience, which leads them to expect the hiring manager will primarily describe the open position, not their own position—and if the position described is the LW’s and not the open one, it makes sense that that will be the frame of reference.

            Also, literally everyone who writes to Alison with a question does so because they find themselves Not Knowing how to approach a situation—it’s reasonable to expect that learning and developing your own best practices takes experience and/or high-quality advice, and we know well that people have different starting points and exposure to that experience and advice before they hit the working world themselves. It seems like you’re using ‘excuse’ as mutually exclusive with ‘valid reason’ but sometimes the underlying factors are indeed both.

      3. Dona Florinda*

        I also do that now, but would-ve never thought of that when I started working. It’s the sort of thing that you don’t know until you know.

        1. Eyes Kiwami*

          Agreed, I only know to do that because I’ve experienced job postings being taken down in between my application and interview. This is the kind of thing you would only know from advice or experience.

  7. Alexis Rosay*

    OP 2, I find it helpful to give interns /entry level candidates most or all of the interview questions ahead of time. In cases where candidates often had a hard time answering, I would include tips about the kind of information we were looking for. These candidates often don’t have a ton of skills, but seeing who takes the time to read the questions and prepare their answers can be valuable information about their level of interest in the job.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Agree. Give them enough that a motivated candidate could knock it out of the park, and an indifferent one will still be just as mediocre. It’ll be obvious who’s who, and you can just give them a boilerplate document that points them in the right direction.

    2. caoimhe*

      I’m fairy certain a company doing something like this when I was interviewing is the only reason I managed to get my first job after graduating university.

      I suffered through a lot of really really bad interviews until one company sent over 2 documents with my interview invitation: one page with their company details/mission/values plus the job duties, and one with some interview questions and a couple of tips explaining what they were looking for in my answers. I still did my own research. but actually knowing what to focus on helped me prepare and feel less overwhelmed with it all, and I ended up getting the job!
      I had only worked part-time retail before, and all of my family were retail/hospitality so I genuinely just didn’t know how to research a company or that I was allowed to prepare for the questions.

    3. Overeducated*

      I did this when interviewing interns this year based on reading it among a series of “tips for increasing equity and reducing bias in hiring.” The prospective interns were well-prepared and absolutely knocked it out of the park on my one “fun” question (along the lines of “if you could invent anything” but more tailored to our field). I felt like we were interviewing them more on the substance of their experience and goals, and less on their skills and experience with interviewing.

  8. Prefer my pets*

    For LW3,

    Not sure what level of govt you are in, but as a fed I would consider this 100% normal. I’m about to get my 30 yr pin, have worked for multiple agencies in 2 Departments, changing jobs an average of every 3 – 4 yrs, and been on a ton of hiring panels and not once have I seen a situation where the current supervisor wasn’t spoken to. Twice I had supervisors who were notorious for giving bad references to anyone leaving/had previously left and I was able to explain that and provide both the next level up and multiple alternate management references from the same job who could speak not only to my work but also to the issues with my supervisor. It was never an issue.

    It is one of the advantages to being a permanent federal employee…they aren’t going to push you out or take away your projects just because you’re searching-heck we’re always so short staffed taking away projects might be a reward!

    1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

      Yeah. State employee here and this is a standard ask. Where it is an issue is when hiring managers insist on it for those outside candidates. I’ve always advised that it is fine to do with current state employees (i.e., maybe employed by another agency), but that we should not be insisting on that for outside candidates, as it is Very Different.

  9. State Worker Bee*

    #3, I work for the state of California and this is a Thing. Even across agencies, not just internally within an agency. It’s really problematic for a lot of reasons. I’ve pushed back against it with basically: I’ll agree to it if you’re otherwise prepared to make an offer at the pay I’m looking for (super important if you’re changing classifications!). It wouldn’t surprise me if other governments also operate in screwy ways like the state of California.

    1. allathian*

      It really depends on the system and how it’s set up. I wrote about the way it works in Finland in another post, and the crucial difference is that managers can’t block a transfer. Their performance evaluation includes a section on how they’ve helped their (ambitious) reports advance their careers.

    2. doreen*

      I don’t really think California is screwy at all – because there was no way to push back in my government agency in a different state. Speaking to the current manager didn’t require the employee’s agreement and there was no way for the manager to know what salary would be offered. The manager would know the grade and the range, but where the candidate would fit on that range depended on their current salary and how many grades they were being promoted. I know someone who got a “promotion” after there was a merger, and went from a job that had previously existed in only one agency to a job that previously only existed in the other. Turned out it wasn’t a promotion after all, it was a lateral transfer.

      Pushing back in the way you describe would not have benefited me in any way. At best, it would have made no difference.

  10. Waving not Drowning*

    OP#3 – Its now a requirement that we have already spoken to our manager if we are applying for internal vacancies. I gave my manager a quick heads up at the very last minute when I submitted an application for a temporary position in another area (it was a stretch position, and I wasn’t even sure that I wanted that role, but, I decided to throw my hat in the ring). Lucky I did notify him – he was on the interview panel (panels are made up of 2 people within the Department, and 1 person within the organisation at a similar level, but outside the department – and he was it).

    In my case I was fortunate, and it worked out well, I didn’t get the job, but, he gave constructive feedback on where I needed to improve areas, and also gave me positive feedback from the interview. He also then gave me an opportunity to upskill, covering him while he was on a 2 month temporary assignment so I could decide if I did want to move into a management role (yeah, glad I had the short opportunity – I decided that higher level was not for me because of the upper politics in play).

    When I had a previous manager who ….. would not have been sympathetic to someone thinking of moving on (and would have held it against me) I was fortunate in that it wasn’t an advertised listing, so I could have conversations without her knowing, and only told her once the job offer was in the bag.

  11. Double A*

    I like to think I’m currently a high functioning professional. However, I look back at some of the interviews I did after college with horror. I definitely went to some interviews unclear about the job description. I, a very educationally privileged and high achieving student who has become a high achieving professional, had ZERO clue about getting a job.

    I think you need to change your mentality when you’re hiring entry-level student workers for minimum wage. Part of their training is going to have to be how to be workers *at all.* There are some great suggestions from Allison and in this thread. Once you remove some barriers you didn’t even realize were barriers because you don’t remember what it’s like to be truly new to the work world, I think you’ll find some diamonds in the rough.

    1. Ashley*

      I still want to barf when I think about the first interview I had after graduating where I happily answered “No, I’m good!” to “Do you have any questions for us?” *face palm* It was a job that I was SO interested in and really wanted! I just had no idea what I was doing.

      1. BethDH*

        Yep, I did this too! I knew I wanted it, didn’t want to seem difficult to manage, and wanted to look “experienced.”

        1. quill*

          Thirded, did this several times. Though in one case it was because I wanted to be out of the building immediately and did not have the courage to just walk out.

      2. WindmillArms*

        Same! I somehow believed that not having questions meant you were smart. I didn’t understand that *I* needed to learn about the *employer* because job interviews were always presented to me as a challenge to win at, rather than a conversation with a goal of finding a fit.

        Now I ask a lot of questions. Probably more than I answer sometimes!

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Even when I knew you were supposed to ask questions, the only questions I could come up with in advance were super obvious things that always got answered during the interview, so I still had nothing to ask at the end! The pre-internet world was hard to navigate.

      3. Expelliarmus*

        Oh, I’m pretty sure I did this too! For me my logic was “well everything I needed to know about this job was covered already”, and I didn’t realize that there are some things I should be ready to ask on my end based on what I want in a job in general.

      4. Irish Teacher.*

        I had an interview for a postgraduate course in primary teacher, was asked why I wanted to be a teacher and just said something along the line of, “oh, it’s just what I’ve always wanted to do.” It only occurred to me afterwards that I SHOULD have said how I’d spent a year of my degree doing work experience with young people at risk of early school leaving, aged 10 and over and had spent the September before my final year at college voluntarily helping out with a senior infant class (5-6 year olds) to get some experience, so I had worked with children across the primary school age range and had loved both experiences.

        In my case, it was largely that I wasn’t prepared for the question, didn’t know what sort of things one got asked in professional interviews and so answered as I would if asked the question in casual conversation rather than in a way appropriate for n interview.

        So much experience and VERY relevant stuff that I didn’t even mention because they didn’t ask directly and I didn’t think how I could include it.

      5. Gina*

        Right! I did this so many times thinking that if I had questions it made me look stupid or like I hadn’t understood what they’d had to say. It probably kept me out of a good number of jobs. I wish I’d known about this blog back then.

    2. Katie*

      Granted I don’t work in the non profit sector, but I think it is too much to ask a job applicant who you will be paid minimum wage to do much research before they interview for a part time job.
      Even for me, who hires people way above minimum wage, I tell people when I interview them what the job is about and the basics of what they will be doing.

    3. Lady Blerd*

      One of my first job interviews as a teen was for a position as a amusement park as a games attendant. One question was “Do you feel comfortable yelling at get people’s attention?” and I straight up said no [facepalm]. It didn’t take many years for me to realize how that answer was so wrong for the job I was applying for but to be faire to my younger self, I hadn’t to come out of in introverted shell yet.

      1. quill*

        First job was at a renaissance faire, pretty sure my answer to a similar question was “Yeah, I’m pretty loud.”

        … To be fair, they were hiring a lot from the drama club, so they were just figuring out if I should be hawking things or a push monkey for the rides based on how well we could project across a bunch of tipsy people wearing cheap costumes.

        1. Very Social*

          I feel like “Yeah, I’m pretty loud” is a great answer for a Renaissance Faire interview question. You might not be the beef jerky guy, but you do want to be heard over the crowd!

  12. Bilateralrope*


    You didn’t say what country you are in. That could be a very important detail as your local laws could have some effect over what is allowed to happen.

    For example, last year my employer was purchased by a larger company. The law here required my job to transfer over in full. Accrued leave, official warnings and even time spent working at the old employer counts as if it had happened at the new one.

    The answer Alison gave sounds like she assumed you are in the US.

    So I’d suggest you contact someone familiar with your local laws. Find out if there are any that apply to you here.

    1. Auntie Anti*

      Alison has said before she assumes writers are in the US unless they state otherwise since they’re writing to an American advisor who can only speak to US laws.

      1. Irish Teacher.*

        And honestly, I think most of us outside the US are aware the US employment laws are very specific and that employers generally have more leeway about firing than in most other countries, so I think most of us would specify we were outside the US before asking about things like job safety or takeovers on a US site.

        There ARE things I’m not sue how they crossover. Had to check I hadn’t missed something when reading about the advice about thank you notes, but I think the fact that job security in the US is specific to the US is pretty well-known.

    2. Sonia*

      LW5. I would assume that the person with the most precarious job security is yourself. Even if all the workers are kept on, the EA to the CEO generally is a personal appointment. People follow their CEOs if they are a good EA. I would prepare for a job search now unless your CEO has plans to take you to his next appointment

      1. Snow Globe*

        This is very true, regarding the EA.

        Specific to the LW’s question, the point is that the current owner/president won’t be making the decisions about who stays/goes, but the purchasing company will. And until the deal is settled, they won’t be making any announcements to staff. But if the buyer is a larger corporation, they might offer a nice severance package to people who work through the transition, so there could be a benefit to sticking around for a while.

    3. Junior Assistant Peon*

      You need to job-hunt immediately. It’s very likely that the buyer just wants the brand name and formulations, and will probably fold them into a larger product line and run everything from their existing sites. Best you could hope for is an offer to move to their location.

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        This. Assuming this is the US, there’s little protection here. My company was just acquired and basically they are just going to take all our clients on to their platform. That will take months so my job is safe…for now. But I’ve been actively interviewing since March, because while “they are committed to finding a place for us” they can’t keep all of us, and certainly not in the same capacity.

      2. Corporate Lawyer*

        I’ve done a LOT of corporate acquisitions in my career as a lawyer – both buyer-side and seller side – and I’ll say that it really depends on the deal and what assets the buyer is interested in. Sometimes the small acquired company continues as a division of the large company, in which case it’s possible the buyer may keep the current CEO to run the operations, and sometimes the buyer isn’t at all interested in the operations of the small company, just its assets, in which case it’s more likely that the CEO’s employment may be terminated shortly after the acquisition closes.

        OP, if you have a good relationship with your CEO, I suggest you ask him how he envisions an acquisition of the company will work, including whether he expects current employees will be kept on, and ask him to keep you updated on how the selling process is going. However, as others have pointed out, at the end of the day the CEO won’t have control over what happens once the deal closes – that’ll be up to the buyer – although he can do his best to negotiate good outcomes for employees. So while the CEO’s expectations are good information to have, things ultimately may not work out the way he expects. Also, keep in mind that if he doesn’t already have an interested buyer lined up, it can take multiple months to find a buyer, negotiate a deal, and then close the deal, so you may have time to figure out your next move.

        If you’re in the United States, I can’t think of any legal protections for employees, especially working for such a small company. BUT this post from a random stranger on the Internet is NOT legal advice, and it might be worth a sanity check with an employment lawyer at some point.

        If you’re not in the United States, then that increases the likelihood that there may be protections for the employees of the acquired company, as many other countries (especially in Europe) are much more protective of employees than the United States. In that case, you should definitely check with a lawyer and/or a representative of your local union or works council if you’re covered by any collective bargaining organization.

      3. World Weary*

        I’ve been laid off three times following acquisitions or mergers, and it would have been four but I learned my lesson by then. In every single cases, the CEO or Managing Partner promised in big meetings and individual encounters that no one would lose their job over this. One of the jobs gave us help with resume writing, networking and job searches as well as paying large severance. The others gave everyone below manager level 2 weeks severance.

        Some things to consider: if you work for a manufacturer and your company is being purchased by a shell corporation that owns a lot of manufacturing firms, your job may be safe, but you will then be under an entirely new company with different benefits and pay scales. You may find under the new company that you no longer qualify for raises because you are at the top of the new pay scale, whereas under the old company, your boss had more discretion.

        It never hurts to look around.

        1. Junior Assistant Peon*

          If the OP’s job was at an actual manufacturing plant, their job would be safer in an acquisition. It sounds like the manufacturing is done elsewhere. The OP didn’t specify, but it’s likely that this is done by outside toll manufacturers and all their company does is manage arrangements with tollers. I would be surprised if the OP’s office is not closed soon after the deal goes through – office jobs like accounting, HR, IT, etc are often quickly replaced by the acquiring company’s teams in these areas.

    4. Observer*

      The answer Alison gave sounds like she assumed you are in the US.

      Correct. Alison has made it clear that her answers assume a US base unless noted otherwise. And there is nothing in the letter (spelling, usage, etc.) that would indicate that the OP is anywhere other than the US.

  13. ENFP in Texas*

    #4 – I don’t know how large your company is, but in Corporate America it’s been my experience that this sort of org shuffling is not really a big deal. Strategic alignment adjustments are made all the time, and don’t be surprised if in 2 years or so it gets shuffled again.

    1. Snow Globe*

      We had a similar realignment in our division, and it was specifically because “Sharon” had too many direct reports, and many different projects, and didn’t have enough time. “Steven” was actually happy about the change because he now had a manager that he could speak with regularly.

    2. SpecialSpecialist*

      Yep. When I started my position as a director in 2020, I was only one step away from our CEO (Me to VP to CEO). I got shuffled under somebody (Me to ED to VP to CEO). Then my VP got shuffled under somebody (Me to ED to VP to SVP to CEO). My position has not changed at all, but our reporting structure has. Most of it was to reduce the number of direct reports.

    3. cat socks*

      My company has had a ridiculous amount of re-orgs. In the past five years, I’ve had five different managers.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      Agreed. It sounds like John manages the initial stages of the project, so I can see why TPTB may think he makes sense to be the manager of the entire project even if he’s never touched the second half of the project before.

    5. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      Yes, and it doesn’t necessarily mean a “demotion” for Steven…it could be considered more a promotion for John, and/or Sharon — he effectively goes from Manager of Cake Dough to Senior Manager of Cake.

    6. J*

      In my company they changed the rules so that only people with at least 6 direct reports were counted as “people managers” for pay purposes (managers getting paid more). This had very little effect except to make the official reporting heirarchy bear no resemblance to reality after everyone changed it to ensure they still had enough reports. For example my official manager was actually my grandboss in reality.

      Could be something like that in the other direction?

  14. Beth*

    OP2: I suspect what’s going on here is that your applicants are applying for many and diverse positions–they need for to work to support themselves, but they likely don’t have much of a work history or career path established and don’t have wide networks of connections to help them search, so many of them are probably applying for every opening they find that seems like something they could do based on the job descriptions. By the time you call them to interview–even if you’re pretty fast on the turnaround–they’ve likely looked at dozens of other job postings and sent in several more applications. Unless they did a good job keeping track of what they applied for (which, not every student-worker age person is going to think to keep records of that), there’s a good chance they have no context for who you are or what role you’re scheduling an interview for. They might hesitate to ask, too, for fear of leaving a bad impression (not that the situation you’re seeing is leaving a good impression! but many people choose to hope they can BS their way through uncertainty).

    If your goal is to find people who are actually seriously interested in your role, I’d say it’s fine to let this be a weeding-out factor. But if your goal is to find more people who are willing to do the tasks even if they don’t really care about the role (which is probably fine for a student-worker role!), then opening the interview with a brief “this is what the role is, this is what we’d expect of you, this is what we offer in return” elevator pitch might go a long way.

    1. WS*

      Yes, I had a college job that was pretty much what OP #2 describes. It was a low hours, low pay job but conveniently located and the work was interesting. I had indeed applied for a large number of jobs at the time and had only previously worked waitressing and as a musician, so I would have had no idea what the interviewer was looking for in any particular interview. Especially as the ad asked for “support for disabled students” and there were actually a lot of different options in that category.

      If you want inexperienced job seekers to do something other than show up, you need to actually ask them to do it and provide them with the means. Some still won’t, but you’ll have a better weeding out process.

      1. ferrina*

        Yes! Some of my best employees would not have passed this test. One person was just there for the paycheck- no passion in the work we did- but she did such good work and never shirked on anything. I’d hire her for another role in a heartbeat. Another employee was completely unfamiliar with our industry and new to office work in general, but he was smart, hard working, and quick on his feet. When we interviewed him, his only experiences were his college course work and food service. The role required calm under pressure and strong prioritization, so I asked him about his experience working the lunch rush at Chipotle. Great answers, and when we hired him, he was amazing at his new role!

    2. Bexy Bexerson*

      LW4: This recently happened in my division, with my manager being the Steven. The reason was pretty much exactly Alison’s first example (Sharon needed fewer direct reports, etc).

      It worked out great for my boss…John is a better fit as a manager for her than Sharon was.

  15. Beth*

    LW1: If you entice them to ditch a stable, comfortable position by telling them untrue things about your workplace (for example, if you’ve only talked about your workplace culture by describing what it used to be when you loved it, without disclosing the more recent turmoil), that would be a jerk move. Lying by omission is still lying. But if they know what’s up and know what they’re signing on for, then I think you’re in the clear! Give them all the information you reasonably can and trust them to make the decision that’s best for them.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I can vouch for the idea that you can tell people, “it’s a dumpster fire here” and they will STILL forge ahead.

      I saw a lot of similar behavior working retail.
      Customer: Does this item do A, B and C? That is what I need.
      Me: This item does A well, it does a so-so job with B and it does not do C.
      Customer: PERFECT! I will take three.
      Me: ……

      This pattern is so predictable, that it became my normal. Fast forward years later, to help draw more people
      some friends joined me at my lawn sale by setting up their own tents.

      They watched me do this total honesty thing and ended up laughing- “You keep selling this stuff even though you have told them the truth about the item!” And, “You told the guy X does not work and he bought it anyway!!” Yep. OP, never worry about telling the truth. There’s all kinds of people out there. And some of them are actually successful where I have no success. There’s lots of reasons for that, also.

      1. Jora Malli*

        I had an acquaintance once who was applying for a job with an organization I had just left. I was honest when she asked me about it and laid out all the reasons I didn’t want to work there anymore and what the possible deal breakers were, and she said those wouldn’t be deal breakers for her. She got the job and within a few months she came back and said she had thought I was exaggerating how bad things were. But I tried!

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I often need(ed) to tell a candidate we had a lot of turmoil and were addressing it. The candidate knew they would be part of our turnaround, if only indirectly, and our plan for change. Some people said ‘Nope,’ and others were game for it.

      If the employer isn’t addressing the glaring issues, though, that’s different. Candidates still need to know about the turmoil and that it’s likely to continue without challenge. I’m not the kind of person who can tolerate that for long, but I’ve met some people who can. It’s their choice.

    3. Shiba Dad*

      It’s also good to keep in mind they may be leaving something that they think is worse.

    4. Daisy-dog*

      They may be bored and looking for a challenge. A company that is going through some type of turmoil for current employees could be viewed to new employees as an opportunity to make improvements or rebuild processes. Not everyone will back out, but absolutely tell them what to expect.

    5. OP1*

      OP1 here – I really appreciate Alison’s perspective – and all of you kind folks backing it up. I have tried to be tempered when describing current culture, etc. but it had never ocurred to me that someone might be willing to forge ahead regardless. I have a little script put together now for when I extend the verbal, and I feel way better about it!

      1. Beth*

        There are all kinds of people out there! Some won’t believe it’s as bad as you’re saying, some will believe you but also know themselves well enough to know that this particular dysfunction isn’t a dealbreaker for them, some will hear you out and decide it’s worth it for whatever perks they’re expecting to come with the role, some are leaving a place that they perceive as worse than you’re describing, some are desperate for whatever job they can get, some might actually like an environment that you find toxic and unworkable, etc. It’s not up to you to decide if they should take the role or not; the best you can do is be upfront about what it is, and let them make an informed decision for themselves.

    6. JustaTech*

      Yes to this, all you can do is be honest. My team hired a new person while our company was going through bankruptcy. We were *very* upfront about the instability of the whole company, and made sure the candidate knew that we would completely understand if she didn’t want to join our dumpster fire.
      She took the job anyway and stayed for many years, so sometimes things work out ok.

  16. Anna Badger*

    LW4: if this is software product development rather than physical product development, it’s worth bearing in mind that in a lot of software places “manager” = “someone to do the admin around your leave, collate feedback at review time, act as a general sounding board” rather than the more traditional “someone who has actual power over you” that you get in other companies. this is why you can end up with some deeply odd nested structures, none of which are a dig at the people in the nest or any kind of demotion.

    1. TheLinguistManager*

      As a manager of software development teams, I am deeply confused by this. I can’t imagine being in a position where I’m someone’s manager but don’t have the ability to direct work, give feedback, coach, initiate a PIP, promote, hire, fire, and so on – all the things that fall to me under “having power over someone”.

      If all my job involved was approving PTO, collating feedback, and acting as a sounding board (not that those aren’t part of my job too), but with no ability to actually *manage*, I’d run! Even in orgs where I had to do lots of bureaucracy or where they were, e.g., weirdly reluctant about managers being responsible for raises, I still was expected to do most of the things mentioned above.

      It’s not, in my experience, the norm for software companies. In fact, I’m not sure how an org where managers can’t manage can function in the long term.

      1. TechWorker*

        I agree with you TheLinguistManager in that, that is *not* my own role as a software engineering manager.. saying that, I don’t know exactly what Anna Badger has come across, but I know there are companies where the technical side and the management side are almost totally separate. Managers *might* still be involved in performance management, but it would be senior technical people (who do not usually have reports) driving the direction of work and judging work quality. I would never move to a job like that but I’ve had recruiters describe their company as working like that (which makes me a solid ‘no’ ;)).

        1. Anna Badger*

          yep, this is the sort of situation I’m referring to – teams are run by a product manager, a tech lead and a delivery manager, none of whom necessarily have reports, and the engineers are managed by either dedicated managers (who don’t sit in product teams) or by other engineers on other product teams. I’ve seen it work pretty well, because the skills needed for technical leadership and the skills for line management are actually pretty separate.

    2. Sequoia*

      Yes, this! It isn’t universal, but I was thinking “In tech manager just means ‘responsible for the paperwork!'” At most of the tech companies I’ve worked at the “strategy” and “product/technical leadership” parts of the manager job are also expected of senior individual contributors. Everyone who’s reached a certain level of seniority is expected to identify projects for folks based on each person’s career goals, to offer advice and help dealing with issues, to review code or planning docs, etc.

      As a manager I’m responsible for the career growth of my folks. I’m responsible for ensuring that all the HR and performance paperwork is done. But all the other “manager work” that people think of I share with some senior tech leads that are under me. They help me represent the work of our team to our management chain and stakeholders. They help identify projects for folks. They help route requests for and bugs and such. One of my tech leads has significantly more decision making authority over his area than I do as his manager.

      I’ll also add, I don’t actually assign work very often. I offer folks projects/opportunities a lot. But probably less than 5 times a year do I have to say “this has to happen and you have to do it.” And less than once a month I say something like “this has to happen and one of us has to do it, who’s got time?” Different companies and managers work different ways.

  17. Other Alice*

    #1: Please, for the sake of everyone involved, be very direct with your candidate. Many moons ago a hiring manager described their director as “a tough person with very high standards”. I replied that I loved challenges and I was a bit of a perfectionist myself, got the job, thought things were good. After starting I discovered that the place was toxic, the director would literally scream at everyone for every perceived mistake (including those directly caused by her) and the hiring manager was leaving in a month. I myself only lasted six weeks, it was the only time I walked out of a job with nothing lined up. I would never have taken the job if I’d known the reality of the situation and I think it was unfair for the hiring manager to mislead me.

    If you feel the need to hire for this role, be very clear with this person about the issues in your workplace and make sure you don’t sugar coat it. If the unvarnished truth is that the place is a dumpster fire, then there is no ethical way to hire anyone.

    1. Lance*

      Honestly, that last paragraph pretty much covers it for me. The place has frozen most hiring, even after a number of people have left, more people are probably yet to leave, and there’s yet more issues OP hasn’t gone into. I’d question whether this place will even be around any more within the next several months.

    2. Anya Last Nerve*

      IDK, I think describing a manager as “tough with very high standards” is clearly interview code for “this manager is awful”. Similar to house listings where “charming” means “small” and “lots of potential” means “holy cow this place needs to be completely gutted”.

      1. Your local password resetter*

        That only works if the other person understands your code though.
        If they take you at face value, then you’re just lying to them.

        1. Pocket Mouse*

          This. I’d probably take “tough with very high standards” to mean exacting but fair, motivating people to do their absolute best work. I would not understand this to be a reference to an unreasonable nightmare who is actively destroying the company.

          1. Esmae*

            Yeah, I’ve had a couple of managers who actually were “tough with very high standards,” but were consistent and clear in those standards and were frankly pretty easy to work for. They expected a lot, but you always knew exactly what they wanted and how they wanted it, and if you consistently gave it to them they were happy. I wouldn’t see that and immediately think “awful.”

          2. quill*

            Yeah, because that’s what’s actually being described. The manager described doesn’t have high standards at all, especially for their own behavior…

        2. Cthulhu's Librarian*


          Especially problematic to use codes if any of your candidates are:
          -Inexperienced, and won’t know what the code means.
          -Neurodivergent, and don’t understand that you are using a code, or what it means.
          -From another culture, where the code has different meanings.
          -From a different socio-economic background, and so may use the same codes in very different meanings.
          -A non-native speaker of the interview language, and may not pick up on the dual meanings of your code.

          Or any of another host of possibilities. If you think you are communicating in code, it is ethically incumbent upon you, the person trying to use the code, to ensure that the receiver of that communication is understanding the text, subtext, and context that makes that code relevant.

          The person communicating is responsible for making sure those receiving the communication understood it.

      2. Observer*

        , I think describing a manager as “tough with very high standards” is clearly interview code for “this manager is awful”

        Using easily misinterpreted “code” to convey information this crucial is highly problematic. And that’s putting it kindly.

    3. anonymous73*

      If I was told the director was a tough person with very high standards, that would cause me to nope right out of the offer. If you tell people the place is a toxic dumpster fire, nobody will want to work there.

    4. World Weary*

      Agreed, plus there’s no benefit to not being upfront as good candidates will have other irons in the fire, and may jump ship before you’re ready to leave, so then you’re stuck with an ongoing candidate search process.

      I would also urge you to expedite your own job search.

    5. Office Lobster DJ*

      The difficulty with telling people not to sugar coat their answers to candidates is that it’s asking someone to put a level of trust in a stranger that directly gambles with their ability to pay their bills. Imagine a candidate’s next conversation: “So, Toxic Director, Other Alice tells me you have a bad temper and scream at everyone. How do you manage that?”

      On top of that, one person’s nightmare scenario could be workable for another person. Sounds like the situation in the letter goes WELL beyond this consideration, but in a lot of cases subjectivity comes into play.

      Candidates absolutely deserve honest and complete information, and lying to them is awful, especially given the relative power dynamics involved. Still, I can’t fault diplomacy if the risks of candor are too high.

      However, I do want to acknowledge the important point that not everyone will pick up on code and subtext, and that different people’s experiences will lead them to interpret comments in different ways. My experience was hearing “Well, uh….you’ll always know where you stand with Potential Boss” and in my enthusiasm interpreting it as potential boss must be charmingly frank. I didn’t get the job, but now I look back and think I probably dodged something there.

    6. Florida Fan 15*

      “If the unvarnished truth is that the place is a dumpster fire, then there is no ethical way to hire anyone.”

      I don’t know that I agree with this. If you’re honest with the applicant about it being a dumpster fire and they want the job anyway, I think you’ve done the ethical thing. I don’t think ethics require you to protect someone from something you wouldn’t want, regardless of what they think. That takes away their autonomy.

      1. Aggresuko*

        Yeah, I’m pretty much with this one. It sounds like the top hire would be leaving a good job for a freaking toilet and in that case, I don’t think it’s ethical. But if someone’s been unemployed for awhile and needs literally anything to pay the bills, a few months of dumpster fire while they keep looking might actually be worth it to them.

    7. OP1*

      OP1 here, and yes – I agree with you, I will be direct! It’s been helpful to gain perspective of folks here and the right language is key, I get it!

  18. Squidlet*

    For OP4, a “change in strategy” could mean that there needs to be more end-to-end co-ordination and ownership of the cake production process.

    This might be because
    – the overall cake concepts are not well thought out because 2 different teams are making key decisions
    – the cake batter folks need to play a more strategic role and that the cake decorating team needs to focus on execution and delivery
    – the cake batter and cake decorating teams are not working closely enough or are pulling in different directions
    – someone needs to be accountable for the end product

    It sounds as though John will now be the “cake product manager”, which is not to say that Steven as “lead decorator” is his junior, but that “cake strategy” decisions will be made by John while technical execution will still be led by John – based on the strategy.

  19. Spooncake*

    LW4: having been in Steven’s position myself as well as currently working with a team that’s undergoing this kind of restructuring, it’s possible that this was Steven’s own choice. Particularly if that area of the business is very technical, it may be that Steven is happy to do day-to-day supervisory stuff with his team and is keeping his direct reports on that basis, but finds that next-level management difficult or less fulfilling compared with the other aspects of his job. I know I’m happier doing leadership activities involved with the technical side of my job when there isn’t the additional burden of managerial admin, or when some of it is taken out of my hands,though that seems to be a relatively common experience for tech leads in my industry so I’m unsure if it still applies elsewhere.

    1. Silly Janet*

      Yes, I am in that exact position also and now report to my former peer. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, though no one directly told me she was promoted and I now directly report to her. Also it was definitely a promotion and I am pretty sure a raise for her.

  20. HBL*

    Regarding change in reporting lines it could be fine but personally I’m in same situation in a UK Org and I absolutely feel slighted. While my boss is on maternity leave all our team now report in to boss 1 level up except me who reports to a team peer.

    1. Allonge*

      Which points to another factor that makes this question difficult to answer: even if all the strategic reasons are there and understood by everyone, people will have their own feelings about a change like this.

      There is no ‘should’ about what you feel, the ‘should’ and ‘has to’ come in about the actions.

  21. Panda (she/her)*

    I’m so glad LW1 asked this question, as it’s something I’ve been struggling with. I am currently trying to leave my role because of cultural issues in my department, but I’m so great at selling people on the job that usually my boss asks me to be the one to meet with them and convince them how great it is (I used to truly believe this now I…don’t). I appreciate Alison’s response!

    1. Panda (she/her)*

      Wow, rereading that just made me realize how awkwardly I phrased that. To clarify, I am not selling actual people – I am pitching the job to candidates!

      1. SnappinTerrapin*

        For whatever reason, the usage is common. “Selling people on X” = “selling X to people”. It’s just an awkward phrase that developed in our language – or at least the American version of it.

      2. ecnaseener*

        Wasn’t someone on here just a few weeks ago equating recruiting to human trafficking lol?

        1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

          I must have missed that one… but I have often opined that the way sports teams trade players is functionally equivalent to it.

          1. I should really pick a name*

            Except that the players sign on for that situation and are paid well for it which I think makes a big difference

          2. Eyes Kiwami*

            This is the most bizarre take. Sports teams negotiating highly-paid players who have agents to represent players’ interests during regular negotiations is not at all similar to kidnapping/buying/selling human beings who have no rights, representation, or real pay. The only thing that is similar is people moving between organizations. By that standard, a business trip or expat assignment is human trafficking.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        You would score high on woo! From yesterday’s strength finders discussion.

    2. Grey Coder*

      When ExCompany was in its death spiral, I heard that the colleague tasked with interviews would take people on a tour of the office. “Here’s where the QA department was before they were made redundant. Here’s where the designers used to sit before they all quit.” Imagine all this in an Eeyore/Marvin the Paranoid Android voice, punctuated by heavy sighs.

      1. Observer*


        I imagine that doing this even in the most sprightly voice would be quite effective.

      2. quill*

        I remember giving tours at Worst Job. The thing was that the owner absolutely wanted people who wouldn’t be squicked out by our line of work, which was fair (worked with biosamples, sometimes human, almost always identifiably when they were,) but it definitely did not help people distinguish the “that’s gross but I can handle it” vibes from the nature of the work from the “this place is sketchy AF” vibes. Even cheerfully telling people “This is where we store all of the [samples, with more detail than the commentariat probably wants], yes, it always smells like this,” didn’t clarify anything.

        So there was a lot of “this place will eat your soul so much that you give yourself a headache “organizing” the junk closet just so you can have an afternoon of peace and quiet” eyebrow motion going on.

        Of course, they fired me literally a week after we finally hired someone, so all I was doing was delaying my own escape.

  22. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    OP1: Oh mate, do I ever sympathise. I used to work for a company that was extremely bad and I was planning on getting out as soon as my overdraft was paid off. They paid well but that was the only good thing about them. They did unethical things, management frequently turned on anyone they didn’t deem worthwhile (I.e. if you weren’t a white cis straight male under 30) and they were driving customers away.

    And yet I had to run a few interviews for them. If I was on my own I’d drop in a few bits about this being an extremely high pressure and chaotic workplace and unless you thrive in such environments you’re not going to be suited. I’d also mention that a lot of people are leaving so there may not be any training on the job either.

    Now there are some people who genuinely thrive on chaos. I’ve got one in my team – she’s actually happier during a crisis – but it’s definitely something to make people aware of.

    1. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Just curious: what does “as soon as my overdraft was paid off” mean? In the U.S., an “overdraft” is what happens when you write a check for more than what you have in your bank account and the bank either refuses to pay the check or charges you a big fee for trying to withdraw more funds than you have (or both). But I’m guessing that’s not what that means in England.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        You can google it. They mean the same thing in the US and UK except in the UK you are more officially borrowing from the bank while in the US most banks don’t “allow” an overdraft as a loan, it means you made a mistake. But I have had a bank in the US that allowed me to carry a certain amount of overdraft without a penalty.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          You can google it, or you can ask the person saying the thing what they specifically mean, since the first result on google isn’t always correct in context. Be kind when commenting.

      2. londonedit*

        In the UK most banks offer an overdraft facility – it means you agree with the bank that you can go X amount overdrawn without payments being refused and without incurring large fees for doing so. There is usually a charge for going into your overdraft, but it’ll be much much smaller than the charge for exceeding your agreed overdraft amount, or going overdrawn when you don’t have an agreement in place. It’s basically another form of borrowing – you can be in the red by a certain amount without being badly penalised. But of course it is still borrowing, and if you can ‘pay off your overdraft’ so that you’re back in the black, it’s a good thing.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Interesting. “Overdraft protection” is common in the U.S. as well, but I thought that was usually tied to having some other money with the bank that they could dip into. And I wouldn’t have thought that the bank would let you go into the red enough that paying it off would factor into staying into a job for very long.

          But maybe I underestimate the extent of overdraft that these agreements allow? Depending on how big the “certain amount” can be, it sounds almost like having a credit card balance on your bank account. Lots of people (in the U.S., anyway, and I assume elsewhere) have much more credit card debt than they have money in the bank, and it wouldn’t be uncommon for someone to put off leaving a job until their credit card debt was paid off.

          1. londonedit*

            The amounts offered vary depending on the current financial situation – it’s been ages since I had to dip into my overdraft but I think I have £250 that I can use without question. Other people might have larger overdraft amounts depending on their account/credit history etc. So on my bank statement or if I log on to internet banking it’ll say, for example, account balance £1000; available funds £1250. Because those extra funds are available to me should I run out of actual money. Obviously it’s meant to be an emergency thing, but plenty of people are constantly in their overdraft and of course that’s hard to get out of, because if your overdraft is say £500 and you’re at the limit of that every month, but your take-home pay is £1200, nearly half your salary is just going on clearing the overdraft every month before your account hits the red. So it is a little like credit card debt in that way. How it works here is that your current account/bank account will have a debit card linked to it, so that’s instant payment like paying with cash. Credit cards are a separate thing (I’ve heard in the US of people having the same card that does either debit or credit – we don’t have that). So if you overspend on your debit card, you’ll go instantly overdrawn. With credit cards you build up debt that you have to pay off every month (or at least make a minimum payment to avoid being charged interest on the balance) and any outstanding balance will attract interest every month until it’s all paid off.

            1. londonedit*

              (By ‘…before your account hits the red’ there, I obviously meant ‘hits the black’!)

        2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          Additionally I was so in the red that although the bank was allowing payments etc. I was also being charged a daily fee for having that overdraft. £3 a day adds up really fast!

      3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Basically my bank allows me to go up to 2.5k overdrawn (so my account is in the negative) before it stops payments. So to get my account back to a positive value I had to put in 2.5k.

        It’s common in the UK for most banks to have an overdraft facility.

        1. L.H. Puttgrass*

          Your bank would let you go overdrawn by £2,500? Yeah, that’s a lot! My first credit card didn’t have that high of a limit, and that was in dollars (granted, this was in the ’90s, but still). Add £3/day and…yeah. I was going to ask if they also charge interest on the balance, but at £90/month in fees, I guess they don’t need to.

          1. londonedit*

            Yeah, and one of the bad things about overdrafts is the fact that the more you need one, the more the bank is keen to give you a bigger overdraft limit (probably because they know they’ll get a steady stream of fees from you!) I’ve never really used my overdraft, which is why it’s only a small amount – if I needed more, I could negotiate that with the bank. Back when I was a student my overdraft limit was £1500 – because they knew students have no money and would mostly be living off their overdrafts.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            It’s a lot yeah, and only obtained by a combination of a) really needing it, b) having no mortgage (this house is mine) and c) having a sterling credit history.

            Which I don’t anymore. I got in a lot of debt during the time I was unemployed due to medical reasons and missed payments.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood, CTA*

      Good point. A chaos factory is a bad fit for a methodical planner, but some people thrive on its adrenaline rush.

    3. Kiki*

      Yeah, I think poor management repels more people than it attracts, but there are really some people suited to chaos or who don’t mind as long as they’re paid well. I am not one of them, but I work with one— he’s a super chill guy with the thickest skin.
      I would be very upfront about the role with candidates. Doing that will scare some people off, but with the job market as it is, a lot of those folks would leave a few weeks or months after starting anyway. It’s not just about getting a person in the role, it’s about getting someone who will stay.

  23. Lady_Lessa*


    As a veteran of companies being bought by larger ones, I would get your resume up and out. Since your company is small, and the production and distribution is off-site, that would be very easy for another company in the same business to just buy the formulations and make it at their facility.

    1. Junior Assistant Peon*

      Many plants I’ve visited used to be free-standing companies, with a bunch of empty offices where the accounting, marketing, etc people used to be. If your workplace is just an office with the manufacturing done elsewhere, this gives you a pretty good idea of what to expect after an acquisition.

    2. londonedit*

      Yep – years ago when the small publishing company I worked for was bought by a much bigger one, they said they’d ‘keep redundancies to a minimum’, but realistically they only wanted a few of our big-ticket authors, and seeing as they already had their own centralised sales/marketing/publicity/rights/production departments that worked across the whole company, there wasn’t really room for many people to transfer over.

  24. Hiring Mgr*

    I realize this isn’t in OP2’s control, but it’s not surprising to me at all that a college student isn’t going to put that much thought/effort into researching a part-time, minimum wage job..

  25. mreasy*

    OP4: this happened to me, and the reason was simply that the dept head had too many direct reports, and the team in question needed more hands-on leadership, so I took over as the only person on the team with significant management experience. It can be as simple as that.

  26. BethDH*

    For OP 2, if you are noticing this as a change instead of just something you happen to be mentioning now, one thing to consider is that the average college student graduating now is going to be less experienced than usual.
    Lots of students at my institution didn’t work summer jobs, and lots of the typical career-prep summer roles (paid internships and summer programs) were cancelled the last few years, or run in a very pared down, often mostly remote version.
    Many of them got less experience in work-study roles as well. The students who work with me normally get a lot of experience in an office setting, often including things like sitting in on meetings where job descriptions are revised, and at least one of them never met with any of the office besides me.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      This is an excellent point. Youngest was a freshman when the pandemic hit, scotching all the internships he’d applied to. He got one in ’21 that could be done fully remote (software design); a lot of non-remote internships were still on hold then.

  27. MrMassTransit*

    OP1 – I agree with Alison’s advice. I’ve found I do fine in some adverse environments. At a previous job, during a period of organizational turmoil, an executive said to me, ‘Only the strongest weeds grow here at this company’ and we both sort of laughed about it. In that particular case, we had great leadership but a lot of external pressures and challenges outside of our control. There were a lot of departures but I stayed on until I reached the point where I needed to leave to grow (and I loved the job). I’d be prepared to answer some questions about what is going on, though. Micromanagement, requiring people to be on call at all hours for no reason? Forget it, I’d never accept something like that. But if I can be assured I’ll be given flexibility and a reasonable amount of freedom, I’m willing to look past other challenges if the organization’s product or offerings interest me. Others might be fine with the factors that would make me run for the hills.

    1. OP1*

      OP1 here – I really appreciate your points about being willing to answer questions about it as I lay it out, I will be taking this advice when I extend the verbal offer and lay out some of the realities. Thank you!

  28. M.*

    LW #3: Unfortunately, I think this is also common in higher education. I’ve been with my current university for five years now, and while I don’t regret making the move, the position they took on “””needing””” to speak with my then-manager was extremely off-putting. It essentially got to the point where I said to the hiring manager, point blank, that I needed to know that an offer was coming (in writing) if I’m giving you my manager’s contact information. I think it’s a terrible practice, and I hope it has changed since the pandemic.

    1. HolyMolyGuacamole*

      Yes. This is still common in higher education because departments assume that you only change jobs for a different city or state.

  29. The Other Dawn*

    RE: #5

    I’m in banking and I’ve been through a few acquisitions at this point, both as the bank being bought and the bank being sold. Bank acquisitions are different from other types, of course, but we still go through that period of uncertainty, not knowing if we’ll be employed or not. The timing from when the deal is publicly announced to the time when staffing decisions are made is often six months or more.

    You won’t know anything about the future of your job until your CEO has a deal with a buyer. It’s possible the CEO would make provisions for current employees, but that’s not a given. I’d get your resume in order so you’re ready to hit the ground running once you know something, or even before that.

  30. Anon nonnie nonnie nay*

    For LW3
    Maybe this is just me and my state (NY), but I’ve frequently been asked for my current manager’s info while applying for State jobs (multiple times I didn’t use him as a reference and they specifically asked for it at the end of the interview). I was temping for a State agency at the time (not any of the agencies I was interviewing with) so that might be it? My boss knew I was job hunting the whole time (temp job with no chance of being hired), so it didn’t threaten my job, but yeah, it still struck me as weird.

  31. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    LW#2 – If you think those are fun, you should go on interviews as a candidate where the Hiring Manager has no idea what the position does.

    1. Hanani*

      Clearly we need the ultimate mashup, in which both interviewee and interviewer don’t know what the job is. Do they both just try to BS their way through? Does someone eventually try to hunt down the job posting? Do they mutually waste one another’s time and then ghost or another? The possibilities are endless!

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I’ve gone on too many interviews where I get a list of required technologies and I end up making educated guesses for the hiring manager as to how their systems might work and what a programmer in that role might be doing day-to-day. (e.g. The Miracle Worker II position requires SQL, so I would guess I’d be interacting with one or more databases, at least reading from and/or writing to. It requires Visual Basic, so there’s some Windows application programming. It requires SSH, so there’s some remote access, probably command line. It requires the Automation product, so you’re probably a shop that uses IA as your automation backbone. It requires Augury, so I assume Management can’t communicate their decisions clearly and in a timely manner…) The interviewer is usually impressed with what I can infer, then I withdraw myself from consideration.

          Let’s add a required reference from the hypothetical interviewee’s supervisor, who also doesn’t know what the interviewee does on a daily basis or how the new role will work, just for a complete clueless set.

          1. quill*

            Equally fun is when the hiring manager has dumped the name of every piece of machinery / chemical process across the entire company into the job listing as an acronym soup.

            “Yes, I know WPM, assuming that stands for Wombat Poop Measurement,”
            “We don’t have wombats… and this department doesn’t use Wobbly Physics Media either, why the heck is that on here?”

      1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

        This reminds me of my favorite work story ever: my husband used to manage a bar adjacent to a college, and they’d regularly have the owner, Rebecca (can’t remember her real name) interviewing college kids in the bar during quiet times. One day a young woman comes in for her interview, they tell her to have a seat while waiting for the owner. A young man comes in, they tell him to have a seat too. Well the guy goes up to the girl and says “Rebecca?” and she says “Hi!”. He sits down and they start chatting so much the staff assumed they knew each other.

        Readers, they did not know each other. Turns out each thought the other was the owner/interviewer, and didn’t realize it until the actual owner came out to talk to them!

  32. Mockingjay*

    OP1, I asked a similar question in an Open Thread a few years ago about ExToxicJob. The commentariat made the same points as Alison: while the job had legitimate issues, the things I struggled with may not bother a new hire, this job could be a lifeline for someone who needs work, and my feelings about the company and program leadership created a very biased view and I needed to be more objective about explaining the role and the reporting structure. Alison’s suggestion to have applicants talk with peers is an excellent idea.

    (P.S. The person who replaced me stayed for 18 months until the contract expired and was picked up by the new wining company. My dire predictions of the place failing imminently did not come to pass.)

    1. OP1*

      OP1 here – thank you for this tale about a similar situation! It’s hard to be objective, and I need to be! I feel more comfortable after reading a number of these threads.

  33. Safely Retired*

    On #3, asking for a reference from your current manager, my daughter is getting exactly that now. There is no way that is going to happen. What she is going to offer, may have already provided, is a copy of her recent performance review by her current manager.

  34. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    LW 3, my experience might be an outlier, especially since Allison said that it is rare, but every job I have ever interviewed for, bar one, required talking to my direct supervisor. In some cases it was super easy because my grant had wrapped up and it was a natural transition or I was moving. In other it was fraught, especially with my boss who was absolutely batshit (e.g. “Well, I don’t know what he does in his own time! He might touch children for all I know, but here he is fine” – direct quote) or the boss that hated every inch of me and had a malicious streak (e.g. I listened to her plot with another manager to get a 3rd fired – which worked and ended in an age discrimination suit that was settled – all based on 3rd manager not listening to my manager on something trivial).

    With the good bosses where the leave wasn’t natural: “Hey, I interviewed for $JOB because the position had X, Y, and Z, which you know I’m a sucker for. They want to speak with you. I’m not sure if I am going to take the job because of A, B, and C because I am happy here, but would like to see where this goes.”

    With bad bosses: “Hey, I interviewed for $JOB, they will be calling you soon as a reference” and then I give the person calling the following heads up, “My current boss can be really erratic so if you end up with a really strange or off kilter reference, try calling again the next morning. They tend to be more predictable then”

    1. anonymous73*

      That’s interesting. I’ve had interviewers ask if it was possible to speak to my current manager and I’ve always said no, unless I had been given a heads up by said manager that my job was in jeopardy. Even with a good boss, I wouldn’t want to alert them.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I’m wondering if it is because I have worked mostly at government or non-profits, although the 2 for-profits did the same thing. However, in the case of the for-profits, it was when I was right out of grad school so they talked to my fellowship supervisor or when I had relocating to a new state, a situation my boss already knew and who acted as a connection to the company? I have never had it come back on me, mostly because my bad bosses already had a reputation in the field and they honestly couldn’t have gotten worse than they already were.

  35. Safely Retired*

    For #5, the best you might hope for is that the deal includes a provision that existing employees who are let go within some period, say six months or a year, get a decent severance package. With such a small company such is not likely to happen unless the CEO makes a strong point about it. It might be worth putting the idea in his head before anything gets finalized. A lot depends on the size (and attitude) of the company doing the buyout.
    With large corporate acquisitions such provisions are not all that unusual. I used to work for a very large, household name, consumer products company. It was acquired by a far larger company on the Dow 30. When I was laid off within the acquisition process I received “the package”, which combined my 28 years of service with whatever the terms were in the deal. I received an unbelievable 93 weeks of severance. I can’t believe that is common, but perhaps something like an extra month’s pay could be possible if the CEO cares enough. With such a small team the CEO is likely to know everyone, so that might help a bit.

  36. WantonSeedStitch*

    LW #2: I find that having a quick phone screen with job applicants before inviting folks to a full interview is very helpful. In my workplace, it’s HR that does the phone screen. It’s mostly a check to ensure that they do understand what the job entails, that they do have relevant experience (when such is necessary), and that their salary expectations are in line with what we are able to offer. Once those things are confirmed, we set up an interview.

    1. anonymous73*

      This. And those calls always start off with “let me tell you about the company and the position”, followed by a few questions to see if I’m a good enough fit to send my info to the hiring manager.

  37. cardigarden*

    LW: if your applicants are coming from a student jobs portal, it’s entirely possible your position might be misclassed on the portal end. I remember applying for internships for my library school capstone and applied to something that I thought was in digitization, but it wasn’t until partway through the interview that I realized the work unit did complex computer coding. (I ended the interview, explaining that my school misrepresented what their office did and that I didn’t have the skills for that and apologized for taking up their time.)

    Now that I’m hiring students myself (academic library), I’ve absolutely built into my own expectations that about 85% of my applicants just need the cash and it doesn’t matter where it comes from. And that’s fine. I don’t need them to be ~passionate about libraries. Shifting the purpose of the interviews from “are you interested in what we do” to “can I train you to do what I need from you” could be really helpful in your situation.

  38. Just Me*

    LW3 – My current manager is one who won’t budge on the “reference from current employer” thing. She’s worked basically in our office for her whole career and she has a very healthy attitude that employees should be in communication with their managers about their job and expectations and be up-front with their employer if they’re unhappy or want to move in a different direction. She expects that employers will be understanding and helpful and, if the employee is good, provide a good reference. In a perfect world that would make sense, but we all know that it can cause huge issues if you ask your employer for a reference without a new offer in hand.

    In my case, I pushed back somewhat and explained that my current company didn’t know I was looking, and New Boss explained that because I’m relatively new to the work I’m doing now, she wanted a reference from someone who had seen me do the same job I would be doing with them–so if you’ve been in the field for a while, you may have more standing to argue for a reference from an older employer. In my case, my workaround was to have a current higher-up assistant director provide a reference instead–one who I’d had some candid conversations with about how work at our company was going, but who I also knew wouldn’t push me out if I didn’t get the offer.

  39. Eldritch Office Worker*

    #2 – we start a lot of interviews with a question along the lines of “tell me what you think this position entails” so that a) we can clarify any misconceptions before continuing and b) we can look for patterns of misunderstanding and clarify our job ads accordingly. This might help you discern where the disconnect is – whether it’s the information provided or the candidates themselves.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      I like this practice, and am going to encourage my organization to steal it going forward.

  40. irene adler*

    #3: This aggravates me to no end! What if they don’t hire you and now your current position is in jeopardy because they learned you are job hunting? Some bosses are spiteful enough to terminate employees who are job hunting.

    I’ve asked about indemnifying me should I provide my current supervisor as a reference, not get hired and subsequently lose my current job as a result of learning I am job hunting. Not one has agreed to this. To which I ask, tell me why should I take the risk here?

    1. The Witch in the Woods*

      Yup. I work for a non-profit and recently applied for a position at state university. After the interview I had to submit a Release of Information to clear them of any consequences from speaking to my current manager. I didn’t get an offer and I probably put myself on the bottom with a poor interview. But I still had to alert my boss because I don’t know what their processes are like. My stomach was in knots for a month and a half after that. Luckily I don’t *think* my boss would penalize me, but that doesn’t really matter because she doesn’t need a reason to fire me. After the rejection I sent a strongly worded email to HR describing exactly why it’s a bad idea and questioning how they treat their employees if they can be so cavalier with other people’s incomes. If it happens again I’m definitely going to push back.

  41. Anonymous Poster*

    LW3- some US government interviewers will always want a current manager reference. Some will want it for a security clearance determination. Others just can’t imagine why it would ever be a problem. It’s weird, but at a federal level, sadly a thing.

    1. Dragon*

      Things must have changed in the 30 years since my brief Federal career. Back then the only agency that wanted their evaluation form completed by your current supervisor, was the General Services Administration. I didn’t apply.

  42. VP of Monitoring Employees’ LinkedIn and Indeed Profiles*


    I’ve had this issue when applying for internal vacancies. My unit’s director hated that one of his best performers was “disloyal” enough to look elsewhere. Since I have a niche job in a niche industry, it’s difficult to simply leave. As a result, my career has been essentially dead-ended for the last 12 years, and since others have gotten promotions that I might have gotten, I will remain dead-ended until I retire.

  43. Lurking Tom*

    LW4: Oh man, I am Steven right now & at least for me, I feel very very redundant now and am actively looking for something else before management realizes my redundancy. In our structure, my peer & I each had a single direct report. Now I report to her (giving her 2 direct reports) and my direct report still reports to me in theory, but my former peer/new manager now also does 1-1 meetings with him and assigns him work as well. My title still says “manager” but it feels largely like legacy wording now. Nothing says “dead weight” like a manager who doesn’t really manage anything, so I’m pretty anxious about the possibility of the ax dropping at any point. All this is to say that if I was the actual Steven, I’d be putting out feelers/resumes/applications ASAP.

  44. anonymous73*

    #2 are you sure your job description is clear about what the position entails? You may want to have someone else look at it and make sure. We were recently hiring for a junior developer and everyone we interviewed was wrong for the position. It wasn’t because they hadn’t come prepared…it was because the job description wasn’t as clear as it could have been. Once we had the Senior Developer make some changes to it, we were able to find someone to fill the position.
    #5 unfortunately you won’t have any “rights” unless you signed a very specific contract that addresses this type of thing. A company doesn’t even have to give you severance is they let you go. If I were you, I’d start looking for a new job. I’ve been laid off twice in the past due to the banks I worked for being sold.

  45. learnedthehardway*

    OP#1 – being upfront about the situation at your company is the ethical and practical thing to do here. I mean, you don’t have to describe it as a nuclear waste dump, but being clear that this is a challenging environment and that there has been turnover will mean that candidates who can’t handle that will self-select out of the process, as opposed to joining and leaving with barely any notice 2 months into the job.

    You can describe the situation as one of high change, where there has been turnover as a result of new leadership and a new strategy in the business. This means that it will be challenging, but also that there will be opportunities to grow, to make their mark on the company, and that some of the older, entrenched ways of doing things have already been challenged, meaning that someone with good process optimization can really have an impact. (even if the entrenched old ways were great, there’s still an opportunity for change here).

  46. thisgirlhere*

    Yup, I agree this is super normal. It could also be that Sharon spends a lot of time coordinating between the teams and it makes more sense to have John do that directly instead.

  47. Vaca*

    #5 – I’m an investment banker and I see this all the time. Sadly, you have basically no rights. Note that I don’t think this is morally correct, it’s just the way it works. Here’s the scoop:

    1. If the buyer just wants the brand name, you are almost certainly out of a job. They will be moving production and admin and shutting down the facility over the next 18 months. Your only hope here is to go to the CEO and ask for some protections. The fact that they haven’t already offered this up suggests you’re in a bad spot.
    2. If, on the other hand, they expect to invest in the local facility, you have *a lot* of power, especially if you are key to the production. The buyer will not want to lose you. Go to the CEO and ask for protections. If they won’t offer them up, start looking immediately and make it known you are unhappy. The buyer will be asking about key employees and probably to speak with key employees. Refuse to stay with the company without a contract. You can typically get 18 months guaranteed.

    All that to say, go approach the CEO yesterday and ask. No matter what the first step is the same.

    If you know if the buyer is private equity or strategic I can give more advice.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Thank you for addressing the question of rights directly, I felt like that had been sidestepped a bit. It’s an awful situation to be in, to not know the future of your job or your company, and unfortunately no the workers aren’t protected at all (at least in the US, I don’t know if that’s different elsewhere).

      So no OP while you don’t have ‘rights’ in the legal sense, please feel empowered to advocate for yourself and your colleagues during this stressful transition.

  48. Oakwood*

    Re: company being acquired

    If the company acquiring you has existing lines in the product space they already have production, distribution, and management of their own. They are likely only interested in the brand and formulas and will roll that into their system.

    People with some skill or product knowledge specific to the product will likely get an offer from the buying company. As an AA, unless the current CEO takes a position with the new company and takes you with him (which often happens) I think it’s likely you’ll be laid off at some point in the future. It will take some time for the products to be incorporated into the new company’s system, so I wouldn’t expect to be laid off before the ink is dry, but I suspect it’s coming.

    It’s also possible the new company doesn’t have any products in this area. In that case they may view your little company as a growth opportunity–something to grow into a new division. In which case you might be secure in your position.

    I’d have a blunt talk with my boss.

  49. feath*

    For OP2, this part in the answer: “we ask that you familiarize yourself with our organization (LINK) and the job description (LINK) ahead of time.”
    I’ve found that most jobs I’ve applied to do this as part of the boilerplate email after you send an application in, and even sometimes again after the initial screening interview.

  50. Doctors Whom*

    LW2, as someone who both hires student interns and has a 19 year old college kid in my house:

    – College students applying for minimum wage jobs are mostly applying to every possible job to see what pans out, because they need a paycheck to feed themselves. They are 18, 19, applying for everything. They are not someone doing a careful professional job search saying “yes, this is the position for me!”

    – Even if you think the description is clear, you are (presumably) no longer 19 and you are steeped in the context of your organization. I noticed yesterday that a team at my workplace posted a position for an intern that was full of industry-specific acronyms. And the industry is so specific that fully adult humans who are not veterans of said industry will have no idea what they mean. No 19 year old intern will have any clue at all what those words mean. To the team hiring the intern, they know exactly what project they will put the student on, so they basically wrote all that out in the PD and said “yes! we were very specific about what the student will do!”

    – Most of the students you interview will not have any kind of professional background. And if they don’t know, or have time, to avail themselves of coaching from their campus career development center, they may never have gotten any advice about how to prepare for a job interview.

    Alison’s advice to help them along by providing specific context in the email you send to set up the interview AND use it as an equity practice is so, so, so wonderful.

  51. Liz*

    LW3 (reference from current supervisor): I actually had this happen when I was interviewing for an external company – and fairly recently. I was pretty surprised when they asked if they could contact my current supervisor (the CEO) or a close colleague as they knew I was still employed. Obviously I didn’t want to reveal my job search to him, and I was one of the few that reported to him so using another colleague was out. I basically gave the same answer Alison did, and I also offered alternatives such as proof of employment (if that’s why they were asking) or additional references. And if that wasn’t sufficient, I said that I could give them a reference from a current high-level colleague but only if that reference were contingent on an offer in-hand.
    They were fine with this answer, but I definitely wrestled over what to say for a bit. In the end I didn’t get the job (but not for this reason) – and actually got an even better one at a different company just a couple months later! Good luck in your search, LW!

  52. DoNotReply*

    LW5: The first question you should have asked, when told of the sale, is “What does this mean for us?”.

    1. Mockingjay*

      To be kind, news like this is a shock. Even if you previously suspected something, in actuality you need time to absorb the shock; then you’ll be able to formulate questions. I’ve been on a short-term contract; we ALL knew it was coming to an end, and still, when they called us into the room with HR, it was frightening, demoralizing, and horrible. (We bombarded HR with questions a day or so later, when we had time to process.)

    2. Aggresuko*

      Really, could be anything, unfortunately. Some places “clean house” and get rid of everyone, some people get kept or most people get kept, but big ol’ changes are likely to happen under new management regardless.

  53. Purple Cat*

    Virtual hugs to LW5. I’ve gone through our company being sold and it is so, so, so stressful.
    I was secretly hoping for a layoff with a sweet severance package, but 5 years later am still gainfully employed at the same company. Most good companies will offer a severance package, but this column exists because there are so many bad companies out there. There really is no guarantee to you, and you have to balance how much personal risk you’re willing to take on.

  54. Reading Your Applications*

    LW #2- I am really interested in this phenomenon because I work with graduate programs and we are seeing this with our own applicants as well. These are career training programs, meaning you get a certification for a specific career afterwards. There would be very little reason to do these programs if you were not interested in these career paths; if you just wanted general graduate level study of these fields, equivalent degrees exist that are less specific.

    Still, we are getting an increased amount of applicants who are unaware of what the professions do. When we tell them sometimes that their goals are off-base, they do not seem to take that in, continue with the program, and then are surprised when they have to do the very things they were told they would have to do. We also have students in the programs who tell us that (major component of the career) is uninteresting to them, and hence they don’t want to do the readings or assignments.

    It’s very odd, honestly. There is a lot of information out there about these careers and on our website, and I try to direct people to it, but they still don’t seem to take it in.

    I can’t understand why people would not research the company they are interviewing with or the profession they want to study. I wonder sometimes if many people can no longer maintain a facade of being interested in things they aren’t interested in. For example, with our programs there are several attractive benefits to working in these careers, and I wonder if there are a percentage of the applicants who really don’t care about the work, they care about the benefits and there is such collective burn-out at this point that they can’t pretend to be interested. This is just a means to an end, so what does it matter the details of what the day to day work is? It could be the same with the job, that they need a job and yours seems like an improvement, and they don’t really care what the duties are or what the organization does. They just care about what they care about and they can’t pretend otherwise.

    Maybe that’s too cynical, but even before the pandemic it was a hard few years… I wonder if people are just increasingly exhausted by it all.

    1. quill*

      I mean, I know my brain capacity has gone down every year of pandemic. Memory? That’s for when I took the safety of other people breathing on me for granted.

    2. Pescadero*

      ” I wonder if there are a percentage of the applicants who really don’t care about the work, they care about the benefits and there is such collective burn-out at this point that they can’t pretend to be interested. This is just a means to an end, so what does it matter the details of what the day to day work is?”

      You imply this a bad thing – but it’s really the reality for most people.

      1. Reading Your Applications*

        I definitely didn’t meant to imply that it is a bad thing, but the details of the work do matter to a degree. If you apply for a job as a Teapot Painter and you aren’t artistic, have poor attention to detail, and hate the smell of paint… it’s going to make for a pretty miserable job experience for you and likely the company won’t reach its goals either.

        If a candidate does enough research to go, well I don’t love painting, but I’m fine at it and I can do it well enough, so I will apply for this job, that’s much better than someone who applies and then tries to turn the job into a job it will never be. That’s more what I am describing.

  55. CoveredinBees*

    LW2, have someone who has never worked in social services-related fields look at your job description. While I have seen this many areas, I’ve found social service-related job postings are full of everyday words that are used in a very specific way. A way that you wouldn’t be able to decode unless they’ve already worked in that area.

    For example, a friend and I each applied to jobs around the same time. She was hoping for something in the area of community organizing and me in the area of legal assistance. The organizations to which we applied did things in those realms and, best we could tell, that’s what we were applying for. As luck would have it, we should have swapped applications. Very few websites are clear on how individual roles fit into the overall work and the job descriptions had the “term of art” problem I described.

    When I was leaving another social services org, I did a rewrite of the job description to make it clear what the role did since the title was vague. I explained why I had made the edits but my manager said she thought the old description was clear enough and posted the old description. It took them 6+ months to hire someone because people would come in for interviews or write applications for what they *thought* the job was.

  56. the Viking Diva*

    OP2: Lots of good perspectives here about where students are coming from.
    Another good resource for examining your expectations is the student employees you already have! With the benefit of hindsight, they can look over the job description and help you highlight what is important in the work, or what traits or skills will help people do well in it. When I set up interviews with student workers, I usually send the job description (not assuming they can find it or will have kept it – as others noted, many are coming in from a simple college job board listing, and applying for everything), ask them to review it and identify any questions, and signal that “I will ask you about X Y and Z.”

  57. Champagne Cocktail*

    One job asked me for references from my current supervisor and the two before that. It was problematic because one of the earlier ones had moved and I had no idea where he was.

    In the case of my then-current job, my boss had previously gone to a department I wanted to transfer to. They had turned me down and she gave them hell. She knew I was ready for something else, but there was no place in my department to promote me to. I could ask her and she gave it happily.

  58. Kyrielle*

    OP4, unless you’ve talked to them you may be absent key information they have. Changes in strategy, as Alison notes, but also what they wanted. It’s entirely possible they needed to reduce the number of people reporting to Sharon or align those teams more tightly and had discussions with both John and Steven before this change.

    At a previous job, I was the senior person on the team and providing lots of SME guidance. I was offered the position of leading the team. Oh heck no. I neither wanted to be a manager, nor did I have the skills for it. The latter I could have learned, but the former was pretty decisive.

    I spent a few months reassuring miscellaneous people as they gathered their courage to talk to me that NO, I had not wanted that position, and no, I wasn’t upset at not being given the position. They’d offered it to me, and I’d said no; they’d asked me to take it anyway, and I said no. I had some say in who did step into that position, and they were junior to me in seniority and product knowledge – but still entirely suited for the role, and they wanted it. They did the job better than I would have, and they were happier with it too.

    What I’m trying to get at here is, maybe Steven didn’t want that. Maybe he is upset, and will need to work on his skills or next steps, but it’s also totally possible that he is fine with this and was involved in the decision.

  59. Sazerac*

    I’m a contractor and have been for quite some time so I’m pretty up to date on US job boards. A lot of the job descriptions out there are incredibly poorly written and sometimes have nothing to do with the day-to-day work of the position. So many of them are word salad that an inexperienced person might jump right to the qualifications and think, “I can do this,” or “I can learn to do this,” and apply.

  60. Egmont Apostrophe*

    What rights do you have when a business is sold?

    You have the right to start looking for a new job immediately.

  61. Starchy*

    LW5 – I’m going thru my 3rd company buyout. In my experience you will oftentimes be told that everyone will have a job because they don’t want a mass exodus. Typically the next phase is either layoffs of execs/management with a replacement of people they bring in. Next either a layoff labelled as right sizing or similar. In my current buyout, we are deliberately letting our numbers go down by attrition because the company’s plans are to let the majority of people go when they have switched to offshore. Every merger/buyout I have been in has been brutal. I know there are ones which go well, but statistically 75-90% mergers don’t go well. Yes, I am looking for another job because I know they only want me until everything has been moved to their platform.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I agree with your statistics, since my experience is similar. But one of the better things that happened to me, is that the company moved me from CA to the St. Louis area. I was glad to get back to the center part of the country.

    2. kiki*

      One thing to consider with a buyout is how essential you are to the core function of the business. If you’re working for a software company and you’re one of the lead developers on their flagship product, your job may be safer than others. The LW is the administrative assistant to the CEO, so their job is likely dependent on whether the CEO will be staying on through the merger or not, so it is probably worth it for LW to discuss his intentions with her. And even if his plan is to stay, know that a lot of original CEOs and founders are phased out over a few months.

      I went through a merger at my last job and while my job was safe, the working environment fell into decline. They were trying to “lean out” the company, but truthfully the company was pretty lean as it was, so it ended up that everyone was trying to do more with less, which was incredibly demoralizing. I left for that reason, but one of my coworkers stayed and was able to negotiate part time so he could care for his new baby.

  62. AcadLibrarian*

    LW#2 – I work in a university library. Often when we’re hiring for student assistants what happens is they apply for one job and HR puts them in the candidate pool for other jobs they are qualified for. Say they’ve applied for a job in the conservation lab, but the cataloging supervisor calls them for an interview. We know this happens, so we’re careful to describe the job and provide the job description when we contact them for interviews.

  63. Laney Boggs*

    LW 2, i wish all employers would include a link/pdf of the job descriptions. I’m applying for dozens of positions a month and when an employer takes more than a week to get in touch- I have no idea who they are.

    Most of the time I can search for it again, but there’s definitely been interviews where the position has disappeared from the web and I’m flying blind.

    1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      Please make yourself a spreadsheet for jobs you apply to! And copy/paste the job description (rather than just the link) so that when the page disappears you still have the information.

      I use Google Sheets for this. For actual jobs, my column headings are: Date, Company Name, Job Title, result? (meaning, did they reply), interview date, interviewer name, Source (which job board), Applied Where? (company site or job board), Location, Notes, Text of Job Ad. For contracts, my column headers are Client agency, Recruiter name, Details (job title, client name, hourly rate, length of contract, etc), RTR date (when I signed an agreement with the agency), Interview date, More details. And I give all the rows for a specific date the same background color. It *really* helps when I’m feeling discouraged, because I have the evidence right there that I am applying to places. It also helps me not apply to the same job multiple times because I can check back and see that, Yup, I applied to that one last week.

  64. Churlish Gambino*

    LW2, if somewhere between ⅔ and ¾ of your candidates don’t understand the org or job when interviewing, that says to me the job posting is unclear. Please take another look at it, with at least one other set of eyes (especially a set of eyes that doesn’t have the internal, institutional knowledge of the org/job that you or whoever wrote the posting have!) and see where you can make changes and add clarity. I would even consider asking some of the confused candidates for feedback on how to make it clearer.

    I personally feel that jobs who hire primarily students and/or other first-time job-seekers have an additional duty to help these folks understand hiring and interviewing norms (e.g. doing research on the company before the interview) as a matter of equity, but I also understand that this isn’t always realistic or doable. But at the very least, the job posting should be reviewed.

    LW4, I ask this genuinely and without snark: the reasons for org/team restructuring, changes in titles, etc. vary so widely and require so much org/team specific context and nuance to understand that I’m really curious as to what kind of answer you were expecting from Alison.

  65. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    LW4 – this is not uncommon. It happened in our company when our “Sharon” needed to offload some managerial tasks that couldn’t easily be divided. Budget management was one. – If cake making has a single budget it might need to have a single budget manager, etc.

  66. Fluffy Fish*

    3 – I work for gov which has notoriously rigid hiring rules that are often weird, and even on our applications it asks for your supervisors at your jobs, but also has a box right next to it that asks if we can contact that person.

    If a gov agency can get it right, every other employer else should be able to manage.

  67. AnonPagan*

    LW #1 – I feel your pain for a different reason (though I have ended up in jobs where I wish someone had warned me that my boss was psycho instead of asking ‘can you work with difficult people’). I’ve just given my notice and have to help replace myself (very small company). I love the company I work for, it’s a great place and I do enjoy my work, but I’m pretty sure they will be put into administration before the year is out because they make terrible financial decisions. I am leaving because I need a job that is stable and I’m not worried about losing down the road. I am struggling with feeling that it’s unethical to hire someone into this situation – especially since I work on the financial side of things. Ultimately came here to say that hopefully you can be honest with your candidate and still find someone who with do well in that environment.

  68. Ann O'Nemity*

    #2 I love Alison’s advice.

    Also, is there a program coordinator with the university that you can share your feedback with? It would be useful for them to know that so many of their students aren’t properly prepared for the interview.

    I’d also like to mention that many students who are applying for internships and jobs for the first time now have not received the same experiences as previous cohorts due to the pandemic. These are students who may have never had an opportunity to attend in-person career fairs, resume reviews, interview practice sessions, or other career workshops. They may have spent the past two years doing only virtual classes. Please be extra kind and understanding, and offer them advice to do better in future application processes.

  69. NewMarketNewRules*

    OP #2, I’m not saying this is your set-up, or your situation (when they’re parroting back your job/description it’s more likely not the case), but just in case there is any linkage I wanted to give background. Recently when I was applying to a lot of positions as an early-career person, there might be reception/office assistant positions at different departments at the same company. So if it was 100% specific that it was Company–Dept–position, then I’d wonder which one it was, this was especially the case if both posted the same wording for reception positions in different departments (accounting v marketing)

  70. RedinSC*

    Ethically Hire – I was the person who left a cushy job where I could have spent the rest of my life but not really grown in my career to take a job, with a boss that I believed in. And he *left* a month after I started.

    The organization that I join was a hot mess, and I wish I had known that. BUT also, his leaving put me in a position to do and learn more and that translated into a better job 1.5 years later when I was fired for disagreeing with the president.

    So, this is a tricky situation, you have a candidate who is looking to learn and grow, and does this job provide that? If you leave in a month will this person be left hanging with no support? What would the upside for this employee be if you left? Downside?

    I tend to agree with Allison here in that you need to really either 1. see if you can not hire in until things settle or 2. let the person know that they’re joining at a time of transition, that is bringing chaos so they know what they’re getting in to.

    I do wish that someone had warned me how narcissistic the president was, and to help me navigate him. I am a little resentful of the guy who hired me in without that disclosure, and in the end, it was ugly, but like I said, I learned a LOT that I wouldn’t have, and got a much better job after.

  71. Jackie*

    Regarding OP1. So I have worked at a sexist workplace and was kind of unsure how to tell the person I was hiring. Once it kind of slipped out – yes as a women sometimes opportunities seem less available but you’re fine – because he was a man. I must admit when I was interviewing a women I ended up not saying this part. The sexism was pretty subtle and it was more of a problem when you were higher up in the management chain, not in the position I was hiring into (at that level there were slightly more women than men). The company did have a bunch of D&I classes and diversity goals and stuff but the fact was, the vast majority of the top rang were males, and I definitely felt the ceiling as I was trying to get promoted. Honestly anybody could just look this up on the website. I still don’t know how I should have phrased it.

  72. lcsa99*

    #5 When my former company was sold we weren’t told anything pretty much until they were ready to move the new company in our offices, and at that point they were ready to upgrade our computers and teach us the new system and the additional work we were given. We were told at that point that they had secured all of our jobs…

    What they DIDN’T tell us until a year later was that they had only guaranteed our jobs for one year. One year to the day, they let half of our staff go, and did a trickle of more layoffs for months that second year they were running things. So I wouldn’t assume anything, particularly if you’re the smaller company. If this goes through, at best, things are likely to be in turmoil for several years after.

  73. Sequoia*

    On the reporting change, there’s probably a great reason for it that they may not be able to explain for a variety of reasons.

    I’ve seen a lot of stuff like this, recently in my company and team even. It is usually some combination of someone needing fewer directs, someone wanting/needing more manager support, a performance issue that requires closer supervision, future team growth that’s being proactively planned for, a need for tighter integration between frontend/backend teams so they remove an intermediary, etc.

    As a manager I once got to choose where my team got moved to in a re-org and chose the option that looked like a demotion. It was a hard choice but a manager who understood our work better, understood and appreciated my management style, and had fewer other responsibilities was what we needed at the time. But I couldn’t exactly say “hey, Paul’s not a great manager for us so I chose Fred” to my team. We still had to work with Paul daily. So instead a lot just went unexplained or was poorly explained with “for efficiency/load balancing/alignment reasons” and variations on “trust me”.

  74. CCC*

    I work at a college career services office. There are a ton of good suggestions in here for LW #2. To add on to those, if you add a little bit about the expected tasks into the qualifications section that may help. Like “must be able to communicate effectively with students with varying disabilities” or something. When I ask, probably about 90% of the job seekers I work with skip past any intro info, responsibilities, KSAs, etc. and go straight to the qualifications section before applying. Some of those will go back and read the whole thing before the interview, but a good amount don’t do that, and often they haven’t saved the description anywhere and it’s not available online anymore when the interview occurs.

  75. sarah*

    For #2, are these students finding out about the job listings through the university, as in a work-study or similar capacity? Because that could explain it– they’re looking for a work-study job and just going down the list provided to them by the school. They’re not preparing too much because most of those jobs are basically unskilled menial stuff: data entry, restocking shelves, that kind of thing.

    I wonder if you could attract a more interested applicant pool by offering more money. IME, the on-campus student jobs that paid more (usually because they required special skills) were coveted and talked about on campus. That’s how I ended up working in the IT department when I was in college–I was vaguely good with computers and someone told me, “Oh, you should go work there, they pay student workers more.”

  76. Xaraja*

    #2, I’m surprised no one else has mentioned what I’ve found to be standard practice for the last several interviews I’ve gone on over the past decade. These weren’t student or entry level positions either. The interview opens with the interviewer saying they would like to give me an overview of what the company is about, and they proceed to talk about the company, the culture, the department and the role. I wouldn’t ask an interviewer to do this since it would not likely be taken well, but talking about it here I would highly recommend it. The interviewer is the one best placed to have that information, so why not lead with it? Then the conversation can proceed from there with a firm foundation of everyone understanding what we’re talking about. If the interviewee still can’t intelligently talk about the position, then you are in a better place to judge what that means.

  77. Recruited Recruiter*

    LW #1,
    This is a painful situation that you’ve been put in. I have experienced a similar situation, with the key difference being that my boss ordered me to lie to the candidate about the situation. I quit that day. Didn’t do it. Someone else on the HR team was slimy enough to do the lying. The new hire lasted a week.

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