is this investor shady, low-paying jobs that expect your family to support you, and more

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

1. Should I work with this investor or run for the hills?

I have a connection who is a successful entrepreneur and investor who wants to start a business in my industry. Because of my industry experience, he asked if I wanted to work with him on the side. I was initially excited for the opportunity! We have only had a couple in-person meetings to discuss, so the real work hasn’t yet begun. However, even in these early days, I have noticed a few red flags:

(1) I had to press for information on his existing companies to learn more. They appear legitimate, but he seemed taken aback when I said that I wanted to learn about what they do. (2) He used a lot of flattery and said he saw a lot in me, even though he does not know me very well and we have never actually worked together. (3) We’ve already had a couple miscommunications. After our first meeting, I had the impression that this would be a consulting arrangement since he mentioned a consulting fee. When we met the second time, he told me he wanted me to be a “partner” in this, yet there was no talk of a contract of any sort. He said that if he pays me for my time, there is less equity to invest in the business, and it became apparent in that meeting that he was not planning on paying me until this business turns a profit. During that meeting, I shared some ideas which he seemed to really like, and when we concluded the meeting, he told me to run with it and then said, “Tell me what to do next.”

I walked away feeling uneasy, knowing that it would be a significant time investment to put together a business case in order to tell him what our next steps should be. I called him a few days later and said that because of the effort involved, I would need to be paid for my time. He pushed back and said that because we have no idea what we’re doing yet, he would not pay me. He then clarified that all he wanted was a list of some problems in the industry and which ones I think we should solve; this is not at all what I gathered from our last conversation.

My gut is telling me to run, but before I say back out, I want to be sure I am not turning down a potentially life-changing opportunity. He’s had success before, he’s well-connected, and I understand that there will be ambiguity with startups. He seems like a genuinely nice guy and I truly don’t sense any malicious intent; I think he is just a bit scattered. I am also wondering if this is a “me” problem, like maybe I just misunderstood him, jumped to conclusions, or am not cut out for the unstructured nature of a startup. However, something is not sitting right with me, and I sense that I could be taken advantage of. What is your perspective on this situation?

Right now, with no agreement in writing, you’re just giving this guy your time and ideas for free. There’s no agreement for how you’ll be compensated, or when, or in what amounts. He could have you pour hours into ideas and a business plan and “telling him what to do next” and then decide it doesn’t make sense to work together or abandon the project entirely, and you’d be left with nothing. If he’s proposing paying you in equity or ownership or money down the road, that needs to be hashed out now and put in writing. Otherwise, you have zero protection.

It’s up to you whether you want to be a partner who doesn’t get paid until later (and who might make nothing, a little, or a ton) or a consultant who gets paid right now (without the potential for a windfall later) — but you need to be one of those, and it needs to be settled and written down before you put more time in. If he balks at doing that, he’s not someone you should work with — he either isn’t willing to commit to the promises he’s throwing around, or he’s so naive about how business is done (or so cavalier about your protection) that he’d be a crappy partner anyway.

Personally I’d choose consultant — it’s guaranteed pay for your work, and I’m risk-averse. But if you choose partner, make sure the partnership is structured in a way that rewards you fairly for your contribution. If you’re doing all the work, your compensation/ownership should reflect that (unless he’s offering something of high value too, like all the capital).

Read an update to this letter.

2. Justifying a low salary because the person in the job lives with their parents

This happened to me years ago and I’m wondering if there would have been a good response at the time. I was working in my first job out of college, making $34K a year in New York. No one I was friends with made much more, but it’s not like I was saving anything. I was applying for other jobs, and was in a second interview for one that paid $28K (if I remember correctly). I asked if they could go up at all — I think I told them that I could go down in salary for the perfect job but not that far down — and the response was, “We know it’s low, but the person in the role right now lives with her parents,” as if maybe there was some secret no-rent solution I wasn’t thinking of.

Even in my very green state, I remember thinking that you can’t base a job’s pay on the employee having no rent. Do you think this is still a thing when figuring out what roles at nonprofits should pay?

In some fields it is, yes. It’s not a universal nonprofit thing by any means, but there are fields that are structured around the expectation that employees — especially junior ones— don’t need to earn a living wage because someone else helps support them. Think some parts of fashion and the art world, for example. It’s not always as direct as “we plan to hire someone with family financial support” … but they have so many applicants who can take less money for that reason that it completely skews the field’s market rates.

And of course this ends up hugely gatekeeping who can enter those fields.

3. Was I wrong to share the reason for a coworker’s absence?

I was in our workplace lunchroom when an employee I don’t know well asked why she hadn’t seen Jane (a coworker in my department) recently. I answered that she had had a death in her family, namely a brother who died while on the job as a fire fighter at a forest fire. This was how our department manager had explained the absence at a recent meeting, with no caveats.

At a later department meeting, the manager scolded us, saying it had come to his attention that one of us had been gossiping about Jane and that we were not to share the reason for her absence, because it was all private information. I was not aware of his policy before that; the employee manual didn’t cover the situation. How could I have better handled the lunchroom query?

(The manager then also told us not to bring up the brother’s death to Jane when she returned, not even to express condolences.)

The manager is the one who should have handled it differently, not you. It’s not normally off-limits to share this kind of thing with a colleague if you haven’t been told otherwise. It’s not typically gossip; it’s sharing important information about someone you feel warmly toward, so that people can send extra good will their way. If your manager or Jane didn’t want it shared with others, your manager should have clearly explained that when he first shared it with you.

4. What’s up with behavioral interviewing?

I just got a flyer for a workshop on hiring, specifically behavioral interviewing. I’ve had pretty good success in the past with plain old interviewing and I’m not too inclined to change, but I wondered: Is this a thing? Does it work? Is it as wacky and touchy-feely as it sounds?

Behavioral interviewing, for anyone who doesn’t know, is what interviewers are doing when they ask “tell me about a time when…” questions. (“Tell me about a time when you had to work with an unhappy client,” “tell me about a time when you had conflicting deadlines,” etc.) And yes, it is very much a thing, and it works. It’s pretty common and not wacky or touchy-feely!

The idea is that you will make better hires if you probe into how people have actually operated on the job in the past (or observe how they operate in the present, via exercises and simulations), rather than just asking hypothetical questions about how they think they might handle something in the future. It’s really easy for people to BS their way through hypothetical questions. For example, a question like “how do you think you’d stay on top of everything?” is likely to get you answers that sound good in theory, but you’ll get far more useful info if you ask, “How much volume did you have to handle in your last job? How did you stay on top of it all? Tell me about a time when the volume was at its peak. What did you do?”

Approaching interviews this way will also give you real examples that you can dig into more deeply, so that you’re able to go beyond surface-level answers and get a sense of how the candidate truly operates and whether they have the skills to excel at the work you need done.

5. Intern as contractor

I work at a small nonprofit (about 10 staff) that has some management/organization issues. We are hiring an intern, and while it is great that we plan to pay them (the bar is on the floor), my manager is requiring him to send an invoice every month to receive his stipend. This makes the intern responsible for his own payroll taxes, as well as the responsibility of making sure he is paid. What should I do in this scenario, as someone who is not entry-level but is not directly in charge of hiring? Is this as crazy as it seems?

It’s almost certainly illegal. Your manager is treating the intern as an independent contractor (no taxes taken out) rather than an employee (taxes required to be taken out), but whether someone should legally be an employee or contractor isn’t up to the employer’s preference; it’s controlled by factors laid out by the IRS. If the employer controls when, where, and how the person works, they’re generally an employee, not a contractor. It’s very unlikely that an intern doing intern-type work would qualify as a contractor.

I’m guessing your boss doesn’t know that or figures the organization is too small for the law to apply (it’s not). You could say something like this: “Federal law doesn’t allow us to pay someone as an independent contractor if we’re treating them essentially like an employee, and we could have to pay fines and back taxes if we do it this way. Legally we need to pay him the way we do employees, with taxes taken out.”

{ 460 comments… read them below }

  1. soontoberetired*

    LW#3, if your boss shared, it certainly isn’t a secret. And not sharing news like this can lead to some awkwardness when your co-worker comes back. My father died a few years ago after a long illness, his health issues were known to most of my close co workers especially since I was using intermittent FMLA to take him to his radiation treatments. When I came back to work after his death, someone asked me if I had a nice vacation. Sigh.

    1. BuildMeUp*

      I think the manager saying no one can share the reason for Jane’s absence at all is definitely odd. But I do think the info should be limited to saying she had a death in the family. Sharing any details about Jane’s brother being a firefighter or the specific circumstances of his passing definitely seems like it should be up to Jane to share.

      (Even sharing details doesn’t always avoid awkward situations, unfortunately! Years ago, I came back from my grandfather’s funeral and kept having to correct people telling me they were sorry about my grandmother due to a bad game of office telephone.)

      1. Jackalope*

        I’m not sure I would have taken that from the situation if I’d been the OP, though. Given that the news was shared in a meeting with no caveats indicating that the info couldn’t be shared, I would have assumed that whatever was shared in the meeting was available to share with others. (In fact, I probably would have assumed that Jane had the manager share so everyone would know and she wouldn’t need to have the same conversation over and over again.) I will admit that I’ve worked for places that were careful what they shared and only did so with the employee’s explicit permission, so when I’ve heard an announcement I can be sure that what was shared is what the employee/coworker was willing for everyone to know.

        1. Despachito*

          I’d also assume that whatever information the manager gave is MEANT to be shared.

          I hate what the manager did to OP, because I can well imagine being in her shoes and being mortified for doing something wrong (which she didn’t).

          1. Cringing 24/7*

            Absolutely this. If my manager is sharing a coworker’s personal life with me, I assume that there was consent from that coworker for that information to be shared, so it would follow (at least in my head) that if it was still privileged information that needed to stay in our group, I’d be told that.

            1. ferrina*

              The one caveat I’d add is to think about who you are sharing the info with. If it’s the office gossip who lives in drama, I’d maybe stick with “She had a death in the family” rather than all the details.
              But yeah, unless the manager told you the details were private, I’d assume they weren’t.

            1. Ann Nonymous*

              I’d think you’d have standing to reply with a confused look on your face, “I didn’t know that this information was confidential as I learned it from you in a meeting with others and we were never told it shouldn’t be shared.” Plus, this is NOT gossip; it’s a reasonable answer to a question about a co-worker. It’s not like you’re whispering that someone was having an affair that resulted in a sex injury so that’s why she’s not in the office. Sheesh.

        2. Lizzie*

          That’s how my company does things. When my dad passed away, my boss asked if it was ok to send out a company-wide email, as is done here, when someone has a death in their family, or someone close to them (i.e. BF/GF but not married). If the employee oks it, an email is sent. But I’ve known of people who had a death, and nothing was sent, and I can onlyh assume they didn’t want it publicized.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          Especially in circumstances like these, which would make the local news in some communities.

        2. MK*

          Gossip is sharing information about other people in casual conversations. It does have to be a secret.

          1. Office Lobster DJ*

            By that definition, wouldn’t that make it gossip to say “Fergus really loves croissants and hopes to one day eat one at a real Parisian patisserie” or “Jane got new shoelaces?”

            I feel like gossip often implies the sharing of something private, and the definition of private will never be one size fits all.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              Its also a much larger problem if the private information is prejudicial. Even if there shouldn’t be, there is an enormous difference between “Jane donates her time at a food pantry” and “Jane gets food from a food pantry”.

              A firefighter dying in the line of duty is definitely not prejudicial; I would have made the exact same “mistake” as OP.

              1. PotsPansTeapots*

                Yes, and it’s quite possible colleagues are aware Jane’s brother is a firefighter and they might see a local news report about wildfires and ask after her brother.

                Obviously, Jane shouldn’t have to share anything she doesn’t want to, but I wouldn’t assume this was secret knowledge.

        3. Smithy*

          This is what I think and also honestly – information like this would be in an obituary. I’m thinking of obituaries where someone has died of an overdose, and the wording in an obituary is often obscured to make that unclear and then likely unkind/inappropriate to share with a work team why a family member died.

          I do wonder if what happened is that the OP’s manager shared the news, the OP shared it, and the someone on the receiving end reached out directly to the person on bereavement. In that case, the issue at play isn’t gossip – because whether bereavement is because of a death due to an overdose, a car accident or old age – it’s just best not to reach out to people when they’re out full stop.

          Either way, the issue at hand is that the manager likely didn’t ask enough follow up questions around what the person on bereavement would want. Or if the issue is people contacting that person directly…..again – totally different issue at play vs gossip.

        4. MsClaw*

          Agreed! The details about her brother and how he died are not ‘gossip’, they are factual and not meant to be titalating.

          It would be different if her brother had died under murky circumstances and LW was speculating about what happened; she isn’t. Nor is it something like ‘oh yes, she’s at her father-in-law’s funeral. He died of a heart-attack in bed with his wife’s best friend’ that would absolutely be gossip.

        5. MK*

          I think there is a difference between something being a secret and something being a sensitive matter that ideally wouldn’t be chitchat in the office break room. Also, it’s not really relevant if someone could have found out the information by googling. The OP isn’t asking how she can help keep such information secret, she asked about regulating her own behaviour. A way to be thoughtful and discrete about her coworkers’ personal matters is to keep any information she shares about them with random people general (in this case, say they are on leave because of a death in the family). If anyone found out the details by googling or because they found the obituary, or happened to be in the cemetery at the time of the funeral or because it was front page news, that has nothing to do with the OP.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            I tend to default to generalities to avoid being too gossipy (“so and so is out sick” rather than with what, “she’s away today but should be in tomorrow” instead of details – basically enough that bereavement, sick time, and holidays aren’t mixed up but people know if someone is available.) I also work at a place where I have had people bristle at me for asking if someone in another department was in or out at all, which I think is overdoing it in the other direction. (I was doing reception at the time. I wanted to know which way to direct the person on the phone, not the private life of a coworker.)

            But even then, if I hear it without the usual “keep this between us” caveats, I still assume that the rare occasion I clarify is not *wrong*.

      2. Observer*

        But I do think the info should be limited to saying she had a death in the family. Sharing any details about Jane’s brother being a firefighter or the specific circumstances of his passing definitely seems like it should be up to Jane to share.

        Of course it should. But the manager shared this information with the staff. How would they know that Jane didn’t want it to go any further? The manager should either not have mentioned it or told people not to discuss it with anyone when he shared the information.

        That’s really the key problem here. You can’t give people information and not expect them to share it unless you tell them that they are not allowed to share. Which is why anyone who works with sensitive information is informed VERY clearly when they start about those rules. And smart employers periodically remind people.

      3. cosmicgorilla*

        Definitely agree with BuildMeUp.

        Saying, “She’s out because of a death in the family,” is one thing.

        Saying, “She’s out because of a death in the family. Let me add some juicy details,” is quite another.

        Should the manager have handled it better? Absolutely. No denying that. But adding the extra details IS gossip and was completely un-necessary. Just because the manager screwed up doesn’t make it ok for the OP try to color the delivery.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          If the manager wanted to avoid that information being spread, why did they share it in the first place?

          I also don’t think a firefighter dying in the line of duty is “juicy”. It’s a sacrifice that should be respected and honored, and it isn’t particularly private unless the coworker asked for it to be treated as such; the information is undoubtedly in a local paper and in the brother’s obituary.

        2. Observer*

          Saying, “She’s out because of a death in the family. Let me add some juicy details,” is quite another.

          Except that the fact that the death was of a firefighter brother who died in a fire hardly counts as “juicy details” for most people. The person “coloring” things is not the OP.

      4. The OTHER other*

        Was the manager “gossiping” when he told them the reason for the coworker’s absence? What a jerk.

    2. Caroline Bowman*

      When I read LW3, my immediate thought was ”it’s got back to the bereaved person or someone adjacent and they are really angry at the invasion of privacy… and now the manager, the one who shared *all of the info* at a meeting, is scrambling to deflect blame”. I may have misread of course, but LW3, you did nothing wrong. You followed your manager’s lead and did so in good faith.

      Do not accept blame or censure for this.

      1. Other Alice*

        My thoughts exactly. If the info was private to begin with, the manager should have said “Jane had a death in the family, please respect her privacy”. It sounded like the manager is the one who overshared to begin with and now is trying to deflect blame. Ick.

      2. MK*

        Eh, I wouldn’t say the OP did “nothing” wrong. When a coworker you don’t know well comments on a person on your team being out, you don’t need to provide the detailed explanation your manager shared with you, a simple “she is on leave for a couple of weeks” or at most “she had a death in the family and is on leave” is enough. I can see why the OP didn’t think much of sharing information that was given to her in a team meeting, but I can also see how it might be come across as gossiping. Both the manager and the OP were thoughtless in my opinion, and while the main fault is with the manager, the OP should also take it as a lesson to err on the side of discretion in the future.

        1. Bagpuss*

          Except that sometimes where inforamtion has been privided in detail it’s specically becuase the bereaved person wants the news to get around befor they get back so that they don’t gt asked questionsand so people are senstive.

          I think the manager droped the ball and should have been clearer, when they rtold the team, about whther / how much it was OK to chare.
          I think OP could have asked but I don’t think their asumption the the information was OK to chare was an unreasonable one, in the circumstances.

          1. londonedit*

            I agree – the OP certainly could have clarified what the ‘official line’ was if anyone outside the team asked, but on the other hand if the manager has shared the info in a group setting then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that it’s OK to repeat it. I’ve had colleagues who have been off because of bereavements or distressing situations, and thankfully each of my managers at the time has done a really good job of conveying the information and letting us know how much can be shared. I remember one time an email came round with some top-level details of something that had happened, and it specifically mentioned that the colleague didn’t want to be asked about it when they returned. That’s so helpful. If the manager hadn’t meant for details to be common knowledge, they could easily have said ‘I’m telling you this as you all work closely with Jane, but I’d like to ask that everyone respects her privacy and doesn’t discuss the details of what happened outside the team’ or whatever.

            1. MK*

              I agree that the manager is most to blame and the OP reasonably assumed it was ok to repeat it. But… just because it’s ok to repeat something doesn’t mean you have to, especially to random people that have no need to know. I mean, this kind of casual conversation about someone else’s affairs is gossip, innocent and common as it may be. And if you want to be a discreet, thoughtful person, maybe don’t do that about sensitive topics.

              1. Myrin*

                I agree completely, and I think this part of your comment: “just because it’s ok to repeat something doesn’t mean you have to” sums up why very nicely.

                The manager is a jerk – I’m sharing the same gut feeling with other commenters that he either wasn’t supposed to share those details at all or he was at least supposed to say this is confidential information intended for the immediate team only which he failed to do; and now that either Jane or someone else who was uncomfortable with the level of details being shared complained, he wants to backpedal and pretend it wasn’t his fault.

                But OP specifically asks “How could I have better handled the lunchroom query?” and I think as an answer to that it’s very fair to say that, to come back to your point MK, just because you can share details (about anything, really) doesn’t mean you have to. Even if the manager had demanded it you could’ve decided that this particular person whom you don’t know well doesn’t need to be told these details by you.

                (And as a bit of an aside because I’m getting that feeling from some of the comments: pointing all that out doesn’t mean that OP made a blunder of epic proportions or, god forbid, is “a bad person” or something. Heck, I honestly couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t have gone to that level of detail in the moment – I have the notoriously bad habit of talking on even while my brain is shouting at me to stop. Bad OP asked how she could’ve behaved differently and giving her an answer to that doesn’t mean one thinks she’s somehow more to blame than the manager here.)

                1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  Agreed – if your coworker and the family didn’t want all the details getting out, manager way over stepped what he was supposed to share, and only realized after the fact when it got back to him that details got shared out of the team, and now he’s embarrassed or in trouble with coworker seems really plausible.

                  To OP’s what can I do better – this isn’t the most egregious screw up out there. Take this as a lesson for next time to err on the side of “Less is More” when it comes to details. With this as an example, “Jane had a death in the family and should be back soon” is probably great for everyone in the company – from your manager on down.

                2. Myrin*

                  Oh my goodness, that last sentence should start with “But OP”, not “Bad OP” – way to undermine the whole paragraph’s point!

              2. The OTHER other*

                Strongly disagree. We have very different defined gossip. When someone asks why someone is out of work and you have been told the reason, it’s not gossiping to tell them. Or are these the rabbits that live by the farm with the snare wires in Watership Down; anyone who disappears is instantly forgotten.

                Gossiping would be speculating on WHY someone was absent from work, are they taking time off, in rehab, etc.

              3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                It so happens though that, from what OP was told, the victim died a heroic death, and is to be admired. Nothing shameful whatsoever dying while doing a tremendously dangerous job trying to make the world a safer place for others, and so OP didn’t think there was a problem with repeating what she hadn’t been told was confidential.

          2. Myrin*

            “Except that sometimes where inforamtion has been privided in detail it’s specically becuase the bereaved person wants the news to get around”
            I think that absent any clear, specific wording in that direction from the manager’s side (like “Jane said she would like for people who want to know to pass this on so that she doesn’t have to when she comes back”), though, one should err on the side of caution.

            1. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Eh, I disagree. If I was told someone’s family member had passed in a meeting and wasn’t told to keep it private, I wouldn’t think to not say something if someone asked. Different people have different levels of privacy for this kind of thing.

              1. Myrin*

                It’s about the level of detail – I wouldn’t think anything about mentioning that “someone’s fmily member had passed”; but I maintain that regarding private matters, it’s better to opt for fewer details, especially when talking to someone you don’t even know particularly well!

                1. Observer*

                  but I maintain that regarding private matters, it’s better to opt for fewer details,

                  What makes this “private” though? As someone noted, this is the type of information that commonly appears in obituaries *and* the manager freely shared it in a public context. Most people simply wouldn’t even think of something like this as private.

                2. Colette*

                  @Observer – IMO, if the person isn’t close enough to know you have a brother, they don’t need to know that your brother passed away. The brother’s info will be public if they publish an obituary (which isn’t mandatory), but their sibling’s info/connection may not be.

                3. Myrin*

                  @Observer, I had a language mixup there – you would call this “privat” in my language but the word I was looking for in English was actually “personal”.

            2. Observer*

              though, one should err on the side of caution.

              And what does that look like? To some people caution means “share as little as possible”. To others it looks like “Make sure that people know enough to not make stupid jokes about smokejumpers, fire fighters or forest fires around this person.”

            3. Missy*

              I think this is going to become an “asking vs. guessing” culture split where both sides are perfectly fine ways to live, but are incompatible with the other.

              On one side is the assumption that when someone shares specific details without a caveat (like “this is just between us”, or “I don’t really want this outside the team”) that the information is ok to share when asked.

              On the other is the assumption that specific details are meant to be kept private unless the sharer specifically says “you can share this with others”.

              I’m a person in the first group. In fact, if I was in a workplace with the second group it would probably make me really annoyed if I was out for a funeral of my 5th cousin and when I come back everyone had just been told “there was a death in the family” and people assumed it was, like, my Mom or something. But I’m sure that for people in that second camp the idea of sharing information without that specific authorization feels like a total invasion of privacy. We are just working from different assumptions.

          3. Potatoes for all!*

            Yeah, especially in this case where the circumstances may be public knowledge anyway, especially if Jane’s family is local. Being from rural Oregon, the death of a wildland firefighter is going to be in the news in some format, and I would have probably defaulted to assuming manager is telling folks so Jane Warbleworth doesn’t have to field a bunch of “oh, is Jim Warbleworth your brother?” questions or awkward guesses.

        2. Colette*

          Yeah, I agree. I don’t think it’s outrageous that she shared the info, but I also think a better approach would have been to share less. The coworker might be OK with those she works closely with having the details, but random people who she knows but is not close to don’t necessarily need to know.

        3. Observer*

          you don’t need to provide the detailed explanation your manager shared with you, a simple “she is on leave for a couple of weeks” or at most “she had a death in the family and is on leave” is enough.

          It is ENOUGH. But that doesn’t mean that it is all that is “allowed” (by convention, politeness, etc.) The idea that if something said anything more than that which was barely necessary that means that they were wrong is a real problem. It’s unfair and it simply doesn’t work with how normal people operate. Not that “normal people” always share everything they know about every situation. But most people don’t calibrate every single conversation to measure what is the absolute minimum of information they can share and stick to that and only that.

          Both the manager and the OP were thoughtless in my opinion, and while the main fault is with the manager, the OP should also take it as a lesson to err on the side of discretion in the future.

          No. Because the reality is that when a manager shares something like that, it usually means that there is no reason not to share it, so the issue of “discretion” doesn’t really come into play. And in many cases people even want the information out there for a wide variety of reasons.

          Discretion if for situation where you have reason to believe that a given piece of information might create a problem or cause some discomfort, or that the information is private. There is no reason for a person to make that assumption when a manager shares this information in a staff meeting and it’s the kind of thing that seems neutral (or even “nice”, ie that the brother was a “hero”).

          1. Colette*

            The discretion comes in when you think “this information was shared with me, will it be a benefit to the person the information affects if I share it with someone else?”

            There is a difference between the people you talk to every day knowing about a tragedy in your life and someone you only know from a distance knowing about it. And the OP wasn’t the right person to decide to share the details; ideally, she would have said that the coworker was out due to a death in the family and left it there. It wasn’t terrible that she shared the information she was given, but fundamentally it wasn’t her information to share.

            1. Observer*

              The discretion comes in when you think “this information was shared with me, will it be a benefit to the person the information affects if I share it with someone else?”

              And the answer could easily be yes, on the one hand. And on the other hand, absent other information, there is absolutely no reason to think that the information could harm the person it’s about.

          2. Stardust*

            MK didn’t say LW was wrong, they said there was no NEED to and indeed there wasn’t. It’s not the worst thing in the world but it’s also fundamentally a matter of judgment and i’m scratching my head a little that you seem to be implying that people don’t usually use their judgment in all kinds of mundane daily situations. But also, LW asked what they could’ve done differently/”better” and people are putting forth suggestions so they’re not wrong to do so simply because you disagree!

        4. learnedthehardway*

          I would say that – at most – the OP made a completely understandable mistake in following the lead of their manager.

          The manager made 3 mistakes – one (presumably) was to share information he wasn’t really supposed to share; the second was to not realize that other people would follow his lead; and the third was to then criticize people who did follow his lead.

          OP – your manager doesn’t sound particularly reasonable. I would keep mum about the fact that you shared the info. I pretty well guarantee that you’re not the only one who did.

      3. GreyjoyGardens*

        I agree. It’s the manager’s fault, not LW3’s. If the information was supposed to be private, the manager should have said so. Do not, DO NOT, accept blame.

      4. Chidi has a stomach ache*

        Yeah, this feels a bit like the manager scrambling. Maybe the manager assumed that the info would just stay with the team, or meant to indicate that and forgot — but it’s on them to make the boundaries clear. I’ve seen something similar. When I was in grad school, a colleague had a parent die. He shared the story of how with our immediate cohort and our directors (so he could take a few weeks off school to handle the estate, etc). But he didn’t want to talk about it with other people and asked us not to share with anyone else, because the manner of death was something often stigmatized.

        Before my colleague came back from his leave, we had a guest speaker come in to talk about (queuing up irony here) privacy and boundaries in our line of work. It seems one of our directors shared the details about my colleague’s loss with the speaker, who then used that story, details and all, as an example in his talk. The director was visibly angry, and then embarrassed enough that she eventually made a public apology (she did privately apologize to my colleague, first) for her poor judgment in sharing the information in the first place.

    3. Snoozing not schmoozing*

      Ugh, I had that happen when my father died. It was near Christmas, and my department coworker and I each took a week off – hers was the week leading up to Christmas, and mine was the second week. Dad suddenly passed on Saturday before the first week. We weren’t doing a service until later, so I went to work for the few pre-holiday days to try to distract myself. Everybody was sympathetic and let me sort of coast, which was easy since we weren’t busy that time of year. I took my next week off, and when I went back after New Year’s, my coworker came flying into my office and said “Happy New Year! How was your vacation time?” I burst into tears, explained about Dad, and then SHE felt horrible. I asked if Fergus, our manager, had been off since she hadn’t heard. (Since he never took vacation, it seemed unlikely.) No, he’d been there and talked at her about all kinds of things – except that. So I stormed into his office and demanded to know why. He replied, “Oh, it was personal, I didn’t want to share it without your permission.” Mind you, Fergus spent most of his days wandering around gossiping about EVERYBODY, which is one reason why he was always behind and couldn’t take his vacation time. And he knew I had told all sorts of people the days I was there. I think I told him he was a shit human being, or possibly worse, and nearly slammed his door off its hinges.

      1. Katelyn Anderson*

        I had a manager do something similar when my coworker’s dad died suddenly. She messaged me out of the blue saying A will be in and out the next couple weeks because of family stuff.

        She didn’t consider the fact that the week prior A’s stepdad hurt his shoulder and was deciding if he should have surgery or not. Which is what I assumed the next time I saw her, after which she told me what happened.

        She told me during that conversation she wished everyone knew so she wouldn’t have to keep doing this, so I told EVERYONE. It was during the summer so I could just see someone seeing the time off on the calendar & jumping to an otherwise reasonable conclusion.

      2. learnedthehardway*

        I’m so sorry. I’m dealing with something similar now, although it’s more a situation where I have to tell everyone that I was off for two weeks for a family funeral. Otherwise everyone assumes I was on vacation.

        And I do have to tell people, because things got dropped and I’m now scrambling to catch up with work.

    4. The Friends of English Magic*

      I once unwittingly did the exact same thing to a co-worker after she lost a close family member at a young age. People were told verbally, but I was out of the office that day and there was no email. It didn’t help that she had a big trip abroad planned that she had talked about in office small talk – I didn’t remember exactly when she was supposed to go, but I noticed she had been out for a while and jumped to a very wrong conclusion. This must be close to ten years ago now, and I still feel bad whenever I think about it. (Obviously I apologised profusely and, although her initial reaction was angry, she was understanding once she realised I’d really had no idea.)

    5. Video killed the radio star*

      Also, LW#3 I would specifically ask your manager if the instruction not to speak about the death to Jane at all, even to offer condolences, came from Jane herself or if it’s his idea. Because if it’s his idea, this is definitely going to turn into another letter: “My brother, hero and fire fighter, died doing his job and when I got back to the office after leave nobody even expressed their condolences”…

      1. bamcheeks*

        Yes, i think given the manager’s general mixed messages it would be good to ask this explicitly and get clarity. Different people want this to be handled in different ways and one person’s discretion is another person’s “they just ignored it”.

      2. WellRed*

        My brother died in far less heroic circumstances and I still wouldn’t have wanted it hushed up at the office. I needed grace and understanding and was out of the office longer than a baca and the way to get that was that people were told. I get that people are weird about death but it’s usually not a big shameful secret.

        1. WellRed*

          Didn’t mean to make this about me. Just trying to say, ask your employee how they want it handled and don’t berate folks for how they do.

        2. Anon Supervisor*

          If I had a close family member die and no one asked how I was, I’d feel pretty awful. But I know some people are quite different about that stuff.

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            Yeah, this is definitely YMMV. When my sister-in-law died very suddenly, I did not want to talk about it at work. I wanted to focus on my tasks, and pretend things were normal for eight hours a day.

        3. InsufficientlySubordinate*

          Yeah, that’s where I am, it wouldn’t even occur to me it would be a secret. If the manager had just said, so-and-so had a relative pass on, I wouldn’t ask any questions, but once someone told you details, it wouldn’t even occur to me.

      3. Sasha*

        Absolutely – I would probably have shared the details in the absence of instructions otherwise, just because this seems like a uniquely traumatic manner of passing which might need some extra sensitivity.

        You don’t want people chatting about the forest fires glibly, unaware her brother has just died tragically in one. I think for any local tragedy, it is helpful for colleagues to have a heads up that hey, Jane’s brother died in that fire so be sensitive.

        1. PotsPansTeapots*

          Yes. I think it’s safe to say wildfires are likely to be a topic in the community and at the office and letting colleagues know to be careful is a kindness to everyone.

      4. yala*

        That was absolutely my first thought. Makes me think of when Princess Diana died and apparently the school was told that no one should talk to the princes about it at all.

        If Jane doesn’t want to talk about it, then absolutely I wouldn’t want to bring it up. But if the request didn’t come specifically from Jane, then I would want to at least say something?

    6. RIP Pillow Fort*

      That’s where I fall on this. The boss explicitly said why Jane was out in a meeting. They shouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t something that could be shared. And if there were any reasons it shouldn’t be shared, the boss should have told the workers.

      When my dad died, even though it was sudden and hugely traumatic circumstances, I was appreciative that my Office told people I was out of the office for a family death. Nothing more than “Pillow Fort’s dad died. We don’t know when she’ll be back yet.” It really mitigated a lot of awkwardness for people.

      Honestly I feel like the boss might have shared info Jane asked them not to and they’re trying to redirect blame because it got back to Jane. Which (probably uncharitably) makes me think the “don’t talk to Jane about her brother’s death” is part of trying to avoid Jane finding out who told people the details.

      1. That_guy*

        I try to assume everyone’s best motivations, but stories like this one are what make that difficult. I had exactly same thoughts; it feels like a whole lot of CYA.

    7. Justme, The OG*

      My former boss asked me if I had a nice vacation when I went home to my grandma’s funeral. And she’s the one who approved the bereavement leave, so I have no idea what she was thinking.

    8. Office Lobster DJ*

      Count me among those that doesn’t think OP did anything wrong and think it sounds like the boss overshared – or is suddenly worried he overshared – and is trying to cover for himself.

      It’s also worth pointing out there were other people in that meeting, right? OP, it feels like you are drawing a direct line between your conversation and the scolding, but keep in mind your conversation may not have been the only one going on.

      As for what OP should do going forward, my advice is to realize that the boss isn’t clearly communicating what level of discretion he expects and is willing to scold everyone else over it, rather than changing his behavior. It may be on OP to clarify next time, whether it be regarding personal or business details.

    9. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Yes, I agree with this. My first career job 20 years ago was at a manufacturing facility and one of the production operators, her husband was tragically shot and killed over a fender-bender less than a week after their wedding, which most people didn’t even know she had gotten married. The couple of us that were made aware of the tragic situation were told not to say anything regarding her absence. When she returned to work a few weeks later, she was greeted with a lot of “Wow, lucky you to have such a nice, long vacation from work” or similar comments. She was so upset to find out that her coworkers were not informed of why she was out of work. Turns out the the HR Manager, who had told the couple of us to not say anything, thought they were doing her a favor by keeping it a secret. I can agree to not giving the details, but to at least say there was a tragic death in the immediate family would have prevented the awkward comments upon her return without divulging the private details.

    10. Hannah Lee*

      “When I came back to work after his death, someone asked me if I had a nice vacation. Sigh.”

      Same thing happened to me after my father’s death.

      The kicker is that at the time I worked for my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, who obviously knew what had happened and why I was out for several days. He’s the company CEO and a great guy, but for some reason didn’t feel the need to mention to all of our co-workers why I’d been out.

    11. a tester, not a developer*

      My husband had a brain bleed this spring (recovering well). In the initial ‘trying to get organized’ frenzy, I marked that my son would be away from school due to bereavement. That was not the correct choice – his guidance counselor reached out to express condolences for my husband’s death.

    12. chewingle*

      I agree — NOT sharing the reason for an absence is how real gossip starts. I had a coworker who was regularly taking days off for fertility treatments. She didn’t want to share her pregnancy struggles (understandably!) so she only told her boss and ask that it be kept secret. No one really noticed her regular absences (it’s not unusual in out workplace, as most people travel a lot as part of their roles), except for her cubicle-mate…who then started to spread rumors that the coworker was job-hunting and her absences were so she could take interviews. Highly damaging if her boss hadn’t already known the real reason!

      That said, LW’s boss should have been clear when sharing the information that it was not widely-known and that, should anyone ask, that an appropriate response would be, “Jane is taking some personal time” (or whatever the boss thinks the answer should have been).

  2. Artemesia*

    #1 I know two people who were promised stock in the startup for their labor; one was getting minimum wage during the year he labored. ONE day before his stock vested he was fired. So he got nothing for having totally set up their business including creating the web presence of an on -line business. The other person, similarly provided her services and was dropped before the stock became available. And these people had contracts. Their mistake was in trusting the integrity of the business they were working with. This guy hasn’t even gotten as far as a contract.

    People who don’t know you but see great things and who are secretive about their plans and their past should inspire doubt — Sounds like something that even if it is successful won’t benefit you.

      1. sagewhiz*

        Agreed! The gut brain theory is a verified thing. While your brain may want to rationalize the “go for it” opportunity, listen to your gut. Cut and run now

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Exactly! Your senses and brain, are picking up on all kinds of things your conscious mind pro-con weighing brain isn’t aware of … flashes of inconsistency with body language, facial expressions, tone and whatever he’s saying, etc.

          It sounds like this person is saying pretty things to get what he wants for free – your expertise, effort, time. I’d either go consultant with weekly billings and payment – possibly an upfront retainer, or just steer clear entirely.

          1. tangerineRose*

            “It sounds like this person is saying pretty things to get what he wants for free – your expertise, effort, time.” This!

    1. MK*

      Maybe this guy isn’t shady, but it sounds as if he wants a partner who will do most of the work; which is not necessarily unfair, assuming he is providing the capital and possibly other value. The problem is that he asks the OP to provide her labour now, while his contribution will come at some point in the future, so he is risking nothing while the OP may end up wasting her time and energy.

      In any case, he has made it pretty clear that he isn’t interested in hiring the OP as a consultant, so the question is, is the OP willing to go into business with him? Does the OP even want to start a business? If yes, OP, tell him there needs to be a contract clarifying their obligations and expected payback, preferably a registred company with both of you listed as shareholders, before you start investing your labour. If he balks, run.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        My husband has had so many of these “opportunities” The only one that worked out well was a $200 an hour consulting gig he walked away from after a few sessions of consulting (the client was happy and had money to burn – but the business he was offered a chance to be a partner in never did get off the ground). Most have been feelers for “I have a great idea and no idea how to implement it, how much it will cost, or can do any of the work – can you build this for me for free and find a team of people who will do all the development work for free.” I’ve always managed to talk him out of it, none of them have gone anywhere. One he was brought in by a friend who fell for the patter, the friend spent six months working for a share in something that was just debt.

        I’ve had a smaller number of these “opportunities” – maybe two or three – I tend to write them off immediately. The one I remember involved moving to a small town for less than minimum wage (but he could pay!) and no benefits.

      2. ferrina*

        It seems like OP wasn’t even interested in owning a business, and this guy approached her out of the blue and expects her to do everything to set this up (and even choose the industry needs to address!). This isn’t even a passion project for her.

        This feels like the business owner equivalent of those Craigslist adds that say “I’ve got an incredible idea for a novel, I just need you to take my ideas and turn it into a book. I won’t pay you, but you get the privilege of working with me and my brilliant idea!”

        1. Galadriel's Garden*

          Oh hey, I see you’ve met my ex! That was his brilliant notion – he gives me ideas, and I churn them out into novels (over which he has complete creative control) which magically turn into millions of dollars. What could possibly go wrong!

      3. The OTHER other*

        If he’s not shady, he’s at least shade-adjacent, using tactics often utilized by shady people. The flattery when he doesn’t even know you is classic for a lot of cons. And of COURSE the con man seems like a nice guy, that’s key to being a successful con man! Acting taken aback when asked what his other businesses actually did is another big alarm bell—a successful business person should be glad to talk about their success. Wanting the work for free is the biggest red flag and OP should definitely listen to their gut. Either get a contract or say no thank you.

        I actually question whether this guy is as successful or respected as he claims; nothing in his M.O. indicates this. Is he actually respected/accomplished, or does he simply say he is? I would at minimum dig deeply into his businesses and talk to associates and other people in the industry.

        1. JustaTech*

          Seconding this. When my spouse went to be employee #2 at a startup the founder/CEO was very upfront about his idea, the business plan, and his previous startup (that he’d just sold to Big Tech for bucko bucks). The CEO wasn’t just an ideas guy, he was an ideas and *plan* guy.
          (And it worked out really well, beyond anyone’s expectations really. We know we got lucky there.)

          A friend was one of the founders of a startup where the two guys were the “ideas and sales” folks and she did the planning/logistics. They managed to get to “older startup” phase, but weren’t either getting to a fully stable business or getting bought. When my friend expressed that they needed to start behaving more like a business and less like a startup the other founders just blew her off, to the point that they never bothered getting their webhosting off her personal credit card, so when she left the country (it got bad enough she needed to move half way around the world) they just let stuff die.

          OP, your “investor” sounds way more like the second group than the first. I don’t see you making any money here.

        2. Münchner Kindl*

          “He seems like a genuinely nice guy and I truly don’t sense any malicious intent; I think he is just a bit scattered.”

          For me, that’s way down the list of things I care about in business. It’s business, not personal, so the first thing that matters is competence, not “would I like to drink a beer with this person because they’re nice?”

          And obivously he’s completly lacking in competence because he doesn’t know, or care, where (which industry) he wants to do what; he doesn’t know (or care) that planning with all details is important, that contracts and details matter regarding both partners and contractors (and later employees).

          And also the point that successful conmen are likeable, because that’s how it works- hence ignoring all niceness and just looking at details.

      4. Kevin Sours*

        Eh. This sounds like a “I came up with the idea for the business and everything else is details” guy. He will contribute nothing to the business and expect to reap the lion’s share of the rewards. If OP wants to start a business OP should dump this guy and start a business.

    2. Barbara Eyiuche*

      #1 Try seeing if you can find out how the partners in his other successful businesses fared.

      1. Numbat*

        Agreed; it’s easy to appear successful and be shady.

        I like to ask myself: is that person really more successful than me, or do they just have a better blazer collection?

        1. LisaNeedsBraces*

          “It’s easy to appear successful and be shady”

          Yep! To the point that this is a whole genre of documentaries on Netflix and Hulu.

          If this person is really a successful businessman, then he would have no problem providing you the proper paperwork for a contract. If he truly values your work than he would have no problem compensating it. Anything less than that, and he is (at best) taking advantage of you accidentally, which has the same consequences aa taking advantage of you on purpose. Honestly, I think you have enough red flags to avoid this business venture completely. But if this has promise, I agree that you should act as a consultant for your own security. If the business turns out to be legit, see if you can angle for a more stable position. But not providing you with a contract doesn’t seem legit at all.

          1. LisaNeedsBraces*

            Actually, I’m team “RUN!” You mentioned missing potential, and that’s exactly how scammers manipulate their marks. Have them focused on all the riches that they could possibly have so they miss all the money and time they’re losing right now. Even if he was a great businessman and had a great business idea, there’s no guarantee of success. There’s nothing that ties you to the company so that if it did succeed you’d get profits. And it doesn’t even seem like he would be a good businessman considering how scattered he is. More to thw point, he’s USING you right now by pushing your boundaries and forcing you to make business decisions (a position you never even agreed to do) with no compensation. Run now!

            1. Hannah Lee*

              The only time I’ve heard of someone missing a great “ground floor” opportunity was a family run ice cream manufacturer/distributor that teamed up with another ice cream manufacturer/distribution company. Their business was mostly specialty ice creams sold to restaurants, with a couple of local retail stores carrying their productions At one point, the second partner/owner pitched a new product/market – premium ice cream for the retail (and eventually mass) market … business plan, product ideas, a couple of local retail places that would try carrying it. The first family wasn’t keen on the idea, felt it was out of their wheelhouse and would be too much of a distraction for their core business. No hard feelings, but the second guy took his idea and ran with that, breaking off the partnership.

              The second guy’s ice cream business became very successful.
              You may have heard of it: Haagen-Daz

              The first family still had their successful small business, but missed out of something big.
              (Caveat – my source for this info was a tv reality show, so who knows)

              But I also personally know many people who got bought into someone else’s pie in the sky mistake or outright scam

              1. So they all cheap ass rolled over and one fell out*

                For every Häagen-Dazs, there’s a million startups that never went anywhere.

          2. Snow Globe*

            It sounds like acting as a consultant isn’t a possibility. The LW brought that up and the business guy indicated that he wasn’t going to pay upfront, he wanted LW as “partner”. I think the only choices are to work for no guarantee of future payment, or walk away. Walking away is by far the better choice, IMO.

            1. Waffles*

              It seems like the business guy made a lot of conflicting statements.

              I’m on team ‘run’. Not because I think he is shady… I’m not sure that we (or LW) have enough info to determine that. At the least he seems very disorganized and prone to changing his mind. It already seems to be annoying the LW and I don’t see how you can work together long-term.

              1. Shirley Keeldar*

                Right, exactly. Best case scenarios is that OP would be in a partnership with somebody who’s very disorganized and prone to changing his mind (and I will add, careless about how other people get compensated for their work). Maybe OP would be okay with that (it would drive me right up the wall) but they should definitely think hard about if that’s what they want.

                1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

                  He’s already gotten on my nerves and I have never met him. LW, if you are still thinking of doing this, definitely do your due diligence on his past companies. As mentioned above, research what happened to other partners/cofounders, and also consider sounding out any networks to try and talk to his former employees. And get a lawyer to read over any contracts

              2. Mockingjay*

                He’s an Ideas Man! Remember that letter?

                This guy has an idea but no skills or budget to implement. So he’s looking for free labor to do the hard work. OP1, don’t pursue this any further. It will not pan out.

                There are plenty of good businesses out there who need your skills and will pay you appropriately. This is not one of those.

                1. ferrina*

                  Thanks for this! This letter still cracks me up.

                  I’ve got a visionary role at my company, and I got that role by not just having ideas, but also having a plan, strong relationships across the company to support me, and the hustle to implement my plan. So far, this investor only has half an idea.

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        Yes, this. Even if LW1’s connection really is a “a successful entrepreneur” and not just someone pretending to be, whether the contact is successful isn’t the relevant issue. It’s whether the connection’s business partners have been successful. It’s a huge red flag that the connection doesn’t want to share information about those businesses so LW1 could find out how they were set up, whether he bad “partners” in those businesses, how they fared when the business were set up, etc.

        Add on the flattery and the lack of any written agreement, and this screams “RUN!” to me.

        BTW, re: “He seems like a genuinely nice guy and I truly don’t sense any malicious intent.” Good scammers usually seem nice and don’t radiate maliciousness. That’s how they can be successful scammers!

        1. EPLawyer*

          OMG this. Yes, if he were wasn’t nice, you would not be considering going into business with him. If he radiated maliciousness, you wouldn’t be going into business with him.

          This is a business decision. Whether he is nice or doesn’t seem malicious is irrelevant. Look at what is actually happening. He has flat out said he doesn’t intend to pay you up front. He seems happy to pick your brain and assign you work — all without so much as an agreement on a napkin.

          Your gut is telling you what to do, but you are stuck on “but he seems nice” and dazzled by his claimed success. Listen to your gut.

          1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

            Also worth noting that “nice” and “not malicious” aren’t exactly traits I associate with successful entrepreneurs/venture capitalists. The people I have known or know of who succeed in that line of work tend to be described with vastly less complimentary terms, and the addition of “but competent/fair/honest” at the end of it.

            There’s a reason that when they made a reality show of pitching to venture capitalists, they called it Shark Tank.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              My dad had his own company and was able to sell it on to a multinational when he got to retirement. As much as I love him, “nice” isn’t a term I’d use for him when he was at work. “Pragmatic”, “gutsy”, “determined”, “fair” sure, but not “nice”

        2. HumbleOnion*

          I also question what ‘successful’ means here. This guy isn’t willing to share information about his work so there’s no quantitative evaluation metrics. A trustworthy partner would be willing, happy even, to share that information.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            They people I’m familiar with who have successfully powered up various enterprises from scratch that are actually going concerns, they often focus on connecting all their partners in some way – they are often launching complementary or synergistic business. And as businesses ramp up, people from one often become advisors on the others – whether formal board members or informally.
            Their network is a go-to asset they leverage to be successful; not something they keep firewalled away.

            If this guy’s being squirrely or refusing to share his prior project history, that’s yet.

            1. The OTHER other*

              I agree, but another issue I frequently see is that the person with this kind of drive to start successful business(es) is often not skilled with (or as interested in) running or growing them, some people great with start-ups find the day-to-day work of running them boring. They do involve different skill sets.

              One such person I worked with closely had the nickname “the bulldozer”. He would make things happen and overcome obstacles with the force of his personality. The business would not have happened without him, but as it became established he got restless and his personality traits were less useful and more obnoxious.

              1. Hannah Lee*

                I know of someone similar to “the bulldozer”. He’s got enough self-awareness to recognize his restlessness and disinterest in day to day details. So part of his early ramp up team is a PAID person whose job it is to chase the details, setting up communication/approval mechanisms for the project, and chasing down details (such as initiating and doing a search for office space for project HQ, managing expense outflows at the early stage and flagging need for capital, guarding against grandiose idea project-creep, etc.)

                There’s several people he taps for this role again and again, and they sometimes stick around at the new venture for a while in some sort of upper management role until they spin out onto one of his new projects.

                In a case like LW’s, if that person were on that project, they’d be the one to flag to the main guy that he either has to contract with LW as a paid consultant or set up some equity deal if this is anything more than a short-term bounce a couple of ideas around thing.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        Yeah. If he has functional, real, other ventures, the concept of due dilligence shouldn’t be foreign to him. If he balks at OP wanting to do that…he shady.

    3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I also want to say to LW1, if you decide to take the partnership/stock options/whatever, please for the love of all that is holy, have a lawyer look at the contract (especially if you’re an actual partner). Even getting stock that’s worth a lot isn’t worth a lot if there is no way to sell it (unless this is a guy who starts businesses and exits via selling them in 5 years).

    4. Generic Name*

      I agree. Don’t do business with this guy. Honor your gut feeling. Even if your gut wasn’t telling you this is a bad idea, you’ve already had several “miscommunications”. I don’t think communication is going to improve, and working with/for someone that you are constantly miscommunication with is bad news. Also, I used quotes because I don’t think you’re necessarily misunderstanding this guy; I think he is communicating unclearly in general and is changing what he says.

      I got swindled by a contractor who “seemed like a nice guy”, but who made me feel uncomfortable. Don’t be like me and ignore your gut.

    5. ursula*

      My dad just went through this; worked himself to death at an executive level, helping build the company from scratch, leaning heavily on his professional network and industry expertise in exactly the way you’re describing here, and got fired the week before his interest would have vested (along with dozens of other people whose stock was also about to vest – funny how that works). These stories are EVERYWHERE around start-ups. I would be very, very careful.

    6. Butterfly Counter*

      I agree.

      I’ve also been in situations were I was asked to be a part of something where it was said that there is very little to my benefit upfront (more of a volunteer situation), yet my role was still incredibly confusing to me. Even though there were no profits to be had and the situation was more for fun than anything else, it still crashed and burned HARD.

      Because my role was so ephemeral, there was nothing I could do, no power that I had to head off the crash I had seen coming for months.

      Basically, OP, if you don’t know your role: run.

    7. ICodeForFood*

      I agree… Go with your gut. If it makes you uncomfortable, and you feel like maybe you’re being used, there’s a good chance you’re being used.

    8. Daisy*

      I vote for run for the hills.
      If you partner with ANYBODY in a business you need to not only have a contract that states exactly who is responsible for all items/sections, who gets veto power, how the money is divvied up, etc. but you also need to have a clear, detailed path on how either partner will get out of the business, including timelines on how long the remaining partner has to buy you out before you can sell to an outside party.
      This “do the work and we will figure out how everyone gets paid afterwards” is for the birds.

    9. Elizabeth West*


      OP, your gut is telling you to run for a reason. If this doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Even if he’s legit, the situation isn’t good for you. That’s enough reason to back out.
      And regardless of your opinion of Judge Judy, she’s correct about one thing: always get it in writing.

  3. Heidi*

    For Letter 3, if the news was supposed to be private, why did the manager tell everyone in the meeting? It’s not like they needed to know. It sounds like this scolding was to cover up the fact that he was the one sharing news that he was told to keep private.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I think it’s often the case that the immediate team will get given more information than they’re expected to share outside the team, though. I’ve had a few occasions where (as a close team member) I was told details about a death etc but when talking to people outside the team just said e.g. “she’s out due to a death in the family and not sure yet when she’ll be back so Sue is picking that up in the meantime”.

      OP does seem to be looking for “instructions” that don’t exist (saying that there isn’t a policy for this in the handbook. Why would there be?).

      1. Targar*

        They’re looking for instructions because they were reprimanded and told that this was private after being publicly told the info in a meeting, so they are, naturally, confused. Unfortunately this is not the sort of thing that is covered by policies and procedures in a staff handbook.

        Unless the manager who shared the news specified that they were sharing the details only with the immediate team, there was no reason to assume anything was private about information shared that way.

        1. Nynaeve*

          “Unless the manager who shared the news specified that they were sharing the details only with the immediate team, there was no reason to assume anything was private about information shared that way.”

          See, I read this as the exact opposite. Anything shared in a meeting that had a defined list of invitees, and therefore a list of people who were specifically not invited, should be treated as privileged to that group of people unless explicitly stated otherwise. Maybe that’s just the culture at all the places I have ever worked, but that is how all info shared in a literal closed door meeting has always been treated. Whether it’s the details of the new contract we’re going for or the details of why Sue has to be off of her regular schedule for awhile, it’s all confidential unless or until someone with authority tells you otherwise.

          1. ferrina*

            This can definitely be based on the office culture! But if LW didn’t know the office culture, the solution is to educate, not reprimand for something that she had no way of knowing.

          2. Observer*

            Anything shared in a meeting that had a defined list of invitees, and therefore a list of people who were specifically not invited, should be treated as privileged to that group of people unless explicitly stated otherwise.

            Except that this is not how most meetings work. In the real world outside of highly defined situations (of the sort that if you are in them, you know it) the meeting list is not about making sure that information is “privileged” but of not wasting everyone’s time. Doubly so for information like this where there are some really solid reasons to think that sharing it might actually make sense.

          3. The OTHER other*

            This is not at all how meetings I have been to work in multiple industries over many years. Info in meetings is not considered secret unless stated otherwise, especially not to others in the same company.

            I think your use of the word “privileged “ indicates maybe you work in law, not sure this is a thing in all law firms but it certainly isn’t in other industries.

          4. Peonies*

            Hmm, some of the places I have worked it was more or less the opposite. The people in the meeting were expected to share relevant information to people who were not there.

            The meeting was a smaller group with a number of topics addressed arranged largely for the convenience of the person running the meeting. Then the participants shared the pieces that were relevant to various people.

            So Jane attended the meeting and then shared the updates on llama grooming with Fergus and the llama training updates with Sue and John.

            Given that the information about the death is the sort to be publicly available, both in news stories and in an obituary, and that the manger didn’t ask for it to be kept quiet, I would have assumed it was okay to share.

          5. starfox*

            Anything shared in a meeting that had a defined list of invitees, and therefore a list of people who were specifically not invited, should be treated as privileged to that group of people unless explicitly stated otherwise.

            I have never once worked in a place where this is the case.

    2. Poppy*

      I worked for a real toxic POS who owned the small business we worked for. He announced in a meeting of the higher up employees that he was going to put one of the admins on unpaid leave because she had morning sickness and couldn’t go on the road as an assistant. He had let every other admin do desk duty during their pregnancies and so we told her immediately what his plan was. He backpedaled so incredibly fast and tried to blame us for skewing the message when he called her. It was downright awful and malicious and just didn’t care what he said.

  4. Waving not Drowning*

    OP4 – I had no idea the interview technique had a name LOL. My workplace has been doing interviews like that for some time – at least since 2015.

    Sometimes it feels like rehashing my cover letter/selection criteria answers, but, its good to give real examples of how I’ve handled situations. In some instances, they will give the questions beforehand, others, they don’t. Based on past experience, I can guess what questions they are likely to ask anyway. Hopefully I won’t have to worry about it for a while (I like my current job!)

    I like it, it gives me the chance to showcase what I have achieved.

    1. A Person*

      Yeah, it’s a really common technique, and certainly not something new or wacky. It’s actually *less* touchy-feely than a lot of interview techniques, since it involves asking for specific, concrete examples of how you have handled work situations in the past.

      It’s basically applying the same reasoning to interviews that you apply to resumes and cover letters, where you ask for evidence of the candidate’s actual achievements and experience, rather than hand-wavey statements like “I’m a synergistic go-getter with world-class gumption” or “I’m super-duper-mega-ultra excited about the role!!!!”.

      1. Madame Arcati*

        Quite. It’s really very common, certainly in U.K. public sector – I’ve conducted all of the interviews I’ve done on this basis (also our application forms are set up the same way). And believe me British civil servants are about as far from wacky and as you can possibly imagine!
        If you think about it, it’s in line with advice that Alison gives iirc – show, don’t tell. We want to know you can demonstrate actual competency in certain ways, not that you talk a good game. We want to know what you have actually done.
        It’s not a flawless system, but the big advantage for me at least is that it takes away most of the guessing, the fluff, the peripheral things. It’s actually a lot less touchy-feely than an interview where your sparky personality or your collection of industry magazines has influence. It matters how you answer the questions and what you score; that’s it. Doesn’t matter who you know or what you wear or whether you follow the department on Instagram, or what questions you ask (the latter are for your benefit – I’m not saying don’t ask I’m saying it doesn’t affect the score), or whether we think you’d be an asset to the departmental croquet league. There’s just nowhere to record that info and no point at which is is taken into account. Even experience and education is beneficial insofar as it gives you the material to construct your answer – there is no point where we go, ok add a point to their scores because they have a degree in badger clipping, or offer Edward a post rather than StJohn because of the three years he did as the hedgehog manicurist.

        1. Kate*

          I’m UK civil service too, and I think this ‘pure’ behavioural interviewing (where you don’t take anything else into account or see background info) is a good system. But in my experiences peetty much all employers do behavioural questions alongside all the other stuff (CV etc).

        2. animorph*

          Chiming in as fellow UK public sector: this is how most interviews have been approached with me. And as the person being interviewed, I love it! I feel like I’m not trying to find buzzwordy ways of talking about my role and responsibilities but it helps the interview feel more like a conversation. With these questions I can relax a bit more and talk about my experiences with equally qualified people, bonus points if it’s in the same industry because you can do those knowing nods of “you know what I mean. Classic NHS, amiright?”.

          Sometimes coming up with examples on the spot is a bit “gulp”, but I take a drink and usually remember something in my career to chat about. I have had to remind myself to answer the question and not just talk!

      2. ThatGirl*

        It’s SO common that I’m confused by the question — what other kinds of interviewing are there? What makes “tell me about a time when…” touchy-feely? Is the LW confusing that technique with something else entirely?

        1. Lily Rowan*

          The other kind of interviewing is broader questions and what’s your biggest weakness, etc.

        2. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I wonder if the name is just new to people. I didn’t know it was specifically called behavioral interviewing until a few years ago, I can see how that might land oddly if it’s presented to you like a new-age thing.

        3. Sally*

          When I first read the question, I thought the OP was referring to the “if you were a tree, what type of tree would you be?” sort of questions. Maybe the OP has misunderstood what behavioral interviewing is. I wouldn’t be surprised because I (and some other commenters) didn’t know what the phrase meant.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Not knowing what “behavioral interviewing” is, I immediately thought about the interview where they pretended there was a fire to see what the OP would do in the situation.

            They were quite upset that the OP immediately called 911 to report the (nonexistent) fire.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I wish someone would ask me that, lol. I’ve had an answer prepped for ages that will suss out whether I’d be working with nerds or not. ;)

        4. EPLawyer*

          If I got a brochure with a “new” interviewing technique with a name for the technique, I would wonder too. After all, there is a LOT of woo-woo techniques out there for allegedly getting better employees or making your employees more productive.

          Having it explained that its just putting a name on a common technique for interviewing shows its not woo-woo but marketing.

          And yeah, this technique goes REALLY far back. Any decent company was already doing this.

        5. Don't Call Me Shirley*

          There is also technical skills and knowledge based interviews – you present a toy problem and watch how they work through it, ask about some basics of the field, and so on. I do it before my manager does the behavioural, it’s kind of complementary.

    2. Cat Tree*

      My company uses it too, and from the interviewer side it’s really useful. I was hiring for a really collaborative role, and one of the important parts of the job is working through differing ideas with others, where sometimes your view is the best one but sometimes the other person’s is better. What we don’t want is someone who needs to be right all the time, or cares more about “winning” than going with the best plan for the project.

      So I asked for an example of this in the interview. One candidate actually said that he got into a shouting match with a coworker and ultimately “won”, which he seemed proud of. I really doubt he would have answered a hypothetical question like that, where he’s imagining a made up scenario where he’s so brilliantly correct that he doesn’t need to resort to shouting. (We did not hire that candidate.)

      1. ferrina*

        Yes! This is also why I love behavioral interviewing- you get not only a view on their actions, but how they perceive their actions. One of my friends bombed a behavioral interview by talking about a time he had deliberately disobeyed his manager’s policy, then he kept arguing that he was right! He said he shouldn’t have to follow a manager’s policy if it’s stupid. To the interviewer!

      2. Roland*

        Ha! I agree that behavioral questions are more likely to bring out the instant weedout answers, but I had a candidate once who didn’t let that stop them… They didn’t have an answer for my behavioral question and asked for a hypothetical, so I said what if you’re partnering on a project and you prefer slack and your partner prefers talking in person? The candidate said, I’d just not worry about communicating and do the project myself. Not as funny/shocking as your yelling story but I still thought it was shocking that they’d fully… admit to it.

    3. Mel*

      I’ve been in healthcare for over 20 years and I think every interview I’ve ever had was a behavioral interview. I highly recommend researching common questions and writing out/ practicing answers for anybody who may encounter this style of interviewing.
      Personally, I’ve always hated it. I understand the logic, but I’ve always just wanted them to skip that part and call my references to see if I’m good at what I do or not!

      1. Maree*

        I didn’t know there are different types of interviews, this is what I’ve always done.

        I also dislike these though. I find it hard to think up examples on my feet (often because the answers feel obvious).

        I also think these questions disadvantage people who are new or returning to the workforce after a break.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          When I have had interviews that I knew were going to be behavioral, I prepared somewhere between 5-10 anecdotes. One of the things I like about behavioral interviewing (as a candidate) is that each anecdote can usually be used to answer more than one possible question. My answer to “tell me about a time when you had to handle conflicting deadlines” may also be my answer to “tell me about a time when you dealt with an unhappy client” with a few different details emphasized depending on the question.

          I usually prepare ~5 behavioral answers when I don’t know what the interview will be like because they are helpful if it turns out to be a behavioral interview and also helpful (to me) when the interview isn’t behavioral.

          1. UKDancer*

            This is what I do as well. In preparing for interviews I look at my recent experience and pin down about 5-8 behavioural examples that showcase what I’ve done. That way I am ready and can tailor them to the specific questions.

            1. Sally*

              Me,too. I make a spreadsheet with the potential questions from AAM’s interview guide in one column and my answers in another. I don’t bring it to the interview, but just writing it out helps me remember the situations that I’ll want to talk about. The way my brain works, I am guaranteed NOT to be able to come up with examples on the spot.

            2. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Me too. In my field I know I can count on being asked about difficult customer interactions, getting along with coworkers even if they bother you, and things like that. Before my last interview I googled “common job interview questions” and figured out some answers in advance. I didn’t get asked any of those questions word for word, but a lot of the stories I had prepared wired for other questions too.

        2. ferrina*

          I’ve found that it can actually be helpful for folks with less experience. I had was interviewing a new grad for his first office job, and I needed someone who could prioritize well and handle tight deadlines. He had no way to know enough about what he would do on the job, but he was able to talk about his experience working at a fast food company during rush hour to talk about how he had prioritized there (while providing great customer service!)
          I can teach you how to organize folders. I can’t teach you to stay calm in high pressure situations.

        3. NotAnotherManager!*

          I interview a lot of people applying to their first “real” job, and I don’t really find they have a lot of trouble with situational/behavioral interviewing questions at all. I do clarify on the first question that their example can come from any experience they’ve had – academic, extracurricular, internship, etc. I get a lot of really good answers! I’ve had dorm hall advisors talk about managing conflict or building emergencies, a woman who worked for her college TV station told me about having to stage a totally new sort of event on 36 hours’ notice, and a guy who nannied for a year after college talked about juggling the schedules of his three charges and emergency situations. As long as their experience answers the question, anything works. With no work experience, I’m looking for the specific skills I know make people successful in the job – I can train them on the specifics if they have the raw materials.

          These also tell me a lot more than, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” (they often don’t have the experience in the industry to know that already or don’t want to say “in grad school”), “What kind of tree/animal would you be?” (total nonsense question), or, “What is your greatest weakness?” (overprepped BS answer trying to spin a strength as a weakness).

    4. Sutemi*

      After I answer the first behavioral question, I usually ask if this is the level of detail they are looking for and would they like to review anything deeper. I feel it gives them an easy out to ask more probing questions if they aren’t used to behavioral interviewing, and shows I’m used to communicating at a range of audiences.

      1. introverted af*

        Oooh, I love this. Also a great way to make sure you’re not going to far. You can kinda guess that from timing, but if you have an hour booked and then they say, no actually we only have 5 questions, then you can plan to go a lot deeper on your answers.

        1. Certaintroublemaker*

          I like to tell people up front how many questions there are and how much time there is. Otherwise, how would they know to answer in two sentences or twenty?

        2. Elizabeth West*

          For some reason, everyone seems to do 15-minute Zooms lately. You never know if they’re going to ask five questions or fifteen, so I’ve been trying to cut my answers to the bare bones.

          I had one of these a month ago where at the start, they (a panel) said emphatically, “We only have TWO questions, with the possibility of more depending on your answers.” It made me really nervous—way to put me on the spot!

          They did ask four or five more; I don’t know if that’s good or not. Regardless, I haven’t heard back, so whatever.

    5. Antilles*

      History time!

      A few decades ago (back in like the 80’s and early 90’s), this was a brand new interviewing technique – asking about past behaviors and “tell me about a time…” questions was a brand new thing, which is why it got a specific name. Companies would train their hiring managers specifically on this new interview technique, job searching guidance would tell people about this brand new question that they may not have encountered, and if there were multiple interviews for a position one might even be specifically dedicated to asking these sorts of questions.

      But now, asking “tell me about a time…” questions are so commonplace that what used to be a specific and new interview technique of “Behavioral Interview” is basically just an interview.

    6. Melanie Cavill*

      In my last two interviews, I’ve been asked, “tell me about a time you were asked to do something that conflicted with your personal ethics and how did you respond?” And I think that’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard. I have no idea how it relates to my ability to effectively operate the software I’d be working with or the product turnover I need to produce! Behavioural interviews are a weird scene, man, and apparently elicit a passionate response from me.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I’d really wonder about a company that decided THIS question was important enough to include. Like, what exactly are you going to ask me to do????

        1. The OTHER other*

          I don’t find this question dumb at all, or an indication that the company is looking for people to do something unethical.

          Many jobs have requirements that things be done a certain way, for examples that people undergoing medical procedures or buying a financial product be fully informed of the risks entailed. There is often a conflict between doing the ethical thing on the one hand, or saving time or making more money (maybe a lot more) on the other.

          I definitely asked questions similar to this when I was hiring in finance, and asked questions about compliance etc when I was looking for a new place to work. It was very clear in both cases when the person I asked had never considered the issue before, or was giving a rote answer lacking specifics.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            OK, now this makes sense and I can see why you’d ask it in your field. In my field it made me think that the organization would be asking me to fiddle the grants or something equally no good. It would also be an extremely “out there” question in our interviews, hence my WTF response

            1. The OTHER other*

              Aren’t there some temptations to cut corners in your industry? Finance, law, law enforcement, and medicine are prominent places where ethical dilemmas come up, but they’re everywhere.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        I think they might be doing one of two things:

        1) (most probable) They consider themselves an ethical company where employees think for themselves and follow your typical rules and morals. They want to know that you would do the “right” thing, the thing aligned with your personal ethics, and overall feel like they know that they have hired an ethical person who is unlikely to find ways to rip them off.

        2) They want to know if you’ll follow authority over ethics.

        1. animorph*

          1 seems most probable to me. I don’t really see anything wrong with that question – maybe it’s coming from experience. And to be honest, it might not be that there’s an explicit right or wrong answer, it’s probably more finding out about how you dealt with the situation and whether your approach would match the company’s (all guns blazing, whistleblowing, following the chain of management, or just straight ignoring it).

          For me, I find that helpful as a screening question for the employer: I wouldn’t want to work anywhere that isn’t interested in working ethically (because these situations can come up!) or would take objection to the whistleblowing process.

      3. Hannah Lee*

        It may be that whoever set up the interviews isn’t thinking through what qualities they are looking for in candidates when selecting the questions. Or, even worse, the way they operate is one in which employees routinely are asked to do shady things.

        I had one job where the last thing I expected were ethical dilemmas (sales order administration for a tech company) but yet there I was, being asked to “ship” vaporware so the company could meet its quarterly revenue numbers, or asked to “book” non-orders as orders at month end so the sales rep could get his big bonus. The “personal ethics” line of questioning would have been a good one for hiring in that role. And FWIW, depending on who was doing the hiring, the “correct” answer – I held the line – or – I went with what I was asked to do – could vary.

      4. Cindy*

        …”Tell me about the time you were asked to do something that conflicted with your personal ethics and how did you respond?”

        I’m not certain whether my story of “I was in Software Quality Assurance and the Program Quality Manager asked me to sign off on something that I hadn’t witnessed, and when I didn’t he wrote up a letter of reprimand. I took it to HR & Ethics to investigate and after the investigation he was reprimanded.” would be seen positive or negative at a job interview.

      5. Grant*

        I don’t think that’s weird at all, but maybe it’s my industry (construction/engineering). But I honestly think every job has some potential for ethical dilemmas to come up occasionally, and it’s good to know how people would react to those.

        1. Quake*

          It strikes as odd to me because it isn’t “What would you do if…” it’s “Tell me a time when…”

          My answer would be “It’s never happened.” Followed by awkward silence lol

    7. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I’ve only ever been interviewed with behavioral questions, and I’ve been in the professional world for over two decades. I got super confused when the OP mentioned “regular interviewing,” because for me these kinds of questions are totally normal and expected.

    8. PersephoneUnderground*

      I wondered if it was being used as a name for something more unusual or being sold oddly to the LW here.

  5. Heidi*

    Letter 1: “He seems like a genuinely nice guy and I truly don’t sense any malicious intent; I think he is just a bit scattered.”

    Even if all the other red flags didn’t exist, the fact that you described him as “scattered” could be a deal-breaker in itself. It can be a lot of extra labor keeping scattered people on track; I find it exhausting and not fun.

    1. Madame Arcati*

      Mmm. I couldn’t see f course say whether entrepreneur-man is the same but there are people who are not so much good at doing stuff but good at getting people to do stuff for them. And, unconsciously or not, taking credit.
      (On many levels as well as business – I have a friend who is lovely but is often talked of in terms of “oh isn’t she just so marvellous doing all this herself” for example refurbishing and decorating a home – when I know that if I or a group of friends spent a good bit of time not just helping out but sharing our own skills and knowledge without which she would have had no idea what to do…)

      1. Despachito*

        I wonder how you respond in such a case? Do you reveal that it was actually you and/or a group of friends who were involved a lot?

        Does SHE reveal this, or takes all the credit?

        I know that if she takes all the credit, I’d be miffed. I’d hesitate between throwing her under the bus and revealing the truth (deservedly, but I’d still feel a bit petty), and saying nothing but not being available the next time (which, if she is a friend, would also feel a bit iffy because I would not be giving her a chance to find out where the problem is and correct it)

    2. Beth*

      Con artists ALWAYS seem like “genuinely nice” guys. It’s their #1 skill — as opposed to, say, having any business sense, acumen, ethics, or legitimate skills.

      1. Despachito*

        If they were perceived as “bad guys” from the beginning, they would not be likely to deceive anyone. It is a must-have skill.

        1. Despachito*

          And now I am wondering how a behavioral interview for a con artist would go?

          “Can you tell me about a situation when you successfully deceived someone?”

          1. Autumnheart*

            “Can you tell me about a time where you dealt with a potential client who had already given you a no, and turned it around so that they became a client after all?”

            “If you were only one sale away from making your performance KPIs for the month, what would you do to close that sale?”

            Just ask Wells Fargo.

  6. Wildland Worker*

    Every office I’ve worked in, the policy has been “let people know X is out because of a death in the family, no specifics until supervisor can find out how much the person wants shared”. If the supervisor shared specifics, then it’s because the person asked them to. I would never assume I was being told details not for the whole office unless specifically told the person wanted the details kept to a smaller group.

    But, also, if this was a wildland firefighter…not so much on keeping that private. The tragic death here not only made the state news but national news. There was a public memorial service and caravan this week. For those of us in the agencies, there are grief counselors on site. I didn’t know him personally, but we all know the names of his surviving family members at this point. It doesn’t seem like it would be that different in a community who lost an urban fire fighter in the line of duty?

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Some years ago, a colleague suddenly lost a close family member in headline circumstances. We saw the headlines in the morning, and family member had an uncommon name, so we were unsurprised by colleague’s absence on our arrival at the office.

      The office manager called an all-staff meeting to tell us what had happened, in some (publicly available) detail, but this was heavily frowned upon. It was considered in extremely poor taste to discuss the exact circumstances, when all we and clients actually needed to know was that colleague was absent because of bereavement.

      In the LW’s case, I think it would have been better to share with non-departmental colleague simply that Jane was absent because of a sudden death in the family. The close team might benefit from more context, but most people only need to know that it’s an unplanned absence and her return is to be marked with “sorry for your loss, glad to see you back”.

      1. Linda B.*

        agreed. if the manager didn’t intend for the details to be spread, he should’ve either said that or just not shared the details. however, unless I’m specifically directed to pass details along I err on the side of less is best.

      2. yala*

        I wonder if maybe the thinking in sharing publicly available information in a group like this is to sort of get out in front of any gossip? Because if they hadn’t, and it was news that people could easily see on their own, then you’re still gonna get “So it turns out…” and the like, because it’s an Interesting Bit Of Information, and people are gonna people.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      But, also, if this was a wildland firefighter…not so much on keeping that private.

      It could very easily be the case that the employee and her brother have different last names and/or live in different areas of the country, so I would not assume that her coworkers are likely to learn about this through the news.

      1. Sasha*

        I’d more be concerned about inadvertently insensitive comments from coworkers who know about the fires but don’t know Jane’s brother was one of the victims – I’m thinking of the letter writer who made an “edgy” 911 joke, unaware that his client had lost a family member in one of the towers.

        Obviously the best case scenario is that none of your coworkers are insensitive clods, but unfortunately that is never a safe assumption.

        1. Observer*

          It doesn’t have to be that egregious. What about the OP whose boss was giving very strong signal that his self-described “dark humor” was disturbing? That guy sounded a touch more self aware than the 9/11 intern, but still thought it was a given that you make an “obligatory” alligator eating kids joke when someone commented about going to Florida for vacation. That kind of person is also highly likely to think that “of course” they would make a smokejumper or wild fire joke if they heard about someone in an area where wildfires are an issue.

          Even if the joke were genuinely funny, for someone who had just lost a relative in a wildfire, that would be pretty painful.

      2. doreen*

        I don’t think Wildland Worker was saying that anyone should assume that the coworkers are likely to hear through the news, just that it also shouldn’t be assumed that this information could be kept private in the same way that a death from a heart attack might be. Someone at my job had a firefighter son died in circumstances resulting in media coverage and there were many reasons why the family couldn’t have kept it private. Lots of the people at that job knew that his son was a firefighter, and it was not so common a name that there were likely to be two with the same name and it’s entirely possible that the same or something similar was true for LW3’s coworker.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Ah, I understand now! And I answered from the view of my own situation, where I know nothing of my coworker’s siblings and most of my friends and I live in different states from our siblings. It definitely is possible that coworkers could find out in the news, especially if the brother and the wildfire are both local(ish).

    3. WellRed*

      Yeah I’m surprised how many comments seem to believe this is not something that will get out in the public eye (sorry for my clunky language).

      1. EPLawyer*

        Deaths of firefighters always make the news. So its going to be known.

        Calling it gossip was also over the top. I consider gossip talking about other’s personal lives or even work lives just for the sake of talking. In this case, OP was asked a specific question about someone. Maybe, possibly, she said a little more than was necessary. Maybe. But I don’t think it was out of line since it had been publicly shared already and NOT told to not keep it private. It definitely was not “gossip.”

        1. Despachito*

          I also think that this should definitely NOT be qualified as “gossip”, and it is not just to blame OP for such.

          I think that “gossip” usually is either something the person themselves would not want to reveal, or speculating about that person. “Jane from the Accounting just showed me the pictures of her new puppy and it was absolutely cute”, or “Fergus from IT has a newborn son and his name is James” won’t be a gossip, because they themselves revealed that, did not ask to withhold it from other people, and it is a fact, not a speculation. So is the fact that someone had a death in their family, and also that it was their brother the firefighter. I do not see this as gossip.

    4. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      Apparently a lot of you live in places where news like this include the dead person’s name. The entire world doesn’t do it like that, and OP#3 didn’t mention where in the world this event took place, so we don’t know if people are going to find out. (We also don’t know if Jane and her brother have the same surname.) Where I live (GDPR-land), news about accidental deaths don’t include any names, unless the dead person has previously been missing and searched for.

  7. Katie Impact*

    OP1: You say that your connection has done well in business in the past, but have the people he worked with also done well, or has he done well at their expense?

    1. Language Lover*

      Yes. This is important information OP1 needs to find out and I wouldn’t necessarily trust the investor to tell the whole truth about it either.

      There are people who will project success and wealth and then leverage that to get others to invest their own time and money to be a part of the next success under the assumption that they’ll get what they’re due. Yet, in the end, the others are left out in the cold and it’s only the investor who gets to enjoy the fruit of other people’s time

      And they get away with it because there will always be someone out there ready to believe it won’t happen to them.

        1. LisaNeedsBraces*

          Lol. Letter writer needs to stop asking the entrepreneur “Is there chance this track of bend,” and instead talk to North Haverbrook (his former partners)

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      Following my ironclad principle that everything relates to 19th century baseball, John T. Brush started out as a minority shareholder in the Indianapolis Club and climbed his way to owning the New York Giants, pretty consistently screwing over his partners as he went. He managed to squeeze the entire National League for money they couldn’t afford. The weird thing is that they loved him for it. They saw not only a kindred soul, but someone who was better at it than they were. They could not but admire him, and seek his counsel.

  8. Sammmmmmm*

    LW 1. Trust no one when it comes to your lively hood, time or potential. You need to sit down and get things on paper – especially if they are shifty.

    My current partnership is a contract, but after 3 years I receive a 25% stake in the company. If I am released from my contract position before 3 years- I am to be paid out 50% of the cash value of my stake in the company upon dismissal.

    For me these terms were important, to protect not only my contracted hours (which is less than I put in at a lower rate to help money stay in the company) but my time investment in the company. My partner completely understood what I was doing (disincentivize letting me go right on the cusp of 3 years when I receive my equity) and because we are both in it for the long haul.

    1. Willis*

      If OP1 decides to go into business with this guy, she should contact an attorney specializing in business start ups or small businesses to help her understand ownership options, how and when she’ll get paid, where her risks and responsibilities lie, etc. Don’t just take a contract this guy offers and sign it without having an attorney who knows what they’re doing review it.

  9. Nodramalama*

    I thought behavioural interviewing was just… Interviewing? Whenever I prep for interviews I always have some examples from when I XX ready.

    1. Roland*

      Yeah I’m wondering what “plain old” interviewing is that doesn’t include these. My field (software engineering) is big on technical interviewing but even we still ask behavioral questions too.

      1. A Person*

        There are lots of ways to ask questions! Some other types are:
        Hypothetical (“If a client asked you to make a teapot without a traditional handle, how would you go about it?”)
        Theoretical (“What do you think are the most important elements of good teapot design?”)
        Practical assessment / portfolio etc. (“Here’s a potter’s wheel, please make a teapot for us.”)
        Closed questions (“Are you certified to operate metal teapots?”, “Are you good at making teapots?”)
        Abstract questions about fit, skills, personality etc. (“What interests you about this role?”, “What is your greatest weakness?”, “How do you feel about milk in tea?”)

        1. ThatGirl*

          Fair enough, but most interviews I’ve had have included multiple types of questions – “tell me about a time when” isn’t that different from “what would you do if”, ultimately.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            It should be if the interviewer is good! The idea with behavioral questions is that you don’t just ask the question and move on — you probe with follow-up questions to really try to get below the surface of the first answer and into how the person actually has operated. It’s much harder to do that with “what would you do if…”

            1. ThatGirl*

              Interesting. In my experience the idea has been to get to how I think about things and how I’ve handled various situations, and while a real situation is better than a hypothetical they can both reveal things about my mindset and working style. I see what you’re saying, though.

    2. Allonge*

      I think the ‘plain old’ version is asking you about your background, ambitions at the new company and maybe some hypotheticals (what would you do if I told you to X).

      I mean, I totally agree that behavioral has been around for so long that it feels normal, but I would find it hard to do a reasonable interview just with behaviorals too.

      1. londonedit*

        Interviews in my industry (publishing) tend to be a mix of the two. They usually start off with a ‘So, talk me through your background and how you came to be at your current job’ sort of question, but there are also definitely always questions like ‘Tell me about a time when you had to manage several competing deadlines’ or ‘Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a challenging author’, and you’re expected to have real-life examples to show your competence in dealing with the sort of challenges that are common in the sort of job I do.

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

        Yeah, I think “standard” interview techniques are somewhat industry specific. It’s been 15 years since I interviewed but I don’t ever remember being asked theoretical or behavioral questions. My industry (graphic design) interviews were all about education/background, portfolio and technical knowledge.

        1. Allonge*

          Fair – with a portfolio, you get answers to a lot of questions. Still, I would ask behaviorals about what you do with conflicting deadlines, and how you handled intense criticism of your work in the past (jsut based on hte latest graphic designer I worked with, based on the specific job this may or may not be relevant).

    3. tennisfan*

      Even if questions aren’t specifically behavioral, it’s still helpful to have past examples ready to cite.

    4. Bodum*

      It depends on the industry. For jobs that require a specific technical skill (e.g., software engineering) a whole interview will usually be devoted to testing a applicant’s technical skills and approach. The behavioral interview is usually the next round, but just as important–you don’t want to hire someone with the technical chops if they can’t effectively communicate and collaborate with their team.

      1. sb51*

        +1 Also as a software interviewer, I do expect that, at the level I’m hiring at (entry level or low experience), that if I ask a behavioral question like “tell me about a time you and someone else on your team disagreed about a design choice and how you resolved it” I might get a very technical answer about why one option was better, or I might get the conflict-resolution-skills answer I’m actually looking for.

        Sometimes I get both answers at once, which is ideal, but usually I get one or the other. I’ll either probe deeper or ask a more hypothetical one (to pull them out of the technical-details-deepdive because the question is too hypothetical to be answerable that way) to see if I can get the conflict-resolution answer. (I’m totally okay hiring the kind of geek who always goes a little too technical and misses that I’m asking a conflict-resolution question, so not picking up on the kind of answer I’m looking for is not a flag, but I still need to figure out if they’re going to get defensive and cranky if anyone ever disagrees with their design, because that IS a flag.)

  10. Splendid Colors*

    I agree with everyone casting shade on LW#1’s prospective business partner (or whatever). Something that hasn’t come up that I learned in a workshop about partnerships is that you can end up being liable for the other person’s debt. And something I heard on one of those NPR shows (MarketWatch or Planet Money?) is that a lot of rich people finance their lifestyles not on income or even interest–but on debt. They just go borrow a ton of money against their assets and keep rolling it over into new loans like a Ponzi scheme. (Elon Musk does this, for example.) I don’t know if this prospect is *that* level of money, but just because someone is “successful” doesn’t mean it isn’t all a scary house of cards made out of debt.

    In any case, I would steer clear of doing anything with a prospect who can’t seem to keep a consistent story going of what they want from me. A friend was completely screwed over in a startup that burned through all the VC money they could get before the dot-com bust of 2001 because the founder couldn’t make up his mind what the product was supposed to do. He was expecting his shares to vest but instead his paychecks started bouncing. He kept hearing how close they were to getting more funding and releasing product, but between the VCs figuring out the product wasn’t going to happen and the whole dot-com bust, they imploded and he was left with months worth of IOUs. Do you want to be the business partner of a founder who can’t stay on track long enough for his engineers to release anything?

    1. nona*

      B/c of the money stuff, always always always incorporate (LLC, C Corp, S Corp, whatever makes sense – talk to a lawyer) if you go into business (even if just by yourself). the debts can then be the debts of the company and not the individuals (depending on how the paperwork reads) and makes it clear who is providing what as the start-up investment.

      This also forces you to talk about structure and responsibilities and expectations. Someone who is not willing to formalize the arrangement is not someone who actually understands how to be a good business partner.

      1. BatManDan*

        At the level of start-up, most money that is loaned or lines of credit (for supplies or raw materials, for example) will still require a personal guarantee, for exactly this reason. The owners/ founders are not liable for debt only if they credit/ loans are in the names of the corporation ONLY, which would be be very unusual.

    2. Autumnheart*

      I have a few stories like that myself, and know a ton of people who do as well. 2000 was a time of lessons learned about how promises don’t pay the rent, especially in the start-up world. To me, this “successful” person’s vague promises about “You do all the work and then one day there might be money in it for you” sounds like someone whose success is built on other people’s sweat equity. Actual successful people can tell you, and indeed are happy to tell you, where their success came from. If this dude can’t even point to a Linkedin profile of his accomplishments, just hang up the phone. If you don’t want to alienate the guy, just cheerfully respond with, “Sure, I’d be interested in hearing your ideas! Let me know when you want to set up a meeting and I’ll send you my consultant rates.” He’ll never call.

      Look at Trump, he built his “success” on hiring tons of people and then never paying them. Even now, Truth Social is complaining that they’re not getting paid according to their contract. People still fall for it, it’s amazing.

  11. Feo Takahari*

    I don’t know if #4 is good, but I know that I hate it hate it hate it. Like if I’m supposed to talk about dealing with an unhappy client—I routed them to a manager, and the manager handled it! That was the policy on dealing with unhappy clients! But that’s not a good answer for interview purposes, so I’m probably not gonna get hired.

    1. Allonge*

      I think this is a perfectly good answer, especially with some more detail (so, unhappiness manifested in X ways, you decided based on Z that it’s time to go to boss, you asked customer to go there calmly or wait until boss comes etc.).

      You followed procedure and got the solution to the customer as soon as possible.

      1. Madame Arcati*

        Indeed – you did much more if you think about it! Perhaps as follows: You answered the call in a timely manner as per local policy and listened carefully to the client’s complaint, making notes of important details on the Computer System. You spoke to the client reassuringly even though they were angry, keeping calm whilst remembering not to promise any solutions that might not be delivered. You were mindful of the company reputation which might be at risk if the client was unhappy – consequences could include poor online reviews or a complain to senior management. You are fully aware of the protocols at your company and made the decision that this should be dealt with at a senior level to your own so you passed it to a manager via the correct channel to ensure action would be taken. You briefed the manager with the main salient points but kept it succinct so as not to keep the client waiting unnecessarily. Then you returned to your duties and updated the records on Computer System only – making sure no personal details of the client were recorded elsewhere which might place their privacy at risk or be in violation of data protection legislation.

    2. Felis alwayshungryis*

      There could be more detail for you to add here – they were unhappy about X, you tried to help them troubleshoot and find some options for remedy that would be acceptable to them, and after that you passed them on to the manager to ensure they got service from the person with clearance to sort it.

      Even if it’s a case of ‘lol sorry can’t help here’s the manager’, you were honest with the customer about your remit, didn’t attempt to bullshit them, and passed them onto a higher power as quickly as possible. There’s always a way to spin things ;-)

    3. Emmy Noether*

      I don’t think that has to be.

      1) you can frame it as “I followed the clearly laid out procedure”, which no reasonable person will count against you. At worst, the question will be tallied as a dead end and another situation asked about. You can also answer the implicit question behind that concrete question, for example: “oh, it was procedure at my last place to escalate unhappy clients immediately, so all my examples would be very short… but let me tell you about how I resolved a conflict in this other situation…”

      2) I always think it’s kind of funny when people think those kind of questions elicit 100% truth and are all that different from hypoheticals. If you don’t have a good example from reality, you can just answer as a hypothetical, but put all the verbs in past tense. Or take a real example and describe what you should have done in retrospect, not what you did. Or take an example from private life and set it in the workplace. It’s not like anyone could verify the story.
      They are trying to gauge how you will act in the future, so if you are reasonably sure that this is how you will act in the future, I don’t have a moral problem with fabricating ONE example about soft skills. Just don’t lie about how much experience you have with something (including soft skills – don’t lie about how much workload you managed or how much client contact you had).

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Your reply seems very reasonable, but it’s not something I as an autistic woman could ever have deduced, which gives some interesting context to at least one previous interview.

        It would be nice if interviewers could explain what they actually want to know!

        1. J*

          This is why I’d recommend mock interviews for people who aren’t always aware of the interviewing techniques and expectations. There is a bit of an unwritten element to interviews but there’s nothing wrong with preparing. I’ve been able to write it out for friends, show them youtube videos or even set them up with SCORE mock interviews and it has always helped. People seem to not hesitate to seek resume advice but often overlook that the same is available for interviews.

        2. My Useless 2 Cents*

          Not autistic but have difficulty reading social cues. Also I tend to be very literal and direct. Although my absolute biggest problem with this type of interview is that I have a horrible memory for these types of story-line situational experiences. I tend to think in emotions, impressions, and “screenshots” (like a picture of a red folder which means a lot to me but not very helpful to someone else). If I’m asked a specific question I can pull out some details but generic questions will lead to vague impressions and feelings.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Probing very much helps identify whether it’s a real situation or not. Most people can make up an example of “a team project I delivered” by riffing off a related thing or something they once read about, but if someone asks a question like, “so how exactly were the project deliverables defined?” or “so how did you deal with conflicts about the best way to achieve that deadline?”, the number of people who can confidently improvise response when there’s no real detail to share (or there was, but they were a much more minor part of the team than they were claiming) is, like, off the charts small. I’m a good speaker and extemporised and I think best speaking out loud, but I can’t do it. It’s kind of a professional-level actor/improviser or actual-gifted-con-artist level skill.

        As a real-life example of this, we recently interviewed a boss and her direct report for the same role. The report was very junior and (it turned out) had worked on the same project as her boss during an internship. In her application, she had talked about the project, how she’d met milestones, delivered on the clients’ brief etc, and it all sounded really good. When we probed with questions about the methodology she’d used, the background to the project, how it was evaluated etc, she just smiled and looked panicked. Whereas her manager just nodded and went straight into a really comprehensive and detailed answer. It would be much harder to get that distinction with a scenario question because there wouldn’t be details to probe into.

        And that’s the kind of thing that behavioural interviews are meant to do— they help you sort out people who have applied and are answering in good faith and with a bit of extra gloss over their experiences into the “could not do the job”, “could do the job with some support” “could do the job well” and “could excel in the job”. They aren’t really designed to weed out the tiny percentage who could simply lie fluently and believably, because those people are extraordinary and a system designed to find those people wouldn’t actually work for anything else.

        I think the bigger problem with them is less that “people can lie” and more that being able to speak fluently and with the required level of detail is still a skill, and one which some people really struggle with even with all the practice and support in the world, and not everyone has access to practice and support. But that is true of every type of application process, interviewing and selection, unfortunately.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          I guess it depends on the type of question, if it’s one you prepared, and how closely you can riff off reality. I actually tried and failed miserably once to pass myself off as someone else at a trade fair, so I (unfortunately?) definitely do not have con-man skills. I most certainly couldn’t invent a project wholesale or something of the kind.

          I was more thinking of, for example “tell me about a time you had a conflict with a coworker”, a question I don’t actually have a good anecdote for, but that is fairly standard. I can think of a conflict, and how I wish I had resolved it but didn’t… and since I’m playing me, and all the other characters are real people, and it’s not that complex, and non-verifiable, and it’s the type of question I can think about in preparation, I could probably do it.
          Same for “how do you stay on top of your tasks?”, I can say I use the task function in Excel and pull daily tasks first thing in the morning. I can even talk about color coding and classifying tasks with action buttons, but not overdoing it so the list-keeping doesn’t eat too much time… and conveniently leave out that I *inconsistently* use that task function and the daily task list is mostly wishful thinking in the mornings.

          Your story goes more into faking experience (with leading a project), not soft skills, which, as I said, don’t do that! It will come to bite you in the behind.

          1. Smithy*

            I think the reason the soft skills examples are often mentioned is because the more technical ones are going to be so specific to any given job/industry. They’re not always as easy to explain in generals why they work and end up much more as an “if you know you know”. I’m currently part of an interviewing process, and through those types of very specific sector questions I’ve been able to determine one of our candidates clearly has the most experience managing grants that are smaller than what we’re looking for the person in this job to do.

            Now she’s not lying or misrepresenting herself at all, but when evaluating her candidacy – it’s a relevant note on where her specific experience is, and where it’s not. But had she taken those examples and inflated the value of those grants – because of the experience we have – we’d know she was likely misrepresenting her experience. Or had achieved something remarkable we’d want to probe further, as those donors are typically associated with smaller grants.

        2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          And if Feo Takahari has trouble turning an actual example from boring to usable, she is definitely not a glib enough liar to make an example up entirely, and probably not to stretch one out.

        3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I have kind of lied on behavioral questions. It happens when I don’t have a single situation that will answer the interviewer’s question, but I can pull examples from multiple situations to give a comprehensive answer. They are all my experiences, they just didn’t all happen together.

      3. Hlao-roo*

        In addition to what bamcheeks said about being able to probe to expose lies, there’s also the fact that people are good at justifying their past actions to themselves and may answer a behavioral question with a scenario that shows them in a bad light. There’s a comment from Cat Tree above that I think shows this really well:

        One candidate actually said that he got into a shouting match with a coworker and ultimately “won”, which he seemed proud of. I really doubt he would have answered a hypothetical question like that, where he’s imagining a made up scenario where he’s so brilliantly correct that he doesn’t need to resort to shouting. (We did not hire that candidate.)

        Not everyone will show their true colors like that guy, but behavioral questions can expose more bad fits than hypothetical questions.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          This is true: behavioral questions are more likely to flush out unreasonable or crazy people.

          I actually think it’s a good interview technique – I don’t even see “people may still lie” as a drawback, because that’s true of any technique (except straight up skills tests), behavioral probably less than most, I’d wager.

          I was more thinking from the candidate side: don’t worry if you don’t have a perfect anecdote, make an imperfect one fit! It’s ok!

          1. Annika Hansen*

            Yes! Behavioral questions have weeded out some unreasonable people. We had one guy who came off as unhinged. Somehow, he got hired where my friend works. It was an absolute shitshow leading to the police having to escort him out because he refused to leave after he was fired.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Yep – I ask people to tell me about a time they made a mistake (at work, in an extracurricular, at school, wherever) and how they handled the aftermath of it, and about 20% of people tell me they’ve never made a mistake or that there was this one time that was totally someone else’s fault. Hard pass on both – if you think you’ve made it to your early 20s without ever screwing up, you’re either not very self-aware or lying.

              1. fhqwhgads*

                I always struggle with this question in interviews, not because I think I’ve never made a mistake, but because I absolutely do not remember my mistakes in a way that makes them discussable. Unless it happened, like, last week, I probably couldn’t come up with an example that seemed noteworthy enough to address. Unless “it was pointed out to me, i fixed it” counts. Even the idea of an “aftermath” that was more than “thanks for fixing that” is not a thing I recall happening in the last 15 years.

          2. Irish Teacher*

            Plus, with hypotheticals, you are not only dealing with the possibility that people may lie but also with the issue that a lot of people are not that good at being able to tell what they WOULD do and may answer with an example of what they think the RIGHT thing to do would be or what they think the manager would want them to do. For example, a person might say that they would be more authoritative than they really would be, not intending to lie, but just not considering the possibility that the other person may attempt to intimidate them and succeed in doing so. Giving an actual example, they are more likely to take the attempt to intimidate into account.

          3. Observer*

            I actually think it’s a good interview technique – I don’t even see “people may still lie” as a drawback, because that’s true of any technique (except straight up skills tests), behavioral probably less than most, I’d wager.

            True. And as others have said, the lies they tell can be quite revealing.

    4. kicking_k*

      Sometimes you have to accept you won’t have a fantastic-sounding, true answer for all the questions. You can pivot it so you are focusing on the skills you did use – in your case, good judgement about when to escalate to a manager.

      I don’t have a great answer for the common question “tell me about a time when there was conflict in your workplace and how you dealt with it.” My usual example is a disagreement about whether or not the radio should be played in a shared office. It’s not of world-shaking importance. But it will tell the panel _something_ about how I get along with colleagues. Am I flexible? Decisive? Can I find compromises? It also says something for my personal level of agreeableness that I haven’t had much serious conflict to deal with – and I wil qualify the example by saying that I’ve been lucky in my colleagues, in that I don’t have a more difficult problem to talk about.

      1. Allonge*

        Yes – in this case, it may just be that someone does not have sufficient experience with tricky customers / conflict for the purposes of the job. That’s ok!

      2. Cat Tree*

        From the interviewer side, with questions about conflict I just want to know that you won’t get angry and start arguing, or get so invested in winning or being right that you never let something go even when the department goes with someone else’s idea. That’s really it; it’s not meant to be tricky.

        I think it can seem strange to some people who handle disagreements well because your approach seems so obvious. But there really are people out there who handle it poorly and that’s much easier to hide with a hypothetical answer.

        1. EngGirl*

          From the interviewer side I’ll also add that if you don’t have a great answer and you know it, that there’s value in proactively talking about what you learned and how you’d handle the situation differently in the future.

          “I got in a screaming match with my coworker, and I won!” Is very very bad

          “I’ll be frank, I got overly personally involved at that time and reacted in a way that I’m not proud of. With the benefit of hindsight I now wouldn’t handle the conflict the same way and here’s how I would handle the same situation now…” is way better

        2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I had someone straight up tell me a story about how they sabotaged a coworker they were having a disagreement like it was the most normal thing in the world. It literally left the interview panel speechless.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Personally, all I’m looking for on questions related to handling of conflict is does the candidate have good judgment about what they can address directly with a coworker versus escalating something more serious and can they use their words to tactfully address a situation.

        Even an example of whether or not to play a radio in-office is helpful, from my perspective. If you hid the cord to your coworker’s radio or walked around stage whispering passive-aggressive comments about how some people have terrible taste in music, probably not. If you politely asked your coworker to use headphones because it was distracting you while you were trying to QC numbers, gold star.

    5. BRR*

      For this situation you could always say what the policy was but add what you would have done to deal with the client. Because that essentially gives the interviewer the information they’re looking for.

    6. Madame Arcati*

      It’s also important to remember that when you are doing these examples, when often the STAR format is preferred, then there’s nothing wrong with the Result being “nothing went wrong”. You word it accordingly “I completed the project on schedule and complied with all regulations, and there were no challenges from Legal” but it’s the same thing. Also even if your part was small it still contributes to a result; maybe you didn’t design and bake the tray of award winning cupcakes but you quality-assured those hundreds and thousands which were sprinkled on the top and that was instrumental to the eventual trophy!

    7. Richard Hershberger*

      Yeah, as a paralegal, the unhappy client doesn’t want to talk to me. They want to talk to the lawyer. And you know what? I don’t want to talk to them, either. The kicker is that the lawyer doesn’t want to talk to them either, and might consider it my job to keep prevent it. So it is something of a trap question. My answer would be about my efforts to make the client happy and the decision process of when to kick the call upstairs. This also is an “I am interviewing them, too” situation. If they consider the paralegal’s job to never ever allow Unhappy Client to get through to the lawyer, I probably don’t want to work there.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        I interviewed for an attorney position once at a super small firm, and part of the interview was roleplaying when a call should be passed along to the main attorney and when a message should be taken with a vague promise of a return call. (Judges and new potential clients made the cut; current clients did not.)

        (Yes, I realize that there is a benefit of potentially doing some prep work before discussing a case, but it usually took multiple increasingly angry calls from clients before a formal call would be scheduled so that prep could be done.)

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          In the Before Times, when my boss was usually but not always in the office, current clients would, all else being equal, get a “Let me see if he is available.” If he turned out not to be available, the reason for this was not discussed with the client. The process of determining his availability might include my telling him that he really needed to talk to the client, or on the other hand that he did not really need to talk to the client.

          Nowadays he virtually never is physically in the office, and clients have his cell phone number, so the discussion is moot.

    8. I should really pick a name*

      The idea is that they’d ask questions that are relevant to the role that you’re applying to.

      If you’re not going to be dealing with unhappy clients, they should ask you how you’ve dealt with unhappy clients.

      Also, saying that you followed the procedure is actually a good answer.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, this is the key — the questions should be about things that they want the qualified candidates to have had experience with. Not necessary every single one, but certainly most of them, or something close enough that you can make it fit. If someone doesn’t have answers for a bunch of behavioral questions in an interview, either the interviewer picked the wrong questions or the candidate is (unfortunately) not a great match with the experiences they’re looking for.

    9. Cat Tree*

      That’s a great answer, especially for a junior level position. It seems so obvious to you to be meaningless, but it’s not. You would be surprised how many people would get mad at the client or try to cover things up so their boss wouldn’t find out and that’s exactly what we don’t want. Also, knowing when to escalate something to your manager is an important skill, and not everyone has that skill.

      1. tennisfan*

        Exactly. Showing that you followed policy and quickly involved your manager can actually be a very strong answer, maybe even the best answer, depending on context.

    10. Sutemi*

      Sometimes the answer that the interviewer is looking for is “and I asked my manager what to do”. Knowing the limits of your own authority and not making things up or hiding them from your manager are good skills!

      1. Allonge*

        Very often, in fact! There are very few (office) jobs high enough or independent enough that people will not need to consult with their manager or some higher authority.

    11. SansaStark*

      As the manager that would eventually end up taking those calls, this is exactly what I want to hear because the staff who answer the phone are expected to follow the rules exactly as they are laid out. It’s my job to assess whether those rules can be bent/broken in certain situations. I need to know that my staff will follow protocol and understand the reasoning behind it.

    12. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

      Other possible issues with this type of questions are: People may not have experience with that kind of situation – sometimes it means you’re not the right person for the job, but what if you just haven’t experienced workplace conflicts or difficult clients? Previous and current employers may have restrictions about what you can tell about their policies and practices to other companies, so it can be difficult to explain a work situation in a way that doesn’t include any potentially confidential information (in some companies almost everything is confidential…) but is still understandable to an outsider. And if you haven’t thought about that particular question before, it can be difficult to come up with a good example in five seconds.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        In those situations I say something like, “I am very fortunate and haven’t directly had to deal with conflict/upset clients, but I have seen others deal with it. Based on what I have seen, I would do X, Y, and Z.”

  12. Dragon*

    OP4: I never got to use it, but I did come up with an answer for, “Tell me about a time the boss asked you to do the impossible.”

    My boss called me after an offsite meeting, and said he needed to have a conference call with some of the meeting participants as soon as he got into our office. However, he didn’t know when these people would all be in their offices to take the call.

    So I was looking at the brochure for our company’s conference call service, wondering how the heck to do this. Then I saw their option for an assigned 24/7 conference call number, which didn’t require making an advance reservation. A company had to have signed up for this option, and I called and confirmed that we had.

    When my boss came in the door, I gave him his new assigned number and the essentials of how to use it. He emailed all the participants to ask if everyone was ready yet. When they were, he sent out this number and they all dialed in.

    This was several years ago. Now, individual dedicated conference call numbers are standard in big firms in my field. Most professionals are given their own assigned number from day one.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      Wait, this clearly wasn’t actually impossible though? I always thought that question was how to deal with something that isn’t just difficult or takes research, but something impossible. Being asked to design a perpetuum mobile for example.

      1. Allonge*

        For the purposes of an interview question, it does not need to be ‘physics impossible’ – it’s fair enough to interpret this as ‘seemingly impossible’. If they mean ‘unreasonable’, they should specify.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          Sure, but asking about “seemingly impossible” tasks, as in, very difficult but resolvable, and actually impossible tasks (not necessarily physics impossible, maybe legal impossible, or very cost prohibitive, depending on field) are very different questions.

          One is about how you persevere and overcome problems, the other is about how to make your case and get a superior to not waste everyone’s time. Veeeerrry different, even opposite, skillsets. If I’m looking for the latter, and I get a response in the vein of “I’ll try, try, try the impossible until I succeed, nothings really impossible!”, that person is going to immediately be out of the running.

          Maybe that’s my bias coming from a field where the very precise meaning of words is all-important though – if I meant “seemingly impossible”, I would say that! And I’d be a bit irked at my words not being taken at their meaning. Interestingly, I’ve asked a similar question in interviews I’ve conducted “what do you do if your supervisor gives you an assignment that you think is a bad idea/not realistic? Give an example”, which is open to a lot more different examples. I’m looking both for the humility to think it’s maybe not a bad idea after all *and* the courage to push back if it is.

          1. Allonge*

            I guess my point is: interpreting the question very literally and saying this never happened (and end it there) is suboptimal.

            I would start explaining about a near-impossible task or saying my bosses were reasonable and never gave impossible tasks, and let the interviewer course correct and say actually, we were thinking of X here, can you give an example of that? Or ask a question to clarify – do you mean actually impossible or is it ok if I give an example where it looked like it at first?

            I agree that it’s good to have the questions formulated clearly! But even in jobs relying on precise wording, an interview is meant to be a dialogue.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              Well, obviously, clarifying, or even acknowledging you don’t have an example, but then pivoting to an example that demonstrates the same skills would work! Even “can’t think of an impossible one, but here’s one I thought was impossible at first…” would be completely fine. Redirecting is a valuable skill in itself. But the question has to be acknowledged, don’t just secretly reinterpret and answer a different question!

          2. Chilipepper Attitude*

            What if you have never been put into either position? Would those people with reasonable bosses just be out of the running?

            1. TheLinguistManager*

              I think it would also be reasonable to answer this question with how you prevented something from becoming an impossible ask.

              For example, an acceptable answer in my industry (software development) might include the applicant seeing a complicated or huge-scope project coming down the pike and proactively start talking with their manager or stakeholders to get them to reduce the scope, add more people to the team, or allow more time.

            2. Emmy Noether*

              I think that can happen with any behavioral question. Good interviewers also know that candidates are nervous and sometime just blank on good examples.

              I think it’s perfectly fine to say “can’t think of an example, I lucked out with reasonable bosses” and let the interviewer either restate as a hypothetical or pivot to a different question (for example, getting at the same skills: “tell me about a time you hit a roadblock in a project and thought it may be doomed”). As long as you don’t blank on every question, it’s normal for some of them not to yield answers.

              1. UKDancer*

                Yes. I’d go with “my bosses have all been pretty reasonable. But I had to work with a really difficult supplier in my last job who kept sending substandard llama food. This is how I handled it.” They can then either stop you or let you go on.

              2. Emmy Noether*

                And if someone has never encountered an impossible task, a project that turns out impossible or, more common, an impossible timeframe for a task or eye-rollingly terrible ideas by some level of management, I’m envious! What a charmed work-life.

            3. bamcheeks*

              So there’s two possibilities here—- either the job involves dealing with very unreasonable bosses who *do* make impossible demands— Miranda from The Devil Wears Prada, say— and they actually need someone with that skill set. In which case, “I’ve always had reasonable bosses” means you’re probably not the right candidate.

              Alternatively, they’re using that question to test for a skill you DO have — managing unrealistic client expectations, for example— and if you ask more about what the question is looking for, you might go, “oh yes, I do have a good example of that! I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as impossible, but we did have a client who wanted…”

              Sometimes it really is impossible to answer an interview question because you don’t have the skill they’re looking for — and that’s ok! It’s a real-life thing that happens and not a sign of a failure on your part or the interviewer’s. It’s the interview working as intended.

              1. Allonge*

                Absolutely to your last paragraph – ‘Would those people with reasonable bosses just be out of the running?’ puts this almost as a discrimination issue, but it’s really not.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          This thread just brought back a memory of an actually, physics-impossible task I once had. I was brand new in the job and got this project I strongly suspected was impossible-by-the-laws-of-nature. All my new colleagues were joking about it and pitying me, but my new boss would. not. hear. it. when we told him, repeatedly. Very stressful situation. Ended up having to work out the mathematical proof that it was, in fact, impossible, and show him, but I sank several month’s worth of work into it before that. At least he appreciated my efforts, so there’s that.

    2. OyHiOh*

      I had a written version of this in the interviews that led to my current job

      They gave me a short written scenario (less than half a page typed) in which a sequence of unexpected things happen, requiring coordinating multiple parties, ability to think quickly, call in resources, etc. They gave me some time to read over the thing and think about how I’d handle it, and then asked me to walk through my process.

      In the moment, I was sure I’d bombed the thing. Been too general where I thought I should have been more precise. I got the job. Four weeks in, I had a near identical situation play out. Spent three minutes worrying about office norms and processes and then thought wait, this is pretty similar to that written scenario, they liked my answer there, do those things. And it went fine and everyone was happy.

  13. Irish Teacher.*

    I will say I find “tell me about a time…” questions WAY easier to answer than hypotheticals. I don’t know if this is true for most people or if it’s because I’m kind of literal minded and hypotheticals make me think “well, it depends.”

    1. nnn*

      I’ve gotten good results with hypotheticals by spelling out all the “it depends” – e.g. Here are all the factors that need to be taken into account. Here is a sample of IF/THEN statements. Here’s the top priority, here’s the nice to have, here’s the bottom priority.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        It might depend on role too. In teaching, things are SO situation based. Like if I were asked “how would you deal with a student who refused to take correction and was very disrespectful?” I’d be thinking “what does disrespectful MEAN here and what was I correcting them for? A student who rolls their eyes when told to stop talking for the third time is a lot different from a student who gives me the middle finger when I tell them to stop dancing on the desk (the latter actually happened once).

        What is the discipline policy in the school? I taught in one school where we were supposed to deal with virtually everything ourselves and only escalate if say a student stormed out of the school or started a fight in class or something, basically issues that involved safety and I was pretty much told I was wasting the year heads’ time by escalating issues that I would have been expected to escalate in most other schools, issues like a student not turning up for a detention I gave him or a student repeatedly pretending to fall off his chair, rolling around on the floor and accusing me of “picking on him” and threatening to “report me” for sending a note home.

        And then there is context. Are we talking a usually good kid who just had a really bad day and my telling them off was the last straw or are we talking a kid who is habitually disrespectful?

        On the other hand, if I am asked to describe a situation where a student was disrespectful and how I responded, it’s not difficult to give an example.

        1. bamcheeks*

          Yeah, I think a really big difficulty with hypotheticals is the thing we often see on AAM— people will unconsciously substitute missing details based on assumptions, so you end up talking about totally different situations!

          In my opinion, scenario questions are good when there’s a specific procedure to work through — for mock interviews with trainee teachers, we had something like “you’re on a field trip with year 9 students, and you do a headcount and realise a student is missing, what do you do next?” The best answers were from students who had a specific policy or best practice so they’d be working through how they’d go through that (and what would already be in place to ensure student safety) rather than making something up on the fly. But they are harder for more open ended things like “how would you deal with a difficult client” because clients can be difficult in so many different ways and you can end up with something that doesn’t meet the interviewer’s expectations at all, and you have to be quite clear about what sort of thought processes you’re looking for and identify those rather than specific actions.

      2. NowhereLand*

        Same. They’re not looking for the perfect solution so much as proof that you know what the important factors are.

    2. Allonge*

      For hypotheticals, one of the things they should show is your thinking process. Of course it’s good to not get into a whole spiral of what-ifs (so do arrive at some answers), but I would expect, especially for a complex question, some branching in the answers based on potential scenarios.

    3. Inkhorn*

      I’m the opposite! I don’t have a long or varied work history and I don’t have a great episodic memory, so questions like that leave me floundering.

      1. Chilipepper Attitude*

        You have to prepare ahead of time! Get lists of possible questions and prepare a few.

        I also have trouble thinking of a real situation, then what parts to share, I’m thinking about what they really are asking for and how to frame it and … it’s hard! So prepare ahead of time and you will have scenarios in your head you can use and adapt as needed.

        To be honest I also have trouble with hypotheticals, like others said, I’m thinking about all the ways “it depends” and trying to think about which option the interviewers really want.

        1. Banana*

          This! Some basic questions I ask in interviews are: a time when you had to solve a problem that didn’t have an easy answer, a time when you got constructive feedback asking you to

          1. Banana*

            oops sent by accident!

            a time when you got constructive feedback asking you to change how you did things, and a time when you went above and beyond for an internal or external customer. I mentally prepare 4-5 career moments /accomplishments in particularly proud of, and write out bullets for qualities those stories demonstrate, and trot those out in response to behavioral questions. Not all of them have to be big moments! I have a story about how I needed to access a pallet in a locked building on a weekend. The team who were supposed to send me the pallet forgot to, and my factory had an urgent shipment we planned to produce on Saturday with the material on the pallet. I convinced someone on our security team to let me into the building, found someone who could operate a forklift to move the pallet, and arranged for a truck driver to come get it and take it where I needed it. This story works as an example of a time I solved a problem, a time I went above and beyond, and also covers questions about my networking and influencing skills (I am good at getting to know people who can help me and rallying them behind me.) It was one Saturday morning several years ago and probably no one besides me remembers I did it, but it’s a great interview story. (I wouldn’t trot it out in an interview for a role where following strict protocol and security measures were important, necessarily….which key stories you use will vary from one interview prep to another.)

      2. Tau*

        I hear you – there’s nothing like a behavioural question to make my entire memory of my work life *fwoomph* out of my head.

        Honestly, what I do is that before the interview I try to list a variety of different events with different outcomes and contexts that happened during my working life where I’d be comfortable talking about them in an interview (like, focusing on ones where I’m proud of how I handled the situation, but also including ones where the outcome wasn’t great to handle questions like “tell me about a time you failed at something”). Then when I get one of these questions I pick the event that’s a closest match to what they’re asking for, which saves me from having to comb through my memory on the spot. It also helps to have phrases like “I don’t think I ever experienced X, but I did once do Y” or similar close at hand in cases where the scenario isn’t quite what they asked for.

        If worst comes to worst, I answer the question as a hypothetical instead (by which I mean acknowledging you never had an experience like that, but if you *did* you like to think you’d handle it in X way) but I try to avoid that where possible.

        1. Nynaeve*

          Ugh, I once had an interview where the FIRST question was “Tell me about a time when you failed” and I immediately burst into tears. I don’t even know why, it was just so out of left field and completely overwhelming. And, I don’t have an answer for that one. Similar to “Tell me about a time when you missed a deadline”. The true answer is, I don’t. The last time I missed a deadline was in the second grade, and the anxiety attack that it produced was the last straw that let my parents to get me treated for anxiety. Since then I have developed A-Z coping strategies to ensure that it NEVER happens again and so far, 35 years later, it only has happened one other time in the 10th grade. A paper was due that we were required to read aloud in the class rather than turn it in. I had forgotten to do it the night before. When it was my turn I pretended to read a standard 5 paragraph essay that was not written with enough skill that I still got an A on the assignment. That was the last time I forgot about or was late with an assignment or appointment, in any aspect of my life.

          But, that answer is entirely TMI and I really don’t have another way to answer it. I have a similar problem with the ones covering conflict. And now suddenly we are at 20-30% of the questions in a standard 60 minute interview I simply cannot answer. It’s infuriating.

          1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

            I am the same and this is my answer, “Completing things on time is very, very important to me, so I haven’t missed a deadline since high school”. Thus far everyone has accepted it and when I work there they realize I wasn’t BSing. Only time I’m not done on time is when I am done early.

    4. AnonyNurse*

      Yea, my response to hypotheticals leans towards “barrage of follow up questions” in the “well, if x is in place, then y, but if not I’d want to know z” sense.

      I did once say to a hypothetical, “well, I understand you contract with x to perform this [life critical] service, to which they smirked and said they didn’t actually have a contract, they made the vendors contract directly. Which is incredibly outside the norm/standard, and was the moment I decided I didn’t want the job. I completed the interview and when I got home, withdrew from consideration.

      When hypotheticals backfire …

    5. somanyquestions*

      The thing with “tell me about a time” is that they always ask about things that have never happened and then I have to make up a whole story. I am non-neurotypical and can’t do that. Everyone always just tells me to lie but that is basically impossible for me, especially under pressure. Give me 1o completely made up situations that would never happen and ask me what I did in all of them and I will sit there stuttering.

      Behavioral interviews have seriously held me back in my career and I will always resent them deeply. I think they tell no one anything but how well someone can create fiction.

      1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

        I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience. Speaking as a person who asks behavioral questions in interviews, I can tell you that I wouldn’t want you to lie or make up fiction. I am presumably asking about experience relevant to the role, so if you haven’t had those experiences, I want to know about it. I can switch to hypothetical mode if it’s necessary, but you have to tell me it’s necessary (or I’ll figure out for myself that you’re bluffing, which doesn’t come across nearly as well as just being honest). It’s also fine to say “Well, I haven’t had exactly that experience, but I did have this similar/related experience that I can tell you about.”

        An important piece of behavioral interviewing that I haven’t seen mentioned in this discussion is the follow-up questions. It’s not just “tell me a story about a thing you did,” but it’s also followed up with “What did you learn from that experience?” and “How have you applied that learning since then?” The point of asking this type of question is to do the best one can in the interview environment to gauge the candidate’s working style, experience with situations that are common in the job, and ability to learn from that experience.

        You have experiences. You have learned from them. You have a way of dealing with challenges and interfacing with your colleagues that makes you a valuable worker. I hope you can find a way to approach these questions in the spirit of sharing all of that truth about yourself–not as invitations to lie–and learn to answer them to your advantage instead of resenting them.

        1. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

          Oh, and let me add, in response to this: “Give me 1o completely made up situations that would never happen and ask me what I did in all of them and I will sit there stuttering.” This is not what behavioral questions are — they are specifically asking you to reflect on situations that *did* happen, and how you dealt with them. Behavior interviewing is usually taught as an alternative to asking about hypothetical situations. And a preferable alternative. What is it that you would prefer interviewers to ask you?

          1. Irish Teacher*

            That reminds me of one really bad experience I did have with such a scenario (but to be honest, it probably clued me in to a red flag about the principal) as he made the scenario progressively impossible.

            Think “what would you do if a student refuses point blank to do their homework?” “I’d call their parents.” “And what if the parents won’t answer the phone?” “I’d speak to the year head or to the home-school liaison to see if there were any family issues that could be affecting the issue.” “And what if they said they didn’t know of anything and didn’t bother following it up?” “I’d talk to the kid and ask why they hadn’t it done?” “And what if they just shrugged and said they just hate the subject and they’re not going to do homework for it, no matter what you say?” It wasn’t that scenario, but was a similar attitude to “and what if nothing you suggest works?”

            It felt like they were either looking for one very specific answer or were trying to catch me out.

            That was the only “specific circumstance that would never happen” I came across. Mostly, I get fairly realistic ones. And even that started fairly realistic. It just got unrealistic with the increase in reasons why nothing I suggested was likely to work.

          2. Nynaeve*

            Quite frankly, as someone with a similar attitude towards behavioral interviews as somanyquestions, I would prefer that we did away with formal interviews entirely. Read my resume and cover letter closely, allow them to be whatever length I feel is necessary to convey the information I believe to be relevant, BELIEVE what they say in terms of experience and accomplishments. And then, if you think it is a good match for the position, let the people I will be working with/for take me out to lunch or coffee and ramble on about my kids, dog, reading addiction, etc. to determine if our personalities gel and then either make an offer or don’t.

            As someone who has never once in their entire life been offered a position based solely off of their interview skills (every job I have had for 35 years has been offered either because it was a cattle call type situation where you basically have to pass the mirror test, or I was being interviewed merely as a formality as everyone involved was intimately familiar with my work self because it was an internal promotion or I was being hired by friends of the family or something similar) I would prefer to never have to suffer that humiliation again, thanks. I have done probably hundreds of interviews for everything from local fast food to high level admin positions and I have never gotten an offer if the interviewer didn’t already know me personally. I guess I just don’t interview well, and no amount of practice has ever helped. Having to answer behavioral questions and make sure you cover all the parts of SMART just make it 1000% worse.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              Because I’ve gotten enough resumes to take a trust-but-verify approach to them. I start off assuming they are actual experiences, but, when I ask about a specific experience listed on the resume and the candidate can’t answer basic, basic questions about the skill they claim to have, I don’t care if they’re a great lunch date and our personalities gel, they’re not what I’m looking for. (And using personalities gelling as a hiring criteria over actually going in-depth on someone’s skills and experience is exactly how we end up with teams/organizations that are not diverse by any measure. I work in an industry with a a strong good ol’ boys network that used to rely on the martini lunch for hiring – thank you, but no.)

            2. Allonge*

              Uh, that’s tough.

              I never hired for any job where a person would not have had to demonstrate verbal communications skills though.

              Obviously your preferences are yours to have, but believing a resume is rarely an option in my experience. If for nothing else, there are people who are the exact opposite of you and cannot write a coherent and positive sentence about themselves even if it kills them, but they can do a live conversation with charm and grace.

      2. Irish Teacher*

        I’ve generally been asked things that are general enough that I can find something to fit. “Tell me about a discipline issue you dealt with” is ubiquitous in teaching.

        I think if I got something that never happened, I’d say that and try and find something similar. Like if I got asked about dealing with a conflict with a colleague, I might say I haven’t really ever had conflict with colleagues but give an example of something that COULD have led to conflict if handled differently and explain how I avoided the conflict.

        I have some questions as to whether or not I’m entirely neurotypical myself and am not good at lying either. (Weirdly, I am a writer and can write whole fictional novels, so it’s not that I can’t make things up, more that I have a mental block about letting somebody think something is true when it’s not; I think it has something to do with my need for certainty). This may be partly why I find hypotheticals difficult. Because it’s impossible to be accurate about what I would do if… I CAN be accurate about what I DID do.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        I’ve used situational/behavioral interviewing my whole career, and I have not had the experience that they tell me nothing other than someone’s fiction-creating abilities. It’s fine if you don’t like them – I personally hate canned interview questions from the 1980s that I don’t think speak at all to my qualifications to the actual job at hand – we all have our preferences. But even if they don’t work for you, they’ve worked quite well for others, as multiple people in these comments have attested.

        I don’t tend to use them for made-up situations, though, mine are very directly related to *skills* I care about – problem-solving is important to what I do, so I ask people to tell me about a time they were either asked to do something they’d never done before (and how they approached it/how it turned out) and also to tell me about a time something they were working on went sideways (and how they attempted to right the ship/how it turned out/what they’d do differently next time). Everyone’s had a project blow up or been asked to take on a novel assignment, whether in school, an activity, volunteering, an internship, or a job of any sort. I’m not looking for a short story, I’m looking to see that the candidate can do some basic research, marshal the resources available to them, and figure out how to do what needs to be done. I have gotten some great answers to this from all corners of people’s lives.

    6. Whither*

      I’m the opposite, I’m too literal with “tell me about a time when…” questions so I feel anxious if I don’t have a single tidy clear-cut anecdote that perfectly matches the question. I would so much rather talk about, say, how I noticed over time that I was having recurring problems with X and gradually adjusted my approach, or how I routinely deal with customers who are mildly irate and what my perspective is on that and what strategies I employ to keep things from escalating, but those aren’t “a time when”!!!

  14. One day*

    I worked for an organisation that professed to use behavioural interviewing techniques – but no one who was interviewing was actually trained properly and the questions were often poorly worded or irrelevant. And the managers ended up just hiring who they wanted – people most like them – anyway. It created an extremely non-diverse team of both managers and then staff who all thought the same way and couldn’t create new streams or ideas.
    One of the questions sometimes used was “What innovative solutions have you had for a difficult or tricky problem?” and the answers were sometimes used to exclude people because the interviewers thought the solutions were weird or odd or a bit out there.
    It was horrible place to work!

    1. Anonnnnoner*

      My current org is like that! It drives me crackers. I had an interview once where the first question was “why is management information important?”. And on feedback that it wasn’t very behavioural, they changed it to “using examples, why is management information important?”. In what universe is that a behavioural question?!

      1. bamcheeks*

        “Can you give an example of a time that you used management information to improve or develop [a service / product / team’s performance? (Or, if you don’t have experience of doing that yourself, can you tell me how it’s been used in your team?“)

        Also, oh boy, that is very much not a first-question question.

      2. ferrina*

        That’s……not a behavioral question. You’re not asking the person about how they have behaved in the past, you’re asking for thinly veiled praise. (or if we give the benefit of the doubt, understanding the interviewee’s philosophy on hierarchy)

  15. Shady Gravy*

    LW #1 – Run for the hills! I’m having flashbacks reading your letter. There was this one guy in our network who kept claiming he was a software programmer who graduated from a local university and that he used his high salary to invest and start companies. He claimed he had all this success, but we didn’t have much evidence (but by this time he was living in out of state). He wanted to recruit me, and four other people in our network to start a business. But after a few meetings with him it was clear he was all over the place and he couldn’t do basic things, like give us his lawyer’s information, finalize a contract, etc. When he did give us a number and email for the lawyer he could never talk on the phone or provide documents. In the end it was all a scam. The guy would get these jobs working in a university cafeteria and then misrepresent his relationship to the school (claim he was a businessman/adjunct professor or something). Then he would create digital profiles of other members of his “team” and “companies. When we asked to talk with or meet these people something always happened (Covid/sickness/family emergency).

    At the time, it seemed like he was motivated to do all this for two reasons a) to manipulate his then girlfriend b) some undiagnosed mental health issues (he was later admitted to intake about three times in 4 months before moving to another state and working in another university’s cafeteria). Once we realized what was up, we offered to get him professional help, but he couldn’t admit the truth. The girlfriend thankfully cut him off and started getting help for the whirlwind she just went through. We contacted the university he last ended up working for and spoke and their security team ended up speaking with us. Don’t know what happened after that.

    Now, I’m not saying the guy in your letter is as bad as all of what I’ve written above. But at worst, he’s a scammer/manipulator. At best, even if he is well-meaning, sounds like a really BAD business partner. Don’t get so distracted by the potential “missed” opportunity that you ignore red flags. If anyone is serious about doing business with you, they won’t waffle on important details like contracts, the business concept, etc.

    I think about some of the episodes of Marcus Lemonis, “The Profit.” After a while, you can tell the difference between someone who is just unorganized and someone how is actually trying to hide something. Just make sure before you do anything else to VERIFY, VERIFY, VERIFY. And if you decide to do any business with this man, get your own lawyer to make an airtight contract (though I doubt this person will sign it).

    Best wishes!

  16. Shocking audio just scared me*

    I find that with personal info like in the case of LW3 it’s really hard to tell by thr gut what’s right.

    As a kid, I was once contact-traced after my friend had a contagious medical issue. I apparently told other people and she was mad at me. Makes sense, I was at most 13, lesson learned. A few years later, another friend told me she was was out of school due to recovering from a medical emergency. I had learned my lesson from the last incident that medical stuff is private and I didn’t say a word about it to anyone at school. In that case, it turns out my friend had been counting on me to let people know so they could reach out to her with sympathy. I hadn’t done that, so she was mad at me!

    1. PsychNurse*

      Yes it’s a no win situation! When I am the person who is out, I try to actually say “it’s fine for you to tell people that my dog died, it’s not a secret.” Otherwise people feel like it’s a minefield.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        This, or if it’s the other person’s situation, I ask them if they want me to tell cowormers or whatever, and if so, what they want me to say.

    2. GreyjoyGardens*

      Re your second example, it’s why Guess culture can be such a minefield unless you’re really immersed in it and know all the subtleties. If your friend wanted people to know, she should have said “it’s OK to share” – or, heck, spread the news herself. What stops that from happening is many times people don’t want to look like they are fishing for sympathy, so they sort of passive-aggressively expect others to spread the word, and may or may not get angry if it’s not done exactly how they want it.

      Best to be very clear up front so that nobody has to walk on eggshells.

    3. yala*

      Heck, I was older than 13 when I learned the lesson–the first autumn of Covid, my stepbrother had a wedding. The reception was SUPPOSED to be outside, but it had rained the night before, so it was inside. Loads of people dancing and eating, and being close together.
      Later that week Dad called to tell me that my stepmom and other stepbrother had Covid, and I made a sarcastic comment/mini-rant on FB because I’d been really frustrated at the lack of safety measures. Five minutes later I get another, angrier call, because my aunt saw the info on FB first, and was panicking.

    4. Not A Racoon Keeper*

      Such a minefield! This is why one of my first responses when someone shares bad news is “is there anyone you want me to tell?” It can be really helpful, and it’s so much easier to receive that than a general “what can I do”. It can make for some painful conversations, but is really a gift to someone who is grieving, and it lets you know where they stand on whether they want others to know.

  17. UKgreen*

    LW2: My first job out of university (in the UK) was in the Arts sector (think a big Gallery in London named after a sugar magnate…) and the wages were WOEFULLY low – I worked two other jobs to afford my rent and living costs, but many other people (let’s be honest, all young women) worked there happily because they had either a) rich parents who supported them, b) a rich partner who supported them or c) still lived at home with their mum and dad. It was like an open secret that they didn’t pay a living wage because everyone who wanted to work in the arts was a stereotypical ‘rich girl’. Ugh.

    1. londonedit*

      Things are getting better, but it’s historically been like that in publishing too. Traditionally all the major publishing houses have been in London, and traditionally you’d need a load of work experience to get a foot in the door anywhere, or you’d need to take a job in the post room/on reception at a small publisher. And those jobs would pay less than £20k a year – or for the work experience placements, which would be two/three weeks probably, you’d be looking at travel expenses only. So, realistically, it’d be impossible for anyone who didn’t either have family/friends in London who they could stay with, or who didn’t have family who could support them while they were earning an extremely low wage in an entry-level job. The industry is now doing more with regional office hubs, apprenticeship programmes, rental deposit loan schemes and more salary transparency, but there’s still a long way to go.

      1. kicking_k*

        Ha! You and I posted simultaneously… That was very much my experience, and I didn’t end up in publishing despite having spent several summers accumulating work experience.

      2. yala*

        I did manage to survive in London on £9/hr in the late aughts, but that was a fairly temporary situation, and the trade-off was that I lived in a room roughly the size of a queen-sized bed with no window (a skylight, sort of, if you climbed two ladders). And that was still me getting *dead* lucky when looking for a place to stay.

        I can’t imagine trying to live a life in London on £20k/year. It’s infuriating the way it feels like a race to the bottom because companies can pay some folks less.

      3. Lora*

        May I say that I am thoroughly enjoying these stories of working in the arts? My mother had big dreams that I would end up working in the arts or publishing and dress extremely fashionably like the wealthy young women she went to art school with. She was incredibly disappointed that I ended up with a Man Job…which paid the bills. I think she assumed that since these women looked wealthy, the jobs must pay a lot, which didn’t match up at all with what other people told me.

      4. mythopoeia*

        Yeah, I was going to say, this is publishing, isn’t it? My editorial assistant job started me at $28k in NYC in 2011, which I was only able to manage because of parental help. Was I qualified for the job and did I work hard? Yes. Was I better for the job than all the candidates out there who didn’t even apply because they didn’t have a parental salary subsidy? Seems unlikely. And so publishing got one more upper-middle-class white woman with an Ivy League degree.

        (I still work in publishing, but in a different sector that is more equitable.)

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes, a friend of mine got a job in a big London gallery (Not the same one as you) when they graduated – they wound up having to resign because the salary was so low they couldn’t afford basic living costs. They made it about a year, but only kept going that long becuase their landlords (they were renting a room / living as a lodger) charged under market rates and often invited them to eat with them, and even then it was costing my friend money to keep working . (They are still friends with their landlords, but they no longer work in the Arts sector as they couldn’t afford to. They now work in higher ed. so they are never going to be rich…)

    3. kicking_k*

      My first career plan was working in publishing. I did several internships, but where I lived, the industry was tiny and the message was “We rarely hire anyone, but if we can, experience counts for a lot.” So when I was 20 I sought and got a summer internship with a big firm in London.

      The internship went great and was very interesting, but talking with the entry-level non-interns, they were ALL still living with parents because their salary was notional. (This was 20 years ago; I was working unpaid.) I was staying with an uncle, some considerable distance away, and I couldn’t see myself imposing on him and his family for an open-ended amount of time. But I couldn’t have afforded to do anything else.

      It was my loss rather than publishing’s – it was apparent even then that, location apart, I was very little different as a candidate from all their junior editors who did have parents in the London area. They were, like me, all white, middle-class and mostly female. If the gatekeeping was enough to discourage me, it was clearly even more effective at discouraging less privileged and more diverse applicants.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep! I started out nearly 20 years ago and was fortunate to start off with a reception job, so I was at least earning money from the outset and didn’t have to do the rounds of unpaid work experience. But that was a year on £14k in London – I lived with housemates and I was also fortunate enough that my parents could support me and help me pay the rent while I got my career off the ground. But at that time all the junior editors were white, middle-class and female (just like me) and it’s only in the last 5-10 years that I’ve really started seeing more diversity in the people around me. I love my job and am now able to support myself (just about…though with the current state of things it’s a bit precarious) but if it was difficult for me then it’s going to be a hundred times more difficult for anyone who doesn’t have that traditional ‘publishing’ background.

        1. kicking_k*

          It’s good to hear you are seeing more diversity even if there’s some way to go. I ended up in archives, which has some of the same problems – a small pool of jobs, and a career path predicated on getting experience by volunteering, being able to afford graduate study, and then to work for low salaries and often on short-term contracts. Again, many of us are female, middle-class and not the primary earner in our households, which keeps out a lot of good people, and having a non-diverse workforce damages archives ‘ mission to provide a representative record, since we all bring our own biases to selection.

          It’s not ideal if you need to know you’re likely to have a job two years from now, or or don’t see yourself relocating every 12 to 18 months, or if you want to plan for maternity leave… I have weathered those years but I have sometimes wondered if publishing would have been that much harder!

    4. AsPerElaine*

      This was my complaint about Americorps — their motto is “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” but in reality, not everyone can live on $922/month after taxes. I did it in a fairly low cost-of-living area and lived with family, and even with that, dealing with my student loans was pretty challenging (it took months to get them into forbearance); the other dozen or so Americorps volunteers with my program were almost all also from middle-class backgrounds and many of them likely had some amount of family support to fall back on (and many people were on food stamps). The one person who I know came from a less privileged background spent most of the year working a second job at Panera, and I have literally no idea how she did it — the Americorps job was enough to take the majority of my energy, and what I had left was mostly spent on cooking for my mom in lieu of anything beyond nominal rent.

      1. Jacqueline*

        My AmeriCorps affiliated program told us, “oh yeah, the stipend is totally enough to live on,” but also devoted an hour during (the month long) orientation to walking us through how to fill out the food stamps application. Yeah, that’s not living on the stipend.

    5. noncommittal pseudonym*

      Yep. A friend of mine worked for a year at a Catholic women’s college. At one point she asked her Chair how people supported themselves on the poor salary, and was told, “We assume everyone teaching here has a husband who is supporting them.” Something about that, particularly in higher ed, really rubbed me the wrong way. Somewhat ironically, she left after a year to marry her now husband (they had been long-distance that year).

      1. PersephoneUnderground*

        Everything? I’d say literally everything about that rubs *me* the wrong way. Holy misogyny batman!

  18. Aspiring Great Manager*

    OP 1 – RUN! NOW!
    Seriously, this is EXACTLY the situation my husband went through when he was in his late 20s, honestly he could have written this post. I got bad vibes and told him to reconsider but he went with it anyway, with the idea he could be a full partner in something amazing. But a year later, the guy who approached him started flaking out, saying the project was now different, he was going to still use the website my husband built for a different name company, etc. basically pushing him out and revealing this all a sham. My husband was crushed, he had spent a year working 20 hours a week, aside from his paid job and had now NOTHING to show for it. Once he managed to get past the hurt and betrayal, he was able to see the red flags that he ignored along the way because the other guy’s flattery was so good, it was sad but he has never ever since done any work without an agreed upon fee, it is all consultant now. People like his guy and your guy talk themselves up, they are successful! they See YOU! they give YOU and opportunity that will never come again!
    Listen to your intuition. This guy is trouble. That bad feeling you get is your internal assessment that this is a bad situation but your brain hasn’t figured out how to articulate it into words. Listen to yourself and walk away. Resolve to value your work fairly and to guard your time.
    Good luck!

  19. Asenath*

    OP 1 – Even I, who don’t have much experience in business, would run from that investor. He’s offering you nothing but the chance to consult (that is, make up the list of problems and their solutions) without paying you or offering you some kind of share in the business. Personally, I’d prefer cash – especially since he’s not being really open about his past business experience.

  20. Che Boludo!*

    There is more method to the madness of behavioral interviewing.

    The behavior questions can be developed systematically and even better scientifically which can ensure that the questions are measuring something completely relevant to the job. That often doesn’t happen because it’s expensive. Also, possible responses can be judged by a rubric, which does require training to use and is also more expensive, but that rubric provides guidelines for rating the candidate responses and putting all candidates on relatively equal ground. They also make it necessary to provide solid responses and not vague or fluffy responses that might sound good but are meaningless.

    The point of systematically developed interview questions and other tools used for the selection of new hires or even for promotion is that people are biased and subjective. Having standardized questions removes some of that subjectivity and does result in fairer hiring practices when it comes to protected classes. They also are helpful to provide legal defensibility for the employer should they get accused of discriminatory practices. That doesn’t mean that they are using them just to cover their asses; it means that they know they can be held accountable and as a result are providing a fairer opportunity for candidates and better performance once they get onboarded.

  21. bamcheeks*

    “We know it’s low, but the person in the role right now lives with her parents,”

    Power differentials make this impossible but for the avoidance of doubt it is completely OK to say, “oh I’m so sorry, I thought this was a job” and terminate the interview at that point.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This is a perfect response and I am lmaooooo right now imagining what the expression on their faces would look like.

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      That would be awesome! Also, what they’re paying the current person is entirely irrelevant to what they will have to pay the next person. I would be tempted to say “So she’s staying in the position then? So sorry, I thought you had an opening.”

  22. Asenath*

    OP 2 – There are, of course, numerous jobs which are usually intended for and held by people who don’t need a full-time income (students, those who are retired or semi-retired, those who are supplementing a family income most of which is supplied by someone else in the family, etc). They’re very often, but not always, part-time. I don’t think ALL full-time jobs have to pay a living wage – but the employers should be aware that if they don’t or can’t, they’re limiting their pool of candidates considerably. I’ve taken part-time jobs when I needed to, but I have never taken a full-time one that didn’t pay enough to cover at least my basic expenses (at a low level, sometimes, admittedly.) I couldn’t afford to. Now, I’ve never worked in the sectors other commenters have mentioned where it’s commonplace to pay so badly, and if it’s a sector-wide practice, there’s probably not much you can do about it if you want to stay in that sector of the workforce. But personally, I’d leave it and do something that would at least keep a roof over my head – and I might tell the interviewer why, although I don’t always think it’s my business to tell them the obvious.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      I disagree. All full time jobs should pay a living wage. Part time jobs do not.

      1. Asenath*

        Not everyone who holds down a full-time job does so because they need or want a living wage. Flexibility is more important than blanket rules about how many hours of work must produce a living wage. And “living wage” itself varies by person; there are plenty of jobs that pay enough to live on, but not enough for me to live the way I prefer, and plenty more that pay enough to fund a much more luxurious lifestyle than I have, but which I wouldn’t touch even though the living that living wage provides is so great.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          In this context, a living wage is usually defined as enough to cover expenses in a fairly modest setting (determined regionally), not a particular individual’s expenses.

        2. bamcheeks*

          Not everyone who holds down a full-time job does so because they need or want a living wage

          Right, but then be real and call it a “volunteer position” and force the employer to justify why it’s not an actual job. Don’t warp the labour market for others by having pretend jobs for people of independent means.

        3. doreen*

          I’ve known plenty of people who for one reason or another do not need a living wage – but I have known very few who would prefer lower pay to higher pay for the same job. And even those want to keep their total earnings low ( to maintain eligibility for some benefit) not the rate – if they want to keep their pay at or below $300 a week, they aren’t going to refuse a job that pays $15/hr for 20 hours a week in favor of one that pays $7.50 for 40 hours a week

        4. Irish Teacher*

          I don’t think anybody is going to object to a living wage though and to be honest, I’d be more concerned about somebody who DID need a living wage not getting it than somebody who didn’t getting one. I see no downsides to the latter.

          The only possible exceptions I can see are internships or under 18s. There are different minimum wages for under 20s in Ireland, which I do think is generally fair enough, at least for under 18s who should NOT be depending on their wages and SHOULD have an adult supporting them.

          But for adults who are in full employment (as opposed to doing a six week work experience term as part of their college course or something), I think all jobs should have living wages. Apart from anything else, I think it downright discriminatory to do otherwise (and one COULD even argue this about work experience, if that has extra expenses beyond what the person would have if they were on campus for those weeks). If only people who are semi-retired, with a pension or those with a partner with a good job or those with family money can afford to do a job, then that is giving those people more options for work than others. And it is giving more opportunities to those least in need of them. It may not be discriminatory in the sense that could risk a lawsuit, but morally, it strikes me as giving some people additional opportunities based on their age, marital status or financial circumstances and that seems unfair. Especially if those jobs give experience that is valued in a particular field.

        5. Observer*

          Not everyone who holds down a full-time job does so because they need or want a living wage

          That’s not the point. The point is that full time jobs in any field should never be limited to the people who can afford to volunteer (or close to it) full time.

          And “living wage” itself varies by person;

          That’s a red herring – when talking economic and labor policy, the phrase is quite well defined.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      Can you give an example of a full-time job that you think shouldn’t pay a living wage?

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I don’t have a comprehensive philosophy about this, but I see Asenath’s point. There is a class of people (not large, but they exist) who want to have a job (full- or part-time) but do not need that job to pay a living wage because they have access to another source of money (support from family, savings from an earlier career, etc.). And I don’t see a problem on an individual level with a person in that class seeking out a job that interests them and accepting a low salary because that low salary covers works for them.

        The problem I see is that historically these people have concentrated in certain industries (publishing and galleries have been mentioned upthread, also some non-profits like in the letter) and wages in those industries are now depressed. So it is very difficult for someone without access to outside support to enter those industries. And it is particularly terrible for someone who falls prey to the “do what you love!” messaging, takes out lots of student loans, and ends up in a pile of debt to work at their “dream job” in [low-paying field].

        1. I should really pick a name*

          Your second point is where I fall, though I’m curious if there are exceptions.

          I’d rather see someone who doesn’t need a living wage get one, than someone who needs it not get it.

          1. KRM*

            Exactly. Great for you if you don’t NEED your job to pay a living wage. But if you’re working FT, you should still get one. Accepting a job that doesn’t pay a living wage because you don’t need it just undercuts people who have to *gasp* work to live! And it sets an unrealistic salary level for the job as well as eliminating scores of candidates who would not be able to work such a job.

        2. Observer*

          There is a class of people (not large, but they exist) who want to have a job (full- or part-time) but do not need that job to pay a living wage because they have access to another source of money (support from family, savings from an earlier career, etc.). And I don’t see a problem on an individual level with a person in that class seeking out a job that interests them and accepting a low salary because that low salary covers works for them.

          But that’s not the issue. The issue is that if a job does not pay a living wage only people in this very small class of people are eligible for the job.

          Which is to say the problem is not the person who takes the job, but the employer who either only wants someone in this very niche group or who thinks that everyone should be wiling to take these jobs because there is a very small subset of people who can afford to do this.

          Your second point is completely correct, but it’s a bit incomplete.

      2. Asenath*

        There’s no particular class of job that shouldn’t pay a living wage in my mind, but I’m not particularly surprised to see that such jobs tend to exist in places that are very poorly funded – like some charities, in places that are very high status and pay in status, and in places that tend to attract people who have a passionate interest in the field (charities, arts, sports etc). In all cases except perhaps the very high status ones, the object of the job is extremely important to the employee, either because of the personal satisfaction they get or other value they see in it. Sure, they could volunteer, but even a little money might help them out, especially if they also have money from other sources. Personally, I have always seen a job as a job, not as a passion or an activity that produces anything other than some moderately useful work that anyone else could probably do as well. I’m fine with that, have enjoyed most but not all of my jobs, but I was never willing to work for less than a living wage except when I had no other choice than piece together a living wage from different sources which would not on their own pay enough. Others live differently, and I don’t see why someone shouldn’t be willing to take a low-paying job if they can afford to do so. I do understand all the arguments about certain fields being closed off to those who can’t afford to work for pennies, but I think that if that’s a problem, and good workers continue to not work for them, they’ll eventually have to start paying more. But it won’t happen as long as they can offer something else, like status, access to a particularly attractive type of job, that appeals to a sufficiently large proportion of the job-hunting population. In that kind of cut-throat competition, they have no incentive to pay more, and those who can work for less will do so.

    3. Janey*

      “I don’t think ALL full-time jobs have to pay a living wage” – can you explain your reasons for thinking this? I am struggling to think of anything that could justify this and would appreciate the clarification.

    4. yala*

      The idea of there being actual jobs intended for folks who don’t need a full-time income sounds…gross?

      Like, hobby businesses you do yourself or something, that’s one thing. But a job as in a thing where you hire multiple people and have an organization of some kind? No.

      Having work that doesn’t pay a living wage just gives us a race to the bottom. If the wages are tailored for folks who can get by, well…folks learn to get by on very little.

      1. doreen*

        Do you mean it’s gross for there to be jobs intended for people who don’t need a full time income ( IOW, part-time jobs shouldn’t exist) or do you mean that every full-time job should pay a living wage. I think every full-time job should pay a living wage, but I think it’s OK for part-time jobs to exist.

        1. kicking_k*

          I think this is a red herring. I’ve had multiple part-time jobs in the UK and for all of them, my salary has been calculated as a proportion of a full-time salary in the same role. If I work 3 days and a FT employee in an equivalent role works 5, my pay should be 3/5 of the FT equivalent.

          Did I pick part-time work because I didn’t need the money? No. It was because I had other things happening in my life which made a full-time job unworkable. I still wanted to be paid commensurately for the work that I did and the skills that I brought. And when I apply for a new job, the forms generally ask for salary as “full-time equivalent”, not my take-home yearly salary.

          1. doreen*

            Sure if you work 3/5 of a week you should get 3/5 of the pay. But the person I was replying to said “The idea of there being actual jobs intended for folks who don’t need a full-time income sounds…gross?” and I genuinely don’t know if they meant that part-time jobs shouldn’t exist ( because some people do believe that) or if they misspoke and meant all full-time jobs should pay a living wage

            1. Eyes Kiwami*

              Pretty clear to me that they meant all full time jobs should pay a living wage, since the top thread comment is arguing that some full time jobs don’t need to pay a living wage.

  23. Llamalawyer*

    OP#1- please please please find a smart business attorney to give you advice. There are so many people like this out there and these situations rarely end well. If terms aren’t in writing at the beginning of the business, there is. 99.9% chance all hell will break loose at some point.

  24. Luna*

    LW2 – “Well, considering I am not that person, there’s no reason why I should have a low salary when my circumstances are different.” And as someone who lives with her mother, I may not be paying rent for the place that is identical to what she pays, but I *do* have a few hundreds worth of Euros to transfer to her as my ‘share’ of the rent and utilities. And there’s also the money spent on doing my share of grocery shopping.
    So, just because you don’t pay rent for your own place, it’s not like you don’t have any ‘household/home expenses’ at all. Their reason is stupid and they should feel stupid, quite frankly.

    LW3 – Call it hindsight, but I might have just said she was out. Not exactly why, nor lying that it’s due to illness. Not really your business why she’s out, nor is it really the colleague’s business, just that she is still employed and her being not at work is handled and discussed with the manager.

    1. londonedit*

      It absolutely is stupid. It’s like the old-fashioned view that men need to be paid more because they ‘have a family to support’, whereas obviously if a woman’s working it’s only because she’s single (and therefore what could she possibly have to spend her money on?) or because she just ‘wants a bit of pin money’ to play with while her husband pays for the ‘real’ household expenses. If this company really believes that no one in that role deserves to be paid properly because one employee lived with their parents and allegedly ‘didn’t need’ a proper wage, where does that end? Dave gets paid more than Mike because Dave has three kids and Mike only has two? Sarah doesn’t need a pay rise because she’s married? Jane doesn’t need any more money because she lives in Cheapsville and she can’t possibly have as big a mortgage as Sue does? Rob gets an extra 5% because he’s just bought a car? It’s absolutely ridiculous to base salary on people’s personal circumstances.

      1. Former museum worker*

        A historical note – most of the sectors this applies to (publishing, fashion, arts, museum, environmental education, social work, child care) were historically seen as “2nd income” positions and tend to be “women’s work”. The position existed as volunteer work that women did unpaid because their husbands salary supported the family. Eventually most of them professionalized and became full time roles, but with rock bottom salaries because well, anything was better than nothing. These roles still exist at rock bottom salaries because there is still a steady stream of often young workers who are passionate about the work and willing to live with with their parents to either “follow their passions” or “make a difference in the world”. Some of those fields are starting to confront the problems in this system, and others are not. Be glad they told you who they are in the interview.

        1. EmmaPoet*

          Or “she’s working for pin money/saving up to get married, so she doesn’t need a real salary.” Which- yuck.

  25. Bad Crocheter*

    OP1: “He seems like a genuinely nice guy and I truly don’t sense any malicious intent” is exactly how con men get people to fall for their schemes. If they didn’t seem nice, people wouldn’t trust them. There’s a saying: Charming isn’t what people are; it’s how they act to get you to do what they want. And this, from 3riversdefense: Think of charm as a verb. Is this person charming you to get you to do something that you don’t really want to do?

    If you make a list of all the negatives, doubts, and red flags, there’s not much room left on the paper for the “pros.” At best, he’s “scattered” and will be a pain to work with. At worst, you’ll invest a lot of time into his business before you’re unceremoniously dumped. I’d run for the hills.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yes! You also said that he’s successful, but shied away from giving you the specifics on his past successful businesses. I’m guessing he dresses nicely and possibly drives a fancy car. Any yayhoo can buy a couple of nice outfits and lease a nice car. If he won’t show you actual hard numbers (like his books) of his successful businesses, I’m betting the businesses aren’t all that successful, aren’t his, or they don’t actually exist any deeper than a name and maybe a website. If he’s been so successful in the past, why can’t he come up with next steps? Should’ve he already know what to do, at least broadly? This guy is bad news.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I mean, yeah, there are people like the Tinder Swindler who convinced women they were super wealthy. Guess who ended up paying for all that?

        See also Anna Sorokin.

  26. Little Pig*

    LW1 – As someone in a startup-heavy part of the country, with a few friends who have started companies, it’s not uncommon for the early days to involve some hashing out without any pay or even a clear agreement. Many founders don’t get paid or barely get paid until the company has stable funding, maybe even a revenue stream. Instead they have equity, which can be worth a lot – or nothing. You can’t really distribute equity until you know what the business will be, who is bringing what expertise/connections/capital, and whether any additional partners will be needed. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to go through the business plan, brainstorming phases before nailing down exact equity numbers.

    HOWEVER, that doesn’t mean you should take this opportunity! Co-founding a company requires a HUGE amount of trust. This guy doesn’t seem like a good candidate for that. Of you feel like he’s disorganized, if there are misunderstandings, if you can’t tell what he’s bringing to the table – those things are signs of more to come. It will only get worse. Run!

    1. ferrina*

      It also seems like LW wasn’t interested in founding a business until Investor came to woo her. My sense is that usually folks are founding a business because they WANT to found a business.
      If you’re just providing expertise and not interested in founding a business, you’re a consultant. Get paid like one.

  27. Richard Hershberger*

    LW1: I am not necessarily in Team Run, but I am solidly in Team Do Due Diligence, and even more in Team Get A Contract. And have your own lawyer, whose practice is this sort of work, review it. I will be money well spent.

    1. Sara without an H*

      Good advice. But I have a feeling that, as soon as LW1 mentions the word “attorney,” this investor will vanish in a puff of smoke.

  28. Not really a Waitress*

    I love behavioral interviewing. I have also heard it called a few other things as well. The concept behind it is if you ask “Are you a team player” obviously no is going to say No. But if you ask, tell me about a time you had to put personal priorities aside and work with team, you can get a lot from what they tell you. I was taught to look for the SBO. First the respondent responds with the Situation, they discuss what their Behavior was, and finally share the Outcome. 10 years ago, I was putting together a team of 12 graduate students and used this method. It helped me dodge a bullet. No one had direct experience in what we were doing, but it was very important they be able to work as a team. I interviewed one gentleman and I kid you not, the outcome of everyone of his examples was a version of “They realized I was right and they were wrong. “

    1. Esmeralda*

      Haha, like the person we interviewed who was really good in every other area, but when we asked, “Give us an example of a time you found errors in your own work,” told us, “I don’t make mistakes in my work”

      Hahaha, I said, no really, everyone makes mistakes. Tell us about one of yours, how did you find it, what did you do about it.

      No, I never make mistakes.


    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      I had a similar kind of situation: the person I was interviewing looked great on paper and had all the kinds of experience I wanted to see in the role. Then in the interview, I asked about times when they advocated for their team, times when they identified a need for a change in process and proposed the change, and times when they had to push back on unreasonable requests. Every single question pretty much ended up with “well, I tried X, but it didn’t work, and I resigned myself to the fact that I couldn’t change anything and basically told the team that I was sorry, but we’d have to suck it up and deal.” Behavioral questions pretty much helped me dodge the bullet of an ineffectual employee.

      1. Nynaeve*

        Okay, but, I feel like with a question and answer like that you need to do quite a bit of probing. In the industry I currently work in and in adjacent sectors (government contracting) this is the absolute truth. No one in my building or that I interact with on an even quarterly basis would be able to answer that question honestly and not say some version of the answer that person gave you. We just don’t have the authority, even at the VP level, to do much more than make a suggestion that might be implemented 3-5 years from now when enough people have suggested the same thing and it has had the ability to be vetted by a small army of lawyers and government stakeholders. We are expected to follow the SOP and not make waves. Everyone who comes on board goes through some form of what your interviewee described here, they come on, see a problem and try to fix it, and hit so many walls any roadblocks they get discouraged and just stop trying. It’s a valid way to work in a lot of industries and for certain personalities. My takeaway from that answer would have been to ask some probing questions, maybe offer the opportunity to give a non-work situation instead, and then keep in mind that people coming from certain sectors might need a little reprogramming when they change sectors and be willing to offer and help with that. it’s not a disqualifying answer at all, IMO.

        And, this is probably why, like I said above, these interviews do not work for my personality at all.

  29. Cat Tree*

    “He said that if he pays me for my time, there is less equity to invest in the business”

    This is a weird statement that seems almost manipulative. Yes, if he pays you, he’ll have less money to to spend on other things. That’s…just how money works. Does he go grocery shopping and say he doesn’t want to pay because then he’ll have less money to spend on his investments? He’s taking advantage by implying that a successful business will benefit you personally, but you’re not a partner. At this point, without a contract, the success of the business matters as much to you as to the guy’s grocer (which is not at all).

    1. WellRed*

      It’s like letters we get here where bosses say things like, if we give you a raise, we’ll have to pay your coworker less.

    2. KatEnigma*

      That is why he now wants her to be a “partner”

      Partners/Owners don’t pay themselves until the business is profitable. But that is in exchange for equity in the business and a clear understanding that it might mean you are working for nothing.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Right the idea behind being a partner is you own x% of the business and you’re therefore incentivized to see it succeed. So if that’s what this guy is looking for, he needs to give you a BIG chunk of equity and do it in writing.

      2. Please Mark This Confidential and Leave It Lying Around*

        Yes, and you’re not really a partner if the other guy has all the power. Right now he has the power* and OP1 is in the “gee I don’t know, he seems nice” position, aka the sucker chair. A real partnership is “I have X idea/contacts/track record and you have Y industry experience/skills” and you hammer out a contract. You both contribute (often unpaid at first) and you both benefit if the business succeeds.

        *Because OP is *giving* him the power. He actually has nothing at all.

  30. L-squared*

    #3. I don’t think saying “she had a death in the family” would’ve been a problem, but you did seem to go into a level of detail that seemed like oversharing, especially with someone you don’t know. Yeah, the boss probably should’ve let you know not to go into detail, but also, use some tact in the future.

      1. L-squared*

        Because this is someone OP didn’t even know. While I may be ok with my team knowing the circumstances surrounding a family members death, I don’t think that means its fair game to tell anyone that.

        Going into the specifics of how they died for someone who, you don’t even know if the bereaved knows, seems like a lot.

        1. Observer*

          This is public information that was shared in a public forum. These are not intimate details that people would have otherwise not have had access to.

  31. Wintermute*


    I’m not sure if he’s shady or not, but I do see some troubling things here. First of all what is he bringing to the table? If all an investor brings is money– RUN! A “co-founder” who is really not bringing any other value to the table is a big, big red flag. Now if he’s successful and well-connected he might be also bringing contacts, knowledge from hard-won experience of how plans tend to shake out in reality experience in manufacturing or product development, and other things. That’s different. But be wary of the “I want you to do all the work, I’ll just front the cash” investor, at best they don’t understand enough to make THIS business successful at worst they’re going to be an active hinderance because they will want to make decisions but won’t understand the implications of those decisions.

    Also, if he’s a serial entrepreneur the proof should be in the pudding, and he should be able to point to success stories, tell you what he’s learned from them and what similarities they share, as well as differences, from the proposed business.

    Some founders are disorganized, even serial ones, it can just be their personality or it can be from doing too many things at once, that’s not automatically proof he’s a fake or exaggerating, but it does mean if you choose to go through with this (and I’d lean towards ‘no’ myself) you need to get a lawyer now, today, and you need a framework in place that protects you from having the rug pulled out from under you– someone doesn’t have to INTEND to cheat you to cheat you, it can be totally inadvertent due to disorganization or misunderstanding and the effect from your perspective can be the same.

  32. Marmalade*

    OP5 – my newish job is doing exactly the same thing – our intern from last fall (who was on payroll then) is now having to give us invoices as a contractor bc department head is concerned there won’t be a high enough workload to keep her around for as long as it would justify doing the new hire paperwork. I am so sure her mom (who I know is a lawyer, because she used her scanner to send us the W9) is going to have her check the “improperly classified as a contractor” box on her taxes and somehow we will wind up in trouble for that. But she gets the same sort of work we send to Upwork, and it’s basic data entry that she can do any time, so I’m torn on how bad it is…

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      “I’m torn on how bad it is”

      That’s the thing though, right – maybe it’s not bad in your situation, but employment classifications exist to protect people from exploitative practices and you never really know where that line is. If there’s not enough work just pay her hourly and have her fill out a time sheet, it won’t be very expensive if there aren’t hours going in. But it will be expensive if you end up having to pay lawyers and back taxes.

    2. Dancing Otter*

      “Justify doing the new hire paperwork” as an excuse not to put someone on payroll? Sweet suffering succotash!
      If she’s an employee by IRS rules, a little extra paperwork is going to give the examiner a good laugh… right before they slam your company with a fine, back taxes, and interest.

  33. KatEnigma*

    #1: Red flags or not, do you really want to go into business with someone who has so many “miscommunications” in a brief time period, even if you are being charitable and assume that’s what it is, rather than moving the carrot to get you to chase it? I couldn’t work with someone like that.

    1. Riot Grrrl*

      Agreed. This is where I come down on this. I spent way too many years learning that however a business relationship starts out is how it’s going to continue.

      So many times, I’ve thought: “Oh, we just have to work out this one communication kink and we’re all good.” No, there will be another communication kink. And another one after that. Doesn’t matter whether it’s intentional or not, doesn’t matter whose fault it is, doesn’t matter whether anybody is a “good” or “bad” person. You simply can’t communicate. It won’t work.

      1. KatEnigma*

        An organization I once was a part of was begging for someone to complete a monthly newsletter for the organization as the person I contacted was doing it all himself on top of other duties. And this was so urgent that his son stood up and said how burned out the father was from this burden being on him. I had experience at it, but was new to the organization, so sent a letter explaining this- it had an annual stipend of $1500 they were offering, that wouldn’t have been anywhere close to minimum wage, which I had also laid out that I knew exactly how much work would be involved, asked what kind of support I could expect from which resources for the content required, etc. I didn’t say, but thought, that it essentially was still a volunteer position.

        2 months passed without even a “thanks but no thanks” response. Then he replied late one evening, asking for my resume and to answer all these questions, and he needed everything in less than 12 hours because he was meeting with the board the next morning. He did tack on a “sorry for the delayed response” at the end.

        I politely answered that I didn’t think I would be a good fit for what he was looking for.

        They eventually hired an Admin and made it part of her responsibilities, and she quit with no notice in less than 6 months.

  34. JumpAround*


    As a hiring manager I favor a conversational interview with some behavioral/hypothetical scenarios pulled in.

    I want to get an idea of how you think, how you react, how you’ll fit with my team, and if you’re trainable.

    I get something out of “Tell me about your last job” I get a lot more out of “How would you handle this sort of situation”

    You would be shocked at the number of people who have freely admitted that they would try to hide their mistakes and/or foist blame off on others. I can’t get that kind of information with a direct question.

  35. Dawnshadow*

    Letter 1: I thought it might help to have the perspective of someone for whom a partnership somewhat like this one worked out.

    Twenty years ago, my now ex was approached by two people who had roles a level or two above him where he worked. He had experience on a new system that took a lot of higher math and computer power that very few people knew how to run, it was so new. One higher up person saw the opportunity to use that technique in a different field for government money, and the other had the contacts and the salesmanship in presenting the idea. My then husband’s contribution would be to do the actual work of setting up the product. Once it was done, the other bosses would pitch it and if the government contacts agreed, they would all split the profits three ways.

    My ex had the option to be paid his then modest rate for the hours he worked up front but not be included in the profit if they succeeded, or work what ended up being every bit of his spare time for a summer for the chance at one third of the profit of a big payout. The first product they put together didn’t fly. But they all worked together to improve the things that didn’t work the first time, and the second time they tried it, it worked. My ex ended up making probably three times his salary, for several years, continuing the partnership.

    Where this differs from your situation, and this is big: first, he knew both partners very well from working with them for close on ten years. Second, they had a well thought out plan in place when they went to him. Third, they were the ones who wanted to look out for him, and were up front about his choices and the chances of payout. LW, you have none of that. You know nothing about this guy, he wants you to do all the work, and he has been clear that he won’t give you the option of being paid now. I agree with everyone else that this is shady. I would run.

  36. WellRed*

    I’m guessing the company that wants to pay an intern as a contractor is still paying intern wages, not contract wages.

    1. Generic Name*

      Exactly, “we’ll pay you minimum wage… a contractor” doesn’t pass the sniff test. I guess it wouldn’t be illegal, as contractors set their own rates, so as a contractor, she should set a rate at least 3 times minimum wage and see what the company says.

  37. GreyjoyGardens*

    LW2 – jobs in “glamorous” fields, at least at entry level, pay a pittance. (Or even require one or more unpaid internships!) This is, indeed, gatekeeping, as it keeps anyone who has to support themselves out of that field. It’s a systemic issue, not a particular company issue, and it’s too big of a problem for one person to tackle. In any case, you are perfectly justified in looking for a job that pays decently, even if it means you have to switch fields.

    LW3 – your boss is throwing you under the bus. Don’t let him. If you were supposed to be oh so discreet, then he should have told you. None of the information seems particularly sensitive or damaging to Jane’s (or her brother’s) reputation at all, anyway. Boss should have been clear with whether this information is public or not, and Jane should have been clear with the boss. It’s not your fault and do not accept blame!

    This is one of the perils of more guess-oriented workplaces or cultures – you are just supposed to “know” things because it’s “manners you should have been taught.” No. Not everyone magically knows what to say when, and not everyone’s parents or families taught them. Assume that yes, people should know not to be crass and pushy (“How’d he die? What were his last words?”) but for more nuanced and delicate situations that can vary according to the wishes of the bereaved, please, please, be clear as to what is expected. (There are “Janes” who would have been devastated if Boss told no-one because they were expecting condolences.) Ask Culture for the win.

  38. Doctors Whom*

    LW 1 needs to run, not walk, to the nearest exit.

    A legit investor who only brings cash is going to be bringing it to someone with an actual idea that has actually been pitched somewhere by someone to someone else. They aren’t going to call a random person they’ve barely ever met and say “I will bring a canvas sack covered with dollar signs to you when you magick up a business idea for me.” LW basically said they don’t know each other well and have never actually worked together.

    He’s “had success” but is cagey about what his prior companies did? That’s not a founder with successful exits or successful performance. It’s like the joke about triathletes: How do you know someone is a triathlete? Don’t worry, they’ll tell you. (Married to a recovering triathlete, this joke is my life.)

    I could point LW at a whole lot of people who are “serial entrepreneurs” who literally just “found” one man shops as “consultancies” and then abandon that business and register a different one under a different name. “I’ve founded 10 companies!” Legally he may have created 10 companies, because anyone can create a company if they file papers. But it’s just the same guy over and over and over again. (I say “one-man” and “he” because the many of these I have uncovered in my career have all been men. I’m sure there are plenty of women in the game, but my empirical data are all men.)

    LW1 is a *target* and shouldn’t even entertain paid consulting. In part because they likely won’t actually get paid for their work, and in part because they’ll get the stink of the shady guy on them.

  39. Esmeralda*

    OP #4. I do a lot of interviewing (I’m not HR). Most of the questions I ask are behavioral type. Even when I ask a question like “Outline your approach to llama-grooming”, I’m going to follow up and ask for specific examples if the candidate does not offer them.

    If you can’t give me specifics, it’s all blather. I appreciate the skill behind well-presented blather, but it’s not going to get you a job.

    And also, those examples need to be pertinent. If your responses to my llama-grooming follow up question are all examples of gathering wool-cleaning data, and you don’t connect it to llama-grooming in a reasonable and believable way, I will conclude you don’t know jack about llama-grooming and that you either learned nothing at your llama-grooming position or you lied about your experience. Either way, not someone I want to hire.

  40. Skippy*

    LW2: Sadly this is very common in nonprofits, where entry-level (and even mid-level) pay has stagnated for at least 20 years. There is an assumption that their workers have additional means of support through a parent or a spouse/partner, which is used as a justification to keep wages low and to offer only part-time employment without benefits. The positions end up seeing massive amounts of turnover, as people realize they cannot pay their bills on such a low wage, but leadership doesn’t really care because they can keep resetting the salary back to its original, very low level. Part of it is a funding issue, as nonprofits have to figure out how to pay for increased salaries in an atmosphere where general operating support is difficult to come by, but part of it is a huge disconnect on the part of leadership who do not seem to have any understanding of how much the COL has gone up since they were entry-level professionals. I’ve been a manager at arts non-profits for two decades, and I’ve been arguing with my bosses to increase the salaries of my teams for years, to no avail.

    The best way to win is not to play.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      For a slighty more optimistic view, I just got 20% raises for my team across the board at a nonprofit because of cost of living surges in my area. It’s definitely an industry issue but there’s employee leverage right now and it’s changing in some places.

  41. McThrill*

    LW #1, if he doesn’t want to pay you until the business turns a profit, then you shouldn’t work for him until his business is profitable. Don’t work for free. It can take years for a business to turn a profit, and that’s provided it survives that long. If you agree to work on spec there is very little chance you will ever be paid for your time.

  42. Risha*

    LW 3, your boss definitely handled that poorly, he should’ve told you all not to say anything when he first told the team. However, I’m really not a fan of telling people’s stories on their behalf. Just saying she had a death in the family would have been sufficient. I’m not blaming you at all, you did nothing wrong and your heart was in the right place. I’m just saying that as a private person who doesn’t like my own business told to others, even if it’s a kind way.

    After my parents died, my boss at the time told everyone all the details, even people who didn’t work directly with me. When I came back from bereavement leave, people I barely knew were coming up to me, offering their condolences. They told me their own stories of their parents dying, like I could handle that at that time. A few people tried to press me for more details on how my parents died (the nerve of people)! Some people told me that god wanted my parents home and they’re in a better place. Some people told me that god wouldn’t give me anything I can’t handle. I’m an atheist, so these statements bothered me. I would imagine these statements would bother a religious person too. People can be weird and/or not know what to say so they end up unknowingly offending the bereaving person. That’s why it’s best to keep it to yourself and let the person who is going thru it tell the story to whoever they choose.

  43. Peace Weaver*

    LW1: I see three large, bright red flags here:

    1. He’s evasive about his previous businesses. If they’re so successful, why
    wouldn’t he WANT you to know about his great track record?

    2. He’s piling on the flattery even though he doesn’t really know you. This
    is a classic manipulation technique; butter up the ‘mark’ to get them to
    think well of you and they’ll be much more likely to hand over whatever
    you ask – money, business advice or anything else that they have and you

    3. He seems disconcerted at the idea that you should want to be paid for
    your business advice and floats vague offers of a partnership. This isn’t a
    social relationship, it’s a business one and yes, being paid is part of that!
    To pretend otherwise is either naive or manipulative…and he doesn’t
    sound as if he’s wide-eyed innocent.

    One red flag would be enough to make you sit up and take notice – but THREE (or more)? Your instincts were right on target, LW – RUN!

  44. Riot Grrrl*

    #4 Not only do I heartily endorse behavioral interviewing, I strongly recommend providing most or all of the questions ahead of time. This is something we regularly practice.

    We’re more interested in learning about the candidate and their actual history rather than trying to test people’s ability to jump through a hoop. To us this is facilitated by giving people a chance to reflect on their full work history and have time to come up with the best examples. We don’t want to optimize only for “fast talker” types while overlooking people who need a bit of time to think things over.

    1. PersephoneUnderground*

      I would love it if this were a more common practice. Even with general preparation it’s such a pop quiz style setup right now (when you don’t know the questions ahead of time) that it can be all kinds of frustrating.

      You can still get beyond the “prepared” answer with follow ups, which I think would be the main objection (“but then you’ll just get prepared scripts!”). Your approach basically skips the awkward situation where someone just can’t think of a specific instance of the thing you’re asking so they flail with something vaguely related or a hypothetical and give the impression they have no experience with the topic when in fact they do. So the interviewer gets a false negative on a possibly great candidate! And of course then 5 minutes after the interview they think of the perfect example.

      Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…

      1. Riot Grrrl*

        I should add: you’d be surprised how often people STILL don’t have an answer after having a chance to prepare, which unfortunately also tells you what you need to know.

    2. PersephoneUnderground*

      “We don’t want to optimize only for “fast talker” types while overlooking people who need a bit of time to think things over.”

      This, I love this. I think my wall-of-text above is mostly just agreeing with this sentence because it hit home really hard.

    3. Mimmy*

      A thousand times yes!!! I also see the value of behavioral questions, but I have a terrible memory for story details, especially on the spot. Having the questions ahead of time may not help me come up those details more easily, but I could at least get some coherent ideas together.

  45. DLW*

    LW1, as a law clerk for a judge who has handled many, many cases involving partnerships and joint ventures – RUN!!! Run like the horror movie villain is chasing you through the forest with an axe. Even when the parties have things in writing, they still often wind up in our court room for years of expensive litigation where no one ultimately wins (except the lawyers racking up fees). Nothing in writing? You’re just totally screwed.

    This guy is shifty as all get out and you should walk away right now.

    1. Generic Name*

      This x100.

      Even getting an iron-clad contract out of a shady person is worth as much as the paper it’s written on. Contracts aren’t magic, and shady people have no compunction about ignoring them. So you might end up in court trying to enforce a contract, which is expensive. And even if you do win a judgement, it’s still your responsibility to collect on it, which is so farcical. If it were as easy as collecting a payment from someone, you wouldn’t have had to sue them in the first place. Neat, right?

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      You mean handshake deals sketched out on bar napkins at a Vegas convention don’t end well? Not that I spent years of my life working on something similar or anything…

  46. A. Tiskit & A. Taskit LLC*


    Hmm…justifying paying a non-living wage because your employees all live with their parents / are supported by their parents / all come from affluent families anyway/etc. sounds just like the rationale once used by companies to underpay their female employees: the men NEED to earn more because they’re supporting their wives and children. In both cases, salaries are being tied to factors that have nothing to do with the quality of the employees’ work, but to other, irrelevant points based on the subjective judgment of the employer.

    Remember the AAM letter about the boss who went through his employee’s personal bills and determined that they had enough money left over after paying them to justify denying them a raise? This is very much the same mentality; find any possible loophole – however much it’s none of your business! – to justify underpaying your staff.

    And yes, it’s also an informal way to screen for socio-economic status, thus ensuring that diversity won’t raise its challenging head. Anyone else think that this isn’t the optimal way to staff a company / agency?

    1. urguncle*

      This attitude is still unfortunately alive and well. One boss I had loved to play with people’s job expectations. It really wasn’t until I learned that she herself was married to a very wealthy and high-earning person that I realized she did that because she was not responsible for income in her household and just assumed no one else was. It was the same reason why she recommended people earning less than half her pay go to expensive restaurants and hotels during their vacations or use expensive services like housekeeping and meal delivery. We were all secondary incomes to her.

  47. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    OP1: I think you already understand that this “investor” wants your ideas, advice and expertise, for free, and he wants to use your ideas freely and potentially monetize them for his own benefit. And people like this use the word partners or partnership very loosely – just a way to suck you in. I think the real issue is that you characterize this as “a potentially life-changing opportunity”. Why do you believe that? It wasn’t clear, based on your letter, why you have assessed the situation this way. Did he dramatize the potential success of this opportunity? I wonder if this is just your wishful thinking based on the way he has interacted with you – the flattery, for example.

  48. Miss Muffet*

    Curious where people fall on the line between fact-sharing and gossip – what would make this situation “gossip”? I feel like there’s some line similar to the difference of “telling” (informing) and “tattling” (telling to get someone in trouble). I just don’t think I’m clear on what that line is – and a similar letter came up a week or so ago about “gossip” I think. I feel like gossip has a more negative connotation of ginning up trouble than this, which is literally just fact-sharing.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      To me, fact sharing would be telling about the death, including (since it was public) about her brother being a firefighter who died while fighting the wild fire.

      Gossip would be speculating about how he died, and the survivor’s emotions.

      I think that going up to her and saying, “I’m sorry about what happened.” and letting her take the lead about what to talk about. (and leaving quickly as not to put any pressure on her” is acceptable. )

      Anything else is gossip

    2. doreen*

      I think fact-sharing would be sharing the fact that the person died and possibly some information regarding the cause/circumstances of death – more specific if it was newsworthy (such as a fire or building collapse) but more likely, the sort of thing that ends up in death notices “after a short illness” or “suddenly”. Gossip would be speculating that “suddenly” really meant suicide or an overdose and “why is Sue taking two weeks off because her father died- every knows she hadn’t spoken to him in ten years”

    3. Irish Teacher*

      This doesn’t sound like gossip at all to me. It sounds more like the employee got annoyed at the manager for telling everybody and the manager tried to pass the blame on.

      Gossip, to me, is something that has doubt over it. If the manager just said Jane’s brother died and the OP knew he was a firefighter and started telling people, “Jane’s brother died, I think he was killed in a fire,” when she had no reason to believe that beyond he was a firefighter and he died, I think that would be gossip.

      I feel gossip tends to be speculation and half-truths. Not lying but passing on something you heard without verifying if it’s true or adding your own speculation. “Jane’s brother died. They said it was while fighting a fire, but I don’t know. I’d say there’s more to that. I haven’t seen any news about it or anything. I wonder if there’s something mysterious about it.” Or even just bringing something up in a way that invites speculation. “Jane is absent. Again. Another ‘death in the family’!”

    4. Colette*

      I think the fact that she’s out for bereavement leave is fact. But the details are hers to share, unless she asked someone else to do it. (I don’t think it was gossip to share it, though, just that she should be in control of what gets shared and who it gets shared to.)

    5. Observer*

      Curious where people fall on the line between fact-sharing and gossip – what would make this situation “gossip”?

      Are there salacious or “juicy” details? Probably gossip.
      Is this information that is public? Probably information sharing
      Is this highly personal information? Probably gossip
      Have you been given reason to believe that the information should not be shared? Generally gossip

      This list is not exhaustive, but they are the kinds of things I think about when I try to decide which side of the line a particular piece of information falls on.

    6. Office Lobster DJ*

      In addition to what others have said, I feel that most of what I would call “gossip” involves inviting some degree of negative judgment from the listener.

      1. Miss Muffet*

        This makes sense to me and I think is the piece that made me draw the parallel to “tattling” – that there’s a negative aspect to it. It seems most (all?) of us are thinking this boss is not using this term correctly when he chastised the LW for sharing the info!

  49. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP #1: My first step would be to get an NDA – specifically one that lets you do due diligence on this guy’s other companies, and that would restrict him from using your thoughts, ideas, and plans without your future involvement & compensation.

    If he balks at an NDA, then you should walk.

  50. Retired (but not really)*

    The “idea man” is just that. He has all kinds of probably/possibly workable scenarios where everyone will make money, maybe a lot, maybe not. But he wants you to do all the work. Unless this type of arrangement with nebulous possible payment at an undetermined point in the future is your greatest desire… I’d say don’t do anything more until there’s some concrete specifications as to expectations of payment.

  51. Bend & Snap*

    I interviewed with Amazon, and they have a behavioral interview process called the Loop.

    It took 3 months and 8 interviews to get through the whole process and it was grueling. I had a study guide for it. I spent hours and hours prepping and talking to these people. And then I didn’t get the job because I “wasn’t detailed enough.”

    The questions dug into things like: whose idea was it? What process did you follow? Who signed off on it? What did you do next? It was insane.

    It’s been a couple of months and I’m still salty about it. It took all of my bandwidth and halted my job search so when it was finally over I had nothing in the hopper.

    Behavioral interviews are hard for people like me who don’t tend to remember a ton of specifics about a project.

    1. Colette*

      Yeah, I have that issue too – I don’t remember stuff in detail, but can sometimes recall the details with specific questions.

  52. Koala dreams*

    1) You went to the meeting thinking it was an opportunity for a consulting job. Then it turned out to be a preliminary meeting about a potential new business venture. That’s enough for you to turn it down. Starting a business should be something you want, not something you fall into because of a misunderstanding. And even if you do want to start a business, you are not obligated to partner with this person just because of a couple of preliminary meetings. You could find another partner or start your own business as a sole owner.

    Your description reminds me of quite a few would-be entrepreneurs, with a zillion ideas they want to discuss with people. The optimistic belief that the start-up will be a success, the positive attitude towards other people, the lack of interest in the formalities. To a certain extent, those are good qualities. You’ll need optimism, considering that many start-ups fail. Many start-up courses recommend you to discuss your ideas with as many people as possible to get different viewpoints. It’s also good to recognize that other people have great skills you lack and need. And well, very few people are interested in the paperwork, I guess. Some entrepreneurs like this are successful, some fail, many never get from the “ideas” step to the “start business” step.

  53. JessicaTate*

    OP1: Alison is spot-on. You need a contract before you do any work, whether as a consultant or a partner. If you are interested in the partnership route, get a lawyer. And think about whether you want to be legally and financially bound to this person, his decision making and leadership style, etc. A partnership is like a marriage. It should not be entered into lightly, and if there are irreconcilable differences, it is often difficult and expensive to get out of.

    OP5: I’ve seen a lot of these “stipend” internships around the small business world lately too; where businesses don’t want to deal with the headaches and legalities of employing someone – especially employing over state lines. Every time I see it posted, I see the legal shadiness of it — how can an intern be an independent contractor, really? But a lot are doing it / getting away with it unless the intern raises a fuss or blows a whistle.

  54. MagentaPanda*

    Re OP#3: When my sister died unexpectedly over two years ago, I, of course, told my boss. I asked him not to share the news with anyone at work. I just did not want to deal with any questions, sympathies, etc. My boss respected my wishes and to this day, no one at work knows. And that’s the way I want it.

  55. CTA*

    For LW #4

    I’ve been the interviewee and the interviewer for behavioral interviews and IMO I find it stressful on both sides.

    As an interviewee, I’m stressed because my school had ingrained in me that I had to give 100% perfect answers. There is no such thing as a perfect answer because you’ll never know what your interviewer is looking for. However, you can learn to give clear answers–answers that address the question being asked and don’t give information that will confuse/make your interviewer lose interest. That’s the positive part of behavioral interviewing to me. It encourages you to use the STAR method: identify the Situation, explain the task you had to do, explain the action you took, and explain the Result of your action. If I don’t advance in the interview process, I try not to get too hung up on “why didn’t I give a better answer?” I try to learn from it and hope there’s a mutual fit next time. It’s not about giving the answer your interviewer wants to hear or that you think they want to hear. It’s about figuring out if the company aligns with your values too, and you can figure this out by observing their responses to your answers.

    On the interviewer side, I try to ask behavioral questions that will help me learn about the candidate’s work style and ability to communicate (especially when you have to communicate bad news). This helps me figure out can you get your job done and can you handle hiccups that may impede your work. My current team asks the same question of each candidate so that we can interview them equally. I feel the candidates who don’t have much work experience or are very new to my industry do poorly in the behavioral interview. They don’t have a lot of practice interviewing and they end up giving me answers that don’t address my question. That’s where the STAR approach can be helpful. The interview panels I’ve participated in are largely conversational, but the questions do include behavioral questions. I’ve also seen candidates misunderstand how to respond to interview questions. They don’t realize that the preferable response to behavioral questions is with examples from your work experience. I recently had an candidate think I was asking about their personal life when I asked “how do you prioritize your tasks?”

    1. Miss Muffet*

      I’ve spelled out the STAR thing for candidates before we start asking, to help them understand how we want it framed. I think, short of providing the questions in advance, that does help.
      My struggle with some of the behavioral questions as a candidate is when they just want to hear what YOU did when in reality, things were probably a team doing things, and you were part of that team….switching from “we” to “I” feels super disingenuous!

      1. Hlao-roo*

        I try (don’t always succeed) to break it down like this:

        Situation (we) – the project team needed to groom a herd of llamas
        Task (I) – my task was to groom the seven pink llamas
        Action (I) – I enticed the llamas to the grooming stalls with treats, brushed out their coats, and released them back to the pen
        Result (I/we) – I successfully groomed all of my llamas and contributed to the project team successfully grooming the entire herd

  56. Pivotttt!*

    OP1: Someone doesn’t need to have malicious intent to do harm. Nor do they have to be bad people. As we see here daily, otherwise good people do harm every day because they may or may not be good businesspeople.

  57. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

    LW 5:

    My company has done the legal and ethical version of this for one of my coworkers when he was a co-op. Since our company wasn’t set up to handle co-ops, we reached out to a third-party contracting company. For the duration of his co-op, my coworker was employed by the third-party. They issued his paycheck, withheld appropriate taxes, and paid the employer portion of Social Security.

    When my co-worker graduated, he was hired directly by our company, and now they handle paycheck/taxes/insurance/Social Security.

    (Third party contracting companies are pretty common in tech. The contract in this case is between the two companies, rather than between a company and an individual.)

  58. LW1*

    LW1 here. Thank you all for your comments. This has given me a lot to think about, and I am very appreciative of your insights! It sounds like most people are on Team Run right now. Several of the comments validated my gut feeling, so thank you!

  59. AnonymousForThis*

    OP#2 – I’ve been there. I was lowballed very severely because I lived with my aunt and the owner of the company knew that. Being in my mid-to-late 20s at the time, I though I could FINALLY move out on my own. It was a very bitter and unpleasant experience. Quite honestly, people should be paid what they are worth without regard to their living situation. It doesn’t matter if you have a mortgage or living rent free with family. It’s total BS in my opinion.

    OP#4 – I am really bad at behavioral questions, because I can never remember anything off the top of my head. Plus, I have a mild case of Asperger’s Syndrome and that makes it even harder.

  60. CanadianRecruiter*

    I work for a provincial government, and behavioural interviews are our primary form of interview. What I would recommend for answering these is the STAR technique – Situation, Task, Action, Result.

    Basically, what was the overall Situation: A problem was identified in a key system that was being worked on by my team that would cause a delays in production.

    What was your Task, or your specific role and needs for this: As team leader, I needed to assess the situation and figure out solutions.

    What Actions did you (specifically you) take: I pulled in extra staff, researched solutions, and kept our client fully up to date on the timelines, collaborating to make sure that everyone’s needs were met.

    And what was the Result of all this: While the system was delayed by a couple of weeks, we ensured that the client was able to get into a testing environment by the initial date, and this actually worked out better because they were able to identify an item that they hadn’t originally thought of, which allowed some changes made up front, without extra back and forth after release.

  61. Delphine*

    #3, I fall on the side of this *not* being gossip and your boss being out of line. When I lost a family member I asked my boss to tell everyone so that I wouldn’t have to. If your manager expected you not to share the information, he should have said that. Maybe Jane asked him not to share the news at all and this was him trying to cover his mistake?

  62. FrivYeti*

    LW #4: Something to consider when interviewing is that behavioural interview questions can be good, but if you rely on them primarily or exclusively you’re actually likely to be creating a truly nightmarish situation for a lot of neurodivergent people, who often have memories that don’t pull out individual incidents in the same way. Someone I know recently did an interview that involved exclusively a small number of behavioural questions, and they essentially had to make up situations because they couldn’t remember what parts of events happened when and what the precise responses were at the time. What they remembered was what they were *supposed* to do, and how to apply that to future situations, but only in aggregate from numerous interactions.

    As noted above, of course, exclusively using hypotheticals can also be rough on people who are more literal-minded. Having a mixture is really helpful for a lot of people.

  63. CLC*

    #2–Yeah when I was in my early 30s I worked for a small company that was not a non-profit at all but liked to think of themselves as a “greater good” organization. The pay was extremely low for the industry, the region, and for the type of highly educated employees they hired. I took the job because it was the Great Recession and I needed something. Not only was the pay not enough to live on in the area, there were also comments from the CEO about how the “type” of people that worked there didn’t need dental insurance and didn’t have student loans (even though everyone had at least a masters degree from prestigious/expensive institutions). People were expected to work for free if they went over budget on a project, which many people did even if it wasn’t their fault. It was an extremely stressful place for me as I was barely making ends meet, and it was still early enough in my career to be really confused by it. Most people
    who worked there either had trust funds or extremely well paid spouses. I had also interviewed with two similar types of companies that basically gave you the hint in the interview that they paid next to nothing and were looking for independently wealthy people, which definitely served to make the interview awkward and inappropriate, but at least sent the message ahead of time. One was better than the other, asking me if I had student loans and if so I probably didn’t want to work there, and the other asking if I had a husband or boyfriend, if they were planning to move in with me, etc. Again, these were not non profits— private for profit companies where the owners were insanely wealthy but they thought of themselves as “doing good” and really used it as an excuse to not pay people a fraction of what they were worth. You really have to keep these dynamics in mind when looking at so-called “white hat” organizations they can actually be pretty predatory.

  64. The Other Dawn*

    #3 “(The manager then also told us not to bring up the brother’s death to Jane when she returned, not even to express condolences.)”

    I find nothing wrong with this part. It’s possible Jane asked him to say this. When I’ve had deaths in my family, I’ve always asked my boss to tell people this before I came back to the office, because I knew if someone brought it up, I’d start crying. I just didn’t want to deal with that.

  65. BadAssLady*

    First time that I actually disagree with Allison. I do feel like LW #3 was out of line, even if she didn’t mean it maliciously, and even though I disagree with the reframing of the situation as “gossiping”. I have had a death in my family that required me to take an extended leave of absence, and I would be super upset if people who knew me in a professional manner and with whom this information was shared for reasons concerning absences and work performance impact, then went ahead and shared this info with others. In fact, this actually happened to me at the workplace I was employed at, and it sucked.

    Some grieving folks really want work to be a place removed from their grief, and sharing this fact about them feels super violating. Not to mention the fact that a grieving person might not want to deal with condolences and sympathy. It should be a personal choice to share this information.

    While I understand LW didn’t mean any harm, and probably had the best of intentions, to say as a blanket statement that it’s OK to share this info with others if you haven’t been told differently, is just plain wrong and insensitive to the bereaved.

  66. GingerNP*

    LW 2 – My husband is an actor and basically scraped by as a single dude with no outside support – Allison’s response is spot on, in that the performers who have parents subsidizing their living costs are far more able to get to auditions, pay for voice and dance lessons, and take contracts that pay embarrassingly little. The result is absolutely that many incredibly talented and driven people have to spend the majority of their time working non-industry jobs to pay their living expenses.

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