company wants me to pay back half my salary, playing a ukulele in an open office, and more

I’m on vacation. Here are some past letters that I’m making new again, rather than leaving them to wilt in the archives.

1. Company wants me to pay back half my salary since I only worked a few months and “didn’t add enough value”

I recently joined a startup, and I didn’t like it all. They lied to me multiple times:

1) The founder told me they were were profitable, but four weeks in the job I found out they do not make money at all. They have some revenue, but it’s pretty minimal compared to the expenses. They survive on VC money.

2) We agreed that I would work remotely and visit the office once a month. However, on my first visit there, the founder was trying to force me to sign a lease at an apartment in the city, so that I could move there ASAP.

3) They told me they were pretty relaxed and they worked only the standard business hours, and understood that family comes first, blah blah blah. First day on the job, the founder emails me and tells me that the working hours are 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. every single day. But I can have weekends for myself (thank you?).

I’m pretty disappointed. I saw many red flags and chose to ignore them. To begin with, the founder refused to give me an offer letter until I had officially resigned from my current workplace.

I just quit because I can’t stand it anymore. I gave the standard 2 weeks notice, and now the founder has emailed me saying that since I worked less than six months with them, and I did not add enough value to the team, I should reimburse the company half of my wages.

Is that even legal?!?! I’m pretty pissed off that they lied to me, and they want my salary back?

They’re welcome to ask you to turn over your firstborn too, but that doesn’t mean you have any obligation to do it.

They can ask for whatever they want, and you can refuse, assuming no contractual obligations to the contrary.

Obviously you should under no circumstances even entertain the possibility of returning any of your salary, let alone half.

But just to be thorough, I’ll point out that, depending on what your total salary was, it’s possible that returning half of it could (a) make your pay for the time you worked below minimum wage, which indeed would be illegal, or (b) put your salary beneath the minimum required to be considered exempt, which  would mean they’d owe you overtime for any hours over 40 you worked in a week during that whole period, plus penalties and interest.

Please decline to return any money to them and count yourself lucky to be getting away when you are.


2. Playing a ukulele in an open office

For the last year or so, my best friend has been working in a large open office with maybe 30 or 40 other people. This brings with it the expected annoyances of having to overhear other conversations, lack of privacy, and so forth, but it has also brought a very unexpected and unwanted surprise: a woman who often plays a ukulele in the middle of the workday.

When my friend told me this, I was dumbfounded that anyone, anywhere, could think that playing a musical instrument regularly in an open-office floor plan was appropriate. Apparently, however, not only does this woman play her ukulele frequently, but a few of her cubicle neighbors encourage it. Because it’s been encouraged by a handful of employees, my friend has been reluctant to speak up and complain, but I can’t help but think that there are several dozen other employees being forced to hear it who must hate it as much as my friend does.

I know the correct answer in this specific situation is that my friend should talk to this woman and explain that her ukulele-playing is distracting. Would you, however, like to offer a blanket ruling on the appropriateness of any regular musical-instrument-playing at all in an open-floor-plan office, even when it’s been solicited by a few people? I feel like this is the sort of thing that’s beyond the pale unless it’s done with the express consent of all hearers, but maybe I’m being too harsh about this?

Nope, you’re not being too harsh. Open offices are difficult enough with just the normal range of office sounds — phone calls, work discussions, etc. — and consideration of other people is particularly important in that environment. It’s really not cool to add a loud, entirely optional, potentially very intrusive noise into the mix without the explicit consent of everyone around. And if it’s happening on a regular basis, I’d modify that to the explicit, enthusiastic consent of everyone around.


3. The person taking me to my next interview led me to a parking lot and a locked door

I’m job hunting and can’t figure out if I need to send an apology email or just let the situation drop. I recently applied and was called in for a position in the PR department of a company that handles adult-oriented material. Bernard did my phone screen and let me know that it was mostly admin work with the opportunity to help organize events.

They seemed a little unprofessional when I went in (phone in the lobby was disconnected, had to use my cell phone to go through the call system, and once I was buzzed through I had to interrupt an employee to ask where the HR office was). I was finally seated in a conference room by Bernard, given a paper application to fill out, and told that I would see Dolores first and Teddy after. Dolores came in a few minutes later and I thought the interview went pretty well! It seemed to have a nice flow and I thought I asked good questions. She wrapped us up, I thanked her, and remained seated (assuming Teddy would follow). She kind of chuckled and said, “I’ll walk you over!”

As we walked over to what I assumed was Teddy’s office (I know I probably should have clarified that), she chatted with me a little more. We get to a doorway, she opens it, points to the right, and says, “That way!” I thank her and walk down the hallway to realize that’s she’s taken me to the back exit of the building to what looks like a staff parking lot (windowless hallway leading directly to back door). I tried to go back inside to ask if there had been a mix-up, but the door was locked and no one was around, so I walked around the building to the front. I intended to go back up, give Bernard a call to double-check that I wasn’t keeping Teddy waiting, but on the walk over I started to second-guess myself. What if Dolores had made an executive decision that I wasn’t the right fit (her title was higher)? Or Teddy had gone off to lunch or something? I didn’t want to be the candidate who couldn’t take a hint, so when I did reach the front, I just got in my car and left.

It’s been about two days since the interview and I want to send a follow-up like I always do. But I’m really at a loss if it would be appropriate for me to ask if the interview was cut short because I wasn’t a good fit or if it was just a mix-up. I understand I’m probably not going to get the position at this point but I’m just so curious!

There are two possibilities here: (1) Dolores intentionally led you out to a parking lot as a really horrible “we’re not interested and by the way, F you” (which is hard to imagine because that’s just so gratuitously rude and unkind, but years of writing this column have taught me that anything’s possible) or (2) There was some kind of mix-up, like there was a door in the hallway that you missed before you exited or she accidentally pointed you in the wrong direction.

If it was #1, you owe these people nothing. But because it’s possible that it was #2, ideally in the moment you would have called Bernard and said, “I must have misunderstood Dolores’ directions and somehow I’ve ended up outside and locked out.” It’s harder to do that now that a few days have passed, but you could email him and say something like, “I hope I didn’t misunderstand next steps when I was at your office earlier this week. After I met with Delores, she led me to your parking lot. In the moment, I thought the interview must be over, but I wanted to let you know what happened in case if I misunderstood and was intended to stick around to meet with Teddy, like we’d originally discussed.”

This isn’t perfect — if the situation was #2, there’s a good chance they’re going to be confused by why you’d just leave. But they also bore some responsibility to realize you were gone, retrace where they’d taken you, and reached out to ensure this exact confusion hadn’t occurred.


4. Interviewer asked how my family would describe me

I was being interviewed for a job, and the interviewer asked me, “What words would your coworkers use to describe you?” I said, “They would say I’m very smart and very reliable.” Then she asked, “What words would your family use to describe you?” I was utterly baffled by this question. I mean, I honestly don’t know the answer. But also, what is the point of this question? What is she trying to find out about me? I have another interview in a few days, and I’m worried I’ll be asked this question again. I really feel like saying, “That’s none of your business.”

It’s just a crappy interview question. You can drive yourself insane by trying to read into bad interview questions; more often than not, they’re just someone trying to be creative or who downloaded some questions off the internet (and who in both cases lacks a fundamental understanding of how to interview effectively).

It’s pretty unlikely you’ll be asked this question again because it’s not normal, but if for some reason you were, I’d go with “My family would probably say much the same as my coworkers; I’m basically the same person with both groups.”

Frankly, I’d like more people to respond to intrusive interview questions with “that’s an odd question — why do you ask?” … but I realize that the power dynamic in interviews makes that sadly unlikely.


5. Can I trash-talk another candidate who’s interviewing for the same job as me?

Suppose I go to a job interview and it so happens that I know one of the other candidates and his work. Would it be acceptable to comment on it and say in what ways my work is superior to his/theirs? Like, compare pieces of achievements?


It would come across as really obnoxious — arrogant and jerky. Do not do it.

Your job is not to tell the employer how you compare to the rest of their candidate pool; they will decide that on their own. And you should trust that if you’re really that much better of a candidate, they’ll see it; you do not need to let them know.

(And you can read about a time when a candidate did this in an interview with me here. His comments included the hilarious line, “He didn’t do anything last summer except go to Burning Man.”)

Do not do this. You will not get the job, and you will become the talk of the office.


{ 270 comments… read them below }

  1. GingerCookie*

    Oh my heavens #3… I did that to a candidate back in my crazy days (the 80s). I just wasn’t thinking and I led this poor lady to the wrong door of our administrative maze and she got locked on the other side! Thankfully someone found her 10 minute later, I didn’t get the phone call! She got the job.

    1. Annony*

      Is it possible that Dolores didn’t know that the OP was supposed to meet with Teddy after? Maybe she thought the interview was over and the OP needed help to find the parking lot.

      1. lb*

        Burning Man is an arts festival, held in I think Utah??? It’s a yearly thing and it’s famous for a lot of odd costumes, drug-use, and general hedonism. They also build a giant wooden statue and set it in fire every year (hence the name!)

        1. Kabe*

          It’s held in Nevada, in the desert/salt flats out in the middle of nowhere.

          And from the perspective of someone who has attended several times, depending on what you want to do at Burning Man, it can take all summer or more to prepare for it. My camp brought a relatively small art installation this year and it took months to organize, budget, plan, program, build, decorate, debug, disassemble, pack, and transport.

          Yes, there certainly are people who go to Burning Man who do nothing all summer, and there are people who go to Burning Man who do nothing else all summer!

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yeah, my roomie went this year. She got Covid from it, with some long Covid after effects. Since I don’t do heat well, I’ve never gone.

  2. Lilo*

    I sort of understood Alison’s tangent about minimum wage but reading the original comments it appears that the LW was confused by that comment.

    To be clear that’s even IF there was a provision in the contract, that’d still be a legal minimum they were required to pay. But there would have to be an explicit provision in the contract that LW violated.

  3. Silk Road Dog*

    Re: The ukulele player. Was she any good? Or did your friend just not like the instrument? Lol. If she was any good I would probably be OK as my lady used to play and was bad at all. Next time make a music request!

        1. Scarlet2*

          I’ve always hated open space offices, but the only way to make them worse is having someone play the ukulele. *shudder*

          1. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

            brings in his concertina and multi-volume collection of western Swedish folk music

            Hold my beer.

            1. RamaLamaBangBang*

              Thank goodness someone has a concertina! I only had this accordion and set of bagpipes to contribute.

            2. BethDH*

              I was going to ask about what differentiated western Swedish folk music from other Swedish folk music, then I woke up enough to remember google exists, and now I’m down a rabbit hole about the nyckelharpa. So thanks for enriching my morning!

            3. JSPA*

              I’d be so down for that!

              Also, with the ukelele, I’d say it matters if it’s along the lines of “tiny tim” (and this is a mainland US office), or “we’re in Hawaii, and this is played soothingly, by way of a cultural expression, and is normal background for group work in a local cultural context for the people who are from here.”

              (Unlike bagpipes–which I also enjoy, but are not background music, unless you’re at a caber toss–the uke can be played quietly and soothingly, at levels no more jarring than the sort of muzak that used to commonly be piped into shared spaces.)

              1. ScruffyInternHerder*

                I only find bagpipes soothing when they involve pyrotechnics.

                The key words you’re looking for here (Youtube) are “badpiper” and “thunderstruck”, by the way, if you need a view into my brain :)

              2. Meh*

                I’m from Hawaii and I would want to hulk smash a ukulele if someone started plucking at it in the office. Just no.

            4. Cookie*

              I’ve been wanting to learn nykelharpa anyway – jamming in the office with Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier seems like the best path to mastery of this instrument.

              1. L.H. Puttgrass*

                I’ll bring my tuba. We can have a lunchtime jam. I’m sure everyone in the office will appreciate having some more music in their lives!

            5. Where’s the Orchestra?*

              By now you’d think I know better than to try and drink anything while reading the comments. . .

            6. Seeking Second Childhood*

              With or without kulning?
              I know of that through the odd roundabout of the group Gjallarhorn….which leads to another bad idea for open office: digerido.

              1. Empress Matilda*

                I was once on a subway platform where someone was playing a digerido on one side, and someone else was playing steel pan on the other side. It was…memorable.

                1. Just Another Cog*

                  I worked at a bank in the 90’s and a customer would occasionally bring in a lute and just start playing in the open lobby. She was kind of “otherworldly”. It was weird and also hard to talk to other customers about their transactions.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          I would not like it in a train, I would not like it in a place. I do not like it here or there, I do not like it anywhere!

          1. Trina*

            It’s funny you use Seussical language here, because I think library Storytimes are one of the best places for ukeleles!

    1. metadata minion*

      If they were a very good player, I would be fine with, say, ukulele on Friday afternoons. I’d know to expect it and some music would liven up an otherwise usually-groggy time. But only if everyone else in the office was genuinely looking forward to it as well.

      1. Phony Genius*

        Only if it was being played by Israel Kamakawiwoʻole, but he’s dead. (He’s the guy who sang the mash-up of “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World.”)

        1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

          Or Jake Shimabukuro. He’s fantastic. Manages to make those 4 strings sound like a whole lot more with his intricate playing.

          Personal favorite: While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

    2. Allornone*

      Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam) put out a solo album of ukulele songs that I absolutely love. That being said, I would never subject others to it, especially when they’re trying to work.

      1. Other Duties as Assigned*

        For me, I’m keen on ukulele artist Victoria Vox’s version of Psycho Killer (video online if you’re curious).

        But random ukulele music from a co-worker in an open office while I’m trying to work…no.

    3. Artemesia*

      Ukuleles are never good as background to thinking and work. It is not a soothing instrument in the best of times. If ONE person objects that is enough.

    4. marvin*

      I hope the office ukulele player and the office blanket fort maker find each other because for some reason I find their mysterious acts of office whimsy very charming. I’m picturing the ukulele player perched on her desk in a carefree way, gazing dreamily into the middle distance as she plays. I have to admit that I would probably encourage her as well.

    5. Sopranohannah*

      Okay, so I’ve definitely played my uke at work, but I don’t work in an open office. And I’ve never played for more than a couple minutes because, you know, I have to work. Anyway, I guess I’m saying that I kind of am that person.

  4. Elan Morin Tedronai*

    #2: I remember commenting on the ukulele when it first came out, so here’s the part that seemed the most interesting amongst the commentariat:

    “This is really bitchy, but I call out incorrect strumming patterns, poor chord choices or badly tuned strings. I can do this because I have certain musical gifts: Absolute pitch, past experience in musical arrangement and advanced musical theory. I never told them to stop playing at all, but they always ended up going into the spare room — literally next door to the main office.”

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      Wait, are you saying THAT was the LW’s response to the ukulele playing? Or that you did that in a similar situation? Cause, man, that’s a passive-aggressive and nasty approach.

        1. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

          I just went back and looked at the comments for the original 2018 thread, and that was Elan’s own comment. It is a bit of a complete quackin’ donkey maneuver, granted, but if I were inflicting my regular and frequent practice sessions on a largely involuntary audience, I’d legitimately be opening myself up to the same kind of criticism from people who a) are better at it than I am; and b) have a better sense of work/life boundaries than I do.

    2. Smithy*

      Assuming the read that this is either the OP or another commenter saying this about an office musician….I just want to throw out a read that while it certainly may be irritating and not someone’s cup of tea, that may also be part of a larger office cultural fit dynamic.

      I used to be on a team with someone who was known to do free verse and was part of a hip hop group socially. He was regularly encouraged to briefly perform by office members in our open office space. I never liked it, mostly because I didn’t like him. But in fairness, he wasn’t doing this all the time or for more than the time period of going to the toilet/getting a cup of coffee. And it genuinely was liked by a solid chunk of the team.

      Overall, I saw this more like not participating in office chit chat about regional sports or a popular tv show. If the time periods truly are short and sporadic, then it can just serve as a good time to stretch your legs. If it’s more disruptive, then that’s like any distraction. But lots of offices have their own aspects of social bonding that may not be to all of our tastes but aren’t inherently inappropriate.

      1. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

        Yeah, this is fair. I wouldn’t want to subject the office to random noodling on the concertina or fiddle every time I needed to take a breather, but a fifteen- to twenty- minute coffee break jam with other musically-inclined co-workers once (or twice at the outermost) a week would get the workday to pass a little quicker.

        1. lilsheba*

          I find the idea of ukulele playing kind of cool. I wouldn’t have a problem with it. There are much worse things in life.

    3. ArtK*

      Well, being a pretentious jerk is *one* way to stop the interruption. As soon as someone says “absolute pitch,” my hackles rise because there really is no such thing. I’ll spare you the reasons, unless you’d like to know.

      While I love music, the regular ukulele practice would drive me bonkers. I have attention issues and sounds are a big distraction. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate at all.

      1. Don't Call Me Shirley*

        Yeah, if someone is singing a perfect fifth above someone else, it doesn’t matter that they don’t hit notes in even tempered 440 scales.

        I’d be cool with ukulele in the background at work. I sympathize with those who aren’t but not people who are pretentious about their taste being objectively better

      2. Bartimaeus*

        Perfect pitch is real! But most people don’t have it. It appears to be, you get it at birth or you don’t.

        1. ArtK*

          Perfect pitch in what sense? There are a bunch of factors that influence whether a note is “in tune” or not. What’s the concert pitch? A=440Hz? Not for instruments made for Baroque music, it’s A=415Hz, and there are other tunings for different periods and regions. Then we have to decide what temperament we’re using. Equal? Just? Meantone? Well-tempered? Depending on the temperament, the key that is being used is another factor. An “F” in C-major is not necessarily the same frequency as an “F” in B-flat minor.

          In other words, there is no absolute “this note is this frequency”.

          1. Tea Rose*

            Absolute/perfect pitch in the usual sense of being able to reproduce note after hearing it. It means if they hear 440 Hz, they reproduce 440 Hz. If they hear 415 hz, they reproduce 415 Hz. Call it A, call it F, call it late for dinner. It’s the reproduction, not the label.

      3. Tau*

        I’d actually be curious to know what you mean by that! I have absolute pitch according to most actual definitions (ability to near-instantaneously say what note a pitch is + sing a given note on demand with no reference), but what everyone expects and I can’t do at all is identify minute distinctions in pitch. It’s like seeing colours – red is a wide category, and although I can maybe say this red is a little orangey and that one is more purplish I cannot tell you by just looking whether something is the exactly correct shade of True Red (TM) (whatever that even means for pitches considering a) they’re culturally determined b) temperament is a thing). I honestly consider that lack more of a blessing than anything else given the fact that I used to sing in an amateur a capella choir and would like to do it again someday, but for some reason this is the ability everyone expects…

        Also, I really view it as more of a party trick plus serious obstacle should I ever want to learn clarinet, definitely not something that translates to musical skill or insight, so I also do an eyebrow raise when someone makes a big deal out of it.

        1. ArtK*

          See my reply just above yours. What you do is more of a good pitch memory. “Perfect” or “absolute” is being able to distinguish those small differences.

    4. I+would+prefer+not+to*

      Elan, why on earth would being rudely critical of their playing be a BETTER response to the Ukelele than just politely asking them to play somewhere else because it’s distracting?

      Presumably the reason the LW didn’t want to take the second option was because lots of people enjoy the playing and it might harm working relationships. Being obnoxious about it would make that even more likely.

      1. ArtK*

        Elan was quoting the original writer. In a comment in the original posting the LW *admitted* to being an obnoxious jerk.

    5. sundae funday*

      I’ve heard that people with perfect pitch actually are typically miserable because most music isn’t perfect.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        My spouse has nearly perfect pitch. It still makes listening to Karaoke or amateur folk music painful for them. I have a lot of childhood musical training, and songs sung in the key of “off” are somewhat painful to me, too, but they visibly wince and have to leave the room.

    6. Elan Morin Tedronai*

      Well, well…
      1) That was my own comment. At the time, other people were commiserating with OP (including myself) because their own offices suffered from musicians who insisted on *practicing* in an open office. I chimed in with my own methods of dealing with it – 2 were on blocking out the noise, and one (the one above) was how I got them to stop.

      2) Absolute Pitch (AP) is indeed a thing. I say this not to humblebrag or anything, except to state that a major drawback of this ability is having some misophonia-like reactions to bad music/singing/sounds. For myself, I hear everyone’s voice as being in one key or another, and so I sometimes read too much into changes in tone and cadence when I detect them. I also prefer working in silence as having background music or white noise causes me to latch on to them instead of my work, and so ends up being a distraction. I work in an open-plan, and I usually have mental defenses up against this sort of thing, but sometimes (especially after long, bad days) they crumble, which leads me to…

      3) It’s not about being a pretentious jerk. If there is an empty room literally next door but you insist on perfecting your craft in an open office, IMO that gives others the right to critique your performance. Same goes for other random conversations and discussions – if you want to be heard, I reserve the right to listen.

  5. Sandgroper*

    No.1 I’d be tempted to counter offer:

    “You advised this job would be regular business hours and remote work. You then changed this to extended hours and an expectation to live locally. My counter to your request is that my out of normal business hours rate is x, and my tolerance for bull dust rate is Y, this amounts to *twice whatever they are asking you to pay back*”

    But really… I’d just ignore the hell out of them.

    1. Wintermute*

      yeah, there’s really very little to be gained by engagement. they’re loons, loons are gonna loon. By engaging, even “jokingly” you just give them room to try to wear you down or manipulate you. Besides if they had sufficient self-awareness for that kind of “epic own” to work on them, they wouldn’t be asking this in the first place.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      There’s a mindset that believes if you can prod people to fight with you, then you will WIN and they will do what you want. These people get very frustrated when you ignore them instead.

    3. Generic+Name*

      Nah. In my experience it’s basically never worth it to argue with people this delusional. If they were at all reasonable, they wouldn’t have asked this in the first place, so pointing out errors in logic to them won’t make a dent in their entitlement.

    4. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I just hope that if they pressed OP on this issue, that OP laughed in their faces and didn’t speak to them again.

    1. The Prettiest Curse*

      If they started singing “When I’m Cleaning Windows”, that would be my limit. It’s a catchy little tune, but George Formby is the only person who could carry it off. It would be intriguing to see a hipster ukulele player (as I suspect this OP’s colleague might be) attempt it, though!

      1. Mongrel*

        “It would be intriguing to see a hipster ukulele player (as I suspect this OP’s colleague might be)”

        The other option would be the self-declared ‘Quirky’ person and frankly I’m not sure which is more anoying

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I used to take the local train (more of an above ground subway) in the days before Covid, and one day we had a group of about twenty highschool guys get on. Super polite, moved when asked out of an area (it was designated for bikes if needed). Well, one of them had a ukulele, he pulled it out and they treated us to a very tasteful twenty minutes of 80’s pop hits backed by a single ukulele. Have to say that was a very different version of Living On A Prayer – but I’ll take a group of polite kids singing pop songs (without swearing) over surly grumps any day.

          1. JM+in+England*

            I was once on the London Underground on FA Cup final day. There was a friendly group of football fans in my carriage who were encouraging fellow passengers to join in their songs & chants.

    2. Rob aka Mediancat*

      “When this George Formby clone is performing
      Audiences go home before he begins talking.”

      — Professor Elemental

  6. JSPA*

    #5 raises the question of what to do if they’re interviewing for two open positions, and you know that you absolutely can’t work with someone who’s also applying.

    Do you have to sit tight and see what plays out, or is there a more professional, no-drama way to address it up front?

    This is my best shot so far, and it still seems like it might reflect badly on the person saying it.

    “I have worked with another of your short-listed candidates in the past, and found it exhausting. I would love to work here. I would never tell you whom to hire. I am not going to mention names, in case you feel they really are the best candidate for the job. But if you make an offer to them, and they accept it, I would have to withdraw my candidacy.”

    Or, “I know several of your short listed candidates, and there’s one of them whom I would not work with” (etc)?

    Basically, it’s a “how do you want to handle this,” rather than, “other person sucks.”

    But it still flags, “I have had an interpersonal conflict.” This is, however, probably true of most people, right? So it’s a stumper. Why, psychologically, does the proactive person register as being stained with a tinge of drama?

    I just don’t see what the evolutionary advantage of that bias would be. Is it pinging warnings for lacking a filter? Lack of adequate “chill” to wait and see how things play out? Pessimism? Need for excess control? Inability to let the past go?

    It feels like this is part of the key to how and why social transgressors too often rise, while the people they’ve transgressed against, drift down.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I don’t know that there’s any way to pre-emptively flag something like this without risking looking like you’re the one who’s causing all the drama. People do not want to invite conflict into their workplaces (and lives) if they can help it, and while it probably is unfair, the person who comes in and says ‘Just so you know, there’s someone on your shortlist that I can’t work with, I’m not naming names but if you hire them then I’ll have to withdraw’ will inevitably look like they have drama written all over them. You have limited chances to make a good impression when you’re interviewing for a job, and if you say ‘Hey, I’ll be withdrawing my application if you hire someone I don’t like’ then it’s likely the hiring managers will think ‘OK then, sounds like the best idea all round’. They have no idea what the issue might be and it’s unlikely they’ll want to get into a ‘one person’s word against the other’ battle over who they should hire.

    2. TechWorker*

      I think your suggestion tells the company absolutely nothing – what can you expect them to do with that information? You’ve said that you don’t expect to tell them who to hire, so their only options are to either a) completely ignore it (no benefit to you) or b) conclude that you yourself are the drama llama and don’t hire you (clear disadvantage to you).

      I think there’s zero advantage in trying to address it upfront, you are better waiting til you have an offer in hand. Even at that point I agree it’s a bit awkward.

      This is unfortunately the sort of thing you don’t have a lot of control over at the point you’re joining a company. If you have been somewhere a while and have built up a good reputation, then you are in a good position to give feedback that means the person you can’t stand probably won’t get hired. If you are job hunting – unless you are very senior, very much in demand, or the problem employee would be reporting to you, I don’t think you hold much sway.

    3. Daisy*

      If someone said that to me in an interview I would consider them a Drama-Llama of the first order and cross them off the list. It pings several items for me.
      First off, it appears the speaker misunderstands how hiring works. You are always allowed to withdraw your candidacy, for whatever reason you want (or none), at any time – going to an interview in no way commits you to accept a job.
      Yes, this definitely comes across as a need for excess control. You are looking for a problem that hasn’t even happened (assuming you both are offered jobs).
      Also, this feels like a power play – “Guess who I will/won’t work with or I’ll walk” and I’m going to assume you will pull this again when you have a conflict with a coworker. Will I be hiring someone who refuses to work/interact with others on the team/current staff due to a perceived slight? Someone who will leave right away? Because I sure don’t have the time or bandwidth to hold someone’s hand through all their interpersonal interactions.
      You are flat-out stating you DO have problems getting along with others. Justified or not, I can’t judge as I don’t know the particulars (and don’t want to). There will be other applicants that are willing to roll without issues (or at least leave it with an internal eyeroll and keep on getting the job done).
      All the best coworkers I’ve had are able to control their emotional reactions and be, at minimum, “professionally polite” to others. They don’t stir up drama, don’t go out of their way to form cliques or play people off each other, and don’t expect to hear every detail of everyone’s private life. Many of them draw pretty strict boundaries around work life and private life. Work is not a place I expect or appreciate middle-school antics/emotions.
      Are there situations where I would leave my job instead of work with someone? I can think of a couple, but they are pretty extreme situations. Honestly, I see much more emotional drama (and worse working conditions) in lower-level jobs where it is easy to get hired down the street the next day. I’d much rather have someone with the ability to rock the job and move up in their carreer than a drama-llama no matter how long they stay.

      1. Wintermute*

        You make some really, really excellent points about how this looks from the other side.

        Unless you can frame it as “I wouldn’t feel right not letting you know” — that they were fired for ethical lapses or they have a history of harassment or something else objectively bad and provable– then it just makes you look bad.

        1. Observer*

          “I wouldn’t feel right not letting you know” — that they were fired for ethical lapses or they have a history of harassment or something else objectively bad and provable

          Yeah, that’s a scenario where it could make sense to bring it up. Otherwise? In this kind of scenario, it just doesn’t work.

      2. MurpMaureep*

        You lay this all out so well and it’s exactly how I’d feel as a hiring manager if someone told me during the interview process that they wouldn’t work with someone else who *might* also be hired. That would be a very hard pass regardless of what else they brought to the job and it would make me question their judgement and people skills.

        It is also just a weird line of reasoning – the hypothetical situation involves someone not wanting to work with another candidate for their same/similar job. Not even an existing employee.

        The only way I’d give this credence is if someone had very clear evidence of misdeeds. Something along the lines of “I used to manage this person and had to fire them for breaches of patient confidentiality” or “the actively harassed me/I witnessed their harassment of others”. In which case, they’d have to name the person and back that up.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, there are very few people I would not want to work with ever again. All of them were people who bullied me or who were generally unpleasant and abusive. After 42 years working, this is still less than ten people.

    4. Still*

      You say that what you want to convey is “how do you want to handle this?”. Well, how would you like or expect them to handle this? How could they possibly handle this with the information provided?

      I think the reason you have trouble finding a good way to phrase it is because you can’t come up with a reasonable request that the interviewer could reasonably consider.

      No matter how you phrase it, you are saying “I am dumping this awkward situation into your hands even though there is absolutely nothing actionable you can do about it”.

      The only thing that’s gonna do is let the interviewer know you’re involved in a serious conflict that may or may not be your fault. There’s nothing to gain here.

      1. JSPA*

        Yeah, like I said: we all agree that anything along these lines comes off as odd and dramatic and a flag. So does naming names, and stating, “them or me, take your pick.”

        However, I hope we can also all agree that if someone has even low-level harassed you, stalked you, or made your life hell, it’s highly reasonable to not want to work with them again, ever. And this has happened to…a lot of people. It’s not that rare, in my experience.

        So, what does the victim in that situation do (presuming it never got to the point of filing an actual police report / never went public / was never adjudicated by some neutral third party)?

        If you both get hired, you’re stuck with quitting, on your first day. That makes you look like an undependable loon. And word gets out: no more job offers for you, Flakezilla.

        But we’re also agreeing there’s no easy way to ensure that only one of you gets hired.

        Therefore, people who are jerks have no reason to recuse themselves early, while people who suffered from those jerks are given the sole option of recusing themselves, once they know that their bête noire is in the running.

        This is not good or healthy for society or for companies. Presumably, on an intellectual level, we’d rather hire the ethical person who was victimized, and not hire the jerk. (Or at least, we believe that.)

        So the question is, why is our response to someone even hinting at drama so strong that we can’t override it, even if we intellectually stand by the statement that it’s worse to hire a predatory bully, than it is, to hire their past target?

        1. Observer*

          That’s just not true. People who misbehavior never have a motive to recuse themselves.

          And, while it’s not an easy situation to deal with, there is a LOT of space between what you suggest and quitting without notice on your first day.

          One possible way to go (and this is just off the top of my head) is you wait for an offer – which means that they have hopefully learned something about you and decided that you have something worth investing in – and then give them some actual actionable information. So, you might say something like “Before I commit to this job, I need to tell you that Joe Blow has harassed me in the past so I would never be able to work with him. Is he still under serious consideration for a job?” That’s actionable because it tells the employer WHO the person is and what their options here are; not overly dramatic; but makes it clear that you are not just a drama lama or delicate flower that has a hard time dealing with imperfect people.

          Will it always get you what you want? Unfortunately not. But that’s a million miles better than your original suggestion.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          People who are jerks have no reason to recuse themselves early.
          People who don’t have hard lines about whom they won’t work with don’t recuse themselves, and people who do have those lines do. The same is true if you have a hard line about always leaving at 5, or being remote, or matching 401K contributions.

          We’d rather hire the ethical person who was victimized, and not hire the jerk.
          You seem to want a national database in which people are assigned “ethical and victimized” or “unethical victimizer.” This is not a thing. For one thing, people who observed the two of you may not share your self assessment of who is good and pure and blameless.

          1. Jessen*

            The concern I think is more specifically like – I have a case where I’m absolutely unwilling to work with Joe Blow because he kept getting handsy with me even after I told him to stpo. From Joe’s perspective he has no reason to want to not work with me, because the situation was perfectly fine and me being oversensitive isn’t his problem. From my perspective I want to know that my coworkers are going to keep their hands off me and don’t feel safe working with this guy.

            While that’s not necessarily the most common situation, it’s one I think is a concern particularly because it’s more likely to be minority or disadvantaged people in the position of being the ones forced to recuse themselves. They’re more likely to be targeted and more likely to not have anything done about it. And it’s already an issue that targets of discrimination can end up being seen as the ones making drama, especially if “nobody else has these problems.” (E.g. in my example, Joe Blow works great with other men and I’m the only female-coded person in the office.)

            Not that that’s going to be all the cases, but I think it’s a real concern that should be considered in how these situations are handled.

        3. I should really pick a name*

          I think you are overestimating the amount of people who would flat out refuse to work at a company because of a specific person. That is a significant step beyond “would not want to work with this person again”. It’s abnormal enough that it’s going to make an employer cautious.

          What you’re presenting is such a specific situation, applying to a job alongside this person that I suspect it’s just a thought experiment.

          If you are at that level with someone, you’re really just going to have to put your cards on the table and hope for the best. At that point, what do you have to lose?

          If you refuse to work at the same company as this person, you’re clearly okay with not getting the job.
          At that point, you factually explain why you will not work with this person. There’s a decent chance this will cost you the job, but we’ve already established that you’re okay with that outcome. But maybe, your explanation would be sufficient to get the outcome that you want.

          Addressing the ides of quitting on the first day, I see no reason to take that approach. You don’t quit at the first day, you find out if they’re being hired before you accept the offer.

          To your final question, why should the employer select someone with a hint of drama when they have options without it? To the employer, it’s not the ethical person or the jerk. All they’ve got is one person’s story. They might ask the other person to hear what they have to say, but it is not as clear cut as you lay it out to be.

    5. I should really pick a name*

      That’s going to be a weird situation no matter what.

      If you absolutely can’t work with the person, I would suggest waiting as long as possible to bring it up (as in, not until you have an offer). That way, the person might already be out of the running, so you wouldn’t even need to mention it.

      As to why the proactive person come across as the dramatic one: Most people can work together. Situations where someone would reject a job because of another person are outliers and suggest that the interpersonal conflict was far beyond what one would normally expect in a workplace. It’s easier to just avoid taking the risk than try to figure out who was right or wrong.

      The scripts you’ve suggested elevate the drama “there’s someone I don’t want to work with, but I won’t tell you who!”. At that point, why be coy about it? Say who you refuse to work with and why, or say nothing.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yes. It comes across as both an odd power play and game-playing.

        You haven’t given the interviewee anything actionable, but have demonstrated that you have the poor judgement to make oddly aggressive power plays in a situation where you have little power.

        I can’t imagine an interviewer not dropping you from consideration based on this..

    6. ecnaseener*

      Definitely not in an interview – as others said, it really does raise flags about your potential for drama. Unless they had already decided against the unpleasant candidate (let’s call him Bob), they’re likely to just take you out of the running rather than him, which you don’t want since you don’t even know whether Bob will get/accept an offer!

      Even at the offer stage…..if Bob has already accepted an offer, bow out. If Bob is going to receive an offer, you could try the whole “I’ve worked with Bob before and wouldn’t want to work with him again, so I’ll have to decline if he accepts” thing, and maaaybe it’ll work if you’re a rock star and they already noticed some flags about Bob.

    7. Falling Diphthong*

      Why does the proactive person register as being stained with a tinge of drama?
      Because they are bringing up the possibility for boundless drama around themselves, and the other person is not. The other person might have left the past in the past, or might sincerely respond “who?” if told that Ferdinand refuses to work with them. (In which case “don’t hire Ferdinand” is going to look like the easy solution for the company.)

      The normal thing to do is:
      • Not apply where you know your nemesis works.
      • If your nemesis applies, be ready to burn your accumulated capital (and you need to have quite a bit) and ask that they not be hired because you couldn’t work with them.
      • If you both might or might not get jobs that might or might not be on the same team, most people would wait to see how it plays out.

      Your suggested scripts definitely land as “other person sucks” and the company doesn’t know either of you–it’s not like saying this when you are a valued employee of long standing that they want to keep.

    8. Wintermute*

      I really don’t think there is a way that wouldn’t kill your application unless they really, really want you badly unless you have an objective reason that would probably disqualify the other person (e.g. you won’t work with them because of harassment, unethical activity, etc) and **even then** it’s likely to reflect more poorly on you than them absent other data.

      specifically if you just found it “exhausting” you’re telling on yourself there, because presumably they have plenty of other references that got along with them fine, it’s going to mark you as high-drama

    9. Emmy Noether*

      I agree with the other replies. For this kind of thing, always ask yourself what action you want the other person to take. There’s no possible action here, except possibly taking you out of the running.

      Which also answers the question why this is perceived as drama. Involving third parties in personal conflicts in a non-actionable way = drama llama.

      Also, informing someone how you would handle a potential situation (both getting hired) in a way that is inconvenient for them (withdrawing after they made a choice) and which they can do nothing about is never going to endear you to them. It’s just a “potential problem” flag to them.

    10. ecnaseener*

      Oh, and to answer your question about the evolutionary purpose of the bias against the person who proactively announces the conflict – if by evolutionary you mean this is an innate bias, I wouldn’t assume that. Decent interviewers/HMs are aware that their innate social biases are mostly *not* useful for finding the best candidate, and put a lot of mental energy into evaluating the candidates as objectively as they can. In other words, this isn’t a social situation we evolved for.

      The reason this will raise flags about you is that the interviewers don’t know what the truth is. You could be a completely lovely person who can normally get along with anybody but the other candidate was horrible to you. Or you could be the instigator, trying to stop him from getting an offer just to be cruel. Or, what will probably feel most likely is somewhere in the middle – that neither of you are the easiest to get along with, but you’re the one announcing that you won’t even try with this guy (and even if they don’t hire him, how do they know you won’t find someone else on their staff you can’t work with?)

      1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Countering our social biases is great when it’s against black folks or men or immigrants (though I wouldn’t say those are innate). But a social bias against hiring drama llamas, obnoxious jerks, and office ukulele players is very practical. That’s what keeps us from working in an office full of drama llamas, obnoxious jerks, and office ukulele players. I’d much prefer my boss keep and nurture that kind of social bias.

        1. ecnaseener*

          Oh sure, I wasn’t saying there’s no room for any personal judgments at all. I meant the “evolutionary” biases of “I like people who are like me” and “I like attractive people,” etc.
          Even with judgments like “this person seems like a drama llama or a jerk” — a good interviewer should examine that judgment and figure out whether they have good reason to think so, or if they’re just not clicking with the person, or holding them to different standards based on race and gender, etc.

    11. bamcheeks*

      If you know someone else has applied and you absolutely can’t work with them, your options are:

      – withdraw your candidacy immediately
      – hope that if you’re offered the job, you find out who the other person is before you need to resign from your current job, which isn’t frankly unlikely– they shouldn’t really be telling you the name of that person until they have had the chance to resign from their job.

      What you almost certainly can’t do is hope that you are such an outstanding candidate that they will deliberately not hire the other person simply to get you. So really, withdrawing immediately is your best and least-drama option.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        Yeah, I think there’s a way to ask (if/when you’re offered the job) “have you made a decision for the other role and are you able to share who it is?” That way, if the company has hired for the other role and is willing/able to say “yes, you’ll be working closely with Alex Smith” that gives you the chance to politely decline with a “this isn’t the right role for me at this time, good luck with your search.” That’s the only non-dramatic way I can see this unfolding (besides the “withdraw your candidacy immediately” option).

        1. JSPA*

          If they make your offer first, do you think there’s wiggle room to say, “I’d need to know a bit more about the person in the other role; could you share any specifics or generalities there?”?

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            No. They can’t tell you who’s in the role if it hasn’t been filled yet.

            Is this a thing that has actually happened to you? Has it happened more than once? Or is it a pure hypothetical?

            1. JSPA*

              I’m remembering when there was hiring for a tenured faculty and “not-dean-but-comparable” joint role. And at the same time, an instructor (lower level teaching, non tenure track) opening.

              Some of the faculty on the search committee were seriously crap about privacy, and chatted about it in front of students, post-docs, office staff.

              The impressive instructor candidate who recused themselves was (surprise, surprise) 100% right about the person who took the offer for the other role. That hire was a freaking nightmare.

              Plus the department lost out on a stellar instructor, who had good boundaries and was honest and selfless enough to say something.

              This wasn’t a “me too” thing (but I’ve had friends deal with that situation) nor a “same small field” stalker (ditto) nor [worse even than that, but potentially too identifying… but that too].

              Academia is often far on the side of the scale where most people who might be looking at the job do know of each other, know each other, or even have significantly entwined histories. I’m guessing there are other fields that are comparably specialized– that top level chamber orchestra bassoon players know other top level chamber orchestra bassoon players; that architects specializing in reptile exhibits for zoos breeding endangered species are a small, select group; that WNBA players know each other…whatever.)

              When it’s roles that are more interchangeable from one company to another, the likelihood will drop dramatically.

    12. I am Emily's failing memory*

      If you absolutely can’t work with them, I think your only option is to wait and see if you both get hired, and resign. The only way I can see a company letting an outside candidate have any influence on their hiring decision for another role is if said candidate is known and trusted by the hiring manager, or someone else with a lot of sway in the decision – maybe having worked with them before and earned a stellar reputation on the job. Or maybe if the other candidate had been convicted of criminal assault against the first one.

      But some random candidate who has no established credibility or standing, who just has beef with another candidate? No way am I throwing someone out of my hiring pool because a stranger doesn’t like them. The other person can withdraw if they have that strong of a need to not work with someone on our short list. That’s a them thing to figure out, not an us thing to handle.

      1. londonedit*

        I think we’ve had letters here before where someone has got wind of the fact that a previous work nemesis is potentially going to be hired to work on their team/in their department or whatever, and I think that’s the only situation where it might be possible – discreetly and using a measured tone and only if you have enough standing/capital – to have a quiet word and mention that you’ve worked with Mary before and you wanted to give a heads-up that in that role she was very difficult to work with. But you’d have to convey that you realise it isn’t your decision, and ultimately if they did hire Mary then your choices would be a) suck it up and work with her or b) find a new job if you genuinely can’t do that.

        1. AcademiaNut*

          If you’re a valued longstanding employee it’s an entirely different situation. They know you, and have seen how you interact with coworkers and other people in general, and likely have a good idea whether you’re a reasonable person, or someone who stirs up drama, and they know how much they value your work product. In that situation, alerting the hiring team to the fact that a potential hire is problematic (personality or work-wise) is quite normal. And if you say “I’ve worked with Fergus/know Fergus in a non work context and I absolutely cannot work in the same team as him,” they may well decide that it isn’t worth losing you to hire Fergus (or, they may decide to hire Fergus anyways).

      2. Indubitably Delicious*

        Yeah, I think there is one possible class of exceptions to this (where it would be acceptable to bring this up, after the interview but before an offer), and that is something along the lines of “I have an active restraining order against person X, who is also in your hiring pool” or possibly “I know person X, also in your hiring pool, to have been convicted of [crime relevant to job].”

        “Person X is a real drag to work with,” however, doesn’t fall into that category, no matter how true.

    13. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      This strikes me as arrogant. Making demands about a job that has not been offered yet seems like the hypothetical interviewee thinks they are obviously SO great that the company will definitely want to hire them and wouldn’t want to miss out on their greatness. Then I assume the Dunning-Krueger effect is in play, so I will get someone who can’t solve their interpersonal problems and will be mediocre but think they’re amazing.

      1. Czhorat*

        It’s also 1000% unactionable. If you say “I understand Fergus is applying here. We’ve had trouble working together in the past” that would still be bad, but would at least let the interviewer know what the problem was.

        “I’ll pull out if you hire someone, but I’m not telling you who” doesn’t give anyone any useful basis for decision-making – except to drop the OP from consideration.

    14. Dr. Vibrissae*

      In my very first interview out of Llama grooming school, the office was hiring 2 positions, and two of my classmates were also interviewing. One of those classmates was a close friend, and one I disliked because I had worked with her in a summer llama trimming support position. She had a habit of gaming the system in order to get out of any appointments that might require her to work the last half of the day and never rotating out with people who ended up with long trim appointments that say went over lunch or lasted for hours without a break. What she was doing wasn’t exactly against the rules but was selfish and put more work on everyone else (instead of sharing the nicer appointments, subbing in for people who hadn’t yet had lunch, and alternating who would get out early).

      I was asked directly in the interview about the two classmates and still realized that I couldn’t just unload my vitriol toward the one I *really* disliked. I generally get on well with everyone, so most people in my life found it funny how much I *did not like* J, but there just doesn’t seem to be a way to express that level of dislike professionally without coming off poorly. I ended up saying something like “I am personally friends with C, which may color my response. But, I have worked with both individuals and would professionally much prefer to work with C over J as well.”

      1. I should really pick a name*

        I feel like instead of framing it as like/dislike, describing behaviours would probably be more helpful.

    15. Burger Bob*

      This is a bad idea for the reasons others have already mentioned, but I wanted to say that refusing to name names makes it seem like even more of a bad idea to me. If the interviewer for some bizarre reason actually was so enamored by you that they were willing to hire you over your work nemesis without any details of the situation, refusing to say who the nemesis is makes it so that they would have to pick you and you alone. They can’t do that. In order to avoid accidentally hiring the wrong combination, they would have to just exclude you instead. I feel like if you’re going to do this, you would HAVE to name names, and there had also better be a very clear and unique reason, like, “I have a restraining order against this person, so for legal reasons, we can’t work together.” And that would be a very rare circumstance, I would think. Better to just not mention anything at all.

    16. Observer*

      Why, psychologically, does the proactive person register as being stained with a tinge of drama?

      You are leaving out all of the context with that question. There are many situations where being proactive is NOT going to create a problem for the person being proactive. But THIS situation is not one of them.

      In general, in the kind of situation you are talking about, you are an unknown quantity, so no one has any way to gauge whether you are being reasonable or not. So all they have is the fact you are already flagging SUCH a high level of conflict that you are flagging a situation that does not exist, and may never exist. So that’s already a major issue right there.

      Worse, you are not giving them any information to help make any judgements. Like if you said “One of your candidates used me to start an affair with my father while he was married to my mother” (harking back to a letter that showed up here), that’s going to be really, really dramatic, but most people would understand why you would never want to work with that candidate. Better would be a less dramatic and shorter that still explains that this person did something REALLY bad that makes it reasonable for you to have a problem working with them, such as “They did stuff that really hurt my family very badly.” Your suggestion of “She’s exhausting” would leave me wondering what kind of special snowflake I’m dealing with, absent a LOT more information.

      Lastly, the whole “I’m not telling you who” does NOT come off as respectful or not trying to unduly influence the process. It comes off as either manipulative or extraordinarily out of touch. Either you have no idea how hiring works, how utterly useless your information is, and how puzzling the idea of telling me proactively about POTENTIAL blockers to accepting an offer while assuming that you are actually going to get an offer. Or you are actually trying to get us to dig for more information or sow distrust of all the OTHER candidates.

      It feels like this is part of the key to how and why social transgressors too often rise, while the people they’ve transgressed against, drift down.

      No, it’s not. Because this is not the kind of thing that can actually help employers make better hiring decisions. On the contrary, it’s an excellent way for abusive types to cause (more) problems for people.

    17. Falling Diphthong*

      This feels like someone has warned you that a habit of quickly bringing up your past drama with third parties is putting off people whose good will you want, such as employers. And you are wondering why we can’t change that social rule, rather than adapting your behavior to work within it.

    18. I would prefer not to*

      JSPA, in addition to the excellent points made by other commentators, this approach is very much open to abuse from the “social transgressors” as you describe them. It wouldn’t only benefit those transgressed against.

      Suppose employers did listen to candidates saying things like this. What’s to stop an abuser or bully or general shit stirrer from saying something like this against a person who calls them out on it? Or a person they have an unjustified bias against? Or who they just dislike?

      A future employer doesn’t know whether you’re the transgressor or transgressed against.

      Also, “I found it exhausting” sounds like it is 100% a reflection on you. They probably have a mix of personalities at the organisation. They probably have some who are exhausting. If you’re unable to work with an “exhausting” person, which is what you’ve told them, you’re going to struggle in most jobs!

  7. Anomie*

    The lockout letter seems sinister to me. I hope OP never contacted them again and found a much better position.

    1. Felixity*

      Why sinister? It seems very likely to me that the OP simply missed the door they were supposed to go through, or accidentally took a wrong turn, and that if they had just gone back to the main entrance and asked everything would have been sorted quickly. Instead they just … ghosted the interviewers mid-interview!

      What about this comes across as sinister, and do you generally assume the worst?

    2. I should really pick a name*

      How does it seem sinister to you?
      To me, it reads as there was a miscommunication somewhere, and instead of trying to sort it out, the LW left.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Which I think is the biggest strike against them here–second guessing for secret meanings and saying nothing, rather than trying to fix the problem.

        1. Observer*

          I’m of two minds, because the employer seems to be all over the place.

          So on the one hand, I could see thinking “Goodness, these people really can’t seem top get their act together. I had better call Bernard and let him know what’s going on.” On the other, I can see thinking (as the OP seems to have done) “Oh dear! Bernard may have liked me, but either no one else does or they aren’t really serious about the position.”

          But, yes, the OP should have emailed ASAP given that it’s really, really possible that this was just a mistake. And it WAS a mistake on the part of the company (even if the OP missed a door).

    3. Wintermute*

      I really don’t read it that way, accidents happen. Leading someone to a locked one-way door is SO cartoonishly immature that I wouldn’t assume anyone would do it on purpose. It’s the way a movie, if it has 2 minutes of screen time while something else is being delivered via voiceover, would show that a boss is evil and demeaning.

    4. EpLawyer*

      Nah, not sinister. Just more of the red flags that OP already saw in the interview. The place is obviously disorganized and they dodged a bullet by not working there. Unless they LIKE working in disorganized places.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Yeah – that place seemed to be a very disorganized mess. Probably just best to shrug and move on unless you are very desperate for work and need anything while continuing to look for a better option.

    5. Risha*

      I wouldn’t say sinister, but the Dolores definitely should have been more clear as to where LW should go. I hate when people tell me to just go “over there” or “that way”. Well, where is over there? Where is that way? I don’t know, so can’t you just actually show me? Dolores and the company as a whole seems shady to me.

      And of course LW should have called them to ask what’s going on. But back in my very low self esteem/thinking everyone hates me days, I would also think that was their way of telling me to just leave and interview over. So I can understand why the LW didn’t call. And before anyone says something about this, I didn’t say the LW has low self esteem, I’m saying I did so I can see why someone would interpret the actions that way. That is one reason why you would just think they’re trying to get rid of you.

      1. sundae funday*

        Yeah I don’t think it’s necessarily “sinister” but it does seem, well, rude. Why didn’t Dolores introduce LW to Teddy? It seems bizarre to just point in the vaguely correct direction (which may have not been the correct direction at all) and send them on their way.

        Even if I found Teddy’s office in LW’s situation, I would still feel really awkward knocking on the door by myself.

    6. Cordelia*

      really? Sounds like a mistake to me, and I can’t understand why OP didn’t just go back round to the front, ask to be let in again and explain what had happened. Cue apologies, shared laughter and on with the interview. As it is, OP has made themselves look very odd – just going home, with no explanation or follow-up? As a hiring manager I would have serious concerns about their problem-solving skills, at the very least…

  8. Turingtested*

    #2 is one of those baffling letters. How does anyone think it’s ok to play music without headphones in an office? No matter what it is it’s likely to annoy or interrupt someone.

    1. Totally Minnie*

      I confess that I’ve played a ukulele in an office before, but that was because I worked in a library and one of my job duties was putting in storytime programs for little kids. I never did more than one or two run throughs of a very short song and always asked my coworkers if they were okay with it.

      1. Bibliothecarial*

        Same! I was able to wait until there were no patrons or colleagues in the building to practice, but everyone “gets” to hear me during storytime. It’s a small building and it’s still quieter than book club meetings.

      2. Julia*

        Kids programming is assumed to have a certain level of noise and probably isn’t daily. Someone regularly playing the ukulele at the circulation desk would be not be OK.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      I don’t find it baffling. Some people like having the music and it doesn’t occur to them that others might not. It’s inconsiderate, but well within the range of normal human behaviour.

  9. Czhorat*

    I thought the same thing the last time I heard about the ukulele player – let people be weird! Work can, let’s face it, be a drag sometimes. So a midday surprise ukulele concert – especially if some people are into it – can be a bright spot.

    Seeing this makes me want to bring my ukulele to work. Or my banjo. Or my banjo-ukulele. (Don’t worry – I wouldn’t bring my good ukulele or my good banjo)

      1. Czhorat*

        If I bring the plastic ukulele I can also juggle it at lunchtime! Is it better if it doubles as a juggling prop?

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Well, no, then we get into flying whistling monkey territory and whether you can destroy/kidnap your coworkers possessions if the possession is crossing your airspace at the time.

          (I, too, thought that there was a nonzero amount of good ukulele playing I would welcome in my day.)

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Let people be weird, but also let people who are weird about extra noise be weird and don’t do open-office concerts. And that’s from someone who absolutely loves the banjo.

      1. Samwise*


        I even bought a banjo for my husband.

        Love the music. Do not want it interrupting me at work without being asked, Is this a good time?

        I always enjoy your comments, Czhorat, hoping this is you being jolly and not for reals.

        1. Czhorat*

          I’m 90% being impish.

          I legit DO play the ukulele (and can juggle two clubs and one uke) but .. there’s a line between being quirky and being the office weirdo. I try to stay (mostly) on the right side of that line.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      There are ways to be weird that don’t interfere with other people trying to do their work.
      Music at work should very much be an opt-in thing.

    3. Lady_Lessa*

      GRIN, you mean you don’t a uilleann (Irish bag pipe) I find them fascinating because they are pumped with the player’s arm.

      1. Czhorat*

        I don’t. I already have enough instruments with which I’m minimally proficient.

        I can’t bring the theremin to the office because I’d need to bring an amplifier as well…. but that would be kinda awesome.

        It’s a shame I didn’t see this post until I was already on the train.

        *checks bag for quirky items, sets kendama on the desk*

        1. Samwise*

          Oooo, thanks for the excellent gift idea! My husband might need a theramin.

          But not to play at work without checking that his colleagues are cool with it.

          1. Angstrom*

            Just run the output to headphones instead of a speaker. ;-)
            I used to practice electric bass guitar through a headphone amp in my cube during the designated lunch hour. I checked with the neighbors and it wasn’t an issue.

    4. Colette*

      I’m in favour of people being weird – but in a work environment, the weirdness should be limited to things that don’t disturb people doing their work. Dress in all purple, carry a bag that looks like a sloth, decorate your desk with pictures of your favourite fictional character, etc. A once a year ukulele performance is probably fine, any more than that is too much.

    5. Observer*

      let people be weird! Work can, let’s face it, be a drag sometimes. So a midday surprise ukulele concert – especially if some people are into it – can be a bright spot.

      And it can also be a major disruption. The problem here has nothing to do with being weird – and I see no reason why the weirdness makes it any better.

    6. Phoenix Wright*

      Be weird, not annoying. Playing the banjo in an open office not only crosses the line, but it nukes it from orbit. Please don’t subject your coworkers to that, however fun it may be to you.

    7. Cat Tree*

      Or maybe let people concentrate on their work? Trying to concentrate on calculations and technical writing while being interrupted by periodic ukulele is my idea of hell.

  10. Beth*

    In letter 3, I wonder if Dolores realized the writer was expecting to see Teddy. Especially since Dolores’s title was higher, maybe she usually goes second but Teddy had some kind of scheduling conflict. In this case, Dolores may have been trying to do a kindness by directing a candidate who had completed their interview to the exit.

    The advice would be the same, but the mystery cluelessness would have an explanation.

    1. Anomie*

      But it wasn’t the exit. It was the backside of the building and she had to find her way back to the parking lot.

      1. ecnaseener*

        It was the door to the employee parking lot, aka probably the door Dolores uses every day. Easy enough to see how she could make that mistake if she wasn’t thinking.

    2. londonedit*

      It’s weird, though – you’d have thought Dolores would have said ‘OK then, I’ll walk you out’ or ‘I’ll show you back out to your car’ or something, rather than ‘I’ll walk you over’. That definitely implies that there was another destination that Dolores would be ‘walking the OP over’ to. Of course, the OP should definitely have said ‘Great – will I be meeting with Teddy now?’ or something, and when they found themselves out the back door and in the car park, they definitely should have called their contact and said ‘I’m a little confused – Dolores has walked me out to the car park but I thought I was supposed to be meeting Teddy, have I got that wrong?’ But it’s definitely all sorts of weird that Dolores said ‘I’ll walk you over’ and then seemingly deposited the OP out of the back door and into the car park with no explanation.

      1. H2*

        I even think it’s super weird, though, that she would just direct someone to find a person instead of introducing them, in an interview. I can’t really imagine an interview where I’m left to wander around alone and not introduced to the next person.

        1. Jackalope*

          Yeah, I’ve never had that either. I would be concerned about meeting the wrong person, going into the wrong office, etc. And if it’s an office where the doors are locked between sections, then it may well have confidential information that you wouldn’t want a random job applicant stumbling across.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          Yes! Why leave a job candidate alone in a hallway? If you’re walking the candidate out, actually walk them outside, or at least to the door, and watch them go outside. If you’re walking them to the next person, walk them into the actual presence of the next person, and make introductions.

          I could maybe see stranding a candidate in the wrong conference room by accident, but taking the time to walk them to a hallway and then leaving them… what?

        3. londonedit*

          Very true. The whole interaction is weird, from the fact that Dolores seemed to find it amusing that the OP seemed to be expecting to stay in the room and wait for Teddy, to the fact that Dolores just walked the OP down the hallway and deposited them outside with a vague ‘That way!’ instead of actually delivering them to wherever they were supposed to be going. If Dolores thought that was the end of the interview, why not walk the OP out to the front? Why not say something along the lines of ‘Well, thank you for coming in – I’ll see you to the door?’ But I also find it odd that in the time it took to walk from the back of the building to the front, the OP managed to convince themselves that it was clearly all a big ‘F-you’ gesture and was designed to convey the message that they were no longer in the running. That would be so bizarre as to be TV sitcom-worthy.

        4. sundae funday*

          Yes exactly. I’d feel super awkward even if I managed to find Teddy’s door. Knocking on the door like “hello, it’s me, a stranger.” It just seems kind of… rude…

      2. Artemesia*

        So what really happened is that Dolores’s best friend was second in consideration and so Dolores deep sixed their top candidate in order to get her friend the job. Only explanation that really makes sense here.

        doubting Teddy’s office was in the parking garage.

    3. to varying degrees*

      Yeah I feel like it was just an error. I’m wondering if Delores thought that someone on the other side of the lot would be watching for the candidate. And honestly, it’s about 50/50 on when I’ve been walked out after an interview (and by walked out I mean just shown to the lobby), quite often I’ve just been given direction to the exit.

      As an aside I find it interesting that people go to sketchy/conspiracy theory type of reasons in situations like this. It honestly would never occur to me think anything bad, just an honest mistake or miscommunication.

      1. T*

        Agreed. I have clinically diagnosed paranoia and even I think people who are reading something sinister or threatening into this are reaching.

  11. Lilith*

    For the first time ever, I got the questions from letter 4 in an interview earlier this year. I thought I’d answered it ok at the time, but they didn’t invite me to a next-stage interview so who knows what they were looking for!

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I would never ask about family feedback – that truly is none of my business! – but I’m not bothered by the initial question like Alison and the OP seemed to be. Typically, I’m trying to find out if the candidate is self-aware at work and knows what people think about their performance.

      For example, I’d expect co-workers to describe a candidate in ways their boss might not: ‘S/he is easy to get along with’ or ‘Always helps me out when I ask’ or ‘Chatty, but knows when to stop.’ I expect to hear similar things from the manager, but usually hear things like: ‘Always ready to learn new skills’, or ‘Great at establishing and keeping to project timelines,’ or ‘Never breaks a sweat while dealing with difficult customers’ or ‘True subject matter expert in llama grooming’ or ‘S/he is my go-to for XYZ matters.’

      See, I’ve interviewed people who thought their team adored them, or that they performed with excellence, but their references shared truly alarming feedback. Maybe the candidate only hears what they want to hear?

      I’ve also interviewed people who said, ‘I can’t really think of anything, my manager doesn’t give feedback’ or ‘I just do my job and no one says anything.’ I would then explore how the candidate responded to feedback from, say, a college professor, or how they think they might handle difficult feedback.

      1. As Per Elaine*

        The family feedback really boggles my mind. What useful information is the interviewer expecting to get here?

        “Well, my mother calls me Best Girl, but not as much in the past decade or so; I think she’s worried it’s infantilizing.”

        That tells them… that my mother cares about me and possibly we have a decent relationship. I really can’t see how it’s work-applicable.

        1. Kes*

          At a guess, the family one is more looking for personality vs how are you to work with (coworkers) vs how is your work (boss). But obviously for multiple reasons, it’s not a great question

      2. Observer*

        but I’m not bothered by the initial question like Alison and the OP seemed to be. Typically, I’m trying to find out if the candidate is self-aware at work and knows what people think about their performance.

        It didn’t seem to me that they were flabbergasted by the question about coworkers, but the one about family. If you notice, Alison specifically addressed the family question.

        And it IS a ridiculous question. Because almost any answer is really not relevant. By and large, it’s not relevant to an employer how well you get along with your family.

    2. I would prefer not to*

      The family question is just a waste of everybody’s time unless you’re trying to find out how quickly people can think of with a smooth neutral positive word on the spot.

      People aren’t really going to answer truthfully, and I’d assume they don’t actually want me to answer 100% truthfully, because it would be so wildly irrelevant. So I’d say “reliable/trustworthy/conscientious/friendly” or some other neutrally positive thing.

    3. Pudding*

      Depending on the day and the family member, my family’s feedback might be that I should be spending more time focusing on my motherly duties and give up my career, and my poor life choices are why I’m going to hell. If I were fed up with the interview by that point, I might actually offer that as an answer. What a silly question.

      1. Jessen*

        Yeah, I haven’t talked to my family in 2 years and I guarantee it would be something like “horribly disrespectful and refuses to change their perverted lifestyle.” Which means I’m LGBT and have boundaries.

    4. knuckle head*

      Well, I could always go with what I apparently said when I was three or four when a random cashier asked my name.

      “Well my name is xx, but my grandpa calls me Knuckle Head.”

  12. PsychNurse*

    #3 the older I get, the more I realize that when I feel awkward and uncomfortable, it’s usually a sign to go. As you said, the whole situation was sketchy and disorganized, and then Betty chuckled and walked you to a random location. Probably not a bad thing that you just walked away. It was five years ago, I want to know what OP is doing now!

  13. UKgreen*

    I visited a Christmas fayre at the weekend and I’m afraid to say we necked our mulled wine and left as soon as the ukulele group started up… I can’t imagine putting up with that in an office!

  14. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Number 2 reminds me of the guy, long ago in a company far far away, who brought his bagpipes in. Claimed playing bagpipes helped him think through complex programming.

    The first reaction was a total stunned silence. I mean, it’s just so bizarre! He openly said the company y rule book had nothing in it banning bagpipes.

    Two days later the head of HR basically sent out a note saying ‘we don’t have rules saying you can’t build an unshielded nuclear reactor in the office either – are you going to that next? No musical instruments in the office is now going in the rule book. Please don’t make me add the reactor one too’

    (Context: small software firm back in early 2000s that was quirky but come on, there’s limits)

    1. Julia*

      Before I got to the end I knew it was some kind of tech company. The “well technically there is no rule against this” is a classic move.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Yep, it was fun to not be judged on turning up to work dressed in full gothic attire and being able to listen to music on headphones most of the day but some people did go a little too far.

    2. Observer*

      wo days later the head of HR basically sent out a note saying ‘we don’t have rules saying you can’t build an unshielded nuclear reactor in the office either – are you going to that next? No musical instruments in the office is now going in the rule book. Please don’t make me add the reactor one too’


      They certainly had a sense of humor!

    3. Don't Call Me Shirley*

      If he was any good he would have made an electronic practice chanter with headphones and been quirky but less annoying

  15. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    #1 deserves a vote for worst boss of the year, and the answer is the hard “No” that Alison advises.

  16. Abigail*

    Anybody who plays the ukulele in an open office plan is attention seeking.

    Trust and believe, they will absolutely relish somebody asking them to stop because they get to strum up controversy and outrage.

    I would put in noise canceling headphones and completely ignore the person playing the ukulele. I would pretend I worked with an office of completely functional human beings.

  17. Dust Bunny*

    Locked door: Some places are just kind of . . . dumb?

    I once had an interview at a place and when I asked about parking and they said there was no street parking but they had a lot. But they did not mention that it was gated and you had to have a code to get in. I buzzed the call button but nobody answered. This was before cell phones were common so I didn’t have any way to call the person who was supposed to interview me. I slipped in behind another car, hoping that they wouldn’t call the police on me.

    The woman seemed irritated that I was late and when I explained that I hadn’t been told about the gated lot she said, “Oh, yes, if you work here you get a code.” OK, but I don’t work here yet and you apparently don’t have anyone available to buzz visitors in? Oh, the call button doesn’t work.

    WTF, lady.

    They did not call me back, unsurprisingly, but I don’t think I would have taken the job, anyway, if that’s how they ran the place.

  18. Dust Bunny*

    Ukelele: . . . what on Earth?

    Okay, I recently started re-learning the guitar and I do practice on my lunch hour, but either in a discreet corner of the parking lot or in the storage room in the back of the warehouse, where the sound won’t bother anyone. It would never even occur to me to play, like . . . around my coworkers.

  19. cardigarden*

    #1, I don’t think I would have been able to stop myself from laughing in that boss’s face. Like, are you kidding me? Return the pay I earned for work I did? I also hear there’s a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

    1. Observer*

      I also hear there’s a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

      And if you act now, you can get an INCREDIBLE deal – buy that one, and you can get another bridge (Manhattan? Verrazano? you can choose) for half off!

  20. MPerera*

    If an interviewer asked what my family would say about me, the unvarnished truth is that my family would say I’m in thrall to Satan, because they’re extremely religious and I’m not. Good thing this question has never featured in any interview I’ve taken.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Same with my family, extreme fundamentalists. When they were feeling kindly, my sister and I were usually called ‘lazy whelp’, ‘sinner’, or ‘daughter.’

    2. Mrs. Pommeroy*

      Yeah, that interview question shows the asker is quite blind to the fact that some people have a complicated history with their family (be that due to abuse, rejection, drugs, death, …) And that asking about it might put the interviewee in quite the wrong headspace for a successful interview, especially with asking after what is basically a character appraisal

      1. Observer*

        That assumes that the interviewer is aware of many other things. I mean does this person not realize that even in the most “typical” and “functional” family (and I put those words in quotes because I’m not sure that the person actually knows what those words mean), the ways that family describe people is WILDLY different and irrelevant to work?

        Of the top 5 descriptors that I think my parents would have used about us, I think that smart and responsible are the only ones that would be relevant. The other dozen or so (4 siblings, with different descriptors) would be so irrelevant that it makes no sense.

        1. Mrs. Pommeroy*

          True too! I’m very sure my mother would describe me as disorganised and messy (because that is how she remembers scrambled-teenage-brain me) and that is the complete opposite of any feedback I’ve ever gotten at work, where “very well organised and tidy” have often been used to describe how I work. So, asking after what my family would say doesn’t give the company any insight into my work ethic.
          I dislike the question more and more.

    3. irene adler*

      I fail to see the value with this question.

      In my situation, the accurate response would be: she’s the only one not in prison. Or dead.

      Only, my real response would be “She’s a smart, honest and hard-working woman looking for a chance to shine.”

    4. Can't Sit Still*

      High five to my fellow Satanic thrall! My family is mostly dead or missing these days, so I can’t really say for sure anymore, though.

      1. MPerera*

        The ironic part is that after I fled the country I was living in and migrated to Canada, the family made multiple (fruitless) attempts to get back in touch with me – email, Facebook, a phone call to my employer, you name it. Weren’t they worried about bringing the serpent back into their garden of Eden?

    5. Texan In Exile*

      My inlaws would say I am a gold-digging bad bacon eater and my nephew just called my husband a devil worshipper. So there’s that.

      1. Critical Rolls*

        “Bacon eater” as an insult gives me “lint licker” vibes from that old gum commercial. Sorry they suck, but at least they’re unintentionally comical?

        1. Dahlia*

          I remember this because it’s just so unhinged. The insult isn’t that Texan eats bacon – it’s that they eat bacon WRONG.

    6. Season of Joy (TM)*

      “My family thinks I’m a stuck up snob because I have escaped my mother’s narcissism and their dysfunctional co-dependence. Why do you ask?”

  21. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    I think if someone asked “how would your family describe you?” I would have to give in to the temptation to say “Well, they’re all dead, so I think they would not say much.” And then just wait.

  22. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    Wow, #1 did I work for that same startup? LOL! I wasn’t asked to give back half my salary or move, but some of the other stuff sounds similar to a situation I was in back in 2010. The company lived off investor money (with the owner and his girlfriend buying new cars no less!) until the money dried up.

    I hope you didn’t give any money back.

  23. A Pound of Obscure*

    #5. Is it social media that makes young people so eager to denigrate others to get what they want? What is it-?! (And yes, I’m assuming this LW is younger and newer to the working world.) Let your knowledge and skills (and, ideally, your maturity!) speak for itself, even if the only knowledge and skills you have were gained in school or short-term jobs you had as a student. Here’s an example of getting hired based on your own merits and without knocking others down in the process. Prior to my current job I was working under a contract on an IT project for a gov’t agency when one of their management-level positions opened up. The job was right up my alley, but because I was under contract for a different purpose, I didn’t even consider applying. However, the agency director let it be known they’d like me to apply. They were careful to say I’d have to go through the standard application and interview process, which I completely understood. In my interviews I provided work samples from previous jobs only, and answered questions that way as well, never once mentioning my work as their contractor. To be evaluated fairly alongside other candidates, I had to put myself on the same footing, rather than using my in-house experience to my advantage. This was a few years before the pandemic when jobs were harder to land, and I wanted to earn it. This approach blew them away! I’ve been on that management team for several years now and one of my colleagues who was on the interview panel still mentions it occasionally.

    1. londonedit*

      I don’t think it’s a ‘young people thing’. I think that it’s unusual to know one of the other candidates when you’re interviewing, and I think it’s a very human impulse to think ‘Well, wait a minute – I know for a fact that I can groom more llamas per day than Susan can, and I know for a fact that she was denied a promotion last year because her numbers weren’t good enough. There must be some way I can use my knowledge to show that I’m a better candidate than she is!’ I can absolutely see why it would feel frustrating to have that information about another candidate and not be able to use it. But the problem is the OP isn’t just up against Susan, they’re up against all the other candidates who they don’t know, and the point of an interview is to showcase your own skills and achievements rather than slamming someone else’s.

      1. Marizane*

        I agree, I don’t think it’s a young people thing – I was asked literally yesterday by interviewers (fed gov, serious people, not young) “why are you the best candidate for this job” and, come on. That’s for you to figure out, I don’t know the competition, or the job, I might very well not be, just say what you mean, why do you think you’d be good at this job?

        Which is to say, it annoys me, but I think it’s sort of a very human impulse to pit people against each other, especially in job hunting where it is, tbf, humans competing against each other for fairly high stakes. And if I did know the candidates, or one other candidate, that questions might very well have prompted me to say something I wasn’t planning on or don’t especially stand by or even entirely regret. I find interviews so stressful.

        Also, I think it’s a bit tortured to not mention your job with them, especially if it is a big part of your experience and, well, you’re not on even footing with the other candidates! It’s not possible to be, and you don’t want to be, and I think it’s more than reasonable to use all of the knowledge you have in an interview. and to purposely handicap yourself – well, clearly, it worked for that job and some people like it (although, they asked you to interview! I suspect most not-disastrous approaches would have worked for you.) but for me, I’d be wondering what other overly limiting/unnecessary steps that person would be taking in their work.

        1. Observer*

          but for me, I’d be wondering what other overly limiting/unnecessary steps that person would be taking in their work.

          Very much.

          But I also would have to wonder what other unwarranted judgements they would be making about others.

    2. Observer*

      s it social media that makes young people so eager to denigrate others to get what they want?

      No. And the idea that that’s what you jumped to makes you sound extremely ageist AND out of touch.

      This is not a new thing – there are some interesting examples in the archives here.

  24. Phony Genius*

    On #1, if the LW determines that (b) would apply, and it would be a considerable amount of money, could they actually return the money and then make such a legal claim to get all the OT with interest and penalties? (Assuming the statute of limitations hasn’t run out.) Could this actually work in court?

    1. T*

      It would be a poor investment, considering how much time and money they would need to invest to bring something like this to court.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yeah, and the company might not even HAVE the money to give her; they’re probably trying to get it back out of desperation because they’re broke.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      Chances are they’d just have to unwind the initial transaction and give the money back. Despite the portrayal in media, the law very rarely hinges on “gotcha” moments like that.

  25. Bromaa*

    I’m still secretly dying to know if their “played the ukulele in the office” woman is the same person as our “played the ukulele in the courtyard in decade-specific clothing” woman. How many women can possibly be bringing their ukuleles to work this often!

  26. KRM*

    And never in the middle of any open plan room. If people want to listen to you play the ukulele, then you gather those people somewhere the music won’t bother people who DON’T wish to hear ukulele music.

  27. Amina*

    I need to know what was up with OP3!!!!!! I can’t believe we never got an update on that one! I mean, I know the update is probably “I never reached out to them”, but I’m so curious about this one!

  28. Magorc*

    #5 – This very same situation is why I loathe the interview question “Why should we hire you above our other candidates?”. I mean, unless they literally read me in on all the other resumes, how the hell? Either you bring out your inner arrogance and start talking up unprovable points, or you flounder. Last time I was asked that I turned it into a “what unique skill do I have that hasn’t been brought up yet” question and that seemed to work, but sheesh!

    1. irene adler*

      In my opinion, that is a nearly impossible question to answer correctly. Unless the interviewer tells you THEIR hiring criteria, you are stuck floundering around (as you pointed out) hoping to hit on the thing they rate highest in their decision on whom to hire. A losing battle.

      As an example: you can talk about how extremely detail-oriented you are with your llama-grooming skills, but they may be primarily interested in maximum quantity of llamas you can groom per unit time.

  29. NeutralJanet*

    Re: #3, anyone else think of that episode of Better Call Saul where Saul is trying to get fired without cause, so he can keep his bonus, and he decides he’s going to learn to play the bagpipes while at work? At least he had a private office!

  30. ACA*

    I was so tired that I initially read the headline as “My company wants me to pay back half my salary with ukuleles” – I wonder how Alison would respond to a letter like that!

  31. Essess*

    #5 – Way back in high school, I was applying for a job and it turns out my ex-bf was applying for the same job. We had only dated a week and then he dumped me. We both arrived around the same time for the interview. His interview was first and then he left. When I got in to my interview, I stayed focused on the interview questions and never mentioned the ex-bf and stayed professional through the whole thing. At the very end, the interviewer asked me if I knew the previous applicant. I mentioned casually that yes, we had broken up a few weeks prior. The interviewer commented that explained why the ex had spent most of the interview trying to put me down. The interviewer was so disappointed by the immaturity of trashing others instead of focusing on his own abilities. I got the job.

  32. Mehitabel*

    #4 – I’d have responded with “I don’t have any family” (which happens to be true) and then just let them squirm.

  33. heynow*

    I have played ukulele for over a decade, been a touring musician, etc., and I would never, never, never think to play in my workplace or in a work scenario unless EXPLICITLY asked, like for an event or something. Like it’s weird the ukulele is even there. Work is not a gig!

  34. logicbutton*

    Whether it’s asked for this reason or not, the question about how your family would describe you is a pretty neat trick to get people to volunteer information about whether they have kids and how old they are.

    1. Observer*

      Why? Even people with family won’t *necessarily* mention how their kids would describe them. And even if they did, they wouldn’t necessarily say how old they are.

  35. TooTiredToThink*

    LW4 – Gallows humor alert.

    My response would be something like, “What does my family think of me?” Oh, I don’t know, I can’t talk to the dead.

  36. nnn*

    The weird thing about the “how would your family describe you” question is I think a significant portion of family members would be either be overwhelmingly positive, or negative in a way that reflects their own issues, and very frequently about things that are utterly irrelevant to work.

    My one grandmother would tell you that I’m such a smart girl because when I was a toddler I always noticed when she changed something around the house.

    My other grandmother would go into a rant about how it’s appalling that I wear my hair long at my age.

    My parents would tell you it’s a shame that I didn’t decide to go into science – so much wasted potential!

    My sister would tell you not to sit next to me on long road trips because I get carsick and it’s super gross.

    None of which are what employers are looking for.

    1. Naomi*

      Yeah, what your family thinks of you really isn’t helpful in hiring. This reminds me of my relatives leaving endorsements on my LinkedIn profile. It’s nice that Auntie believes in me, but she has no knowledge of my skill in Python programming!

  37. kiki*

    They told me they were pretty relaxed and they worked only the standard business hours, and understood that family comes first, blah blah blah. First day on the job, the founder emails me and tells me that the working hours are 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. every single day. But I can have weekends for myself (thank you?).

    So often folks with work expectations wayyy outside the norm are the ones who are first to assure you that their company is “so chill.” I feel like it’s split between folks realizing they need to fib to get people in the door and folks who are being genuine but have been conditioned to accept 11 hour days as the standard.

    This is why I’ve started asking really specific questions about what workdays look like instead of just trusting what people mean by “standard business hours” and “work-life balance.” Because I’ve definitely been burned by workplaces where they “work normal business hours unless there’s an emergency” only to find out their threshold for “emergency” happens 3-4 times a week.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      I did a stint at WeWork when it was in its first few years and it was precisely like this–business hours were 9-6 but I was expected to work something like 8:30am-whenever. They also tried to be as “chill” as possible but were in complete chaos with a true lack of operations and putting out fires constantly vs. trying to build a sustainable business model. I now read chill as “dead inside” (to quote Ali Wong), and will avoid using that term because it pisses me off so much.

  38. Keymaster of Gozer*

    4 is really weird. Do they mean blood family, chosen family, what my sister thinks about me being LGBTQ (apparently I made it up for attention), that my father thinks I’m brilliant but overly stubborn, that my mother thinks I have not enough common sense but am hilariously funny?

    Absolutely none of which is applicable to the person I am at WORK. She’s a very different woman.

  39. Sarah*

    As someone from an abusive childhood, that family question is awful. It bothers me sitting in my home reading it on the internet, being asked in person, I’d probably freeze.

    1. Risha*

      I was about to comment something similar. I really wish people would actually think before asking about someone’s family. Especially in an interview, which is so totally, completely, utterly inappropriate. Just because (general) you had a loving, great family doesn’t mean everyone else did. Just don’t ask about people’s family if you don’t know their history. Besides, it’s no one’s business how someone’s family would describe the person.

      I come from a very abusive family as well. I now have a husband and 6 kids-they are my only family and I do not have any relatives in my life. Prior to meeting my husband, I was alone in the world (I do have friends but didn’t have a family of my own). I would have made the interviewer very uncomfortable if they asked me something so ridiculous because at that point, I would not want the job.

  40. I would prefer not to*

    The family question is a complete waste of everyone’s time because obviously you’re not being asked to give a literally true answer, that would be ridiculous. So they’re basically begging you to lie. Or just say some generic waffle words. Pointless.

  41. I would prefer not to*

    Surely playing an instrument at work is a bit like the “talking politics” at work issue. You have a captive audience who are trying to concentrate on other things and have to be polite to you. Don’t force things on them.

    That said, one reason I love home working is that I have my piano in my little home office room. So if I get stressed, get into an anxiety spiral, can’t concentrate, I take a quick break and play the piano for five minutes or so. Starting the day with piano and doing a bit of practice at lunchtime when I can is amazing for recharging and refocusing my mind! So I get it, but just… no, no, no it would drive me round the bend in the office.

  42. Mrs. Hawiggins*

    When I read the ukelele player letter the first thing that came to mind was the scene in Animal House where the dude is sitting on the stairs serenading with the guitar, and Blutarski grabs it forms him and smashes it. Because someone, SOMEONE in that office probably wants to. I remember my “open office” cubicle days. If you didn’t have someone blowing their nose 80 times (no shade but you can’t ignore it) or, someone clipping their nails (shade there) it was a good day.

    Side note, the guitar player in the movie was Stephen Bishop. On and On.

  43. Erica*

    I’d be tempted to ask the startup people if they plan on giving the VCs half their investment back if they fail!

    1. VC type*

      VCs actually typically negotiate liquidation preferences and redemption rights that entitle them to something not far from this.

  44. Sharp-dressed Boston Terrier*

    So this morning, I brought in one of my violins with the intent of bringing it to a local shop to replace the cord on the tailpiece, which had broken off in a spectacular fashion about a year ago. The part was easy to replace (and free) so I bought some new strings… and since I had to stay late to make up for lost time earlier this morning, I put the whole shebang together, tuned up, and fiddled to my heart’s content for about twenty minutes.

    Full disclosure: I did this after my other remaining coworker left for the day, so nobody was inconvenienced by any of it.

    Still, there is something to be said for getting away with playing a musical instrument at work!

  45. Former Employee*

    If the lady who plays the ukulele in an open office is the Yo-Yo Ma of her instrument, then maybe. Otherwise, I’d be ready to run out screaming,

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