updates: I’m too good at interviewing, suggesting an interviewer hire my friend, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. I’m too good at interviewing — and get offered jobs I can’t do

Nearly 2 years ago, I wrote to you about being too good at interviews and getting offers for jobs I’m not qualified for.

At the time, I had interviewed for a communications associate position at a small/mid-size media agency in my city. When the job offer came through, it was for communications director—a position I was in no way qualified for at the time.

When my letter was published, I’d already declined the director position but failed to ask why they thought I’d be a good fit AND for them to consider me for the position I applied for. I think I was feeling a little…embarrassed? Maybe that’s not the right word. But in my mind, telling them I couldn’t do the job they thought I could felt a little humiliating. Ah, well.

However…being offered a bigger job happened AGAIN (at my current company, in fact—more on that later), and I was much more prepared to find out why this was happening not only thanks to your advice, but advice from the commentariat as well! How lucky are we to be able to glean insight from absolute strangers.

In particular, one comment really stuck out to me and sent me down a long and painful road of self-reflection that helped me on a path that better aligned with my goals (thank you, Annie!): “I am very aware though of the many facets of privilege that play into this – like for me at least ‘inexplicable charisma’ is part of the story but being white, educated, tall, and attractive are all relevant. Charisma is confident happiness and confident happiness doesn’t just spring into being – it’s reflective of a life of being approved of and having your individuality treasured and encouraged.”

I’m a recovering “entitled conservative white girl” and that comment made me take a hard look at how my privilege was shaping my career trajectory. In my mind, if I had such success with interviewing and getting jobs in this field, why should I change anything?

And not to discount my experience, because I have built an impressive resume—but going into these interviews being white, educated, tall, conventionally attractive, AND confident in my own “inexplicable charisma” probably unfairly opened up a lot of doors for me. Would someone with similar experience but of a different race be given the opportunities I was offered without trying? Maybe…but also maybe not. And that “maybe not” really didn’t sit right with me.

Learning to understand the privilege I’d always had that developed my “inexplicable charisma” helped me realize that I didn’t like the superficial field I was working in, so about a year ago I switched industries. I’m still in the communications “world” but working for a company with an ethos that better fits my worldview. It’s been life-changing, to say the least! My company is actively working to make the world more inclusive, and I’ve never been happier to finally be using my privilege powers for good!

Call me a sappy bitch, but I wouldn’t be where I’m at without all of you and I feel such a fondness for this blog and this community. So thank all of you for being here.

2. I don’t want an elaborate going-away party (#5 at the link)

I was very firm and reiterated to my management that I did not want a party and was uncomfortable being put on the spot. I suggested that I instead bring in donuts and pastries for my last day in the office, and people could stop by and say goodbye to me individually.

Unfortunately my management really, REALLY likes doing these awkward going away parties so my suggestion wasn’t acceptable. We came to a semi-compromise: there would be an office potluck to celebrate the end of our busy season (which had just wrapped up), employees celebrating birthdays in the quarter, and my going away, all lumped in together. This sounded acceptable to me as the focus would be shifted off of me somewhat.

I met with my coworker who had been tasked with planning the potluck, and told him that I do not want any speeches and (please please please) no Goodbye Song. (By the way, it is not from Sound of Music or any other songs guessed in the comments. It is in a foreign language that about a fifth of the employees speak, and the non-speakers get printouts of the lyrics written phonetically.)

As I’m heading into the conference room for the potluck, I see the aforementioned lyric printouts being passed out. There were no speeches luckily, but I couldn’t escape without one more rendition of The Goodbye Song.

But honestly it wasn’t that bad. It was as strange as it always is, and of course frustrating that my request wasn’t taken seriously, but that’s kind of a reflection of my whole experience working there. On to better things in my new job!

3. Can I suggest my interviewer hire my friend instead? (#4 at the link)

I woke up on the morning of the interview to not one but two sick children. Given the ongoing pandemic, I sent a quick email asking if they still wanted to meet, and we decided that interviewing on zoom would be the best option.

What I learned in the interview was that the job would actually be a great fit for my skillset, but we had very different understandings of what “part time” looked like. I am hoping to find something 10-15 hours a week at this point, and they wanted someone to start at 20-25 and ramp up to full time over the next 18 months or so.

Obviously that wasn’t going to work, so the next day I sent them an email thanking them for their time and withdrawing my application. I explained my reason, and attached my friend’s cover letter and resume with an note that I thought she’d be great.

She starts today! :)

Thank you all again for helping me navigate this in the most professional way possible.

{ 46 comments… read them below }

  1. IT Manager*

    LW1 legit made me tear up. Good for you, for accepting that you benefit from privilege, deciding that you don’t like the environment that fosters this, and making a change to exist in a more diverse space.

    Not to be all sappy myself, but this is the change I hope to see in the world! Thank you for sharing!!

  2. FG*

    LW1 is just about my favorite update ever. Good for you, LW – you saw what many in your position never can.

      1. nom de plume*

        This is weird take. OP specifically says that she reflected on where her confidence came from, and realized it wasn’t simply an innate quality, but a feeling fostered by privilege that also shaped others’ perception of her as overly qualified. That’s an insight. And there was an issue, which was her receiving jobs for which she didn’t have the requisite skills and experience — so not, as you say, below her level, but above it.

        I prefer to applaud her for reflecting about how she benefits from and perpetuates a trajectory of privilege in her life, and I see no reason to criticize her for that.

      2. ecnaseener*

        She talked in the comments on the original letter about how she got so many interviews – nothing surprising, she just had a good resume in a not-overcrowded field. She posted as Krystyn.

        And unless I’m misunderstanding the update, she did indeed reject the first offer without probing into it (before receiving any advice) but when the same situation happened again she was more prepared to ask questions about it. What’s wrong with that?

      3. Angela Zeigler*

        I was also expecting something more concrete, such as a title or phrasing used on their resume which was being interpreted as something more senior-level than it actually was. With all the effort that goes into selling yourself on a resume, I’d expect instances when things are embellished a little too much- even unintentionally- or alludes to something at a higher job level. I have a feeling this may also be coming into play, especially if it’s for director-type roles.

        1. Myrin*

          I did wonder if OP (accidentally?) might’ve left something out in this update – she says “being offered a bigger job happened AGAIN […] and I was much more prepared to find out why this was happening” which I interpreted as, well, she did find out why it was happening, but I’m not seeing any elaboration on that in the letter.

          1. nom de plume*

            Agreed, I think we only have a partial account here; one in which OP described on how the comments helped her reflect on her career choices.

          2. Persephone Mulberry*

            I thought the same – I was looking forward to hearing what feedback her own company had for her about why they wanted to offer her that role.

          3. Pudding*

            I think that’s where the “inexplicable charisma” feedback came from, and trying to understand what that meant and where it was coming from was what led her down the path she describes after that.

        2. Smithy*

          I’m in a field with a lot of collaborative work and titles that often have next to or zero consistency from employer to employer. So you may have a fancy title and work on big and exciting things in a more junior role as part of a team – but genuine interviewing should clarify those points beyond someone’s charisma.

          Where I currently work – I’d equate our Deputy Director level positions with Sr. Account Manager positions where I previously worked. Not an exact 1 to 1 – but if someone in the Deputy Director position where I am now were to apply at my old job for a Sr. Officer role (average step up) or Associate Director role (big step up) and be offered a Director role (huge step up) – I could guarantee they’d be in over their head. Despite genuine resume titles reflecting a more natural progression.

          Now, when hiring managers accept that our field is one where titles don’t mean anything and dig a little deeper into how much teamwork is involved on “big fancy things” vs genuine independent leadership in addition to managing a team of X many staff members – then those hires don’t get made. Alas. that doesn’t always happen.

  3. Slow Gin Lizz*

    I love update #3, what a nice thing to do for your friend.

    Am I the only person, though, who thinks it’s a bit silly to have a party (albeit as only one of the reasons for the party) celebrating birthdays that happened “in the quarter”? Like, that’s going to be approximately one-fourth of all the attendees, so what is even the point? I think that celebrating one person’s birthday a couple of months later is ok if you can’t get together right around the birthday time (and really only makes much sense for friends or family members, not employees) but doing it for a whole group of people for the last three months is more performative than really a celebration. I am having trouble putting into words why I think it’s all a bit strange….

    1. I edit everything*

      The point is an excuse to have a fun get-together with food and some relaxation. It’s never really about birthdays. It’s about cake.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Ok, an excuse for cake is all well and good, but then why not have cake monthly? I dunno, it still seems odd to me.

        1. Rainy*

          Usually there’s a budget for this stuff and sometimes it’ll do nice treats quarterly but not anything more than dry crackers monthly.

          (My office’s birthday celebrations mostly involve cheese! Some people have a sweet tooth but we are a group of people who are VERY enthusiastic about cheese.)

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Ha! OldJob used to ask if ppl wanted cake or something savory for their bdays so it was nice to have a good cheese plate now and again.

          2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

            I love the idea of Birthday Cheese. I’m going to suggest that as an option if we start doing birthday treats again.

            Also, did you know that Utz makes classroom cheese ball Valentines? I am a big fan of those versus the typical conversation hearts or lollipops if you want to give out tiny prepackaged Valentine treats to a large group. (I get them from Target.)

    2. ecnaseener*

      I’m not bothered by it, it seems like a happy medium between celebrating every single birthday individually (gets unwieldy if the team is big, you’re having parties constantly) and ignoring the birthdays altogether. Like you said, this isn’t family and friends, this is your workplace – so you really don’t need an individualized celebration of Your Day.

    3. Hen in a Windstorm*

      My old office did this – it’s because they had previously done birthdays once a month, but people thought it was too much. You know, because it’s an office, not a family. The solution was once a quarter.

    4. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I worked at a place that did quarterly birthday dessert potlucks, because we had a small enough staff that otherwise there’d be a month here or there with no birthday, then other months with 2 or 3, so to even things out we did it by quarters instead. That way, given our particular spread of birthdays, it would never end up being just one person’s “party” and we’d never have to decide between skipping a month or just having it be no one in particular’s birthday, but we’re eating cake anyway because it’s Birthday Tuesday. We’d done individual parties for each birthday for a while when a particularly enthusiastic trio decided to start a social committee, but it just felt like too much to keep track of, someone would get missed, other people would forget which day to bring in food, and most people didn’t actually want individual “work birthday parties” so the quarterly parties were kind of a compromise.

      We also rotated so another quarter’s birthdays would be bringing in the treats, so each person only had to bring in treats once a year. (So, if you had a spring birthday you’d bring a dessert to the summer potluck, if you had a summer birthday you’d bring desserts to the fall potluck, and so on. This works well for desserts since most dessert recipes are designed to make enough for several people, and at least at our office, no one really wanted to eat an entire large meal made up of different desserts so there were always ridiculous amounts of leftovers if we all brought desserts.)

      This all ended when the Potluck Enthusiast left for a new job, since her role was unrelated to organizing potlucks and her replacement did not happen to want to take it on. No one else leapt to save the “tradition”, and now we don’t do anything in particular for birthdays as a staff, which is fine by me. We have a few new potluck instigators who were hired on in the past couple of years and are starting to try to make potlucks a thing again, so perhaps they will eventually notice that we don’t have a birthday recognition plan and start quarterly (or monthly) birthday potlucks up again. I am not going to bring it up if they don’t.

    5. NoPartyPlease*

      Hi, it’s OP here!
      Yes, it was odd. All of it was odd – the whole place was odd. Originally at the beginning of 2022 management had decided to do a monthly birthday cake (no potlucks, just a Costco cake once a month). Since no one had a January birthday, they kicked it off in February. Then it got completely forgotten about until October. The October cake was supposed to be for July – August birthdays, but management decided to read every single team member’s name, even those (like me) who had been celebrated in our first “monthly” celebration back in February and those who had birthdays later in the year.

  4. Rainy*

    Oh my gosh! #3 is so good! :) Congratulations to the friend–and well done you for making the connection. What a happy update!

  5. Chrysanthemum Tea*

    “Charisma is confident happiness and confident happiness doesn’t just spring into being – it’s reflective of a life of being approved of and having your individuality treasured and encouraged.”

    Which is a great explanation of why I have no charisma. I can fake it for a limited time in specific circumstances, but it’s hard and exhausting. I work in an industry where success depends on building relationships, and my career is going nowhere.

    1. Lunchtime caller*

      Ehhh it’s not nearly so straightforward. My background was almost entirely the opposite of that supportiveness the OP describes and people often comment on my natural confidence—for me it is the result of mentally rising above the people who told me I wasn’t worth anything. Unfortunately that’s equally unhelpful in coaching someone else to mimic it!

      1. Curious*

        This may be veering too off-topic, but how did you pull that off? It’s something I struggle with terribly.

        1. Giant Kitty*

          For me, part of it was having “a life of being approved of and having your individuality treasured and encouraged” at home with my parents & family vs at school where I was bullied & tormented for being “weird” (extremely ND, among other things) for many years; and finding a role model in an actor who became famous when I was still a child, who I not only instantly recognized as being someone else who marched to the beat of a different drum, but played a character that absolutely, 100% perfectly reflected exactly how out of place I felt in a primarily NT world and felt like the only way they could have captured this experience so perfectly was because they themselves had lived it. I saw someone like me being celebrated for their differences instead of bullied for them, and it was paradigm changing. From that time forward I decided to let my freak flag fly without giving one care about what people thought…and I’ve never regretted it.

      2. whingedrinking*

        I think there are also different kinds of charisma. People aren’t magnetically drawn to me, but total strangers definitely feel comfortable turning to me and asking me stuff like “How do I log into this library computer?” I’ve joked that it must be a pheromone because people will even ask me for directions when I’m wearing combat boots and black lipstick. But it’s definitely not irrelevant that I’m a white woman who displays certain class markers, combat boots or no.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Right. I think on some level, there are some markers that translate into “safe” in almost all of our minds and most of us wouldn’t like what is beneath that.

    2. Rainy*

      Nah, that’s not actually true. I have a lot of charisma, and I grew up in poverty, in a restrictive religious cult, with emotionally and physically abusive parents. I was badly bullied in school, had undiagnosed ADHD and (probably, still working on a dx) autism, and am queer.

      For this person it might be reflective of a life of privilege and approbation, but it doesn’t need to be. :)

      1. Mid*

        I don’t think that LW 1 was saying that you had to have privilege to be charismatic. But it’s easier to be seen as more competent/charismatic/whatever positive quality when you have privilege, which is something that has been studied repeatedly. She wasn’t saying that that was the only factor, just that it was something that she benefited from.

        1. Rainy*

          I wasn’t responding to LW1’s statement, but rather Chrysanthemum Tea’s–and the quote is actually from a comment to LW1’s original letter, if you look back, from a commenter called Annie–that if you don’t have a background of being approved and having your individuality treasured and encouraged, you can’t have charisma.

          That’s clearly not the case–I think charisma can come from a lot of different circumstances, personal inclinations, etc. The effect (the charisma) looks similar at the end point but it comes from different places for different people.

          1. kiki*

            That’s definitely true. My father grew up poor and is a Black man. He’s wildly charismatic. To a certain extent, I believe he’s just naturally that way, but he also learned early on that charisma gets you super far and he leaned into it throughout his career. It’s part of his personality, but also a skill he took care to develop. I take after my mother and am not charismatic by nature, but at some point in high school, I realized that being smiley and friendly can get you further than actually being correct in a lot of situations. I can feign wildly charming charisma for a few hours, but it’s exhausting for me to do any longer than that.

            And in that vein, some of the least charismatic people I’ve ever encountered have been wildly privileged– they have the money and advantages to not need to curry anyone’s favor, so they don’t.

            People are so wildly different! LW’s understanding of their charisma is totally valid, but it’s impossible to pinpoint the cause of charisma for everyone.

          2. Question Marked*

            I don’t think they were saying that was the only way to have this charisma, but rather something more akin to the fact that people who develop charisma through a crucible are aware of how their ineffable likability came to be….whereas those who grow and thrive in other conditions may be totally unaware why others gravitate towards them and that they may not be confronting the fact that this charisma isn’t some weird quirk of fate but rather is the result of a society that does not treat all people the same.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        It’s not the only way to get charisma, it’s just one of the ways you might access it. Some people can do anything from anywhere.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      This is such a good description of what is often going on with charisma from OP. It also explains why someone very dear to me, who is terrifyingly competent, never really expects people to notice and is surprised if anyone approves of them.

  6. Curmudgeon in California*

    RE #3: My now spouse interviewed at one company, and realized that they didn’t match the job, but I did. It was through an agency, and I was unemployed at the time. They sent me out on the interview, I aced the pop quiz (on the use of Excel, really, really basic) and got the job.

    It’s like a referral, and IME hiring managers like those with the self awareness to know that they don’t quite fit, but will refer someone who does. Then again, in my current field it’s pretty common to get referrals from friends who know your skills set, and to read a job description and think of people who fit it to send it to.

  7. Therese*

    Way to go #1 letter writer! It feels really good to use your privledge/skills for a higher cause. When I was younger, I had a certain “charisma” – I’m not overally attractive or anything, but I have a baby face and look really “safe” and pleasant – also a white woman. So people come up to me all the time to ask for directions, take pictures for them, stuff like that. I used this for good – I did a lot of door-to-door campaigning, because almost everyone would open their door for me – black, white, rich, poor, you name it. I don’t look officious or scary, haha.

  8. perstreperous*

    On #2, the sheer arrogance of managers which insist on foisting leaving gifts, parties and the rest of it on employees who have explicitly said they do not want any of that never fails to amaze me.

  9. LB33*

    Congrats to #1 on figuring this stuff out. I’ve been there – not necessarily charisma but with me it’s more looks and charm that got me these undeserved bouquets.

    Took me a while to figure out what’s really important in life and as I’ve gotten older I too have been using my rugged handsomeness (I’m male) for “good” in that I now often help other people with their various problems.

    1. Emily*

      I’m confused regarding what you’re not sure about. It’s very clearly not imposter syndrome. LW #1 was being offered jobs she was not at all qualified for and did a lot of self reflecting (way to go, LW!), and realized a big component of it was based on privilege. I think it’s great that LW was able to transition into an industry that more closely aligned with her values.

  10. raincoaster*

    #3 is so satisfying! I was in a similar situation re: part-time expectations, but although I was very clear during the interview process, I’ve bee scheduled almost twice the hours I actually wanted.

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