employer lied when rejecting me, should I apply for a job in my partner’s small company, and more

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

1. An employer lied when rejecting me

I interviewed for a job a while back. It was a second interview, this time in person where I was flown out to the campus overnight. A few days later, the search director called me to tell me they were going to repost the position because they needed someone with significant experience in two particular areas (in which I have over 10 years of high level experience, which they knew). However, she said the most significant thing preventing them from offering me the job was that none of my references called me back despite multiple inquiries.

I was aghast, especially since two of them are among my best friends. How could they do that to me? They knew I was interviewing and told me to use them without me even asking them if I could. I immediately texted one and told him he had cost me an offer because of his failure to respond. He called back immediately, saying he’d never gotten anything from them. He did a check of voicemail and email over the previous three months to confirm that. The other said the same thing, she had never been contacted.

I wasn’t going to accept an offer anyway, but to lie to me like that seems beyond disrespectful. Not only did they lie to me, but they also lied about my friends who were my references. I know one of my references sent an email calling them out and telling them what they’re missing by passing on me, but I’d really like to call them out in some way. I have friends and colleagues that are connected with them in the industry but have not told them what happened. Should I or should I just let it go?

Whoa, your reactions here are a little hotheaded! First you accused your friend without checking the facts with him, and now you want to rebuke the employer publicly. And your friend sent them an email “calling them out”?! This is … a lot.

It’s very likely that there was a miscommunication, rather than the employer deciding to flagrantly lie to you … particularly since they would have known you would be likely to follow up with your references to find out what happened. Who knows what did happen — maybe they assigned the reference check to someone who confused you with another candidate, or had the contact info wrong, or otherwise dropped the ball. That’s obviously not good, but it’s not an attempt to lie to you. It’s also the kind of thing you potentially could have fixed if you wanted to (“that sounds really out of character for my references and I suspect signals got crossed somewhere; would it be okay if I contacted them myself and asked them to call you?”).

If you want, you could attempt to correct the record now (“I talked to my references and they both say they were never contacted; it sounds like something went wrong”); that would be useful info for them even though you don’t want the job. But this isn’t “call them out publicly” territory, especially with the framing you’re using.

2. My coworker seems to mentally check out when we present together

I work for a state government agency in a small niche department. We spend a lot of time traveling between facilities of our agency to provide mandated training. As with many state government agencies, there is a hierarchy with titles. I am a 1 and the coworker I am writing about is a 2, which is supposed to be the more experienced title. She came from another state agency and has no experience in our line of work, while I have done a variety of things in our realm for the past 20 years, though this division is newer to me.

During trainings when she is not presenting, my coworker engages in behaviors that are very off-putting to me and other participants, including near constant twirling of her hair and inspecting the ends of her hair. During a small group session when training participants were teaching us material, she appeared so engrossed in her hair inspecting that she did not answer when she was asked a direct question by the participants, who we were tasked with rating on their performance. I feel like I should have addressed this after the session was over, but I also worry that my feedback would be disregarded, as I am not her supervisor nor technically her peer.

Another weird layer to this is that we end up spending time together eating meals while traveling, and I don’t want to make things awkward. At the same time, her behaviors are SO off-putting that I find my tolerance for her getting lower and lower! How should I address this?

Well … you might not have a ton of standing to, since you’re not her boss and she’s senior to you. That said, you’re presenting together and you’re presumably jointly charged with meeting certain goals in your training sessions, so there’s room for an attempt. You could try something like, “I’ve noticed you seem distracted when you’re not presenting — you’ve been looking at your hair a lot, and you missed a question someone asked you. I’ve seen it distracting our participants, and I wondered if everything is okay.”

If that doesn’t solve it, your only other real option would be a discreet conversation with your manager; ideally someone would be periodically sitting in on your sessions to give feedback, and this might nudge them to observe a few.

Read an update to this letter

3. Should I apply for a job in my partner’s small company?

My partner works for a small (15 people) company in a relatively small sector, doing a pretty niche role. They’ve been in the position for about three months and are loving it and doing very well in the role. It’s kind of a dream job for them and the organization is supportive and a great place to work.

Two months ago, I was made redundant through no fault of my own. I have been unsuccessfully job searching since, receiving many interviews but no offers. My partner’s skills and experience overlap with mine, and we’ve always worked in relatively similar/complementary sectors and organizations. It’s common in the sector we are in to know candidates who apply for roles, and for there to be professional overlap between people who know each other outside of work.

Their company is now hiring for a role I would thrive in, and I am of two minds about applying. If they didn’t work there, I would not be giving it any second thought, but I am very nervous about applying because I don’t want to impose on them and their career. This is further complicated by the fact that I know a few of their colleagues personally, and it is relatively common that we see each other outside of professional environments. My partner has said they are okay with me applying. Is it a terrible idea for me to apply for a job in my partner’s small company? We would be doing different roles, working together sometimes, at the same level of responsibility, and we’d have different managers.

I’d avoid it if you can, primarily because it’s such a small organization. With only 15 people, that’s a lot of overlapping your professional spheres and your day-to-day, and that can be a lot for a relationship to take, including making it harder to disconnect from work talk when the day is over — and it can be a lot for coworkers too. It could also constrict you professionally; neither of you should be in a position where you have influence over the other’s work or opportunities, and in a small company that could be limiting.

Plus, you’d be putting all your financial eggs in one organization’s basket. If the company has financial problems and/or lays people off, you could both be out of a job rather than only one of you.

If it’s your dream job and/or you don’t have other options … maybe. But I’d be very cautious about it.

4. Should I include jobs on my resume that are known in the area to be awful?

I have had two jobs that both are known to be bad companies. One had a culture where everyone had to be the boss’s friend, except I was the odd one out who just simply did the job and ethically. People who know the company know that most, if not all, employees from there are sketchy. The other company I worked for is a store known to be always messy and a bit unwelcoming. Everyone knows that the employees at this store are useless and will avoid helping or working. I was the exception and ended up being the only person who will help customers, much less say hello.

I don’t know if I should include them on my resume. If I do, it would be hard to not basically say, “I was better than everyone.” And if I don’t, it would be hard to explain a two-year gap.

You should include them. People generally know that even bad companies have some good employees. But to whatever extent you can, try to use your bullet points for those jobs to illustrate the good work you did there. What was the difference between what you did on the job and what your coworkers did? Talk about the stuff that made you better! (You don’t need to add “and no one else did this.”) For example, maybe it’s things like “lauded for focus on customer service” or “sought out by repeat customers to assist them with X and Y” or “became go-to staff member for solving X problem” or “regularly garnered unsolicited praise from customers for helpfulness and approachability.”

5. When does the workday begin?

My spouse and I have recently begun to work in the same place (different employers) and have a disagreement about when the work day actually starts. Our workplace is located on a big compound. You drive past a gate with guards, drive for a while in a big garage, then walk back to the stairs to get to your desk. A total of 15ish minutes one way from the guards to my desk. I’ve always thought my work day started as soon as I got to my desk. My spouse thinks the work day starts from the time you get into the gate — “we are now on their turf, subject to their rules.”

What do you think? It is not a huge deal overall, and our bosses are certainly not looking that closely at arrival/departure times, but with daycare pick-ups having a strict timeline, these minutes start to count.

Courts have held that the workday begins the moment an employee engages in an activity that is an “integral and indispensable” part of the first principal activity of the day. Walking to your desk normally wouldn’t count. (The Supreme Court even found that Amazon employees were not engaged in their workday when they waited for 25 minutes at a security checkpoint at the end of their shifts.)

{ 276 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    A reminder about two of the commenting rules:

    • Don’t armchair-diagnose others (“it sounds like your coworker is autistic/has borderline personality disorder/etc.”). We can’t diagnose based on anecdotes on the internet, these statements often stigmatize people with those diagnoses, and it’s generally not useful to focus on disorders rather than practical advice for dealing with the person in question.

    • If you’re speculating on facts or context not in the letter, explain how it’s actionable for the letter-writer. “She might be stealing your lunch because she can’t afford her own” is not actionable (and quickly becomes derailing). “She might be stealing your lunch because she can’t afford her own, and so you could try X” is actionable.

  2. Louisiana Jones*

    OP # 1: Oh goodness. I hope in the time since you wrote this you were able to reread your letter and really take more time to digest and separate the facts and your feelings.
    Of course you were frustrated and upset! Many people who feel strongly in such situations want to DO something. It’s really difficult to sit back and look for perspective instead of making any rash choices.
    I hope you have been able to move on and have found a great job!

    1. Dover*

      The comment “I wasn’t going to accept an offer anyway” suggests this LW has a sour grapes attitude. That is such an unprofessional way to approach things and can really hold them back in their career, rather than giving people the benefit of the doubt, learning from experiences, and generally having a positive and collaborative attitude.

      1. Prospect Gone Bad*

        I don’t know, sour grapes implies it’s unwarranted. Calling your friend to ask why they ignored phone calls seems pretty normal to me? That’s what you’d do with friends. Being mad a potential employer is making up reasons (or can’t properly dial a phone #) is frustrating? I don’t get why any of this makes OP look bad.

        1. RussianInTexas*

          Except that’s not what they did:
          “I immediately texted one and told him he had cost me an offer because of his failure to respond.”
          If you accuse me first without asking, I probably won’t be your reference again.

          1. Not Your Friend*

            Yep. And forget reference, there’s a very high chance I won’t be your friend again, if this is a pattern of behavior with you. I’ve started the slow fade on people for far less, and never once regretted doing it.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              It’s also not a great idea to use your best friends as references in general, even if you’ve worked together before. I don’t think my best friends could judge my professional strengths and weaknesses in a detached way; that’s not how close personal relationships are supposed to work.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            This right here and I’d reconsider the friendship also.

            I can see myself sending a text like that when I was, I don’t know, 14, 15? These days, without even thinking about it, my hands will automatically type something like “hey did you ever hear from Wonderful Widgets, inc? They said they couldn’t get hold of you, I wonder if they used the right number” or something similar. That’s not how adults talk to each other, OP.

            1. Gato Blanco*

              Agreed. I would be stepping *way* back from that relationship if one of my closest friends jumped down my throat like that with zero conversation first. That is a completely unacceptable way to treat a good friend.

          3. Jodi*

            Exactly! Berating someone about costing you a job you weren’t going to take anyway -without checking the facts- is a sure way to make sure they won’t agree to be a future reference.

          4. Jules the 3rd*

            The fast accusation would be a huge red flag for me, personally and professionally.

            OP, is there any chance that this ‘blame first, ask later’ came through in the interview? If I heard someone blaming others for problems that could have been mistakes or their own errors, I would not hire them. Alternately, multiple stories of, “We had problem X, when my coworker screwed up, but I fixed it!” would make me cautious.

          5. FrenemyOfThePeople*

            Exactly. It isn’t contacting the friend/reference that was the issue; it was the antagonistic nature of it that was the issue! I trust my friends to be good references and honest with me. So MY first thought wouldn’t be “those no good SOBs-look what they’ve done to me!” It would be “there’s obviously a miscommunication somewhere, and the employer didn’t even get through or call.”

          6. Moonstone*

            This is exactly it – the immediate jump to the friend costing LW a job without first asking if they even heard from the employer is extremely off putting. Why would LW automatically assume a reference and friend would ignore that call? It just came off as really aggressive and I’m wondering if there is something more to this in terms of LW’s overall attitude.

        2. ecnaseener*

          Asking why they ignored a phone call would be one thing. (Asking *if* they ever got the call would be better, with a friend who you trust not to be careless with things important to you.) But this LW didn’t even ask, they “told him he had cost me an offer.”

          It just makes LW look like someone who always jumps to the worst conclusion, or at least who jumps to the most obvious conclusion without stopping to think there could be another explanation.

          1. Zephy*

            I don’t even think “company couldn’t reach references > reference never got a call > company lied about that” is the most obvious conclusion, just the conclusion that makes LW out to be the Most Wronged Party. Why assume it’s a misunderstanding or a mistake, when he can assume deliberate malfeasance on the part of everyone else involved, you know? Because he’s the Main Character, after all. (I’m assuming a gender but most of the people I’ve met who are Like This have identified as men.)

            I hope LW is in a better place now.

            1. Lydia*

              Yeah. I had a job offer pending my reference check and when the hiring manager let me know they couldn’t get ahold of two of my references, I double-checked with them first (Have you heard from them? They said they called) and then reviewed the contact information I provided. Guess what. I managed to mess up the phone numbers of 2 of my references and didn’t catch it. I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t have to talk myself out of panic that two of the people I trusted to give references decided to ignore them, but I certainly didn’t accuse them of that.

              1. sam*

                I got my current job after being a contractor (through an outside firm) for a year. When my employer had the background check done on me, I almost “failed” because they couldn’t get anyone at my outside firm to verify that I was employed by them. I got it sorted (they were contacting the wrong company with a similar name!), but my supervisor here almost doubled over laughing because how the hell was I working here for a full year if I wasn’t actually employed by the contracting firm.

                Bonus – the background check people had no issues verifying my employment at two prior law firms, both of which had gone bankrupt and no longer existed.

            2. Jules the 3rd*

              I have heard this ‘Worst Take’ equally from both men and women; the last person I heard it from was a woman who I had to work with for *four years* and couldn’t tell her “the part number the engineers requested is 12ABC, but your order says 12BCA” without triggering a Blame Game.

              Please keep gender out of this one.

              1. BethDH*

                I was scrolling down to say the same thing. I frequently agree that certain workplace behaviors have a gender component but this isn’t one of them.

        3. Misty*

          I wonder if the employer was able to rule out the friends as references (cuz friends) and called others on her list?

          Not sure why no one is calling out LW for giving friends as references? I do not want your friends input! I want professional contacts that can speak objectively about your work. And usually it is managers who are requested to be references.

          Overall, this paints a very unprofessional picture of LW

          1. Conundrum*

            It depends if the request is specifically for professional or personal references. I’ve been asked for both. Plus, I want the most glowing references possible, no problem with having people who think highly of you be your reference.

        4. DisgruntledPelican*

          This outsized of a reaction to getting rejected from a job he “wasn’t going to take anyway” absolutely comes across like a dude who got rejected by a woman and responds by calling her fat and saying he never actually wanted to date her anyway.

          1. BethDH*

            I had a student tell me just this week that she wouldn’t have taken my internship even if I had offered it to her so I really think this one has more to do with immaturity.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      This is a case of “don’t assume malice when it’s more likely to be incompetence”.

      Odds are someone screwed up somewhere. It DOES make sense to respond to the HR person to say that, in fact, your references were never contacted, and to provide their contact information to the HR person directly. Could be that someone else’s references were contacted with the OP’s name – in which case, it makes perfect sense that nobody got back to provide a reference for a total stranger (although it IS odd that nobody responded that they didn’t know the person).

      Going nuclear is only a good option when you are CERTAIN of the facts, the facts are EGREGIOUS, and you feel the risk to your reputation for professionalism is worth the outcome you want to achieve.

      1. Kel*

        Don’t assume malice where it’s more likely to be incompetence can explain away at least 80% of things that happen in workplaces I think, honestly.

      2. Yorick*

        LW can’t be certain of the facts here. It honestly makes just as much sense that the reference lied about not being contacted as that the employer purposefully didn’t contact the references and lied about it. There are also many different ways this could be a mistake on the part of the employer – used the wrong contact info, contacted someone else’s references, gave the responsibility to someone who didn’t do it and lied about it, etc.

      3. Lydia*

        Chances are very good it was the LW who screwed up, based on my own, very similar, experience. It was me. I was the screw up. (Everything came out all right in the end, but my offer was delayed by a week because I didn’t check my information very carefully.)

      4. Artemesia*

        And even if it is gross negligence or malice, the way to approach it is always as a mistake. If you want those people to ever be references again then you don’t accuse them of ruining your life.

    3. rayray*

      I feel for this LW, I get how sometimes in job seeking it can feel like these rejections are personal or that the companies are the bad guy if you get turned down. I’d probably also be mad if I was told my references hadn’t talked to them and then found out they hadn’t been contacted.

      One thing I have learned in my life is to always give yourself time to cool off before you react to something and say something to someone. As a friend, I’d not really be happy if I got a text blaming me for the mishap before even asking me for my side of it. If you just asked the friend first before laying in to them, you would have found out what happened and from there, maybe you could have deduced that there was some sort of mixup. I actually would have just asked the company after finding that out. It may not have changed anything, but would have been a better course of action than having another friend contact them to accuse them of lying.

    4. Anonymosity*

      I hope so too.

      This stood out to me:

      I know one of my references sent an email calling them out and telling them what they’re missing by passing on me

      Unfortunately, OP #1 may have burnt the bridge with this particular employer. If I received an email of this nature from a reference, I’d likely bin the candidate’s resume on the assumption that if I hired her, drama would follow.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeaah, I know the reference meant well, but to the employer, first of all, it’s not even clear who sent the email and how they know what I am missing by passing on the candidate – could’ve been sent by the candidate themselves for all I know. I, too, would probably file under “very weird and likely to explode in our faces”.

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I would hope that this is filtered through the OP’s eyes and the caller was a bit more professional – but I would not count on it.

  3. IrishMN*

    I’m in training and I’d suggest having a post-training evaluation form (Survey Monkey is free, easy to use, and anonymous) that includes questions about the trainers, and a free form area for them to add additional comments.

    I think there’s a decent chance that a pattern will emerge that could be taken to management. Sometimes I find they react to trainee feedback even more than trainer observations…but that’s another post. ;)

    1. AlsoADHD*

      Yes, though I also wondered if that LW and her coworker are actually in training or just tasked with it. For LW2, I think a lot depends on the actual duties of their job and if the training is within a core scope of duties? I think it’s fine for LW2 to approach them with how they are impacted or could better work together, but I’m also wondering how the coworker views those presentations and their role, especially since they’re government and have maybe very specific details in their respective titles and grades.

    2. Stacy*

      That’s a good idea, but it depends on how large of a group they’re training. Survey Monkey’s free version only lets you access 10 survey responses. If you have more than that, you need a membership

      1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

        Being that it’s a government agency there may be restrictons. If not they probably have their own survey software that the agency pays for such as Qualtrics or survey monkey.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        I’m not sure why the evaluation needs to be through Survey Monkey (although I am not criticizing you for responding to the suggestion up thread – this just seemed like the best place to put other suggestions):

        I have gone to many in person trainings for continuing legal education credits (needed for my license) and right up until things went virtual for the pandemic, we were given paper forms to fill out and put in a box on our way out. Anonymity is as simple as turning the paper upside down when you place it in the box/on the table.

        These obviously weren’t anonymous, but during the height of the pandemic when everything non-essential was done on Zoom, we just were emailed a PDF form and would fill it out and email it back.

        In my experience, Google Forms can handle dozens of responses anonymously and for free if OP is trying to go the electronic route.

    3. CareerChanger*

      This is a great idea. I was also thinking maybe have someone videotape a training? I bet she doesn’t realize she’s doing this, and if she saw what it looks like, she might become a lot more conscious about it.

      1. Underrated Pear*

        As someone who used to work in survey research, I think a video is a much better suggestion than a survey.

        1. People will not generally answer a post-training survey with any sort of detailed response, or even terribly accurate responses. Many will just click-click-click to get it done without thinking too much.
        2. Post-training surveys need to be SHORT or people won’t do them (or if they’re forced to complete it, they’ll just do the aforementioned click-click-click). It would be oddly detailed to have questions on both trainers individually. You’d more likely have one or two questions like “How would you rate the knowledge level of your trainer(s)?” So this could end up backfiring on the LW if ratings were low due to their coworker’s behavior.
        3. Even if for some reason you did have a question about each individual trainer, to pinpoint the specific behavior you’re hoping to call out, you’d need a follow-up open-ended question (“Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your rating of Trainer 2?”) in order to nudge people to say “She played with her hair and was disengaged.” This would be way too much, and frankly, I doubt you’d get the response you’re hoping for. Basically, if you’re putting out a survey with the sole intent of hoping people will give the one specific response you want, you’re wasting everyone’s time.
        4. On that note – just a general plea – please don’t make people take surveys if you do not have a dedicated organizational plan in place to analyze and act on the responses!!! Please!!! This is pretty far away from the original letter, lol, but I just want to put that out there. Stop exhausting people with surveys unless EVERY SINGLE QUESTION has a purpose and an actionable response plan (a real one, with dedicated staff and project time, not just a vague plan to “address concerns”).

        Anyway, I think taking a video and doing a self-evaluation is a great idea.

    1. Maybe all the way home*

      Yes, if it’s quantifiable: “I helped X satisfied customers per hour versus the team average of Y” or something along those lines.

      No, if it’s anecdotal, which risks coming across as sour grapes, judgmental, and possibly delusional.

      1. TootsNYC*

        It’s really hard to have a hard number!
        And a number doesn’t mean anything without something to compare it to; maybe 6 times a week, a repeat customer asked you for help. But maybe other people were being asked 12 times a week, and how would the interviewer know?

        I don’t think you need hard numbers. I think you can say the things Alison suggested (“regularly sought out by repeat customers looking for assistance”).

    2. Scrimp*

      Yeah, if it is true and believable. But “and I was better than everyone else” on a CV can easily come off as self-aggrandising and it might be a bit of a red flag to have on a CV.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        I think everyone here realizes that “I was better than everyone else” is not something you put on a CV. ;)

        But the way around this is what Alison always suggests: focus on accomplishments, not just duties.

        And if your fellow employees were not that great, it’s easy to figure out your accomplishments.

    3. Somehow_I_Manage*

      The OP suggests it’s a retail position. Folks who work in retail know the drill. If you bring experience and haven’t had issues, I’d think they’d be willing to interview you regardless of prior employer. A short and sweet cover letter may be overkill, but likely could offer some room to lay out their high performance. Shoot, it may be even be the type of place you can deliver an application directly to the floor manager and make a connection.

    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yes! Most of us have worked at dysfunctional places, OP. That we were able to perform to our own, higher than theirs, standards, *and then got out of there*, speaks in our favor, not the other way around. I do like the suggestion of making your performance there as quantifiable as you can, though.

  4. Snoozing not schmoozing*

    LW1, perhaps the company did not contact your references because they sound like personal references (your best friends) rather than professional ones. I can’t remember the last time a job to which i applied requested personal references – maybe government positions?

    1. Megan*

      I have worked in government 12 years, and applied to jobs in multiple states. Applications I filled out always asked for three references that you have known a specific number of years who are not related to you.

      1. allathian*

        Granted, I’m not in the US, but I’ve never been asked for personal references when I’ve applied to any jobs, not even government jobs.

        The one and only time that I was asked to provide personal references was when I applied to a volunteer position at my college as an exchange student tutor. At the time, exchange student tutors got bonus points for their application to spend a semester or a year as an exchange student, and I *really* wanted to do that. It wasn’t an absolute requirement, but they always got more applications than they had places, so in practice it was required. It was also quite a bit of work and a lot of fun.

        1. xl*

          Personal references are a thing when getting a security clearance. Could be other times too, but I’ve definitely experienced it when I was getting a security clearance for a federal government job.

    2. Happy meal with extra happy*

      There’s nothing in the letter to indicate that they’re not both work references and best friends.

    3. Short Stack Long Jacket*

      The letter didn’t say that the references weren’t contacted – it said they didn’t respond to the company reaching out.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Yeah, but if the LW had more than two references listed (and it sounds that way since they say “two of them are among my best friends), then the company may not have contacted those two references but may have contacted others who didn’t respond. And “none of your references could be contacted” could mean “none of those we attempt to contact” or “none of those who we deemed relevant to this role” (not saying these two weren’t; I just don’t know).

    4. Snow Globe*

      I suppose it is possible that the company contacted people such as former co-workers or supervisors who were not actually listed as references, and those people didn’t return the call. And that the company used the term “references” very loosely when communicating this to the LW.

      1. Michelle Smith*

        It still seems horrible that LW would be punished for others being busy, particularly if the company contacted people that LW didn’t give as references.

    5. Eeyore is my spirit animal*

      One of my professional references is also one of my best friends. I’ve known her for over 20 years . We have worked together at 2 different companies and served on several industry boards in between. It happens.

    6. US Labor Organizer*

      Some of my best friends are also my professional references. It’s not the most common but it’s not uncommon either, especially if your field is small or project-oriented rather than company-specific.

  5. Artemesia*

    That SC decision that Amazon making people wait in a security line to leave is not paid time is just one more example of the deep corruption of the court system.

      1. D'Arcy*

        It’s even worse than it sounds; the official logic that SCOTUS used was that the security checks did not constitute a “principal activity”, which opens the door for companies to not pay their employees for all manner of ancillary duties that they can’t argue aren’t “integral and indispensable” to the job proper.

        1. Wilbur*

          Seems to me that if the security check is not integral and indispensable to the job then they should be optional. At the very least, they should have an obligation to keep them from being too much of a burden.

      2. marvin*

        The principal activity distinction seems weird to me. If your employer makes you do it, how does it not count as work time? If my computer won’t start and I need to call tech support, does that not count as work time either? What about training? Time spent asking someone a question?

        Love the idea that employers can nickel and dime you on these semantics while they can basically make anything part of your job description if they want to.

    1. Lirael*

      I’m pretty sure the courts of the UK have found the exact opposite, too. (not that I’m holding us up as a shining example of anything, but I do think we got that one right.)

      1. Susan Smith*

        Yep, in the U.K. that would be classed as working time (waiting for a staff search).

        1. Thegreatprevaricator*

          In the UK and was surprised to read the Amazon example. I would indeed consider it work time (even without the knowledge that legally it’s work time). I can’t see how the court could rule that something the employer requires to be completed is not.. work…?

          1. Matt*

            The thing that gets me about the ruling more than anything is that now companies have no incentive to make these processes quick or efficient. If they can save a few dollars by shutting down one security checkpoint, they may, because all the cost would then be on the employees in their time.

          2. MigraineMonth*

            In the US and was surprised to read the Amazon example. That seems contrary to most of our work laws (and also common sense, but I don’t expect that from the Supreme Court).

      2. Emmy Noether*

        My last two places of work (in Germany), had us badge to start/stop the clock. The readers were by the building entrance door, so parking didn’t count, but walking up the stairs did, even if you stopped by the kitchen for a coffee and a chat on the way.

        I actually like badging. It removes ambiguity and makes the line to time fraud crystal clear. And one doesn’t have to remember or keep track of anything oneself. It sounds controlling at first blush, but actually works in the employee’s favor more often than not. When one of those jobs gave us the choice between continuing to badge and self-tracking, I chose badging.

        That court decision is appalling, btw. If something is solely for work, required by work, the time it takes is controlled by work, and it’s even on work premises, it’s work! Good grief.

        1. Kayem*

          Yeah, my employer (US) also does badging at the front doors. It’s nice because when we worked on the campus, we could be pulled to all sorts of work-related activities on our way to our desk. The building was huge so it took a full five minutes at a brisk walk to go from the entrance to my desk if there was no detours.

        2. amoeba*

          I love badging so much! And yes, I agree, 99% of the time, if you have “trust-based working hours” as they call it in Germany, you lose out as an employee…
          (I know several companies that offer a few extra days of holiday when you stop badging – which tends to happen at higher levels. Because basically, you probably lose like 5-10 days per year of extra PTO from flextime. Sadly, my company is not one of them…)

      3. Nebula*

        That was an EU ruling written into UK law, so look forward to saying goodbye to that at the end of this year with the ‘sunset clause’.

    2. WellRed*

      I hadn’t heard about this ruling and am appalled. Amazon can damn well afford to speed up the process, pay workers for the time or drop the screening.

    3. doreen*

      Let’s put the blame where it belongs – that SC decision was unanimous. And Congress passed the Portal to Portal Act in 1947 specifically in response to a previous SC decision that ruled that time spent walking from the entrance to the work area is part of the workweek.

      1. Dainty Lady*

        So, blame Congress in 1947. I am not disagreeing, just clarifying. A unanimous SC decision is not evidence of corruption, just in this case a bad law that Congress needs to change (good luck).

    4. Fishsticks*

      Yep. It was a clearly corrupt and incorrect decision. And everyone knew it, including the SC.

    5. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Came here to say the same thing. This decision is messed up. Particularly if people who decide not to wait for security checks are going to get fired. If you’re essentially captive, they should have to pay you.

    6. DataSci*

      That’s certainly true, but I think “walking from the parking lot” is more like “part of my commute” than it is like “waiting in a security line”. I don’t think anyone would expect to get paid for the time it takes to drive to work, so expecting the last bit of the commute to count just because it’s on foot is somewhat odd.

      1. metadata minion*

        In general I agree with you, but in this particular situation I side a bit more toward it counting as work time. It sounds like in the LW’s case, there is one authorized place to park and no other way to get to the office. Whereas at my workplace, for example, there’s one parking lot right behind our building, others on campus, some of us commute by public transit, a few including me walk… so there really isn’t a “required” commute of any kind.

      2. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

        In my head (which is a place with different opinions about What The Law Should Be than is true for What The Law Actually Is, Currently), it makes a difference whether or not the employer is designating where you par in a “campus” situation where there are assigned spots or lots and no real way to opt out of parking versus a “downtown” situation in which some people come on transit, some park in assorted non-work-owned garages, etc. If work is telling me where I must park, and that’s a place that is inconvenient and wastes my time, I have no way to opt out of that and make a different time/money/effort/whatever tradeoff, so if they choose “time” rather than “money” they should pay me for it. If I’m making my own decision about where to park, then it’s on me to pick the balance that works best for me, whether that’s paying for a reserved parking spot in the closest garage or transferring buses twice.

        I once had an employer that would not let temps park in the on-property lot and made us park in a satellite lot instead. There was a shuttle, but it arrived at the building on the :15 and :45 each hour, so if you had a regular :00 start time you were basically stuck giving them an extra 15 minutes of your time for free. It took about 10 minutes to walk from the offsite lot, on a road with ditches rather than sidewalks. This is one of many reasons that being a temp there sucked.

        When I had a temp job with a strict 8:00 start time there and couldn’t bill extra work hours (or leave early) if I got there at 7:45, I’d just go read in the break room rather than start working. When I got a temp job in a different department with more a more flexible view toward working hours (probably because they were so behind that they let us work all of the overtime we wanted) I’d just arrive “early” every day but start the clock when I got there.

      3. Nina*

        I mean, depends. At my last workplace, the front gate was a good five minutes drive from the work site, and traffic was rigidly controlled, radio check-ins, car stereo must be off and windows up, the whole nine yards. That distance and those rules were 100% the company’s decision, they were requiring me to do things between the front gate and the work site, so damn straight I got paid for that time.

      4. Mid*

        See, I think people *should* be paid for their commute time, especially if it’s a job that can be done remotely but people are required to be in an office. If you’re making me commute, that’s a demand on my time by my job and I should be paid for this. I hate long commutes, so I pay a premium in rent to avoid that and now work fully remote. If the workplace doesn’t pay people enough to have a short commute, then they should have to pay for that as well.

        I am also aware that no company would ever actually cover commute time and the logistics would be nightmarish, so it’s a pipe dream.

      5. DJ Hymnotic*

        I mean, I guess, but when your employer adds to that on-foot part of the commute to save itself a few bucks in wages, it feels gratuitous. My employer puts its time clocks in the very center of the facility, so that no matter where you enter from, your walk from the parking lot needlessly inflated in order to clock in before going to your workspace. I’m sure they did it because at some point the beancounters told them how much money they could save having the time clocks there instead of at the entrances, and the net impact is that my employer leeches an entire workday’s time from its employees over the course of a year.

    7. Lauren*

      Ok, this is truly insane. They can’t just skip the security check so that is an integral requirement of their job. They would get fired for trying to leave. Would they get detained? Would that count as kidnapping? I have so many questions and feelings about this.

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, I was reading the letter like “wait, this isn’t fair at all”. When my employer still had offices and I worked in one, it was a 2-3 minute walk from the parking lot to my desk. Why would LW and their wife have to lose an extra 30 minutes of their day just driving/walking through the gate, the parking garage, and the campus, just because their employer’s campus is more spread out than mine was and has more security than mine did?

    9. Lead Balloon*

      I recently started listening to a podcast called 5-4 which is about SCOTUS decisions. The tagline is basically “this is a podcast about how much the Supreme Court sucks”. It’s both interesting and depressing.

    10. Nina*

      I’m in New Zealand and that’s the exact opposite of what our courts decided in a similar case!
      It was a meatpacking plant, and staff were told that the time it took to change from their whites to their regular clothes and back (and wash and sanitize) and get to the lunchroom from the packing floor counted as part of their break time. The court ruled that it didn’t, that preparing for work or preparing to leave work is work, and if the employer wants people to stand in a security queue, or travel a long way from where they leave their car to where they work, or put on or take off PPE, or wash or prep equipment before starting ‘work’, the employer can position their time clocks such that employees are paid for time spent doing things the employer wants them to do.

      This is normal here to the extent that when my last job moved to a new building with electronic time clocks, there was uproar over whether to put the time clock in the lunchroom (to ensure nobody’s lunch break was getting eroded by time spent safing equipment to go to lunch) or at the front gate several kilometers from the actual office (to ensure nobody’s personal time before/after work was eroded by the company’s decision to put the office there). And they ended up doing both!

  6. Alternative Person*


    You should include them and show them how you made the best of the conditions.

    I worked my way up from low tier companies to a high tier company and quite a few staff at the high tier company did the same. And having now sat on hiring panels, it is super interesting to see the candidates who realized their/their workplace’s limitations and improved themselves*, did a great job with limited resources, how they solved problems and more and I and my company definitely want to hire them.

    Honestly, I find the people who have worked in lower tier companies generally better to work with because they are used to making the most of what they have, including me. When I first started I was like, ‘What do I do with all these resources? Is this really how high tier companies roll?’.

    * I won’t lie, I find it fascinating to hear from candidates who didn’t make the best as well. Me and other panel members have definitely exchanged looks at some of the stuff we’ve heard.

    1. cabbagepants*

      This reflects my experience when I’ve done hiring, too. If your only way to solve X problem is to hand it off to the highly-competent person whose full-time job is solving X problem, then you don’t really know how to solve X problem and may flounder in an environment without so much support.

    2. Smithy*

      Absolutely this.

      I will also say that the longer anyone is in the work world, there’s more of a mixed understanding that smaller messy employers often get a larger reputation than larger messy employers because bigger places have more ability to mitigate that reputation. So while it might feel like *everyone* knows that reputation, more savvy interviewers will know that lots of people might come from their own assorted dumpster fires. And just how you talk about the experience, what you learned, etc etc etc is all valuable.

      People who come up through very large employers vs people who come up through small/medium sized employers can all have something to add over the course of their careers at different sized places. And good teams will genuinely value that diversity of experience.

      I’ve been on fundraising teams for both UN agencies as well as nonprofits – and I’ll often say that applying too many lessons from UN agency practices can be problematic because they can be using very different budgeting systems than US nonprofits. However, on occasion it can be good to know what it’s like to have that larger “administrative” budget and know what a team could do it with it. It’s never going to be on the larger “and here’s how you scale up a global department” side of life – but suggestions around adding an extra day to a group attending a conference to do a mini-internal training can go against routine thinking.

    3. dackquiri*

      +1. I’d also say specifics that don’t relate to the reputation you’re trying to escape will help your case. Nothing shakes me out of preconceived notions like new information that don’t fit into the narrative of the gossip, and also don’t seem engineered to combat it. Like, “oh, yes, this a three-dimensional person in a three-dimensional situation. How embarrassing that I tried to pigeon-hole them.”

  7. LJ*

    #5 unfortunately lots of people have to park at a garage and walk a bit to their desk. You have to find another solution for daycare pickup (maybe you can stagger it so one of you can do dropoffs and the other one do the pickups?)

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I agree. Parking and walking even on your company’s property is not working for them.

      I used to work for a government agency in a downtown area. We got parking passes for a public parking garage a few blocks away (because the one right next to the building was too expensive / full for us to use). The searching for a spot, walking a few blocks, riding the elevator up to the floor with your desk is NOT WORKING.

      Work starts (for me) in an office when I turn my computer on to begin the process to login. I’m taking the first necessary step to begin work. If it takes my computer 30 minutes to get logged in because of software updates and multiple reboots and my computer being flaky that’s work time where it sit there waiting for my computer.

      It’s a little differently working from home, though, because I wake up and turn on my computer and then wander off and do personal things then return to sign in and then wander off again to continue my morning routine. With that I consider starting work to be when I sit down at my desk and begin work or wait for my computer to finish logging in.

      1. Kayem*

        For me, the clock starts as soon as my computer is logged into my work account even if I wander off to do personal things because it takes a while for everything to finish logging in, downloading data and reports, loading messages and alerts, etc. Which was how it was when I was at work. The only difference is instead of sitting in my chair for half an hour staring at a screen and doodling cartoons on yesterday’s printouts, I can make that half hour productive by getting potential distractions dealt with.

      2. Anonymosity*

        Due to billable project activities, I must track my time now at a new job, which is something I have not done before. I set my start time as my log-in time. Opening my computer and turning it on is part of my commute, I suppose. Or moving it from one area to another before I hit the power button. My computer is not computing while it’s commuting. :)

    2. Butterfly Counter*

      In terms of getting paid for that time, it makes sense to me that it’s not part of the workday.

      However, in terms of being responsible for representing your company with your behavior, I can see that being on “their turf” could count. For example, we’ve had people asking about employees having sex in their cars in the company parking lot on their breaks. I still personally think that would be behavior that the company could make rules about. This could include other PDA activities that occur between people working at the same location while off the clock that might be frowned upon.

  8. Katie*

    IMO OP 1 you are the problem. Telling your friend they cost you a job? Hiring company may have seen something they didn’t like in you. Defensiveness comes out loud and clear. Don’t make this worse by going after the company.

    1. Ridiculous Penguin*

      It sounds like it’s in academia. If so, DEFINITELY don’t say anything. People talk A LOT in academia. It might even be the case that they already are, given your friend. Just let it go.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        I don’t see anything in it to suggest it’s academia. Lots of companies have a “campus”. Mine does.

        1. should probably pick a name*

          -flown out overnight for a second interview
          -small and tight-knit field/professional references are also close friends
          -employer’s market right now
          -‘search director’ instead of ‘hiring manager’

          Now, could any of these be true of all sorts of industries? Sure. But it’s a bit suggestive.

          1. Dr. Rebecca*

            I would agree with you, apart from the fact that academia asks for rec letters, not phone calls.

            1. Kimmy Schmidt*

              I’m in academia and we do phone calls, as do many departments at both universities I’ve worked at.

          2. Chidi has a stomach ache*

            In my experience (humanities), TT jobs usually ask for reference letters up front in the application, they don’t call anyone. If you don’t submit letters, then you wouldn’t even get an interview. That doesn’t eliminate something on administrative side of higher ed, I guess (although even there, I’d say it’s not really an employer’s market for higher ed jobs).

            1. Samwise*


              Admin, student affairs, facilities etc etc — calling references. Tenure track faculty and the like– reference letters up front.

              It is definitely not an employers’ market in academia — higher ed is bleeding staff because it can’t compete on salary, promotion, willingness to allow hybrid or remote work. Very hard to hire replacements right now, especially folks with more experience.

      2. Butterfly Counter*

        Oh, goodness, I don’t think so. I don’t know of any positions where we ask for anything but professional references. Even when students apply for grad school, we typically don’t give personal (vs. academic and professional) references any weight.

        1. amoeba*

          Yeah, but I’d think that in academia, it’s quite common that at least former coworkers are also good friends? It happens, at least in science grad school…
          Although I’ve never had any references other than my supervisors (whom I would not consider friends, for sure), I can see how that could easily happen if you ask for former coworkers.

          1. Butterfly Counter*

            Hmm. My field doesn’t have a lot of grad/post-grad work before going to a new institution. While, yes, I was good friends with my fellow cohort of grad students, even those who I worked with on research or teaching, they would never, ever be considered a reference because (again, in my field) letters of reference come from advisors or bosses. Those people who the new institution would already recognize.

            Even for grad school, we would weigh the recommendation of a TA far less than the full instructor.

      3. IEanon*

        Academia, but not the faculty side. This reads like a lot of the gripes I see on the student affairs admin side. People post things in those groups/boards that I would NEVER say for fear of coming across as unprofessional.

        But that part of the field skews younger, for the most part, and I think that’s part of what’s happening here, too.

    2. MHA*

      Yeah, there is some reaaaaally poor judgement happening in this entire friendgroup, to the point where I’m raising my eyebrows that the LW has apparently been in the workforce long enough to have 10 years of high-level experience. They could raise the issue just as a matter of pointing out a potential error in the hiring process as a favor to the organization, but I’d definitely take the opportunity to gracefully back out of the applicant pool regardless– the friend already totally dashed whatever credibility they had as a reference by overreacting and shooting off a dramatic email, so that doesn’t leave the LW in a great spot as an applicant.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This is a good point–that this read to me like a 22 year old new to interviewing, but that doesn’t mesh with 10 years of high-level experience.

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

          To me it sounds like someone who hasn’t needed to interview in 10+ years, and their interview skills haven’t kept up with hiring norms. They’ve developed a bit of maybe arrogance. Sometimes people who are later in their career are worse at job searching and interviewing than younger applicants.

        1. MHA*

          Right, but the idea is that they rejected her on mistaken grounds. If it was genuinely the case that they got her mixed up with another candidate, pointing out the mistake of “my references were never contacted” could theoretically place her back in the candidate pool– my advice was that even with that being the case, she should back out because her friend already blew any second chances for her.

  9. Ridiculous Penguin*

    #2 — It sounds like this is affecting her job performance, so this may not be relevant, but … I’m someone who has twirled their hair since toddlerhood as a stimming behavior, especially when I’m nervous or under a lot of stress. I’m fully conscious of it, and I have to work really, really hard not to do it during meetings (and I mostly succeed) — it’s also difficult for me to concentrate on my work without doing it for any stretch of time.

    Again, if it’s affecting her job performance, that’s another story.

    1. Tau*

      This was also where my first thought went, as an inveterate stimmer who used to hair-twirl when they had longer hair. The fact that coworker missed a question makes it less likely that it’s just a stim that doesn’t actually affect her focus, of course.

      OP, if you do wind up bringing this up with someone, I’d try to focus on the parts that really demonstrably impact job performance, such as missing a question or if there’s anything concrete you can point to regarding the trainees being demotivated or put off. The problem with “she twirls her hair so I assume she’s not paying attention” is that that implication isn’t actually true for everyone (cf me and Ridiculous Penguin) and can be ableist to boot (in my case it’s an autism thing) so leading with it is both iffy and, practically speaking, may not get the results you want.

      1. Random Dice*

        But even if it’s stimming, it’s still part of her professional responsibility to find a way not to do it while a presenter, and to pay attention.

        Tie back / pin her hair, and replace it with a discreet fidget (fidget ring, fidget pen, etc.).

        I say this as someone with ADHD who both fidgets in order to focus, and can easily wander off mentally. It’s my responsibility to deal with my neurodiversity in order to get my job done.

    2. Elle*

      I came here to say this as well. People tend to be aware that playing with hair etc is not considered “best professional behaviour” (anyone remember Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office and its mantra of “every time I touch my hair I remove ten years from my credibility”? Yikes)

      Which tends to mean that if someone is playing with their hair, it is serving a specific purpose for them — often a stim or another way of dealing with nervousness, overwhelm, etc.

      I do agree that if it’s impacting performance then it’s more of an issue (although I do this and it helps me pay attention!), but I’d consider treating this with a touch of empathy.

      1. JSPA*

        Running further with that thought–

        Even if it’s that she IS checked out, mentally, it’ll be easier if the default assumption is, “she’s apparently dealing with something that’s making it hard to look focused and be focused at the same time” rather than, “she’s a flake.”

        It’s very hard to walk back a hard-nosed attitude (or to un-know awkward information that you’d rather not know about your coworker) if it turns out that the person was dealing with major personal upheaval, and you came in so hot that they felt put on the spot, and thus awkwardly chose to share whatever. (They just found out their sister is now homeless and on meth / their dad’s last cancer biopsy was dire / their relationship is imploding / the whole family had all their money invested in FTX tokens, and may now all become homeless and unable to retire, at once / some other thing you really didn’t want or need to know.)

        Or, yeah, their ADD meds ran out a month ago, and they’re doing an incredible job holding it together for their own presentation.

        “Hey, I want to be sympathetic without prying. Except when you’re presenting–when it’s fine–it feels like your focus isn’t very intense at the moment, such that questions from our students sometimes sail right by. That feels awkward. It leaves me wondering if I should jump in to answer questions on your stuff, or should repeat the question, pointing it at you, or what, plus I worry that the students will judge us on it. Can we brainstorm how to either make those disconnected moments not happen, or how deal with them smoothly, when they do happen?”

        You may get total denial. Oh well…you tried. Someone else will have to make it their hill to die on.

        You may get a (not too explicit) life-stuff explanation, e.g. “I’m working on next-to-no sleep for a variety of reasons, and this is about the best I expect to be able to do, for the next [timeframe], but we could try a coffee-and-stretch break at the 45 minute mark, and see if that helps.”

        You may get, “It’s medical, I’d rather not share.”

        You may get something completely structural and work related, e.g. “The timing is dreadful, relative to some immovable tasks, that trap me here until 8 PM, twice a week; I don’t intend to be rude about it, of course, but I get increasingly resentful and panicked as the minutes tick by. If you were willing to split the session so that I could leave after 20 minutes on Mondays and Wednesdays, it would make my schedule dramatically more efficient.”

        But in general, “this feels sub-optimal, is it fixable, and if so, can we collaborate to fix it” is a good start.

          1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

            I can’t imagine not being bored listening to the same training over and over again.

            1. Happy meal with extra happy*

              But, if doing that training is literally your job, it doesn’t matter if you’re internally bored or not. I’m not sure the point of your comment other than trying to justify that it’s okay for her to appear visibly bored/checked out?

              1. UKDancer*

                Yes, I was a tour guide in a stately home. I used to give the same tour every time, sometimes several times per day. Part of the job of a guide, like the job of a trainer is to sound engaged and interested in what you’re saying even if you’re repeating something for the 500th time.

                It’s not a job you should do if you can’t look engaged / involved.

              2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                And if this is the trainer – and the zoning out impacts the students it’s something to raise – with the focus being on how it’s impacting the students.

                I’ve also seen this from the student side – with the students being the person fidgeting. The best trainer I had said something along the lines of “we’re all adults and different. All I ask is stay engaged and if you have active fidget tendencies please sit in the back so as to minimize the impact on your fellow students.”

              3. WellRed*

                My comment is in response to a very lengthy comment about all the imagined issues (ADD! Biopsy! Cryptocurrency!) that could be going on with the checked out coworker and pointing out that it may be a much simpler issue. At any rate, it doesn’t matter what the reason is.

        1. Allonge*

          I agree with your overall point (go into the discussion with an open mind and not with a direct attack).

          On the other hand, OP’s colleague is a fully grown adult who is or should be capable of addressing the scenarios you bring up, especially over time. Meaning, if someone is close to breaking down because they have too much on their plate, the appropriate reaction is to talk about scheduling with their co-trainer before the training, not to blank out during; if someone is distraught due to personal circumstances, they can mention it in the beginning of the training and apologise etc.

          Plenty of people go about their lives with a reasonable projection of being there at work while handling situations you describe. No, we are not robots, but our behavior has consequences. And this was not a one-off, OP mentions multiple occasions.

          1. JSPA*

            It’s a bit like the studies showing that the vast majority of people who think they are multitasking really are not doing so. A lot of people think that they’re holding it together better than they actually are… because (catch-22) the moments when you zone out are the moments when you don’t have decent self-awareness.

            Nowhere did I say that there should be no consequences. Just that the first approach should be open-minded and collaborative.

            1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

              nod. if the LW goes in with an attitude they might just ruin the relationship and not get any improvement.

    3. Allonge*

      It sounds like the main issue here is that once coworker is not presenting, she appears checked out – and she actually is in some cases, e.g. not responding to direct questions.

      So the hair twirling and other behavior just makes this very obvious – they are not the main issue, they are a symptom. The problem is not that she is touching her hair, it’s that whatever is going on, she is doing things that are distracting to participants and herself too.

      I would suggest to make her aware of this, as there are a lot of times when someone – because they are under stress or whatever – is not quite aware of the impact hteir behavior has on others.

      1. Elle*

        You make some good points, but let’s be clear: the key issue is her *being* checked out, not whether she *appears* checked out.

        As people have made clear in this thread, there are plenty of folks who can appear checked out without being checked out (although a lot of workplaces are pretty staid and won’t acknowledge or accept that).

        1. Havissa*

          Not necessarily – when you are a trainer, as these people are, optics matter! Whether you are mentally checked out or not, if your behavior looks like it then that negatively impacts the people you are training, makes your co-presenter look worse, and is likely to result in poorer evaluations from the trainees and impact your company’s reputation.

          1. Phryne*

            I agree with this. It would be different if she were just a participant or a listner in a meeting or sontehing like that, but she is not. She is in front of a group that are looking to her for training. The fact that another person is currently having the floor does not mean her job is over, she is still there in front of the group representing her employer. And it sounds like her behaviour is distracting to the people there to learn. So in this case it does matter if she appears to check out, regardless of whether she is or not.
            I wonder if OP could discuss with her if she can go and sit at the back of the room after her bit is finished. That way her actions and demeanour can not be easily seen by the people following the training. It would not solve the problem of her missing a question, but is she is not seen being absent before the question came, a simple reply of ‘sorry I was distracted by something for a moment, what was the question’ is no big deal.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              This is a very easily implemented suggestion, and I like it.

              It could be done by both presenters, could let them relax a bit, and even gives them a different perspective on the students –if they are using screens, are they following along appropriately for one example.

            2. londonedit*

              Yes – it probably is boring for her to stand there at the front listening to OP’s bit of the presentation, and people can find it difficult to stand there without doing anything. If she’s heard the OP’s bit a million times before, it’s easy to imagine that she might absentmindedly tune out. Of course in an ideal world she wouldn’t, but it’s easy to imagine that she might. If it’s possible for her to go and sit down once her bit is finished, at least she wouldn’t be standing up in front of everyone looking like she’s drifting off into space.

            3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

              Honestly, I believe mere participants in trainings & meetings have have a responsibility to appear checked in if the presenter can see them. Part of the point having things like this in person instead of a recorded training video is that the presenter can see the audience and react to them. When they look confused, explain more. When they are engaged, keep going with that. When they are bored, try to be less boring. A good presenter should be paying as much attention to their audience as their wording.

              A visible audience is unavoidably giving real-time feedback to the presenter. They should make sure that feed back isn’t “my hair is more interesting than you.”

              Now, this doesn’t quite apply to the hair-twirling co-presenter, since OP doesn’t care whether she learns anything. But she’s still part of the feedback loop between the audience and the presenter and among the audience too.

              It’s the difference between watching a comedy show on youtube and watching one from the audience when you are surrounded by laughing people.

          2. Allonge*

            Yes – it’s a bigger issue for her to be checked out than for her to appear so, but both are a problem that if I were her manager, I would address.

        2. Allonge*

          You don’t need to be a boring so-and-so to expect that a trainer in an ongoing training both appears to be and is present, by and large. Of course if there is an emergency or whatever, they can step out, but if they are in the room, it’s not a free for all just because someone else is talking.

          Especially as whatever she doing seems to be actively distracting to the participants (to be honest I am not sure what a person would need to be doing with their hair for it to rise to the level OP describes – I have seen plenty of people twirl their long hair but it was never an Issue).

          If this is stimming or similar, that of course makes changing the behavior a lot more difficult, but that is not a reason not to address it – there might be other solutions.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            If she’s distracted to the point of missing direct questions and she’s the trainer, it’s a problem, regardless of whether it’s stimming or self-soothing or sleep-deprivation or Mercury being in retrograde or being an empath or whatever the thing this week is.

            I had a coworker who did the same thing with her hair when presenting and it was very distracting. She was an otherwise great speaker and she did try to stop when it was commented on, but she didn’t realize she was doing it. I’ll never know why she just didn’t throw it into a braid or a ponytail while presenting, instead of keeping it over her shoulder and stroking it like a pet the whole time.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I agree, the trainer playing with her hair is probably annoying and maybe weird to witness (and I say this as someone who also plays with their hair a lot and has a tendency to pull it out when I don’t have something else to do with my hands) (which is annoying to ME but the only solution I have is to redirect since actually NOT doing this apparently isn’t possible) but it’s a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. The problem is that she isn’t paying any attention, which is a big problem as evidenced by someone asking her a question and her not realizing she was being asked. She is mentally checked out and no matter the reason why (she could be playing on her phone or daydreaming about her upcoming vacation or even working on a different work task) she needs to fix that problem. The hair stuff is just a red herring.

        If OP has a boss who is in charge of the training who is not this coworker, it might be worth bringing up with that boss. Not in a tattling sort of way, but more just to flag for the boss that it might be worth it for boss to discuss with the coworker what might be going on. But that’s only if OP feels comfortable doing so; it might harm your relationship with the coworker and if you don’t want to go that route I can totally understand why you wouldn’t.

  10. Anon for this one (coworkers know my usual commenting name)*

    I think something very fishy is going on with the company interviewing LW#1; significantly more so than the answer takes into account. Maybe I’ve been living/working in too toxic of an area for too long (absolutely trying to change this), but this screams to me that the company wants to recruit in an actively discriminatory way, but also wants plausible deniability in doing so. I can’t put my finger on exactly what, but this got my spider senses tingling. It’s the same feeling I get whenever my office talks about “culture fit” which somehow always excludes people who have worked here for 5+ years, while simultaneously including people who have never worked professionally but went to the local conservative, religious college.

    1. Don De*

      Oh dear. I think you are in a bad situation and it is impacting your interpretation of other situations – when you only have a hammer, everything’s a nail, right? I hope you can find a new position soon so this environment stops warping your perceptions, as that’s not a good place to be in for your career or your health and well-being.

      1. Melissa*

        Absolutely. For one thing, telling an obvious lie that is going to be discovered in under 5 minutes is not a “plausible” way to reject someone. That would make no sense at all.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      They could just say “We’re going to repost the position to find someone with more experience in X and Y.” There’s no need to introduce any reason that the OP can easily prove false.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        They don’t have to give any reason at all. In fact, I’ve had very few rejections that gave a reason. Heck, I’ve had very few rejections where they bothered to tell me I was rejected rather than just ghosting me.

    3. Kella*

      If the company is trying to cover up intentional discrimination, they’re doing a very bad job of it by citing reasons that are incredibly easy to disprove with basic fact-checking.

      If you know your company has a habit of discriminating in hiring practices, it makes sense to expect that. But if you don’t know of any existing patterns in a company like the one L1 is discussing, it’s not a good idea to jump to the most malicious intentioned explanation. It’s a much more likely answer that there’s been a misunderstanding: Names or resumes got mixed up, someone said they made the call when they didn’t, listed contact info was wrong, etc.

  11. Ellis Bell*

    OP1’s situation really doesn’t sound like a lie, and I tend to expect lies as a matter of course in rejection situations. I think one of the things dating and interviewing have in common is when one party is disengaging, you tend to hear the most mildly common lies; things that may well be true, but you believe them when you see them, like: “I’ll call you”. There are so many more appropriate lies an employer could say in the course of a rejection if they were inclined to do that. Mild, vague, well mannered lies you can’t possibly disprove and which politeness compels you accept. Saying that your references didn’t get back to them is easily disproven and creates a boatload of drama, when lies are usually employed to avoid that sort of drama. It’s far more likely that they believed what they saying, perhaps because of crossed wires, and meant to warn you.

    1. MsM*

      I dunno. They already offered up LW’s lack of experience that isn’t actually lacking as an alternative reason. I think it’s entirely possible they just plain have no idea what they’re doing. (Although given that possibility, not only am I not sure why LW was so quick to take them at their word about the references thing, I think LW should probably consider it a blessing in disguise this didn’t work out and just walk away unless directly asked for an opinion by a contact who’s considering working there.)

      1. Flan*

        One of the possibilities offered above about the references never being contacted was they they mixed up the LW with another candidate. If that is the case, that might also explain why they rejected them for not having experience they actually had.

        1. Butterfly Counter*

          But wouldn’t references for other candidates also answer the phone? I get that they may not call back when a voicemail is asking for information “Bob” when they were prepared to give a reference for “Sue.” But I think at least one might call back and say, “I want to talk about Sue for a reference, but you asked about Bob.”

          It sounds more like a case of either transposed numbers or, as another commenter upthread hypothesized, they called the companies listed in the references themselves and asked about “Bob” and never got a callback.

          1. Pretty as a Princess*

            I could easily see someone just not picking up or calling back and I would think that would be the norm these days rather than the exception.

            I don’t answer calls from unknown numbers, and I would probably not call back someone who asked for a reference for someone I did not know. If I can’t verify some other way that you have a legit need to speak with me, I will just delete the VM. (I’ve gotten plenty of mystery calls that turned out to be collection agencies looking for a relative.)

            If I did have reason to return the call (like I verify the company is legit and my spidey senses tell me the call was in error) I would definitely not volunteer the name of someone instead. I’d just say “I think you have the wrong number. I don’t know Bob Bagodonuts.”

            1. Ama*

              I agree that people are far more cautious about messages from strangers these days, especially when there have been so many warnings about scams where people contact you by “mistake” and then engage you in a friendly conversation to pull you into their scheme when you try to let them know.

              I could definitely see either 1) the actual references were contacted but something about the format of the message seemed suspicious so they wrote it off as spam (it could have even been labeled as a telemarketer number by their phone — that’s what kept happening to us with our moving company recently). or 2) a wrong number was dialed (or the wrong references were called) and because the name mentioned wasn’t familiar the references didn’t call them back.

          2. EvilQueenRegina*

            That assumes they made the connection with Sue – if Sue had just had the conversation with them about them providing a reference in general, without any specific mention of company “Llamas R Us”, and they then got a voicemail asking about a reference for Bob whoever, it is possible they could have just thought “wrong number” and left it, not realising that was the company Sue applied to.

            And just as I typed that out I realised that the guy OP confronted could have possibly made the connection at that point when he went back and doubled checked.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        I’m honestly wondering if it is possible there’s been a mix up and OP got the feedback meant for a different candidate altogether.

        Something along those lines did happen in my old job, where several candidates were interviewed but at the time, they didn’t appoint. Candidate “Cecil” asked for some feedback, candidate “Fergus” wanted to pursue a formal complaint. Someone in HR got mixed up and left a message about the complaint on Cecil’s voicemail instead of Fergus’s, and Cecil then called back very confused because he’d never intended to take it as far as a complaint.

        1. Kelly L.*

          This is what I think. Some other candidate’s references didn’t respond, and the person who talked to OP got them mixed up. They probably didn’t get to the point of a reference check with OP.

      3. Colette*

        We don’t know that the OP’s experience wasn’t lacking. She says she has 10 years high-level experience, but that doesn’t mean she has the specific experience they want. To use a simple example, someone can have 10 years experience making pivot tables in Excel, but no experience writing macros or doing mail merges.

        (Or maybe she does have 10 years of the exact experience, but they have another candidate with 15, or one with 5 who they think will stick around longer.)

        1. Dust Bunny*

          they needed someone with significant experience in two particular areas (in which I have over 10 years of high level experience, which they knew).

          The original post says she has it.

          I’m leaning toward “mixed her up with another candidate” as the simplest explanation, which doesn’t say great things about their organizational skills but sometimes bad/dumb things happen.

          1. metadata minion*

            This isn’t intended as not taking the LW at their word, but sometimes “high level” can mean different things in different situations. Or “yes, you’ve done high-level work in X, but it’s mostly been with A and B elements, and we’re really hoping to find someone with experience in C”. Which you’d hope they’d more explicitly spell out if that’s the case, but people don’t always bother to do that.

          2. Cmdrshpard*

            “with significant experience in two particular areas” the term significant experience can be slightly subjective.

            To OP 10 years is significant, but company might be thinking we want someone with 15/20 years of experience.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes — it’s really common for people to get that feedback and it doesn’t mean “you have no experience in X”; it means “we want more or more impressive experience in X.” Or it’s a way of saying “you have experience in X but we hired someone who has more/better experience in X.”

        3. Irish Teacher*

          Yup, as a teacher, “another candidate had more experience in the area” can mean something like “a lot of your ten years of experience teaching history has been to higher level classes and most of the classes you would be teaching here will be ordinary level” or “your experience has largely been in all-girls’ schools whereas this is a mixed school” or “we have another candidate who has experience marking the Leaving Cert. which you don’t have” or “we have another candidate whose second subject is Irish and that would be very useful because we are short of Irish teachers”.

          I’m guessing there are similar things in most jobs. “You’ve worked largely on high-budget projects while our budget is tiny and we are concerned you haven’t much experience in stretching the expenses the way we have to” for example. Some of this stuff is even hard to gauge until you are doing the job.

      4. MigraineMonth*

        I’ve had some head-scratching moments due to weird rejection reasons, but the only thing you can do is thank them for letting you know and maybe put in a correction to the record for the future.

    2. Generic Name*

      I feel like there’s a good chance the company called the references and just hung up and didn’t bother to leave a message when the references didn’t answer. Lots of people don’t answer unknown numbers and lots of people never leave voicemail messages.

  12. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (references ‘didnt call the employer back’) – this seems such a disprovable lie that I think there has to be another explanation. Perhaps they have sought out other “references” than the ones you supplied (based on their knowledge of who ‘should’ be a reference – is this a university, since there was mention of a campus?) and those people didn’t respond to an out of the blue reference request?

    1. KateM*

      If the employer knew that these references were OP’s best friends, would they even call these?

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I honestly think the company confused LW1 with some other candidate, since there was a mix-up with both experience and references.

      LW’s reaction is simply over-the-top.

      1. The Person from the Resume*

        Given how over-the-top the LW’s reactions were, I’d also consider the possibility that the LW may have come across like that in the interviews and this was a misguided attempt to gently let down the LW and to prevent the LW from argueing the point that they’re too hot-headed, reactionary or over-the-top.

        They shold have kept it vague, though, “more experience” meaning “more experience than you have.”

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Yeah I can see this. Maybe even trying to push off the blame because they were expecting a strong response and wanted to dodge it?

          Still not great, but given the amount of information here and how OP is handling this…I could see it.

        2. The House On The Rock*

          I had this thought as well.

          A lot of the commenters don’t think that an organization would tell such an easy-to-verify lie, but I’m not so sure. Especially if LW read as abrasive or volatile and the recruiter felt put on the spot, they might have grasped what sounded reasonable in the moment.

          Alison has spoken in the past about how people blurt out all kinds of weird things, including outright falsehoods, when under stress. It’s unfortunate, but hardly impossible, that the recruiter felt pushed to justify their decision (especially since it’s likely LW was pushing them for more) and came up with “none of your references called back”.

  13. AusLibrarian*

    Re the question from OP3- I worked with my spouse in a 200+ person library within a larger organisation (10 000+ staff). It was relatively manageable when we were both at similar levels but in different departments which meant we rarely interacted. The minute one of us moved higher, it became very difficult, and he actually ended up leaving the organisation. I know there were times I was kept out of communication loops that I should have been in, because the (toxic) organisation thought we couldn’t be trusted. I also know that sometimes people wouldn’t be critical of one of us in front of the other (in rare meetings we did attend together, it wasn’t uncommon for us to professionally disagree with one another). It can work, but may not be the healthiest thing for your relationship.

    1. High Score!*

      This! I’ve worked in small companies where there were married couples. I remember one in particular, the couple thought they were professional at work but they were blind to all the personal stuff they brought to the office. It was uncomfortable for everyone else. The company eventually went out of business.

    2. Llama Llama*

      I worked with my husband when we first started dating and he was higher up than me (we didn’t work together). We kept it quiet because we didn’t want there to be blowback. He found a better job a few months after that.
      While we actually work well with each other and even thrived together during lockdown, I don’t know how well it would have been long-term and that is mostly because of other people.
      We worked for a large company too. If it was 15 people only, I think it would only be worse.

    3. too many relatives*

      I worked in an academic department with two married couples and someone who was an in-law of one of the couples. I don’t know how it worked out for them but it felt pretty awkward for me.

    4. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      To offer the counterpoint to most stories on this topic: I worked at a small office (20ish people + 5 in the warehouse) with my partner, and it was fine. He’d been working there for a few years, and right after I finished grad school someone with a mandatory role quit (think llama inspections). I had experience and qualifications for this, so I offered to come on contract cover while they hired…and they were lazy and I was lazy (and anxious and depressed) and ending up staying close to three years. Our roles were close enough that we were in meetings together 2-3 times per week, and anyone else in my role would have reported to my partner (thankfully the org was smart enough to prevent that). We often ate lunch together, but made sure to eat with others too, and maintained work-level friendships separately with others. Partner asked a few close friends to flag if our relationship was ever causing problems, and we never heard anything.

      I know it’s hard to tell from the inside, but I really think that it was fine all around, and I was definitely oversensitive at that time (see: anxiety, depression, also attachment issues). So I do think it can be done, with care, as long as you leave your crap at home (and also save the gossiping for home too, or at least until you pull out of the parking lot).

      Anyhow, to finish the story, that place suuucked and as soon as we got married and the wedding planning (and financial concerns) were over, we realized we could quit and go on a 3 month honeymoon adventure, and ended up with way better careers and mental health for having left.

  14. Lilo*

    I did once have a new admin tell a reference checker my reference wouldn’t talk to them, which just wasn’t correct. It was bizarre but fortunately easily fixed.

  15. HonorBox*

    I would absolutely stand down, LW1. You sound really charged up about this situation and calling this situation out in public may cause more issue than what it is worth.

    This situation sounds either like an unfortunate misunderstanding within the hiring committee (someone misinterpreted what someone else said) or a misstated small untruth that we all have been told or all yell at some point. Because you could pick up the phone and call your references to disprove what you were told, I can’t imagine that is what actually happened. My guess is that there was a different reason that they weren’t going to get into with you – there was a better fit within the organization for instance – and this was a poor way of explaining the decision. Because honestly, if a reference didn’t call back and you were the top candidate, that’s not likely to be the disqualifying factor.

    You’re absolutely within your rights to be disappointed. And I’m sorry this didn’t work out for you.

    Also you’d be fine contacting the organization to mention that you were given a particular reason that proved to not be the case. There may be some confusion on their end they need to figure out going forward.

    But don’t be angry with your references. And I would highly suggest not assuming the worst from the organization. There’s probably a reasonable explanation and it isn’t sinister.

    1. MsM*

      Good point on non-responding references probably not being a disqualifying factor unless they’d already made up their minds. I’ve had prospective employers reach out to say, “hey, we couldn’t get in touch with X; who’s next on your list?” And in LW’s case, it’s not even like the clock was ticking on their first choice while they sorted it out; they just didn’t want anyone on offer.

    2. Melissa*

      And stop assuming the worst of *everyone*— the letter writer sent an accusatory text to her friend as soon as she heard from the recruiter!

      LW, in like 99% of life’s situations, it is much better to ask “Wow I’m really confused and upset, can you help me understand what happened?” rather than “How could you do this to me??”

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This! Start by seeking to understand instead of seeking to cast blame.

        LW1’s reactions are a really good way to shoot yourself in the foot.

      2. HonorBox*

        Good catch on “everyone” versus just the organization. Thank you. You’re 100% correct. :)

      3. Colette*

        Yeah, agreed. Assuming the worst of people is not a healthy way to live, and it will get in your way.

        I think it’s also important to remember that you are not owed the job. The organization can decide not to hire you for whatever reason they want (assuming it’s not illegal discrimination). You can be disappointed; you can even think they made a mistake. But “calling them out” is just going to convince them – and anyone else who sees it – that they made the right choice.

      4. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yeah. I want to give OP the benefit of the doubt that this was an emotionally charged situation (job hunting often is!) and they reacted to their friend and wrote this letter before they got a clear head. But I’m not convinced. I hope they take Alison’s advice to heart and do some soul searching.

    3. GrooveBat*

      Yeah, I hate to say it, but if they had *really* wanted to hire LW1 they would have tried harder to reach those references or else alerted LW to the issue and asked for different names.

      This seems like a case of “they just weren’t that into you.”

  16. Falling Diphthong*

    OP1, I never advocate time travel. So your option here is to gracefully move on.

    If something similar happens in the future, a more productive approach would be the one Alison outlined:
    1) Say something like “Gosh that’s surprising, it doesn’t sound like them.”
    2) Contact your references and check if they were contacted. Immediately. If they say no:
    3) Contact the would-be employer, very soon after they told you they couldn’t reach any reference, and tell them that your references both checked and there have been no attempts to contact them, seems something went astray, here is the contact info again.

    The generic advice for situations like this is “Give the person/org a chance to provide a reasonable explanation before you start yelling at people.” If 90% of the time it’s as bad as it seems, the 10% that you don’t set in yelling at people like a hothead is going to help your reputation a lot.

  17. MsM*

    LW4: I think you are overestimating the degree to which “everyone” has a set impression of what the people who work for your previous employers are like. If these companies are in fact ubiquitous enough to have developed those stereotypes in the general public consciousness, that dysfunction is almost certainly going to be blamed on the company itself. And if the problem is that you’re in a small field/geographic location and everyone just keeps cycling through the same few employers…maybe it’s time for a change of pace?

    1. Melissa*

      I noticed this too! Also, advice for the OP, do not go into interviews with this attitude. When you described your jobs, in both roles, you claimed to be the ONLY good employee they had. Ponder that for a moment. Even if it’s true, how does that claim come across to others?

      1. Expelliarmus*

        The OP seems to be pretty aware that claiming to be the “only good employee” isn’t a good look, hence their letter.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Agreed. Even if the company did find out later that they made a mistake and were able to offer LW a job, they certainly wouldn’t after being responded to like this. If this is what you’re like before you get the job, we can only imagine what you’re like after you get the job and something doesn’t go your way.


      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Even if OP is letting off steam here and would have handled an actual interaction with the employer professionally, the friend’s response almost certainly sealed the deal. I hope OP is able to hear the pushback here and move forward with a cool head.

  18. AnonyNurse*

    A note on timekeeping: if you have to wear a uniform and that uniform is only available at your worksite, then you clock in before getting dressed. “Donning and doffing” are work time in the US. A prime example is hospital scrubs. If you work on a medical floor and must wear your own scrubs, you don’t get paid for dressing. If you work in the OR and have to get clean scrubs at the start of your shift, you do get paid for dressing.

    1. lilsheba*

      One thing I’ve always found to be nuts is that flight attendants aren’t paid for the time they spend getting the plane ready, and getting passengers aboard and all the pre flight stuff. They get paid when the plane leaves the ground. STUPID. That is so much work they are getting out of people for free.

        1. Constance*

          It makes a lot of sense if you’re the airline and think of flight attendants as an expense, rather than as one of the primary assets to your brand.

  19. New Yorker*

    LW2. I would mind my own business. Seems like the person is bored. I think LW2 need to deal with her own issue of being distracted.

    1. tg33*

      Since they are presenting together, and everyone else is distracted, it is their problem.

    2. Madame X*

      It actually is there a problem because they are presenting together. The co-presenter is so checked out that she doesn’t even respond when people directly address questions to her. That’s unacceptable. Whatever issues the hair twirler has got going on, she needs to find a better way to manage them when she’s presenting in front of trainees.

    3. Snerk*

      I think you got distracted and didn’t actually finish reading the letter and its response here…

  20. KatEnigma*

    LW1 is an illustration why Hiring Managers ghost people they aren’t going to hire.

    I wonder if LW showed some of that side of her personality during the interview, and that’s why they opted to go in a different direction. Even if it was a lie, did you press them for a reason and not accept their “other direction” nicety? I have a feeling there is more to the story that LW left out.

    1. HonorBox*

      Great point. “We are going in another direction” or “we found someone who had more applicable experience” or some other generality keeps the conversation very high level and enables everyone to move on. If someone like the LW is calling their references out and considering some sort of calling out of the employer, I can’t imagine that the conversation would go well at all if the communication letting them know they didn’t get the job included specific bullet points for why they weren’t hired.

    2. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’m not in favor of ghosting, and I don’t do it, but I’ve definitely had candidates where my insides get all twisty and I spend time constructing the most vague and professional email I can to give them very little ammo to latch onto – because you just know it’s going to go like this.

      And in the rare case someone actually does take to social media, or harass the committee, or otherwise cause a huge fuss – those people are automatically blacklisted from future hiring processes, and usually shoot themselves in the foot with other employers who see it (I’m in a tight industry). They also, without fail, were in the no pile, not the maybe pile, to begin with.

    3. Shsndra*

      I was ghosted by a firm which couldn’t give even the different-direction reason. We interviewees all knew they’d decided to start their search over, this time for cheaper candidates.

    4. GrooveBat*

      I am imagining they already had decided against LW and did the bare minimum to check the references, i.e., maybe called and did not leave a message.

  21. DomaneSL5*

    LW1: I don’t think your reaction is really that off. I would look up the school on Glassdoor and leave a review of your experience interviewing with them.

    1. Martin*

      Seriously? You think immediately accusing your friend of sabotaging your chances and one of them emailing the company is the right move?

    2. HonorBox*

      And what good is going to come of that? There are so many possible explanations for what happened (look upthread for some) that writing a review and accusing them of a lie is only going to look petty.

  22. Fishsticks*

    Oof, I am autistic and I know I definitely tend to dissociate during the workday and engage in my stims, one of which is actually a particular way of messing with my hair! But I make a concerted effort to ‘mask’ in large meetings or presentations and can suppress it for that amount of time. I think there is definitely an issue if she’s not able to be present enough to even answer questions. Allison’s advice to bring it up without being hostile or aggressive, just pointing out the issue, seems good to me. She may not even realize she’s doing these things, or at least not that they are particularly noticeable. Plus, it could also be stress-induced if she has some stressful stuff going on, and getting the reminder may help her to pay more attention in the future.

    For LW4, there is a call center in my city that is a running joke. Everyone works there but nobody works there for more than six months. I have actually bonded with interviewers who had also worked in that awful hellscape! It’s worth having on your resume, because you can use it to build up your presentation of your skills and experience but you may find that your employer knows the place is awful and can joke with you about it.

    1. Ama*

      I do wonder, for the hair twirler, if she needs to be reminded “hey part of our role in doing these trainings is following the discussion and being ready for questions even when you aren’t actively presenting.” It kind of seems like she’s treating it like a general staff meeting where if she isn’t talking she doesn’t have any active responsibilities and that’s not really the case here.

  23. High Score!*

    OP3: Working at the same place as your spouse is a bad idea. I’ve worked at multiple places with married couples. They all think they act professional but are blind to the personal stuff they bring to the workplace. In large companies, when working in different departments that don’t interact, it’s not a big deal. In tiny companies, it’s awful for everyone else.
    One place I worked had a married couple who were sure of their professionalism. Everyone else tried to avoid them. When it went out of business, they were both without a job. My husband worked elsewhere so only one of us was unemployed.

    1. Expelliarmus*

      I think it depends on how big the company is. My company is a pretty big one, and there are multiple married couples that work there (including my parents). Many of them don’t even have work where they would see each other by chance, so it’s pretty easy to keep things professional.

      1. The Original K.*

        Yeah, I think the size of the org matters. If a married couple works in different departments of a large multinational organization, that’s very different than a 15-person company. It was the 15-person size that had me thinking “Nope.”

      2. metadata minion*

        Yeah, I worked with a married couple for a while and didn’t realize they were married for ages. They were in different departments and so didn’t really interact professionally, and while I will cheerfully admit that I can be very oblivious to this sort of thing, I never heard anyone else complain or gossip about them.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      We’ve had married couples at my job but in completely separate departments and they were fine, but at least couple got hit in a round of restructuring/layoffs and both lost their jobs in close succession, which for me would be reason enough not to work in the same place as my spouse. We’re only about 40 people.

    3. Alannagranger*

      I think in some circumstances it could be OK, but this one seems risky, for your professional lives and also your relationship.

      Two people at the same level who don’t share a manager but need to collaborate occasionally can be a difficult relationship to navigate. If it’s going well, it’s great, but if there are differences of opinion about strategy, time investment, or prioritization, it can be awkward when there’s no common manager or hierarchy to help indicate who’s the decider. Personally, no matter how much I like problem-solving with my spouse outside the office, I wouldn’t want to work with him (or even a personal friend from outside work) in that capacity.

  24. theletter*

    LW1, I’m with you on the ::FLAMES! FLAMES ON THE SIDE OF MY FACE:: vibes, and I’ll share what it is for anyone who’s confused.

    The hiring manager essentially accused your references of dropping the ball, and by extension, you yourself for not providing enough communication to your references.

    This is not some little white lie that one can politely accept as a reason for rejection. They did not do their due diligence. They were the ones who failed on their part. FLAMES! FLAMES!

    I get the appropriate reaction is to calmly and kindly attempt to make them aware that there was some misunderstanding and broken arrow in their system. I wish there was more than could be offered to quench the fire, aside from a fact-based glassdoor review, and to tell oneself that if their hiring process is this disorganized, maybe this organization is too dysfunctional to give credence to your hirability. You had already decided not to accept the offer – moving on and getting and getting an amazing job at a place that employs people with spines would be the best form of revenge.

    I think you should feel free to bring it up to your friends and colleagues if they ask – but not in the space of a formal complaint. Think of it as something that might be worth mentioning as a cocktail hour story, and let them make of it what they will. If you explain it calmly under the guise of swapping industry notes, they’ll understand your point.

    1. Colette*

      People make mistakes. If you freak out and overreact to mistakes, that’s on you – and it makes them less likely to help you fix them.

      And we don’t know that they did make a mistake. Yes, the OP’s friend said she hadn’t heard from them after the OP called her out, but maybe she doesn’t answer numbers that aren’t saved in her phone’s contacts, or she did hear from them and didn’t reply, or didn’t give a glowing reference because the OP is hostile, or maybe they asked how she knew the OP and she said “we’re friends” and they moved on to someone else who didn’t reply. Or maybe the OP gave them the wrong number in the first place.

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Yup, things like this happen. They’re not great, but they happen, and they’re usually not worth escalating.

      A few years ago I spoke to a recruiter about a job in my field. I was pretty well qualified. The recruiter was up front with me that this wasn’t her usual field but the company was her client for other roles and they asked her to take it on. She emailed me and said that the company didn’t want to interview me because they needed someone with experience in X and not Y. My experience was ENTIRELY in X and I had never worked in Y. I expressed my confusion, and she asked me to write something clarifying to share with the hiring manager, which I did. Got the same answer. It was… highly frustrating. I won’t say it was infuriating, because I wasn’t that enraged, but I could not believe what was happening.

      And then I let it go. Because what else could I do? Did the recruiter do me wrong? Maybe, but not maliciously. It was a whole lot of miscommunication. The only thing I could do was thank her and move on and never pass along her job postings (we’re connected on LinkedIn) to any of my qualified friends.

    3. londonedit*

      Of course it’s frustrating, but jumping straight to ‘How could they do this to me?’ on the part of their friends, and ‘beyond disrespectful’ on the part of the company, is definitely OTT. So is immediately accusing a friend of ‘costing them an offer’ etc. All this talk of ‘disrespectful’ and ‘calling people out’ is just too much. These things happen, job searches are frustrating, and it really isn’t healthy to take things as personally as the OP has done. They could easily have contacted their friend with a reasonable message saying ‘Hey, just checking whether anyone at Llamas Inc contacted you for a reference? They’ve said they couldn’t get through to you, which I’m surprised by, so I’m wondering whether something’s gone wrong’. They could also easily have replied to the company with a reasonable message saying ‘I was surprised to hear that you were unable to contact my references and am disappointed that this ultimately led to me being unsuccessful in my application; I would have appreciated it if you had contacted me so that I could look into the matter’. There’s absolutely no need for all the histrionics and cries of ‘disrespectful!!!’.

    4. Random Dice*

      This really isn’t a “FLAMES! FLAMES!” kind of situation.

      This is a private “wait what?!” situation, after which one immediately *and politely* reaches out to one’s references to *ask* their version, then *politely* responds to the hiring manager with the true facts.

      This OP is a hothead who way overreacted, lashed out at a friend, and is now trying to burn everything down.

    5. Critical Rolls*

      This is taking things way, way too personally. Annoyance? Sure, even disgust. But “How DARE they treat ME like THAT??? VENGEANCE WILL BE MINE!!!” is a seriously over-the-top emotional reaction. And apparently it’s the LW’s default, as they turned their flamethrower on their friend and reference without a moment of hesitation, never mind verifying events.

      If the hiring process is disorganized, that’s not personal. If they saw something in the interview and fumbled the rejection, well… you proved them right by flying off the handle at least twice over this.

    6. HonorBox*

      Do we know that the references that OP accused of costing them the job are indeed the ones that didn’t respond? Do we know that those two references didn’t just choose to not answer a number that wasn’t recognized? Do we know that there wasn’t some sort of weird misunderstanding or miscommunication that would explain the situation better? Nope.

      Could the company have reached out to OP when they weren’t getting in contact with references? Sure. Could they have left voicemails? Absolutely. Both might have been helpful, especially if that’s being used as a reason to dismiss them from the search. But “we didn’t hear back from any of your references we called” doesn’t mean they didn’t try to reach out.

    7. L*

      Assuming no one at that organization has a spine and they were really secretly accusing LW1 of dropping the ball is just as odd an reaction as LW incredibly odd reaction to immediately accusing a friend of intentionally sabotaging you

  25. leeapeea*

    OP3 – Know thyself. What is your spouse’s work personality like? Does it mesh with yours? Do one of you vent about work by complaining about co-workers? (<-my partner does this) Is one of you likely to be supervising the other?
    Know the company. Do they have a history of couples/family members working for them? If so, how have they handled it? What is the company structure (very hierarchical or relatively flat)? Who makes decisions and how? How long has the company been in business and what is their mindset (sustainability vs. growth)?
    Know your industry. If one of you wants to leave this company, how easy is finding another job in your location? What is the reputation of this company in the industry? Would one or both of you be able to work under your own business/be self-employed and remain in the industry?
    If you're on the fence it might be worth applying so you can find out more in an official capacity. If you decide it's not the right fit for any reason you can always withdraw your application.

    1. Daisy-dog*

      All great questions.

      I have set a limit to never work even in the same industry as my spouse if I can help it. Living through so many financial crises has made me seek more security.

  26. Eldritch Office Worker*

    OP1 – I think you’ve lost your opportunity to push back or even correct the record with any amount of grace. Your friend sending that email was over the top, and has probably destroyed any credit you would have had to, as Alison says, push back to correct the record. Your references probably wouldn’t hold much weight with them after that anyway. I think you need to consider this a bridge burned and move past it.

  27. Bee*

    Judging by how quick LW1 was to become antagonistic with their friends (?!?!) over a perceived slight, I would not be surprised if red flags were waving during the interview.

    Next time you get a rejection that you think is unjust, it might be a good idea to:

    * Thank them for the feedback
    * Suggest a solution to the perceived issue
    * Inform them that you really value the company mission and would appreciate being considered for any other job openings that may arise

    (Or whatever better advice is added in the comments.)

    1. Mornington Cresent*

      Yeah, I kinda thought the same thing- immediately accusing your friends of letting you down is such a bad faith reading of the situation!

      It makes me sad that their immediate thought was “my friends are terrible and have let me down!”, and not “that’s fishy, and not like them. I wonder what happened?”.
      A quick “hey, did you ever get a reference request for me from NewJob Corp?” is all this needed, not a full-on blow-up at friends, and I feel bad for everyone involved that that’s what happened.

      1. Bee*

        It makes me wonder if the interview was so bad they didn’t contact the references (and then forgot, so their records showed no references replied).

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Right, my thought on letter one was that I’ve never heard of a single instance of someone doing great throughout the interview process and then not getting the offer for no other reason that the references did not call back. There had to be something else. Whatever the reason, they decided LW was not a fit.

  28. Czhorat*

    I think the hostility from LW#1 (they LIED to me) comes from the way too many of us see job interviews as adversarial, in which the interviewer is a gatekeeper trying to keep you away from a job. The hiring manager wants the same thing that the interviewee wants – to fill the position. They’d be delighted to have you be a good fit for the position and to hire you. ESPECIALLY if they flew someone in for a third interview. They don’t want to waste their time and yours.

    My point here is that it’s very rarely malice; it could be, as Allison said, an internal miscommunication. It could be something else. But ultimately reposting and starting over isn’t the choice anyone wanted.

    1. DancinProf*

      Especially true in academia (I’m assuming this is a college/university and a faculty hire based on the mention of being invited to campus) where searches are long, multi-step processes requiring a committee. A “failed search” so late in the process–when time and money have already been spent–creates a lot of grumpiness on the institution’s side as well as disappoints the candidates.

  29. Hiring Mgr*

    Were the reference friends in #1 also coworkers? If not, maybe the company tried to reach some “back channel” references and never heard back? Either way, you must let it drop

  30. Student*

    I’m curious how AAM would rule on an issue similar to, but slightly different than, #5.

    In my job, sometimes I need to travel during the work day. There are different scenarios that I encounter often enough that I need to think about how I time-code them.

    (1) I travel to and from a meeting in a different building, in a different part of town.
    I’ve always had a couple of rules for how I treat this travel, but I’m not sure they’re actually good rules. If the meeting is the first work I’m doing that day, I treat the travel time to the meeting site like a morning commute (not charging for it), if it takes 2 hours or less. Same for going home; if the meeting is the last work I do in a day, I’m not charging for any of my time commuting home.

    However, if it’s in the middle of the work day, I will treat the round-trip travel time to a site meeting as work time.

    Now that I’m telecommuting regularly, though, this occasionally means that I end up charging time to drive to my office building in the middle of a day for a meeting, then charge the time to go home after the mid-day meeting (which is about 30 minutes round-trip when traffic is light, and I try to minimize it; however, my “office” no longer supports me working productively on-site because I’m supposed to telework most of the time). It’s more often travel to a different site instead of my own office, but it still feels a bit wrong when applied to my own office. It also feels wrong to extend my own work day by ~30-60 minutes to accommodate these rare meetings, though.

    (2) I travel for work, at it’s either a lengthy drive or an airplane trip. I start the clock when I start the drive, if it’s a drive, and end the clock when the drive ends. I also cap how much I charge at 8 hours in a work day, if the travel takes longer than that, unless there are some extreme extenuating circumstances. I feel pretty happy with that. It does mean I will potentially end up charging my time for pit stops and/or meals. As a general rule, I don’t take active meetings while driving.

    For flights, it’s always a little weirder to decide when the clock starts and stops. I don’t feel like there’s a firm rule, and there’s so much variation around travel routines. I generally start the clock ~1 hour before my flight boards (about 1.5 hr prior to take-off, which is slightly less than the airport-recommended 2 hrs for domestic flights) and end the clock when I reach my hotel. Again, I cap it at 8 hours per day, unless there is a very exceptional reason.

    I’m charging for the time to sit around the airport, because I can’t tell in advance whether I need that time to make it through security or not. I’m charging for the time on the plane, which I rarely use for actual work in my current job. I’m charging for meal time while sitting in my connection airport. I’m charging for the connecting flight time. If there’s a long line at the rental car desk, I’m charging for that. If I’m traveling international, I’m charging for standing in customs lines.

    It never feels good to charge for all that. At the same time I feel like I’m only captive at the airport, etc. because of work, so they need to pay for that time.

    1. Builder Bob*

      If you are exempt but work for the kind of company that makes you fill out a time sheet and charge your time to different projects,

      1) I use guidance for hourly, non-exempt workers for a lot of that. Time that I travel between sites goes on my time sheet to the applicable project or split between two projects, since usually the reason I am traveling is that project A takes place at site A and project B takes place at site B.

      2) My employer has a policy on flight charging time, so I follow it. Otherwise, I would use the hourly, non-exempt guidance.

  31. Deidre Barlow*

    LW1 – I wonder if they got a sense of you as someone who often leaps to conclusions or is generally a bit quick to anger? That can come across in interviews and conversations. Is it possible you scuppered your own chances here? Might be worth reflecting on.

      1. Somehow_I_Manage*

        No. Ironically, you are both making the same mistake OP did, by not taking the hiring manager at their word and suspecting ulterior reasoning. The very likely scenario based on the facts is there was an administrative issue with the references. Nothing more.

        If they found OP’s personality distasteful, it wouldn’t make any sense to lie and suggest that references were the reason. Normal people just say “that’s for interviewing, we’ve decided to pursue other candidates.”

        OP’s reaction isn’t great. But let’s ease off. They’ve gotten enough medicine.

  32. starsaphire*

    LW 4, here’s an anecdote for you:

    A few years ago, my llama team was hiring. We bring candidates in for panel interviews because 1) get it all over with in one day, and 2) having them talk with most of the team is really useful.

    One candidate had recently been let go from Horrible Place Down the Street. She seemed competent, she clicked with us, and we thought she’d be great at the job – but Horrible Place gave her a horrible reference.

    Well, I’d already had several friends in the llama community get chewed up and spit out by Horrible Place, so I absolutely went to bat for her. I emailed the manager and explained that a bad reference from there was really a *good* reference, because of their Horrible dynamics.

    We hired her, she was great, and I volunteered to mentor her. And we had a lot of good conversations while she was re-calibrating from Horrible to us.

    Sometimes people will be *more* inclined to give you a chance if you’ve worked for a bad place but you seem bright and competent. :)

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Aww this is wonderful, thank you for saving her career when Horrible Place was on the fast track to shred it!

      “I emailed the manager and explained that a bad reference from there was really a *good* reference, because of their Horrible dynamics.”

      Beautifully said!

    2. Builder Bob*

      I once worked at a Horrible Place, and I did well for a while and then poorly for a while. I can see how the first half of my experience there was a problem and how the second half was a product of horrible dynamics.

  33. RubyJackson*

    My employer in California has settled at least 3 lawsuits for unpaid overtime to compensate employees who have to park in a designated parking garage on site, then be shuttled up to the campus in employer provided vans. These were whole departments of employees that were compensated, not just individuals. They are currently facing another lawsuit on behalf of all employees (about 500). It’s a mystery why they aren’t forced by the labor department to change their policy.

    1. irene adler*

      Possibly because it is cheaper to pay the lawsuits than to conform to the law.

      My former boss/co-owner of company did not adhere to the CA law regarding lunch periods. He was perfectly willing to pay any fine incurred regarding several employees skipping lunch each day. He would not put an end to working “straight 8”.

      No fine was ever levied as no one ever reported this practice.

  34. Martin*

    LW#1 it’s never a good sign when someone immediately goes nuclear. Might be some time for a little self reflection.

  35. Connie*

    Op #1, you immediately accused a friend of costing you a job you had no intentions of taking!

    If the company picked up on this weird desire to call out, punish, and accuse, they may have had concerns about you being a good fit.

  36. Jennifer Strange*

    I immediately texted one and told him he had cost me an offer because of his failure to respond…I wasn’t going to accept an offer anyway

    If you weren’t going to accept the offer anyway, why did you chew out a friend and claim he had “cost” you an offer?

  37. Pierrot*

    LW1, a lot of people have given helpful feedback already, but I just wanted to add one thing. I would ask your friend/reference who contacted the potential employer *not to do that* in the future. It’s nice that they tried to go to bat for you, but ultimately it will not come across well to the hiring manager and it will burn bridges. In general, it isn’t professional to give the impression that you’re going to have friends or family intervene on your behalf when you’re upset with a work related situation. It’s the same thing as when parents contact their adult children’s semployer or a spouse calls their partner’s boss to express disapproval that they got passed over for a promotion.

    I hope you find an employer who is a good fit.

  38. Anonymous Pygmy Possum*

    OP3: I met my own partner at my last job at a company that sounds a lot like the one your partner works at. We dated for over a year before I left that job, and the effect it had on our relationship was the number 2 reason I left. We didn’t live together at the time, but because we shared an office, we would be spending 50-60 hours a week together. Plus, it was SO hard to unplug from work on dates. So, I wouldn’t recommend actively choosing to work at the same small company as your partner, if you can avoid it – at least with us, we had both been working there for over a year before we started dating.

  39. BlueWolf*

    LW 3: Alison makes a good point about not putting all your financial eggs in one basket. My partner was working for a small startup last year that was definitely struggling (poor management). Right before Thanksgiving they let several people go, two of whom were partners living together. In one day they were both out of a job, which can’t have been easy.

  40. Lobsterman*

    LW1, I’m gonna give you some advice that will serve you the rest of your life:

    You can’t argue people into doing things they don’t want to do.

    You can argue people into doing things they don’t mind doing. You can’t argue them into not doing a thing they want to do.

    If an employer wants to lie to you, it’s either illegal or it’s not. If it’s illegal, it’s either enforced or it’s not. Either you can enforce your will via the legal system, or… they get to lie to you if they want to.

    These are the rules of reality as it exists. You cannot argue them into being false.

  41. Problem!*

    LW 4: I used to work at an area with many companies that are known to be awful, but they also had a lot of open entry level no experience required positions all the time due to high staff turnover which means most of the younger workforce needing a job, any job, wound up with them. If we discarded every resume that came through with people who had a stint at those places we’d have zero people to interview.

    The important part is they’re former employers, and you are looking to leave. You are not the reason they’re bad. You can use these work experiences to illustrate being able to work in difficult environments if asked about previous workplace challenges in interviews.

  42. Coco*

    LW #4 I was in a similar position a while back. I was working for a small well known local company that was acquired by a larger regional company. The new company made all sorts of changes that negatively impacted both the preexisting clients and employees. If you look on google reviews, there are hundreds of one star reviews. Terrible things were happening at that organization, and I had to leave. While interviewing, I never trash talked the company. But I would explain that I some of the changes were negatively impacting clients and employees. And that I felt the direction of the company no longer suited my personal goals and values.

  43. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    LW#1: Job Hunting Sucks, and it is frustrating when you are rejected. Especially when you hear something you find questionable during the rejection. Sadly, this is a fact of job hunting.

    At least you received information you were rejected from the company! I have been ghosted by four out of five companies I have spoken with in the past two months. Job Hunting Sucks.

  44. ImOnlyHereForThePoetry*

    OP 3 – I strongly suggest you do not work at the same company with your partner. I did this for a few years and it was not good. The worst part was all the ways it creeped into our home life. When things were stressful at work, we were both stressed out and then talking about it at home made it more stressful. There was also some weird dynamics from people complaining to me about things my partner controlled to others assuming I had my position just because of my partner.

  45. SB*

    #5 – If you are being paid from 8am you need to be ready to work at 8am. Not making a coffee, not catching up with colleagues, not putting your things in your locker, ready to work. This is the argument I would have with staff when I was a nurse manager. Handover began at 0600 on the dot but some nurses would arrive in the building at 0600 then spend time putting their scrubs on, making a coffee & putting their bags in lockers, eventually showing up at hand over at 0620 claiming that if I want them to be here before 0600 I need to pay them before 0600.

    We solved the issue by moving the clock-in scanner to the nurses station where we have hand over so they have to be at hand over to clock on when they want to be paid. This caused some problems that were referred to the union by a few staff but ultimately they were told (by the union) that they are paid to start work at 0600, not faff about in the locker room for 20 minutes.

  46. Avril Ludgateaux*

    (The Supreme Court even found that Amazon employees were not engaged in their workday when they waited for 25 minutes at a security checkpoint at the end of their shifts.)

    And the Supreme Court was wrong on this one. If you are being held but not being compensated, that’s unlawful detention, and the precedent should be challenged (ideally with a better SCOTUS).

    1. Avril Ludgateaux*

      That said, I think your workday starts when you reach your desk. But this was a bad reference to make – especially as a similarly themed 10th Circuit ruling found that being docked for the prolonged time it takes your out-of-date computer to boot up in the morning was unlawful; the FLSA does in fact require you to be compensated for that time.

      Google “Tenth Circuit Confirms That Time Devoted To Booting Up Work Computer and Launching Software Is Compensable Under the Fair Labor Standards Act” since I don’t want my comment to be stuck in the mod queue for a link.

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