coworker won’t stop talking about death, are my interview questions too hard, and more

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

1. My coworker won’t stop talking about death

I work on a team where keeping up with the news is a very important component of our jobs. We are all assigned to different areas of the news, so one of us works on business news, one of us works on entertainment, etc. We are also a friendly team, we all sit together in an open-plan office, and the nature of our jobs means we have some substantial periods of downtime, so we inevitably converse about the current events we encounter throughout the day.

One of my coworkers, Barry, is assigned to the area of “crime.” The stories he’s covering often involve topics that I, frankly, find quite upsetting — murders, muggings, the like. Barry is also by far the most talkative member of our team, and when others are talking about current events in their areas, he will frequently chime in with topics that I’d just rather not hear about at work. (For example, he’ll say something like “Wow, that’s an interesting story about factory contracts. That reminds me of a story from this morning about a factory worker who just died in an industrial accident” and then go on to describe the death in detail.) I don’t go a single day on this team without hearing multiple detailed stories about death and/or violence from Barry. Nobody else on the team really seems to mind, and they seem to welcome his contributions and will actively discuss these stories with him, but it really bums me out all around.

I have considered just putting in headphones and shutting myself out of these conversations, but this is a very social team, and I don’t want to be perceived as unfriendly or antisocial — because I’m neither of these things! Barry is also, genuinely, a nice guy who wants everyone to feel included, and if I haven’t chimed into a conversation in a while he’ll often look over at me and ask for my input. I’ve also considered bringing this up with Barry, but I’m torn because I don’t necessarily see why he shouldn’t be able to talk about his work, since the rest of us talk about ours. Any advice?

Talk to Barry! If he’s a genuinely nice guy, he won’t take offense to you saying, “I know you’re probably used to it because you have to read a lot of it for your job, but the talk about death and violence can really get to me. Any chance I can ask you to pull back on it? It can be jarring to hear in the middle of the work day.”

You’re not saying Barry can’t talk about his work. You’re asking him to be thoughtful about which aspects he talks about and when (and to remember that, while it’s normal for people who work with difficult subjects to get somewhat desensitized to their horror, people around them may not feel that way).

2. Are my interview questions too hard?

I was talking with some friends about job searching recently and at one point someone mentioned that just because you flub one question on an interview doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve blown it. In support of this point, I said “I don’t think I’ve ever had an applicant who had a good answer to every question I asked.” A couple of them objected to this, saying that if that’s true, then my interview questions are too tough. What do you think?

I’ve been sitting on this question a while, mulling it over. I think my interviews are pretty rigorous (and I’ve co-interviewed with people who I can say without hesitation are extremely rigorous interviewers) and I can think of candidates who did have good answers to every question.

I don’t think that necessarily means your interview questions are too tough, though. Are you hiring people who go on to excel at the job? If so, something about your process is working. (That said, make sure to look at whether you’re hiring a reasonably diverse group. If you’re not, then something about your process might have bias built into it. Maybe it’s the questions, maybe it’s something else — but that would be a flag to look more closely.)

But certainly very strong candidates can have a weak answer or two; good interviewers know that’s not inherently prohibitive (although it depends on the specifics). You want to look at the entirety of what you’re learning about someone through their answers to your questions. And tough questions can elicit all kinds of interesting data, even if they don’t produce the “correct” answer (such as how people think, how they rise to challenges, if they’re even aware when they’re struggling with something, and how they handle it if they are).

But if you ask a question that no one ever has a good answer to, that’s probably a problem with that specific question.

3. Bruises at work

I am a high school teacher. In my spare time, I also take pole dancing classes several times per week. Not that it should matter, but I never dance in public and my social media posts around this are limited to friends only. It’s just a hobby. But I am always covered in extreme bruises from the sport! It is unavoidable. I have constant, severe bruises covering most of my arms and legs, some of which look disturbing. I don’t want anyone to be concerned about it, but I understand there is a stigma around pole dance and I don’t want this part of my life known to my students.

I am never sure what to say when students, parents, or other professionals I meet ask me where the bruises are from, and I vaguely answer “sports,” but is there a better way to phrase this? (For what it’s worth, most of my colleagues do know about my hobby and are very supportive, as is my boss.)

Yeah, stick with “sports”! People are so weird about teachers’ private lives (God forbid one of you get photographed with a red Solo cup) that it’s safer.

However, at some point someone is likely to ask you what kind of sports you play so you’ll need to be prepared with an answer. Cover stories are acceptable here.

4. Why doesn’t HR care more about cybersecurity?

I have had the opportunity lately to interact with medium to small HR departments, passing confidential documentation back and forth — mainly identification (driver’s license, passports), proof of work rights, tax information, and so on. If a secure link to upload the documents is not provided, I ask for one. 100% of the time if it is not provided, I get an argument from the HR department about how “our email is secure” and “we will securely store the documents.” (Ideally I would like an apology as in “I know we don’t have one, how would you feel comfortable getting us the documents?”) These are reputable companies, not scammers, and they work with large organizations, sometimes government.

The ignorance about handling personal information and securing documents against identity theft is breath-taking. Every time I encounter this, I explain that though their servers are secure (hopefully), the act of emailing is insecure and if they don’t believe me they can, like, check any reputable source ever. But I am tired of being treated like I am an off-the-grid loony.

Why are they acting like I am crazy when I have a cybersecurity background and obviously know more about this than they do? Is there anything to which I can refer them (HR specific) that demonstrates their liability for the risk they are requiring their staff to take? And what is the best answer to “we’ve never had information stolen from us so it is okay”?

They’re acting like you’re overreacting because they’re not used to people thinking it’s a problem. You thinking it’s a problem is out of sync with everyone else they deal with, and therefore you must be wrong. (You see this thinking in all kinds of things, going back to Galileo!) They see your cybersecurity background, yes, but they also see themselves and others using lax security all day long and Everything Is Fine (as far as they know) so you should relax. That’s the thinking.

You can try saying, “I work in cybersecurity so I’ve seen too many disasters when information is emailed insecurely. I propose sending it to you by X instead if that works for you.” The last part is key — tell them what you do feel safe doing so they’re not flailing around for an answer. It sounds like you’re waiting for them to ask what you’d feel comfortable doing; stop waiting for that and just tell them.

And you could try sending this or this, but you’re fighting an uphill battle.

5. Does “willing to travel” mean I have to drive?

I started a new job about half a year ago that I love. It’s a work-from-home position with some in-person things each year, mostly during the same few months every spring/summer. The job posting said that employees had to be “willing to travel” and during the hiring process they described the frequency and typical locations of the in-person work. It all sounded doable to me. I’m happy to travel when needed to attend in-person assignments and the employer pays travel expenses and a per diem.

That said, I do not have a driver’s license. I’m unable to drive for disability-related reasons. I didn’t even think to worry about that when I applied because I grew up in a European country where many people do not drive. The large urban area where I live now in the USA also has great public transportation that I use to get around without issues. My company is headquartered near the city and the majority of our in-person work is done in the area, so I have had no challenges getting where to I need to for work so far.

But, I have noticed that the default assumption is that everyone drives to in-person work events. I’m starting to worry that “willing to travel” in the job description was meant to be interpreted as “has a car and a driver’s license” and I just didn’t pick up on it due to cultural differences. This year there are plans to move most of the in-person events away from the city and towards a more central location to ensure employees on the other half of the state have a more reasonable travel time. Unfortunately, more central also means a rural area with limited to no public transit. I’m worried about being able to get to in-person assignments when they start again and how that will impact my job.

Can you offer any clarity on whether I’m likely to have misunderstood the job requirements? In addition to having a different cultural background, I’m also autistic, so reading between the lines is not my strong suit. And, more importantly, I could use suggestions about how best to handle the situation. Overall my job is a great fit and I really want to stay here for at least the next several years if possible. I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback on my performance so far and I am in a very high demand position that is hard to fill.

If the job requirements just state that I need to be willing to travel, is it my company’s responsibility ensure that I’m able to get to the work sites in a way that’s accessible to me? Could my disability that prevents me from being able to drive mean that I would be eligible for more support and/or flexibility with the travel requirements? I’d rather not disclose that I’m disabled, but I could if it would help.

“Willing to travel” isn’t usually code for “has a car and a driver’s license.” It usually means exactly what you interpreted it as — willing to travel. (There are some rare exceptions to this, like if you were applying for a sales job where it was clear you’d be responsible for a large territory in a field where the norms were to drive from place to place. In a case like that, you’d want to clarify up-front. That doesn’t sound like your situation though.)

I suspect your employer is assuming people drive, but that doesn’t mean they will require people to drive. And if the travel is not a frequent and central focus of the job, they’ll be legally required to provide you with accommodations — like another way of getting to and from the other locations (even if it’s just arranging for you to ride with someone) or letting you attend remotely.

Would you be comfortable saying to your manager, “I don’t have a driver’s license for medical reasons”? That’s pretty vague but makes it clear that it’s not something that will change, and it should trigger your manager to realize they have legal obligations to come up with a solution.

Here are two articles from the Job Accommodation Network that might help:

Accommodations for Driving

Travel on the Job

{ 435 comments… read them below }

  1. Turanga Leela*

    LW #1: Definitely use Alison’s script! You might also want to develop a script for in the moment, if he forgets and starts talking about something upsetting. It could be as simple as “Barry, I’m sorry, I don’t want to talk about this today.”

    LW #3: Can I suggest “the gym” rather than “sports”? “Sports” sounds like there’s a league or something, whereas “the gym” sounds boring, and you’re less likely to get follow-up questions. (Although some people may still ask which gym you go to.)

    1. online millenial*

      Enough people go to the gym and don’t come back with severe bruising that they’ll probably have follow-up questions about what LW is doing that’s causing the bruises. A generic sports and “I bruise so easily, it’s embarrassing, anyway let’s talk about little Jane’s report card” are probably your best bets.

      1. Lellow*

        Something like kickboxing or MMA or even just “self-defence classes” could work well, plenty of people do them for fitness with no intention of ever doing shows or league events so it’s perfectly reasonable not to have evidence.

        1. MusicWithRocksIn*

          Better to be vague than more specific, in case someone is really interested in kickboxing or MMA and asks follow up questions. I have a friend who did roller derby and she had come up with some elaborate lies to not bring it up in a professional situation that she quickly lost track of. Finally she decided to just say ‘sports injury’ and then firmly change the subject. It’s not their business, no need to do elaborate coverups.

          1. Lydia*

            The problem is infusing it with detail. “Oh, kickboxing can leave some nasty marks” and then move on. It’s not too specific, but it is specific enough to assuage some curiosity.

            1. stratospherica*

              Yeah, as someone who does kickboxing, if LW wants to make a backstory, I’d just say “haha yeah I go pretty crazy on that punching bag!” and leave it at that.

          2. Connie-Lynne*

            I also used to do rollerderby, and I was just straight up honest about where my injuries and bruises came from. I think pole has a greater stigma than rollerderby (I have a number of friends who do pole, as well).

            I regularly just get bruises from my everyday work (stagehand). I just say “oh, I bruise easily, I’m always finding strange bruises…” and move on. This also has the advantage of not having to say where the bruises came from if I got them in a less SFW situation. Another option might be to say “gymnastics” or “dance class,” both of which are true in LW #3’s case.

            I wouldn’t suggest lying, it just gets complicated and weird. I think my family is used to me just having weird random bruises all over myself nowadays — I really do get them mostly from work.

            1. Reluctant Mezzo*

              Competitive ballroom dancing can get pretty wicked if there is more than one couple and they aren’t watching out…

          3. Dorothy Zpornak*

            Sorry, have to disagree. Being vague in this context definitely seems like it would lead to assumptions this person is being abused. “Sports” definitely has the ring of “I walked into a door.” If she wants to avoid rumors and well-intentioned attempts to get her into a women’s shelter, I would come up with something concrete to say.

      2. Mentalrose*

        This is a good one. Some people just…bruise easily. I find a new bruise on myself every other day thanks to blood thinners. My mother just naturally bruises like she’s on blood thinners and more than once has actually squeezed bruises into her own arm without realizing it. These bruises looked exactly like the hand bruises they were and we had a terrible time convincing the doctors that she’d put them there herself and not that someone else had done something to her.

        All of which is to say: “I bruise at the drop of a hat and I’m not even sure where they come from” is a perfectly valid answer that people use all the time!

        1. Lainey L. L-C*

          Came here to say that. Both my daughter and I bruise easily and are clumsy so we constantly have new mysterious bruises that we may or may not remember what we did to get. So my suggestion is, “oh I bruise easy, I ran into something,” and continue on.

          1. Alexander Graham Yell*

            Add me to the “I bruise like a peach” club – but OP, if you need something that would develop the same muscles and leave a lot of bruises, rock climbing is your answer. Just in case anybody gets nosey and you feel like you have to say SOMETHING.

            1. Mo*

              And go rock climbing a few times so you can answer any questions. My understanding is that pole dancing and rock climbing use similar physical skills, so you might find a new sport/hobby.

              Fellow member of the bruises easily club.

              1. Sharpie*

                The Self channel on YouTube has a series where people who do one sport try another one, they actually had pole dancers and rock climbers try each others’ sports and yes, there’s a lot of crossover between the two.

          2. violin squeaks*

            Also bruise easily. My answer to “where’d you get that bruise” is usually “I wish I knew,” which is true, most of the time.

              1. Lainey L. L-C*

                Yeah, I will literally run into something and think, Ouch, I’m gonna bruise, but its up for grabs if I actually remember by the time the bruise shows up.

        2. Bruce*

          I took up fencing again after a 30 year break, and quickly found I needed a LOT more padding due to all the blood thinners I was taking. I was getting lumps the size of a grape on my ribs! Sadly had to move away from the fencing club, and now my doc let me cut back on blood thinners I don’t bruise as much in my daily life…

          1. Reed Weird (they/them)*

            Ha, I was going to suggest fencing as a cover story, but it’s such a small sport-world that if she happened to run into someone actually active in fencing they’d be able to pick it out as a lie very quickly!

          2. Reluctant Mezzo*

            I played tenor drum in a marching band and I got horrific bruises on the knee the bottom thingie bounced on even with good padding.

      3. Beth*

        People get weird about frequent large scale bruising–if it sounds like you’re trying to dodge the question or put off interest, some people will assume it’s from domestic violence or other abuse. The intent is helpful and caring but the impact can be really troublesome when it’s from an activity like this (which is entirely fine to do, not something to be concerned about, but is difficult to talk about because society is what it is).

        LW, my advice would be to either take up a socially-acceptable hobby that can explain bruising, or talk like you have. “I’ve been trying out karate lately, I know it looks dramatic but I’m having a great time!” will attract a lot less interest than “I don’t want to talk about it.” It doesn’t have to be true to work (though you do run the risk of follow-up questions if you run into an actual karate aficionado).

      4. Artemesia*

        Rugby — find a nearby women’s Rugby group and befriend a member — maybe even try out. You are covered.

        1. Lydia*

          Exactly my thoughts. Rugby is a great cover, especially since it’s not a well-known sport in the US (if OP is in the US).

      5. Florp*

        My small city has a parkour gym, rock climbing, and lots of gymnastics and martial arts studios, all of which would explain bruises. Parkour, climbing and gymnastics have a lot of overlap with pole dancing. I have a relative who made a fair bit of money doing pole dancing demos–think more circus performance than strip club. She was Not. To. Be. Messed. With. Pole dancing is wicked hard and you have my respect, OP3!

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Seriously, the amount of core strength a pole dancer needs is just staggering! I would probably have to train for a whole year just to do the simplest pole exercise.

      6. Girasol*

        I used to look like I’d been beaten. Well, I kinda was, in a Tae Kwon Do class that I loved. A stern dose of vitamin C every day cleared that up wonderfully. Don’t take my word – I’m not a doctor – but you might ask your own doc if that could help you and how much would be appropriate. Also have photos of your class close at hand when you visit any doctor. I had one well-meaning gynecologist spend a long time trying to get me to admit that my husband was beating me when that was absolutely not the cause of my bruises.

      7. MassMatt*

        “ I don’t think cyber security is part of HR training at all, unless we’re talking about people who work in medical or legal fields”

        If it isn’t, it certainly SHOULD be. I’m in finance, and cybersecurity is DRILLED into us. My company is regional, not nationally known, but we have had many MANY attacks on our servers, and many of my colleagues have been “phished”, one by phone, the criminal was able to even spoof the correct phone number, and many via cracked email accounts. Sometimes the criminal knows the date of birth or even SSN.

        It is likely that the company, if it’s of any size, has a cybersecurity policy, and the people in HR aware either unaware of it, or ignore it for convenience. If you are getting treated as a nut and ignored, take it up the chain in the company. Sadly, no one is too small to be targeted for cyber crime.

    2. allathian*

      Reminds me of a former coworker who had frequent visible bruising on her face and arms. She’s an accomplished amateur athlete in mixed martial arts, which means constant bruises. To forestall worries about DV, she’d tell people about her hobby and show videos from her matches to those who wanted to see them.

      1. Jill Swinburne*

        Easier to do that for MMM than pole fitness!

        Wasn’t there a similar letter a while ago from someone who did roller derby?

        1. Min*

          Roller derby was the first thing that came to my mind, but it would probably elicit follow up questions so might not work.

          1. Tiny clay insects*

            Yeah I had the same thought. I’m a college instructor who plays roller derby so I always bring it up proactively with my students and clearly say “yeah, I end up with a lot of weird bruises, i don’t want anyone to worry.”

            But derby does elicit a lot of questions.

            Okay, maybe the solution is to also join a derby league? So all your bruises can be blamed on it, even if some are from pole? Kidding (but also not? derby is awesome!).

      2. pope suburban*

        Yeah I do MMA and I’m very open about it just to forestall misunderstanding. I haven’t had to, but I’m prepared to show my gym key tag to people, and I wear clothes with my gym logo and fight gear logos. I get the concern about DV and so I am always ready to engage on the subject of my sport.

      1. MsSolo*

        I wonder if Gymnastics would? My understanding is that the pole is essentially gymnastics equipment (albiet not in the olympics!), so it’s close to the truth.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          I like it! I agree that pole is essentially a type of gymnastics, even if it isn’t officially classified as such.

          I did one trial lesson of pole once, and in addition to some quite nasty bruises, I got the worst sore muscles of my life. I, for one, would be impressed, not judgy, if a coworker did pole dance.

            1. Carol the happy elf*

              “I skate for the exercise.”
              “Really intensive workouts. I could apply Aspercreme with a paint roller!”
              Or just, “I climb for exercise. I obviously need to keep working at it, and could apply my Aspercreme with a paint roller! What do you do for fun?”

              1. Lydia*

                I love that last one, because it is exactly the right amount of detail, there are no lies (it is actually an exercise activity), and it makes it friendly with the Aspercreme joke. Perfect balance, 10/10, no notes.

          1. Abby*

            Aerial is a good suggestion and easy to lie about if you do pole already (OP could talk about core engagement and air sense and flexibility etc without feeling like they’re lying wildly about a sport they’ve never done, which could unravel quite quickly).

            Bonus points if you go to a taster session and get one video on a hoop or silks to show people who are especially curious.

            1. JubJubTheIguana*

              Going to a taster class for the sole purpose of generating material to support an elaborate lie just feels like something out of a sitcom. It would be very very obvious that any video of a taster session is of a complete beginner, not someone who actually does the sport.

              For the love of God, don’t invent lies about fake sports you don’t play, that can end so badly.

              1. bamcheeks*

                Pole is an aerial discipline, and the transferability between disciplines is massive. Most of my aerial instructors do hoop and silks, or trapeze and silks and pole, or pole and hoop, or pole and heels and acro and so on. I’ve seen lots of experienced pole dancers come to hoop class and be able to do pretty fancy shit immediately because they’ve got the core strength, flexibility, and lack of fear.

                That said, I don’t think it’s *necessary*. It’d be easy to say you do aerial and be vague about which discipline you focus on, or imply that you do a mixture of hoop, silks and sling or whatever, without mentioning pole.

                1. Abby*

                  Yeah this was my reasoning, honestly I didn’t expect quite such an aggressive reaction from the person you replied to! As I’ve played quidditch for many years, I’ve definitely given rugby or dodgeball as a cover story just to save myself people’s questions, and going to tasters for those sports was fun as well as a useful cover for the passingly curious. Nothing particularly elaborate about trying related sports, especially here where OP specifically needs something else to point to.

                  If OP already does pole then they’ll have the air sense and core engagement to have a passable crack at aerial skills, and if they’re just sharing a photo then no one would be any the wiser (other than people who know aerial/circus skills already, in which case you could probably be honest about pole). And they might have fun trying out another related sport!

                  Given OP is specifically asking for a cover story then this seems like a decent option, but they can obviously take it or leave it.

                2. bamcheeks*

                  It’s super obvious to me, as a person who does aerial! It’s like someone who does synchronised swimming or diving saying, “Oh, I go swimming a lot.” I mean, yeah, you could of course give more detail, but nobody’s going to be like, “wow, she LIED to me by saying she was doing swimming when really she was DIVING!”

              2. KC*

                LW#3, I am a teacher who was in this exact situation, and saying “circus classes” worked perfectly. I did a taster course and frankly, you can quickly get a challenging-looking pose on a lyra, static trapeze or lollypop within 10 minutes, especially if you are acclimated to the pain of pole dancing. Trying the other implements was a lot of fun. I had a picture on my phone that I could show if people had questions. When I had particularly nasty bruises I’d just preemptively say “Don’t worry, I’m safe at home! I must have hit a tough spot in my circus class the other day”

                Doing pole will give you enough know-how to fake it if people have questions, and there’s no standardized language for poses so if they press you can just make stuff up and nobody would know.

                1. Abby*

                  This was my reasoning for suggesting they take a picture or something – just like a one-off you can point to and be like “here you go!”. And they might have fun trying the other implements too! “Circus skills” as a general reference is a really good shout.

          2. Noprofit Lifer*

            Yep, I was going to come here to say that. Spanish Web uses similar moves and will also give you bruises on your arms and legs. Tell them you’re doing it just for the exercise, not performance prep, with a private teacher in her home studio.

          3. Not that other person you didn't like*

            Google Chinese pole arial circus arts. That’s what you do, for fun, “like that guy in Ocean’s 11.” Cue up video from movie, “only I’m not nearly that good.”

            It’s not even really a lie.

        2. A Genuine Scientician*

          Easily believable cover sports for lots bruises:

          Gymnastics, or anything acrobatic
          Any martial art
          Roller Derby

        3. Gumby*

          You can and do get bruises in gymnastics but not constantly. I twisted an ankle waaaaayyyy more often than I had bruises on my arms. And don’t even get me started on the rips.

          But also? It’s not unheard of for people to say “oooh, you do gymnastics, can you do a [skill]?” And ask for / expect a demonstration. (Yes, this is how I ended up doing a side aerial in the lounge at one of my first jobs.) So if OP were going to get specific I’m not sure this is the sport I would choose.

        4. Reluctant Mezzo*

          Yes! I did some balance beam, and even though Mr. Crash Pad was my friend, still got banged up.

      2. abc*

        Depends on the gym and how easily people bruise. I bruise so easily I am often worried people will accuse my husband of DV, but a lot of other people have one or two recurring bruises from gym activity. (Cross training, for reference.) It’s good to be ready in case of follow ups, and online millennial has a good script above, but I would be surprised if there were many who asked after hearing “gym”.

        1. AngryOctopus*

          As someone who gets bruises on her arms from carrying boxes (if the edges poke my arm it’s game over), a breezy “Oh, I just bruise so easily” combined with ‘gym activity’ or ‘sports’ should hopefully suffice.

          1. La Triviata*

            I’ve always bruised easily and I’m quite pale, so they show. I get a lot of bruises from riding public transportation.

    3. Random Dice*

      #1 – It’s very very reasonable to speak up about this.

      You’re applying kindergarten rules (everyone gets a turn)… but in kindergarten one doesn’t discuss dismemberment.

      I have PTSD from childhood violence (among several reasons). Before I got EMDR therapy, daily talk of death and violence would have had me spiraling for *DAYS* – and even now would deeply impact my mental health.

      Talking about violence and death is deeply upsetting to many people. It’s also an ADA thing if someone has PTSD. (Though we very rarely disclose at work.)

      1. Maglev to Crazytown*

        I 100% agree on the PTSD side of things. While LW#1 is distressed by it, and understandably so, what I pick up on as a possibility is that the coworker also might have a touch of PTSD in HAVING to be Mr. Death day-in and day-out as his job requirement, and bringing it up all the time is because it is always there in his mind, and talking about it may be his way of dealing with it. While it is unfair to shift that emotional burden to someone else, he may be legitimately having trouble carrying it alone himself. Every day to this poor man IS destruction and death. He may not outwardly seem upset when talking about it, but being able to have that glib flippant shell allows him to function.

        I work in a death-surrounded field, and I have both seen that and understand the dynamic well.

    4. Newbie Anon*

      I was thinking “gymnastics” and/or “climbing” would be great cover stories that don’t involve going too far outside the actualities.

    5. FearNot*

      For #3, I would suggest going with circus arts. I used to do dance trapeze/aerials and was always covered in bruises. We had pole dancers in the same studio. If you say something vague like “You know, like Cirque du Soleil” people usually get it.

    6. Fitness*

      I do CrossFit and get a ton of bruises. Since there’s a stereotype that people who do CrossFit won’t stop talking about it you can just say that and no one will ask any follow up questions.

      1. Tired and confused*

        Hahaha. I came here to propose CrossFit for that very reason! I bruise super easily and got a lot of nasty bruises from fencing. But nobody seemed to believe me because “fencers wear suits for protection” (really, that was people’s comments) so I had to lie.

        1. Bee*

          This is incredibly funny to me as a former fencer – yes, those three layers of fabric are tooooootally sufficient protection against a steel rod coming point-first at your skin!! (I didn’t bruise that easily, but oh, the welts I used to get on my thigh.)

          1. Carol the happy elf*

            I asked a coworker who dreamed of Olympic-class fencing, he said, “What’s fencing like? Imagine being wrapped in a thin blanket and having someone jump on you.”

      2. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

        I second this, I do Crossfit and it’s a certain conversation-killer. Nobody asks any questions.

    7. Y'all come back now, ya hear?*

      I started Crossfit my first year teaching because I needed to build community as an adult and I wanted to learn how to lift. I was 23 teaching 17 year olds. A group of them went to the SRO concerned about bruising on my collar bone.

      The bruises were from doing heavy cleans at the gym. The SRO was so kind when he spoke to me, and I talked with the students about how cared for I felt that they were concerned. To this day, that first group I taught is still some of my favorite young adult humans.

      1. Random Dice*

        Awww. I love this so much.

        What mature and thoughtful teenagers, to worry about their teacher potentially being abused, and to find something concrete to do about it.

    8. veebee*

      For LW #3: Slack-lining is another sport that is famous for bruising- and especially the darker, bigger bruises because you’re landing on one specific part of your body! Not sure how common it is in every city, but I have quite a few friends on the West Coast that are huge slack-liners and always covered in random bruises.

    9. evens*

      Why are so many people suggesting lying? Lying is not the answer; the answer is vagueness. Sports is a great answer, and so is they gym, or even just “I don’t remember, I just bruise easily.” Lying just gets you into more trouble. (Gymnastics? There are plenty of kids who will want to talk about it because they do it too. Arial circus? People will just be curious and want more details.) Also, for those people suggesting “Oh, just take up rugby, parkour, and MMA in your spare time,” you are not thinking about real life.

      1. Stipes*

        Having a cover lie isn’t inherently a problem, but yeah, mentioning a specific activity only invites further interest, especially from someone who knows that activity. If you lie, the goal should be a lie that causes less curiosity than just “sports”, not more.

      2. Abby*

        I think people are suggesting cover stories because if they’re super vague about bruises then that might not dispel concerns about DV. I agree that lying isn’t ideal, but having had some (light-touch) training on spotting signs of DV, if someone seems shifty and vague then it can create more alarm, and someone well-meaning might try to escalate it.

        And “sports” might invite “oh which sports”, “gym” might invite “what do you do at the gym to bruise like that”, and then you’re in a position where you’re lying anyway.

  2. Big lady on campus*

    The last letter brings up something I’ve been stewing over. I work full time remotely, company headquarters are about 8-9 hours away by car. We are planning to have an in-person week long meeting next fall. I’m a big person, and no longer fit in standard airplane seats. Even first class is tight. But because of this, and some other issues, I’ve developed a fear of flying. I could drive, other people did previously, but that’s a long trip for me. I would have to do it over two days. There is a very complicated train route, but I think it’s almost 24 hours, and I still would have to rent a car at the end and drive a few hours. A bus goes pretty directly, but I think I would be really scrunched in there, and I would have to get two seats. Pretty sure it would majorally trigger my claustrophobia, esp since I get pretty carsick on buses. Not sure what on earth to do about all of this, the plan is typically “lose a lot of weight and all my problems will magically disappear” but that doesn’t seem to be happening. I’m hoping it will get cancelled, the last two years it has been . . . My employers don’t know about all my phobias or that I don’t fit in seats, and I don’t want to reveal this information. Im afraid I won’t get promoted. Any advice comment people? I guess I can just drive and pretend I wanted to sight see which is why I didn’t fly, and why it took me two days.

    1. Orangejuice*

      I would drive and say you had family or a friend you wanted to see on the way in whatever city you end up sleeping in.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If they turn a short plane trip into a two-day drive and say it’s because they want to visit someone along the way, they’re going to be charged PTO for that (coming and going). They’ll also probably be on the hook for the hotel rooms along the way (unless the total cost comes out to less than the flight would be). They shouldn’t lose PTO or money when this should be an accommodation issue (whether that’s explaining they need two seats, or explaining they can’t fly at all).

    2. allathian*

      That sounds really tough! I hope you can figure out a good solution. I suspect that driving would probably be the best option for you. You don’t have to tell people how long it took to get there or what else you did on the way.

      You have my sympathy, I’m also big enough that flying is a bit uncomfortable. I still fit in a standard seat, but it’s a tight fit. The last time I flew, I could barely close the seat belt without asking for an extender.

    3. Turanga Leela*

      My first thought: Can you start talking to a therapist? You’ve got time before next fall, and you could probably do some work on your phobias between now and then. If you already have a therapist, this might be a good issue to focus on. (I’m sure you know this, but flying-related phobias are very common, and a lot of doctors will also prescribe anti-anxiety medication for flights.)

      My other thought: Is it possible that sharing some of this info with your employers could help alleviate your fear? I’m not saying have a heart-to-heart with your boss, but for example: You could email the fiscal department and say you’ve realized that for travel, you now need two adjacent airline seats. Ask if there’s a form you need to fill out or a process you’d need to go through to get that approved for the next time you travel.
      …If you sent an email like that, would it make you feel better or worse? If the seat issue was handled, do you think you’d be able to manage your other phobias? Because your company might be able to handle the seat issue without any problem.

    4. Young Business*

      I would be matter-of-fact that you’d like to drive to the HQ, and yes, perhaps throw in that you’re seeing family or friends along the way, or sightseeing. Hopefully you have the time off to do this, though, if necessary.

      But another option — might you be able to rally your boss to make virtual attendance an option? I think there are a host of other valid reasons why someone might not want to fly and attend a (week-long!) in-person series of meetings.

      My company hosts a series of sessions paired with a fun event for the entire org annually, but they stream the sessions virtually for those who can’t make it. I recognize the value of in-person events, but for me it involves literally flying across the country and with the rate of work travel that I’ve been doing, I opted to attend virtually.

    5. takeachip*

      I think you could just say you prefer driving over flying. This wouldn’t even be questioned in my organization. Plenty of people dislike flying for all kinds of reasons. If anyone presses you, you could add that you want to have your car available since you’ll be in town for so long, or even say something about getting airsick. I understand why you’re self-conscious and worried about this, but objectively, I don’t think the issue is unusual or interesting enough that it will cause much curiosity about your reasons. A potential hiccup is asking for reimbursement for a hotel to overnight on the drive, both directions. Does your company have any policies on this (such as an expectation that a drive of X distance or less should be done in one day) or is there someone on the financial side you could discreetly ask? Or would you be willing/able to cover the cost yourself?

      1. Lilo*

        I have a coworker who is very open that he’s afraid of flying. He says he knows it’s irrational, he just hates it. He takes trains or drives everywhere. It’s not a big deal. I don’t think your coworkers will necessarily react the way you think. Fear of flying is pretty common.

      2. ElizabethJane*

        I think the concern is justifying the two day drive/hotel stay. For many people 8 hours would be a one day drive and the HR department in question could be totally fine with the drive itself but push back on the hotel. Or just ask for more information on why it can’t be one day, which OP does not want to give.

        1. Smithy*

          I think this is a case where as much as we can possibly take “personal life” math out of doing the cost, and instead apply “cost of business” math – I think the OP might be a bit better off than they think.

          I think there’s a way to present this as a preference that benefits medical needs. If the OP were to drive, then they’d be able to expense gas, and depending on the part of the country – the cost of a hotel going and coming. Have those rough estimates ready, and then also have the cost of flying first class or while booking two seats. Then be able to share to your boss, that to make the meeting – your preference would cost $X, while the cost of flying would be $Y. If driving does cost more, explain that due to health needs, driving – and splitting the drive over two days is more comfortable.

          I work for a nonprofit, and as a result – no matter how far we fly and how short the trip – we’re still in coach. I’d hurt my back on one 18 hour flight, and then had another month with a lot of international meetings. While I knew getting upgraded wasn’t on the table – I was able to advocate for more expensive flights that had layovers and taking taxis vs public transportation when I had luggage (in cases when formal recommendations were for public transportation). But most importantly, two of the trips were separated by a week, and instead of going home in between – I arranged to have a week of PTO in the middle, so less flying crazy distances. Nonprofit life, work did not pay for my week of vacation – but I did get an extra weekend in the hotel covered, flights to/from my vacation destination covered etc.

          By framing this to my boss around steps I wanted to take to support my work/life balance (attending all of these meetings, but also maintain my physical health while flying coach), it was a lot easier to negotiate what costs were easy for her to approve vs those that weren’t (i.e. flying business).

    6. cabbagepants*

      If you need two seats on a mode of transit, that is a reasonable accommodation to ask of your employer!

      Could you split the drive with a friend?

      More than anything, it seems like you could really use some help from a therapist/psychiatrist to manage anxiety. If that doesn’t help then I think it’s time to start having a conversation with your company about reasonable accommodations. Anxiety, phobias, and being a larger person all warrant ADA accommodation.

    7. The answer is (probably) 42*

      A lot of people are suggesting various excuses you could use to explain why you’d have to spread your drive over two days, but honestly I’d just skip all that. 8-9 hours driving is just a LOT for anyone! I don’t think you even need to disclose any specifics to explain why it isn’t feasible for you to drive that many hours in a single day. Would it not just be reasonable to say “I am unable to drive that many hours in the span of one day, so I’ll need to split the trip- is there a way we can arrange so this doesn’t eat into my PTO, as it’s a work necessity?” (insert a very generic “for medical reasons” if you think it’ll help without them pressing you to disclose more than that).

      It obviously depends on your employer, so you’ll have to calibrate based on what you know- maybe an excuse really is the best solution here. But I prefer to be honest where I can- not even because I think I owe my employer that honesty (I don’t, at least not in a situation like this). But because it’s just easier for me to keep my story straight when it’s what really happened.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        The good news: I’ve had peers whose drives were 12+ hours, and we did have good results getting our company to split that over two days with a mainstream hotel stop overnight in the middle, without dipping into PTO.

        The bad news: we ended up anteing up weekend days to make it happen.

        LW5, I think it’s worth a shot.

      2. Vic WembanLlama*

        I think the issue is not driving one day vs two, it’s driving vs flying which is the typical way of traveling in this scenario. BLOC doesn’t want to reveal that they don’t want to fly b/c of the potential seat/weight issue so it’s tough.

        There was a letter a few years ago from someone who had a similar issue and made a terrible choice (the one who left her colleague stranded w/no $$ in a foreign country)

      3. Person from the Resume*

        My employer / many employers have rules on how to get places. Choosing to drive and take 4 travel days instead of 2 (less than 2?) would not be allowed without the LW taking time off. Work would not reimburse for 2 business unnecessary nights in hotels.

        Some level of honesty/ disclosure is the best policy here.

      4. doreen*

        That would work if the company was for some reason requiring the drive – but you can’t really just say ” I can’t drive that many hours in one day and will have to split the trip into two days” if the answer is likely to be ” That’s why we expect you to fly” . The commenter can’t fly and doesn’t want to disclose either their phobia or their need for two seats – there’s really no way to do all three without some excuse. If the conference starts on Monday and ends Friday , the travel could be done on weekends – but that would require the commenter to pay for hotel rooms on either end and probably require some sort of explanation for why the company doesn’t need to buy plane tickets.

    8. Nancy*

      If other people drive then it shouldn’t be an issue for you to drive either. Just say you will be driving to the event and need to book a hotel since it will take 2 days.

    9. Beth*

      So first off–if you can fly Southwest, they have a pretty decent passengers of size policy that you can use to get an extra seat next to you. This gives way more horizontal space than first class seats will!

      In theory they prefer you to book two seats in advance and they’ll refund the extra after the trip. In practice, I never have (I haven’t been in a financial position to float the cost of an extra seat for a month or three). I go to the check in desk (the one where you drop off checked baggage) when I arrive at the airport and ask to be accommodated via their passengers of size policy, and they’ve always handled it from there. They give me a new boarding pass marked for preboarding, to ensure there are empty seats when I board, and an additional “seat reserved” pass to put in the empty seat next to me. It’s nervewracking to have to go and ask them, but they’ve literally never given me a hard time about it.

      Other airlines will generally also let you purchase an extra seat next to you, but you probably would have to pay for it and they may not be as familiar with the process. If you can arrange your travel via Southwest, I do think that’s the easiest way for large people to fly.

    10. I Have RBF*

      My spouse seldom flies. They have an inner ear problem that bothers them in elevators and on airplanes.

      I hate flying nowadays because the seats are made for Liliputians, not ordinary people. At 270# and disabled, I need a seatbelt extender and have to be very careful trying to stoop and squeeze into a coach seat. I used to love to fly, but that was ten sizes and forty years of seat shrinkage ago.

      Even mildly chubby folks are squeezed in aircraft these days. It’s horrible, and it just increases the stigma. But even if I was thin, I would still have trouble because I’m taller than five feet.

      I would drive, personally.

  3. PJ*

    “… I propose sending it to you by X instead if that works for you…. ”

    Not sure using the platform formally known as Twitter would be that secure… :D

    1. Theon, Theon, it rhymes with neon*

      But it’s the most secure! It has blue checkmarks, that’s how you know you can trust it!

    2. Sleve*

      You’ve heard of TAFKAP (the artist formerly known as Prince),
      now get ready for TAFKAT (the app formerly known as Twitter).

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I’ve been making the same joke, but your variation is pronounceable—I shall use this. Thanks!

    3. AnonInCanada*

      Of course it’s secure! Elon Musk says so! We can all trust Elon, can’t we? Just look at all that growth coming to the platform since he took it over! And just to make sure it’s secure, he’s going to make you pay to post on it, too! You can’t be too careful, after all.

  4. Observer*

    #4 – Cybersecurity issue.

    Cyber security is part of my job. I would suggest that instead of getting into this discussion, just offer to send the documents encrypted. If they tell you that their email is secure you can point out that the *transport* between your email to theirs is the weak link.

    If their staff are reasonably educated (or they have at least someone on their IT team who has some knowledge) they will be fine with that. Some will actually be very happy to hear your suggestion.

    HR departments that ask for document via email are not necessarily lax. But it’s just not the most serious item on their list – and in fact, the reality is that most hacks are not at the transport layer, but on the servers and computers. And on the other hand getting people to communicate securely can be a major headache, even when you have an infrastructure (which may be costly) that can make it *relatively* easy to do.

    We deal with sensitive client information. Any email that goes out of our system has to be encrypted. You cannot imagine how many people – the people we are trying to protect! – push back on the extra steps. Making them *send* this stuff to us securely? It shouldn’t be a battle, but it is and it’s not one we are ready to fight (yet.) But, yes, our document storage is secure so if stuff gets to us safely, we’ll keep it safe.

    Job applicants are much the same. They see this kind of thing as “extra steps” etc. that just make life unnecessarily complicated. It’s something I regularly address when we do trainings, when our Fiscal and HR departments send out reminders about certain rules (such as how to have payroll make changes to address and bank information) etc. But if someone doesn’t work for us yet, it’s a bit harder to enforce.

    Having said that, we’re working on a major HR system upgrade, and one of the things I’m looking at is incorporating secure upload facilities that we can require people to us past a certain point.

    1. Lightbulb*

      I very much don’t work in cybersecurity. This conversation is enlightening.

      Are you folks able to give us examples of software / packages / services we could use to send our own documents securely if we wanted to? Thank you

      1. Beth*

        My own company uses Safesend, which works as well as any product I know of in this area. There are others, but I can’t remember any at the moment — sorry!

        As the compliance/IT/cybersecurity person at my firm, I get really crazy over companies and inidividuals that blow off the concern. LW, I absolutely feel for you.

        Early in my compliance career, I noticed that marketing people and IT security were apparently in mutually exclusive camps, with marketing usually trying to drag HR into the casual high-risk-activity zone. This has improved a lot in the last five years (mostly driven by high-profile costly ransomware events in the news, I suspect), but there’s a lot of work still to do.

      2. Gumby*

        Most software will allow you to password protect the document. Word definitely does as does Acrobat. Then you can email the document and send the password in a separate email. That is what we do for some customers who cannot accept encrypted emails. Of course then there are ones that also don’t accept encrypted files but those likely are aware enough to have another way of safely sharing documents.

        1. Gumby*

          This is only a solution if the information you want to protect is in the document and not in the body of the email. Wanted to clarify since that might not be obvious to people who don’t usually worry about this stuff.

    2. münchner kindl*

      I suspect that especially in small and mid-size companies HR doesn’t care much about cybersecurity, because they don’t care much about security in general.

      20+ years ago, when applications were sent by normal mail instead of email, unless the compay was big enough to have a professional HR department with somebody trained for all aspects of HR (not just doing payroll) AND explicitly put down their own policy on handling data of employees and applicants, the paper files were also not very secure at all.

      Partly because a person hired to run payroll didn’t know the laws about data protection and privacy rights; partly because HR and the company didn’t (and doesn’t) care. If a non-HR employee gets to snoop into all personnel files and write down the home adress of a person he wants to stalk, or copies down bank information, that doesn’t hurt the company directly, and the victim would have to prove that the leak was the company’s HR department, in court, to make the company care about consequences.

      In the years between, in EU laws have tighented for privacy and data protection because of how digital data has been misused – but that doesn’t mean small and middle companies’ HR departments have followed that law, or thought at all about how that applies to their processes.

      To see the bigger picture: how many small/middle companies have their own dedicated IT department or outsourced to a competent company vs nobody cares? And how many have a CIO who does digital strategy? And that’s core business – if their server is down, business processes are impacted heavily, even if they don’t have a webshop. And most companies today have at least a webpage, if not a webshop.

      So if the company doesn’t know enough to think about caring about their customer data, they sure won’t care about applicants. And since there is no regular inspection by State commission for digital security (which would be a Good Idea, especially given the current global political situation) because digital security is understaffed by the government, so it’s just advice “digital security is important, so pay a private company to do it for you” – a lot doesn’t get done.

      With heavy machinery, people in the industry might know they should get regular inspections for safety; with digital, people don’t know enough to start thinking, so they don’t worry, and nobody cares enough to go looking and sue them to wake up.

      1. Florp*

        I don’t think cyber security is part of HR training at all, unless we’re talking about people who work in medical or legal fields. I only know one HR person who is by default thoughtful about security after years spent working for legal technology firms.

        I know another (usually super competent) HR person who received a direct deposit change form from a random stranger, and processed it even though the employee’s name and other personal information were misspelled or incorrect. It *looked* official, and it came from a plausible email address. The scary thing is, Big Payroll Company didn’t bat an eye and processed it as well, and they told him it happens all the time (but apparently not often enough to warn their clients or check personal information themselves).

        He was obviously horrified and has gone on to lobby for training for all employees that handle sensitive data.

        1. Observer*

          I know another (usually super competent) HR person who received a direct deposit change form from a random stranger, and processed it even though the employee’s name and other personal information were misspelled or incorrect


          But in my experience, all it takes is one incident like that to “convert” competent folks into true believers. Especially if you wind up having to pay the staff person their pay again and / or there are regulations in place (and there are a lot of places in the US where companies would be liable) around data security. NYS has a pretty comprehensive law about client and staff data. So HR / Payroll *Has* to worry about it now. They may slough it off, but once something like this happens, it’s a whole different ballgame. And smart HR people know that *applicants* turn into staff, so you need to think about how you streamline making sure that their data that you are legally required to safeguard is protected from day one.

        2. MassMatt*

          “ I don’t think cyber security is part of HR training at all, unless we’re talking about people who work in medical or legal fields”

          If it isn’t, it certainly SHOULD be. I’m in finance, and cybersecurity is DRILLED into us. My company is regional, not nationally known, but we have had many MANY attacks on our servers, and many of my colleagues have been “phished”, one by phone, the criminal was able to even spoof the correct phone number, and many via cracked email accounts. Sometimes the criminal knows the date of birth or even SSN.

          It is likely that the company, if it’s of any size, has a cybersecurity policy, and the people in HR aware either unaware of it, or ignore it for convenience. If you are getting treated as a nut and ignored, take it up the chain in the company. Sadly, no one is too small to be targeted for cyber crime.

      2. Lucy P*

        I work for a small business that is security aware. The problem is often a budget issue more than a caring issue.

        For instance, due to the file size of our workload, things get uploaded to FTP sites on our shared server. The higher-ups wanted secure FTP, because of the IP involved. However, they didn’t want to pay the price for SFTP because it would have increased costs by over $100/month.

        We’ve considered encrypting emails, but were concerned that it would affect timeliness of delivery if people on the other end didn’t know how to decrypt them.

        We had a dedicated IT person at one point. However, again due to budget issues, it wasn’t a person who had the knowledge to enact the kind of security policy and settings that were needed.

        The other thing I see is vendors that we deal with that don’t seem to care. For example, insurance audits. We have to send attachments that contain names, social security numbers and wage information for the employees. The insurance companies are not providing secure links to send this through. The best we can do is to password protect the files and then send the password separately.

        1. Observer*

          The problem is often a budget issue more than a caring issue.

          That’s a really big issue. Good security costs money – often a LOT of money.

          The other thing I see is vendors that we deal with that don’t seem to care.

          Either they don’t care or they don’t have the competence. It still makes life difficult.

          For example, insurance audits. We have to send attachments that contain names, social security numbers and wage information for the employees. The insurance companies are not providing secure links to send this through.

          That’s insanity. I don’t know whether our insurance carriers are that bad but our staff would have to send an encrypted email in such a case. And if they can’t get the timeline worked out for that, that’s a huge red flag.

          One thing that I found helpful was that our fiscal auditors have been asking about cybersecurity and backups for several years. I’m ahead of them in some ways, but it’s helped move our systems because it makes it glaringly obvious to anyone dealing with fiscal issues that our audits (which directly affect our ability to get funding) will be hit if we don’t have decent security. That’s obviously not the only reason to do security right, but it sure helps make the decision easier for the people who need to sign the checks.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My company is ultra careful about doc sharing sites and we had issues with a vendor getting offended their service was blocked by IT. And then they got hacked & shut down for many days. Our rep stopped complaining about using the system we host.

      (And thanks for keeping our electrons safe.)

    4. Snow Globe*

      If these are decent sized companies, the LW may want to suggest that their contact in HR reach out to someone within the own company’s IT department. My guess is that there is someone in the company’s IT area that would be horrified to know that HR is transmitting private data without any security, and who would have options for HR to send/receive things in a more secure manner.

      1. Antilles*

        I’m really not sure that would serve any purpose. If 100% of HR reps are already blowing it off with saying their email is secure and pushing back against OP’s arguments, they won’t react well to a random outsider suggesting that they take time out of their work-day to call IT and discuss it. And I doubt any of those HR reps would ever actually make that call reaching out to IT.

        What OP needs to do is simply to arrange an alternative on her end. Our IT policy discourages us emailing these documents for security reasons, so I uploaded them to our secure file sharing location (link below). Once you’ve approved them on your end, just re-upload the signed documents right back to that same link and I can grab them from there.

        1. fhqwhgads*

          It always irks me in general that we as a society seem to have mostly gotten the point across to most people that sending plain text passwords in email is a Very Bad Idea, but the same person has no pause at asking for SSNs, name, address and birthdate over email.
          (I get that many people still fall into the simplest of insecure password traps, but still it’s the cognitive dissonance in HR scenarios that baffles me.)

    5. Random Dice*

      I love the sheer ignorance at play in thinking that “our email is secure”. Oh honey noooooooooooo.

      The fun thing about A.I. is that it means that random documents that were stored all over suddenly become discoverable by accident.

      1. NaN*

        I’m just thinking… the kind of people who think “eh, it’s fine, it’s never been a problem” are also probably more likely to fall for phishing scams. Then my personal information is sitting in their email inbox. My company’s HR expects us to email them our full bank account numbers and routing numbers to change direct deposit. No thank you. And the number of vendors or contractors I’ve worked with who expect you to email them your credit card info, including the cvv… just no.

      2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        Yup, I have absolutely had this argument. I have had to go to the hassle of printing out documents (that I don’t want to email) and getting someone to physically drive me to an office an hour away because I gave up on trying to argue with them that email was not a secure method of transmitting something, and they wouldn’t take a password-protected file.

        Even if YOUR email is secure (which, if you think email is a good way to send sensitive info, I’m dubious about), MINE isn’t, not for things of that sensitivity.

        There was also the one time that this argument resulted in someone giving me the link to their secure upload portal (yes, thank you!) … which system then helpfully emailed me a copy of all my submissions. I’m still mad about that one.

      3. Grits McGee*

        When I was opening a new bank account, there was some snafu with my SSN, and they asked me to email a copy of my Social Security Card to them. When I asked them how I should encrypt the email/file so that they could open it on their end, they told me to just put “ENCRYPTED” in the email subject line… >_<

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          When my company implemented some security measures, the instructions to US the employees were to use the word SECURE or something in the subject line, then the software would encrypt. If that’s what those folks were told to do, they may not have thought through that it only applied to internal communication.

        2. Gumby*

          Yep, this works for our email system now. But only from emails originating from within our system. It wouldn’t work for random outside vendors / customers sending email *to* us. But I can see not particularly savvy employees not realizing that it wasn’t universal functionality.

          1. Gumby*

            On the recipient end, if we have typed the right word into our subject line, they don’t just get the email in their inbox. They get an email with a link to the secure portal where they can log in to view the email. I’m not in IT so I’m probably not explaining it well, but I know it works since I tested it after we switched systems.

      4. Butterfly Counter*

        I’ve had an issue when dealing with a non-profit who required volunteers send SSN and drivers license by email for a background check. They were a bare-bones operation. I’m honestly surprised they had email after I visited there and there was no question if they had any kind of computer security.

    6. Totally Minnie*

      Yeah, for my work we have tor request a lot of documentation from other government departments, and when I send the link to our secure file upload system, probably about half the time, the person just replies with an email attachment instead. Some people just don’t know what the risks are and it doesn’t feel important enough for them to do it a different way.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This has also been our experience. Our HR sends candidates links to our HRIS platform, which allows for secure upload of identity documents directly to the employee file, and the vast majority just send them via personal email instead.

        We have mandatory annual cybersecurity training for all company employees, so no one who works here should be ignorant of security practices. Mandatory training is a fairly common provision for cyber-incident insurance policies.

        1. Observer*

          Mandatory training is a fairly common provision for cyber-incident insurance policies.

          Yes, it is. And it’s a good thing, in my opinion. Because, again, the training is expensive. And the savings on insurance can help defray that cost. It also helps to make it clear that this is important stuff – if these guy are willing to cut their prices by THIS much, that tells you that it’s something that they really, really want. Because when does an insurance company cut your price if it will NOT give them some payback (as in fewer incidents to deal with.)

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Oh, I totally agree, and my organization handles more sensitive data than just employee PII… yet I still get the yahoos, who, despite being required to take this training annually, still give our tech team a hard time because we won’t let them run confidential proceedings off of public hotel WiFi just because it violates our (their) client agreements.

            It’s also one of the best things about my 70-something mom still working. Her company also does cybersecurity training, and she can sniff out a scam a mile away and has told ALL of her friends about social engineering and phishing. No one is scamming that woman into buying $500 Apple cards and texting photos of the codes to them.

    7. Caramel & Cheddar*

      “Job applicants are much the same. They see this kind of thing as “extra steps” etc. that just make life unnecessarily complicated.”

      Right? Like if this secure level of file sharing security becomes more common (and maybe it should), I can easily imagine someone writing a letter to Alison saying “Did this hiring process require way too many steps?” Just because it’s necessary or helpful doesn’t make it not amazingly annoying for a lot of people.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Meh, if “log in to this and upload here” is amazingly annoying vs sending an email…that’s a problem for the annoyed person, not the person asking them to do the small extra step.
        Like, I don’t doubt many people would be that annoyed, but to me this is similar to being annoyed by seat belt laws. It’s going to help you, really!

    8. Elizabeth I*

      I’m so glad OP#4 wrote in about these issues! I’ve had the same challenge with multiple companies – even with the HR at a smaller location of a major Fortune 500 company – who assured me that sending the data in an attached document instead of putting it into the body of the email would be secure (it is not!) – and that I could delete the email from my sent box after I send it to make it secure (!!?!!).

      I’m not in cybersecurity, but my dad worked in IT his whole career and trained me that personal info like social security numbers should NEVER be sent over regular email because it’s vulnerable in transit. But HR people always seemed to treat my concern like I’m just a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

      1. Observer*

        who assured me that sending the data in an attached document instead of putting it into the body of the email would be secure (it is not!)

        This makes me feel both worse and better at the same time. Because we had a situation that was both funny and horrifying at the same time a few years ago.

        One of our major funders started mandating that we send client data securely. Since they are dealing with a lot of organizations that don’t (or didn’t at the time) have a robust IT + Cybersecurity set up, they kindly included some guidance and “advice.” Which consisted of “put the data into a Word file and send it as an attachment.”

        Obviously I flipped and said “no way!” My boss wanted to know why I thought that I know better than them, and pointed out that I happen to be an IT Professions (which is what they are *paying me for!*) while whoever it is that sent that letter knows zero about T, much less cybersecurity. But ask any professional you want, and see what they have to say about the matter.

        So, now I know that we’re not alone. But it’s horrifying to think that there are still folks who SHOULD know better who just have such a bizarre take. It’s a lot weirder than the people who say “Well, email is safe.”

    9. Daisy-dog*

      Clarification please: I am in HR and I have been told by an IT consultant who was specifically hired to beef up cybersecurity that our emails were secure. Now, he meant emails sent to & from our company email addresses. I already knew emails sent from personal accounts to our company email addresses were not. Is it still not secure in the the transfer part if it is between company data?

      1. Observer*

        Yes, there is a difference between email within your system – if you are using a decent system, then yes that should be encrypted in transit as well. But the minute it goes out (or is coming in), it doesn’t matter how good the email system is. The transit layer is a mess.

    10. Cyberannoyed*

      I’m the letter writer.

      Your solution is obviously a good one. But it doesn’t address the attitude. With a cyber background, I am being told I am wrong (though it is my area of expertise), and as though my requirements are exasperating and annoying.

      I find it ghastly that individuals who deal with such sensitive information, mostly in digital form, are so uneducated about this basic.It would be like a doctor not being aware of confidentiality regulations.

      It also gives me pause about how their business is run.

      Sometimes I get so annoyed I ask them to email me their drivers license and social security card. If they will do it, I will.

      1. Dawn*

        So here’s the thing.

        You’ve got to let go of the attitude.

        You’ve got to.

        I know it really ticks you off, and I understand it, but you’re only making things worse for yourself here by taking issue with it – especially coming from an IT background, people who are notorious for, how to put this, being obnoxiously arrogant. Not saying this is you! But people are already primed to read you that way when you graciously inform them that you are a Cybersecurity Professional and Know Better.

        Please consider working on the annoyance, which is honestly a YOU problem to deal with (and which the vast majority of people you are going to meet are uneducated about and do not consider to be something basic.)

        I completely get it, but really, for your sake, just tell them “I can’t send you that until you meet these requirements, this is not up for discussion” and leave it there.

    11. Your Mate in Oz*

      I found that with banking it was really common for the bank sales people to unzip the encrypted zip file, attach the decrypted documents, then email them on to others inside the bank but CC’ing me and anyone else they thought might want to see them. I never managed to explain why this was a bad idea.

      Luckily that was a few years ago so now I’m dealing with banks again they all have secure portals to upload documents to. Staff don’t have to understand the problem, they just have to use the portal.

      Next step is getting official bank emails to come from the actual bank rather than some random email service provider. “click this link, provide your bank login details, then verify your identity to continue using our bank”. Ring the bank “yes, that’s us”. Cry.

  5. JaneDough(not)*

    “But I am always covered in extreme bruises from the sport!”

    Your reply about the bruises (“Due to sports”) is wise, and I’m also respectfully noting that referring to pole-dancing as a “sport” (above, or to those who know about your hobby) isn’t accurate. I know that it can require participants to exert themselves a lot — but it isn’t a sport. It’s a type of dance, a type of exercise, an activity, a hobby … but not a sport.

    1. Sleve*

      Considering that break dancing is in the Olympics, and that pole dancing for fitness is now a big thing, I’d say it’s fine if practitioners want to start calling it a sport.

        1. Kella*

          ????? Ultimate frisbee isn’t in the olympics but I doubt you’d call it not a sport, and there are national competitions for pole dancing, as well as concrete efforts in progress to add pole dancing to the olympics. This seems like a distinction with very little value.

          The value of calling it a sport here is that the vast majority of “hobbies” don’t cause significant bruising, whereas sports commonly do. Categorizing it as a sport in order to stay vague and plausible makes the terminology a better fit.

          –Signed, a writer.

        2. hellohello*

          What a wild belief to hold. I’ll go tell the New England Patriots they’re enjoying a nice athletic hobby but absolutely not playing a sport.

        3. coffee*

          It really does not matter, though. The quality of the LW’s teaching will not be affected because the LW referred to pole dancing as a sport, which it arguably is, rather than being like “Oh, don’t worry about these bruises, I got these doing a type of exercise”.

    2. Pop*

      It seems like the LW is looking for an easy way to answer about bruises that is believable and not totally out there, and not that they are super focused on if their hobby is actually a sport.

    3. hellohello*

      Plenty people use “sports” as a synonym for “athletic activity” that it seems rather pedantic to call someone out for referring to pole dancing as such. (And that’s ignoring the fact that there are poll dancing competitions out in the world, just like there are ice skating or gymnastics competitions, and both of those are inarguably sports.)

  6. CantDriveNowWhat*

    op5, I have been in this exact situation for the exact same reason (jobs that ask for a willingness to travel when I can’t drive because of disability). I always dig further during the interview process and I’m sorry to report that most of the time the expectation was that you can and are willing to drive. In my line of work, must be willing to travel typically comes up in a job description only if it’s a central requirement of the job, meaning not occasional, meaning not something that can necessarily be reasonably accommodated without fundamentally changing the function of the job.

    I have, at recent jobs that did not specify anything about travel, had some luck getting employers to pay for Uber rides to the office when the office was difficult or impossible to access via public transit and going in was a very periodic thing (I have been working almost entirely remotely for the past 7-8 years because of my disability). My current job put that they will pay for Uber rides if they’re needed in writing in my offer letter (I need advance approval from my boss). I went into the office twice in my first month and that’s it, although the pandemic intervened about 10 months after I started or there likely would have been a couple of trips a year since. My last job budgeted up to 10 round trips per year that I could use at my discretion (some of which went unused). This should give you a sense of the frequency we’re discussing being considered reasonable from an accommodation standpoint (these were not official accommodations, but the discussions that led to them were around disability constraints).

    Hope this helps and good luck!

    1. takeachip*

      If driving is a requirement, then having a valid drivers license should be stated as a condition of employment during the application process. It’s really unfortunate that some places haven’t specified that and wasted your time or made you have to do the work of digging for info.

      More and more of our new hires don’t drive because they have never learned (Millenial/Gen Z) and/or because they can’t afford a car, insurance, gas, parking, etc. Lots of apartment complexes are deliberately being built with minimal parking available to encourage public transit and walkable neighborhoods. Some employers might have to rethink their requirements and their job ads to account for this trend.

    2. nnn*

      I wonder if this is regional or field dependent. I hire for jobs that say we require travel and we don’t mean a drivers license, we mean you are willing to travel. We do have one job that does require a license and we say that in the ad.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a regional dependency, with areas that have poor or no public transit (or where it’s not very useful or reliable) defaulting to needing a car. I live in a major city with good public transit, and even people who own cars will take it to work because it’s faster and more convenient. I’ve also lived in areas that had public transit, but you had to carefully plan your home/work/shopping/activities around the map and schedule of the limited bus system, and relying on it for, say, visiting clients would be impractical.

        Field wise, I travel a few times a year for work, generally internationally, and on most of the trips we don’t use a car, relying on local transit. On the ones that do, you need one person of the group to have an international license, not everyone.

        1. doreen*

          I’m sure it is dependent on both field and location. My husband is in sales and must travel to his customers – the person with all Manhattan customers doesn’t drive because the subway is faster than driving and parking and the ones in other parts of NYC drive because even though the public transit is generally good , it was set up with an assumption that people would travel in a particular way and it’s therefore often faster and easier to get from Queens to Manhattan by public transit than it is to travel three miles within Queens

        2. Turquoisecow*

          Yeah this. It depends on where you are traveling to. If the company is in a major metro area and all the sites you’re traveling to are in that metro area then a car is probably not necessary. My sister lived in Boston and had a job that required her to go all over the the city, and she didn’t drive, but it was never an issue. If she lived in the suburbs it might have been more of a concern.

          Even if the company is in the city if the job requires travel to sites outside of the city that are harder to get to by bus or train or whatever then that’s more of a concern. I think it’s definitely worth OP inquiring about because it probably isn’t obvious from the job ad.

      2. londonedit*

        Yeah, I’d assume ‘willing to travel’ would mean ‘willing to get on a plane or a train and go to a different location occasionally’ – if the job requires driving or a driving licence then the advert will usually specifically say ‘Full UK driving licence required’.

        1. Holly.*

          I got a job in London once where one of the requirements was a UK driving licence – I didn’t see the advert before the interview, and the interviewer just ticked the ‘has the candidate got a driving licence?’ box “because everyone has one!”.
          Fortunately the sites were mostly in other countries, and no-one expected me to drive to Scotland etc! :-)

      3. CantDriveNowWhat*

        Well, I live in a major metropolitan area (Boston) but these jobs expected folks to be able to get around suburbs or, in a few cases, the eastern half of the state and/or parts of NH and RI and not just Boston.

    3. Sloanicota*

      I admit I was concerned for this OP. In small/regional/rural type places, it may present a frequent headache – some places don’t even have ride shares, or if there’s few drivers it’s going to take forever to get a ride with them, and the company might be irked by all the delays/expenses. Hopefully OP’s travel is generally to major/midsize cities or there are people who can offer them a ride.

    4. Jo*

      I live in a large state with limited public transportation in many areas. If a job description said “requires some travel”, my experience would be that AT LEAST 75% of the time that would include an expectation of driving. And that’s likely a conservative estimate. Yes, I can see if a license is required, they should state it but most people here would probably think it was obvious. I’m afraid the only solution is to ask more questions about the travel.

      1. fhqwhgads*

        Interesting. In my experience “requires some travel” would absolutely mean “on a plane” to me, unless there happened to be some event close enough to drive, in which case I could choose to do so. If “travel” really meant “driving” most of the time, I’d absolutely expect them to say “driving”.

    5. SpaceySteph*

      “In my line of work, must be willing to travel typically comes up in a job description only if it’s a central requirement of the job, meaning not occasional, meaning not something that can necessarily be reasonably accommodated without fundamentally changing the function of the job.”

      This is definitely industry specific so I don’t want it to scare the OP without knowing what fields you/OP are in. My first job included “willingness to travel” and I traveled once in the 7 years I held that job. Another job included “willingness to travel” and I traveled maybe once a quarter and could definitely have used public transit, uber, and ridden with co-travelers on those trips. And another job included “willingness to travel” but at the time I had 3 small children and told my boss I didn’t really want to travel but I would if it was required, and she said “no problem” and sent someone else.

      1. hellohello*

        Yes, this is absolutely field and job dependent, and since LW lives somewhere with robust public transportation my first assumption wouldn’t actually be “must have a drivers license.”

        I’ve had two jobs that had required travel – one was in a very rural area with daily travel and I absolutely needed a car of my own that I drove sometimes multiple times a day to get to different work sites. The other was based out of a major US metropolitan area and I travelled maybe 2-3 times a quarter and never needed a car (and actually specifically used work ride share accounts to avoid driving.) The OPs situation honestly sounds more like the latter to me – infrequent travel that could be managed with accommodations to avoid driving – but they really won’t know without asking.

        1. CantDriveNowWhat*

          I wouldn’t make that assumption. I live in Boston (as noted I, too, am fully reliant on public transit/cannot drive). The jobs I had that required an occasional plane or train ride never asked for willingness to travel (and often still had an expectation I rent a car or posed travel issues without one on the other end). The jobs that advertised willingness to travel expected people to travel well outside of the city/areas with public transit.

          For those asking about industry, I work in tech and my jobs have spanned multiple industries (some in tech companies, some doing tech roles in other industries). My job searches have spanned even more.

      2. CantDriveNowWhat*

        FWIW, I live in Boston and work in tech for both tech companies and companies in other industries.

  7. Michelle*

    LW4, do you work for my bank? Because when I was working through my dad’s estate (he used the same bank) they were wanting to send all these docs with my SSN back and forth via email and when I went uhhh plain email isn’t really Best Practices for this stuff my account rep was like oh it’s fine I’m sending through our secure email system and I was just yeah I see where the subject line in my Gmail inbox says “SECURE” but if it’s getting to me via email it’s not secure, period.

    Later he told me he flagged it for “his tech team” (the fact that he knew I was a web developer gave me enough credibility that he couldn’t dismiss me outright, certainly not as a self-professed tech dummy himself) and they assured him I was mistaken.

    A BANK. That holds my retirement plan and my savings and my investments and my mortgage. Jesus wept.

    Thanks for fighting the good fight.

    1. Rhymetime*

      A bank, wow. My otherwise well-run nonprofit with hundreds of employees has for years been sending our bank account info to donors by regular email. When we got a new CFO a while back and I let her know, she was amazed. But she hasn’t implemented anything else yet.

      We recently received notification from a global financial services company that they wanted to give us a grant. They have a secure system I logged into to get our nonprofit set up as a recipient. Then our grant contact said she was not authorized to access our info in their system and asked me to just email it.

      1. rollyex*

        “sending our bank account info to donors by regular email.”

        Do you mean account information such as how someone can send the organization an ACH/wire transfer? I don’t understand how that is a problem.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Do you mean the bank information that donors need to send a wire, etc? I work in higher ed, and we have that information on a public website.

    2. allathian*

      Mmm yeah. I work for a government agency, and all of our outgoing emails to the general public are encrypted. The “secure” email only contains a link to an e-service that requires strong authentication to access. Even if someone catches and reads the email, they can’t access the documents, and the plain text email only contains instructions on how to access the e-service. Any documents that we send to the public that contain personal data can be downloaded from the e-service. (People who don’t have access to the internet can request document printouts from our customer service.)

    3. Snow Globe*

      As someone who works for a bank, let me suggest: send an email or letter to the CEO and tell them this story. I am confident that the bank in question does have the ability to send email securely, but probably the account rep doesn’t know how, and lied about talking to the tech team. (Or he talked to someone from the “tech team” that handles password resets, not someone who works in cyber security.)

      1. Observer*

        send an email or letter to the CEO and tell them this story. I am confident that the bank in question does have the ability to send email securely,

        I suspect that you are right about this unless this is a REALLY small and local bank. Even the regional banks that have less oversight than the big ones would absolutely get themselves totally clobbered if the systems to do this right were not in place.

        Yes, they *are* a pain for the user to deal with. But, as I tell people who complain about our “change of payroll” process, do you REALLY want to risk having your account emptied?

      2. Cyberannoyed*

        I am going to be doing this from now on with every situation I have in terms of HR – it’s just unacceptable.

    4. Grits McGee*

      Oh no, I posted up thread with a similar story! My bank told me to just put “ENCRYPTED” in the subject line. In my case, since I flat out refused to send my SSN via unsecured email, the typo in my application mysteriously didn’t need additional documentation to fix…. The bank you were working with wasn’t named after a certain aquatic bird, was it?

      1. Glazed Donut*

        So you’re telling me that when I got hired to work for a government agency and they asked for a copy of my SSN card, and they told me to put “SECURE” in the subject line, that didn’t make it secure? (I’m only halfway joking here…)
        It is mind blowing that this is a practice and someone has (theoretically) signed off on it! More likely: due to high turnover, someone heard from someone else who used to work there that this is what they do and no one questioned it. Yikes.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          My company’s email system is integrated with an encryption service, so it actually does encrypt any email sent from it with “[EncryptionSystemName]SECURE” in the subject line. I’ve tested it, and it really does work that way.

          Of course, the system can’t encrypt anything before it receives it, so that wouldn’t work for received emails.

    5. SpaceySteph*

      I had this same argument with my car insurance company. They TEXTED to ask for a picture of my Drivers License. I’m like ‘isn’t there a portal or something?”

      Then they cancelled my policy because I didn’t send it immediately while I was trying to find a secure way to deliver, and it was a whole thing to get it re-instated.

  8. Inkognyto*

    LW 4.

    I’m in the same field. I’ve had the same thing. What I tell them. I’m not emailing that information to you without a secure link “But our email is secure” is often the answer, because they do not know and no one has informed them that once that email leaves their company it’s no longer encrypted.” Once the email leaves your organization any router on the internet sees it in plain text”

    I don’t cave and usually they find a solution, even if I have to physically drive somewhere. They just want the easy answer. If you get hired, find a solution, there’s a bunch of options out there.

    1. Boof*

      We have a secure setting for our health care email- it requires the recipient to log in to view the contents for starters when used

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Our health provider has this and uses it to convey forms and other HIPAA-protected data. I can’t stand the system our provider uses because it always takes 12 steps to get what I need, but I appreciate the fact that our information is being protected.

        I also work in an environment with information that is subject to various privacy/protective restrictions, and the struggle to get people to take that seriously is real, even under thread of jail time for some of the more restrictive ones.

    2. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I’m not in the field, but I know enough to be dangerous. My reply is usually, “I’m sure your end is fine, but it’s the Gmail server I’m worried about and you’ll notice that my personal email account is with them. I’m just not convinced it’s secure. I’d pick another one, but I’m less convinced of them.”

      I know that’s not the issue, but for some reason, THAT seems to resonate with people more than anything remotely technical I’ve put out.

      Worst case scenario, I’ve written it out, scanned it to PDF, password protected it, and then given the password over the phone. Yes, I will make it that painful.

      1. Beth*

        Worst case scenario, I’ve written it out, scanned it to PDF, password protected it, and then given the password over the phone.

        THANK YOU.

        Some of the people here used to use part of the client’s SSN as the password on emailed pdfs. Then we got one of those hacked (man-in-the-middle attack, with a hacker that had a match of the client’s email and SSN). We just barely saved the client from wiring a large sum of money overseas.

        1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

          Oh my! That’s horrible. At the very least, you should add something like today’s date or a random word like “cat” that people wouldn’t necessarily guess, especially if the get the document after the fact.

      2. Cyberannoyed*

        I appreciate this approach. But it doesn’t mean that your dcuments won’t then be emailed, unsecurely, all over the place in their overall sloppiness and ignorance.

        1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

          Sure, but then they have to UN-password protect it, which most HR people aren’t going to bother with. And I use really obnoxious passwords. Nothing like myname_todaysdate, more like a cat walking across a keyboard.

          They could send the stuff just as easily if I send it via regular email, as they suggest. My version is modestly more secure. I can’t fix everything.

  9. Introvert girl*

    OP 2, this really depends on the position you’re interviewing for. Is it entry level or a senior position?

    1. LadyAmalthea*

      Maybe not? Because I could see entry level candidates having difficulty with a couple of questions due to general inexperience in the interview process and wanting harder questions for more senior level people.

    2. Mockingjay*

      This is one of those letters in which we need more context before offering advice. What does OP2 mean by a “good” answer? An answer that demonstrates industry knowledge? An answer that fits the culture of the org? Etc.

      I hope OP2 chimes into the thread today; I’d like to hear more about their particular circumstances.

      1. L*

        OP2 has chimed in elsewhere in the comments section!

        It’s a technical interview, so there are some objective definitions of “correct vs incorrect”. There are no questions that everyone consistently gets wrong. And some of the interview questions are “stretch” questions where they know that not even the top applicants are likely to get the fully correct answer, they just want to see thought process and how you work through a problem.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          I’ve asked and been asked technical questions like this in interviews, the goal is definitely to have the candidate think out loud and show how they approach problems. The answer is really secondary to the process.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Me too. One of my favorite technical interviews was chatting with someone about an issue they were running into in their research. They didn’t expect me to be able to solve the problem, just to be able to come up with good questions and suggest approaches. Most real issues take more than 45 minutes and a whiteboard to solve!

  10. Allonge*

    LW4 – you mention specifically HR departments. I would say if there is a HR team somewhere, chances are there is a separate IT team, maybe even an ITSec person, and the people you are in contact with are not used to thinking of cybersecurity as ‘their’ field – that’s what Tom in IT is for.

    So they use the tools they are given by the org and the more rigorous the org about IT, the less likely that someone in HR can just purchase or install a new tool. Of course they could and (arguably) should ask for something secure, but, well, there is a budget issue, there is the fact that they are busy enough with their own job as it is, and again, this is Tom’s job, not theirs.

    So – send what you can in as secure a manner as you can, and the rest is just stuff you cannot influence. This is not saying you are wrong, by the way!

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      It would be ironic if the company (like many) has an element of handling personal information in the day-to-day work, with rules like having to ask the customer 3 identification questions before you will give out information, not disclosing unauthorised data, etc. And that presumably there are occasional ‘incidents’ around those policies, with HR then in the position of enforcing the discipline or re-training needed when someone gets it wrong!

    2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

      I like the idea of proposing how to send it. Like you said, HR might not know because IT is not their department. If you give them options, they don’t have to flounder. I think some of the pushback is because they don’t know what to offer so they insist on what they do know. Saying I will send it this (avoiding the X joke made above) saves them the option of having to solve the problem and moves things along.

  11. LW2*

    Just to clarify the situation behind my letter: I am not a manager, but a senior programmer. I conduct technical interviews with applicants, and all my questions are technical in nature (things like shhowing them a function and seeing if they can figure out what it does, or asking them how they would go about writing a program to calculate the number of possible paths between point A and point B). It is definitely true, as Alison says, that it’s as much about seeing how they go about solving the problem as it is about whether they get the correct answer.

    I think the hires we’ve made based on this have generally done well, and there is definitely a strong correlation between how well they did in the interview and how well they do in the job. The one exception to this is a guy who did very well in the interview but quit after a single day; that was a personality issue, though, not a skill issue.

    I should say that there may be an issue of sample size here. I don’t keep records, but I’ve probably interviewed fewer than fifty people.

    1. Emmy Noether*

      For skills test, there is an argument for including “reach” questions in order to truly determine the most competent candidate.

      In a similar vein, I had profs and uni that would purposely design the homework/tests so that “no-one” (direct quote) would get everything correct. This was to see the whole distribution of students, otherwise you’d cut off one tail (gotta love physicists)! Then they’d give full marks for 80% correct. I actually prefer this way of doing it, as long as it is clear in advance. It means you’re free to make some mistakes and can compensate by being better than most on another question.

      1. Lightbulb*

        I think the “clear in advance” bit could be important here? If a person generally excels in technical tests at their level but struggles significantly with an interview test, they could be confused by that, or freaked out (because interviews are already stressful) or conclude that the job is above their level and they’re wrong to apply for, or…
        I don’t do technical tests for my work, so I don’t know, but seems like that could happen.
        Seems to me that some people might not care, but conscientious or anxious people could get ruffled by it, and that could set them at an unfair disadvantage?

        1. Allonge*

          To be honest I am not sure how flagging this in advance would be implemented in the interview context – it’s not a pass/fail situation after all.

          Interviewers cannot really say ‘it’s a difficult question but don’t worry if you don’t get everything right’ – or they could, but that would apply to every question really.

          1. Sloanicota*

            I could totally see something at the outset like, “we’re asking some reach questions today and we don’t necessarily expect even our top candidates to get them all right.” That would be a welcome level of transparency to me, and make the interview feel more congenial. If you don’t do that, your one candidate who can answer every question may decide they’d rather pick a nicer workplace!

            1. Allonge*

              That’s painless enough if it solves the issue – for me it’s more that my basic assumption is that I will not necessarily be able to answer everything, and that is ok. Asking questions that I may not be able to answer (or that are hard but I can) has very little to do with how nice a workplace is.

              But maybe it feels like a gotcha and that is the issue? Again, I am not sure I get the problem – in a school setup, you learn about a thing and then comes the test in the thing, so it should not cover more than what was mentioned before. An interview is not like that.

              1. Sloanicota*

                That’s a good way to approach it, but I think other candidates would get discouraged by questions that weren’t able to be nail well, figuring they wouldn’t be asked if they weren’t essential to the job. They may well assume they won’t be hired since they can’t pass the basic questions and maybe won’t perform their best after that. And it will feel like a “gotcha” if it turns out the questions weren’t actually the basic elements of the job, as in most interviews, but some Kobayashi Maru type exercise where only a very small fraction of applicants might pass (okay, I realize that’s a bad metaphor because that test was impossible without cheating, but I can’t think of a better metaphor atm).

                1. Allonge*

                  So – encouraging people is ok but I don’t think that we should go for easy questions because some may be discouraged due to a (to-them) hard one.

                  I fully agree that the questions should be relevant to the job as it is the majority of the time – but in some jobs they indeed need to test the extremes too, so questions on the basics are just not enough. If a job requires complex technical knowledge (or specific personality/soft skills – IIRC Kobayashi Maru is about handling inevitable failure, not just about technical skills), than that is what should be tested. If only a small fraction of people can answer (and again, we are not talking about testing on a PhD level for a high school exam but job-relevant questions), then that’s a feature, not a bug.

                  Because, and this is the biggest difference between school and a job interview – a person can be brilliant at answering all the questions and still not get hired, as there was someone even better. For me we are ignoring that here a bit, that this is not school where teachers have a duty to nurture and help students and everyone can get a passing grade or As or 99%.

          2. bamcheeks*

            You can say something like, “we like to really push into your stretch zone, where you’re figuring out problems you haven’t encountered before. So if you feel like you don’t have a ready answer for some of our questions, that’s not a problem– talk us through your process and how you’d approach it.”

            You’ll still get some candidates who are comfortable doing that in a working situation with a supportive team, but struggle to do it in an interview situation where they’re under a different kind of pressure, but that’s true of any interview process. You can increase the chances that people will show you their problem-solving process or closest-relevant experience rather than panicking and forgetting how to think, which is all you can really ever do in an interview process.

            1. Allonge*

              I would expect that that also happens naturally for the specific questions, in that LW2 is not just asking people what X function does and keeps silent after, but telling them to show their thought process in figuring it out and answering.

              But, sure, this approach can also be flagged in the beginning. And for those who tend to get overwhelmingly anxious in interview situations, may be a good thing to keep in mind in general – as you say, it’s not like this is that different from any other interview.

          3. MCMonkeyBean*

            I think an interviewer could absolutely say that a test is to get a sense of where there skills are and that they don’t expect candidates to necessarily get every question right.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          It’s critical. If no one explained bell curve grading to you in high school, you might see a 68 on the exam and assume you’re failing even ifvyou heard the prof say the mean was 72.

        3. Emmy Noether*

          Yeah, the first test/homework like that does tend to freak people out a bit, especially those used to doing well.

          I think it could be announced in the interview in a “don’t worry if you don’t know everything off the top of your head, we want to see candidate’s thought process for difficult problems” sort of way. And then you can also sort of help them along and be encouraging during the interview. I also recommend starting with an easy question and building up. If they can’t answer the first one, that can really throw otherwise good candidates off. And I wouldn’t go so far as to design it so actually no-one can answer everything, that seems excessive.

        4. ecnaseener*

          I would actually think conscientious people would take advantage of the chance to ask how much of the job involves [topic they struggled on] to assess for themselves whether it’s a good fit. I get your point about not wanting to worry people, but I’d be careful about setting them *too* much at ease about questions relevant to their success on the job.

          1. I Have RBF*

            Yeah, I kept getting CS degree algorithm tests for jobs that were not primarily programming jobs. A) I don’t have a CS degree, B) if I had a CS degree, it would be 25 years ago, so none of the fancy algorithms would be in my memory, and C) I don’t use that kind of stuff in my daily work. When they ask me to do a reverse b-tree sort, I just laugh at them – I’m not a low-level programmer, I just use the built in sort functions in scripting.

            But most folks interviewing sysadmins don’t know anything about it. So they ask CS coursework questions, which then filters out all of the self-taught sysadmins and gives you programmers instead of sysadmins.

    2. Allonge*

      With this context, I don’t think you are asking too tough questions. Interview questions (especially technical ones) should have some space for both outstanding answers and so-so ones, but more importantly, allow you to differentiate between a really good and a super-very-extra good answer.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Well, and also in context there’s going to be a strong opportunity for “show me how you approach unfamiliar challenges and what you would do if you had literally no idea how to go about a thing” which is a big part of the job.

    3. ecnaseener*

      I think you’re fine. The idea that “if no one gets every question right then the test is too hard” makes sense in school, it doesn’t really make sense in a job interview context (as long as you’re not “failing” every candidate who gets a question wrong and refusing to make a hire, which you’re not).

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Honestly, as a teacher, I don’t even think it makes sense in school. It would be pretty usual for nobody to remember everything. Maybe for something like a primary school spelling test, where students are given 10 words to learn and then tested on them, you’d expect some students to get 10 out of 10, but for a test that is testing a term’s work, I wouldn’t expect anybody to remember everything done in the term. In my experience, it’s pretty common for nobody to get every question right.

        1. Yorick*

          Agreed, it doesn’t make sense in school. The common idea that if too many students fail it’s the teacher’s fault doesn’t even make that much sense. No matter how much I struggle to make the directions clear, put them in writing in multiple places on the online course website, state them verbally in class, tell them it’s important, etc., a majority of the class might just not do it right.

      2. Jay (no, the other one)*

        I don’t think it makes sense in school, either. Testing should help the teacher determine where the students are and what gaps in understanding need to be addressed. Ideally, the student will get feedback on the areas they need to work on and will have the chance to work on those issues. If everyone in the class misses the same question, then that’s diagnostic info for the teacher about their own performance.

        I had a teacher in middle school who said “if you score 100% I don’t know where you really are.” When I was 12 and expected to get 100% on every test, I hated that. Now I get it.

      3. ecnaseener*

        Irish & Jay – sure, reasonable minds can differ about whether it’s *true* in a school setting, but it at least has an underlying logic of “everything on the test should be related to what you were taught in this class.” A job interview doesn’t have that context, is my point.

    4. EA*

      I think you’re fine as long as your standard isn’t “answers every question correctly.” In a technical interview, I’d include Qs that are basic and you expect qualified candidates to get them right, as well as more challenging questions to gauge the applicant’s skill level. If your interviewees seem qualified but can’t get the basic questions right, then maybe there’s something unclear about how you’re asking; otherwise, I think you’re fine.

    5. Annalee*

      Engineering manager here. I’ve hired at multiple companies, including a very big one that’s rather famous for its interview process.

      One strategy I definitely recommend for calibrating programming questions is testing them on your current colleagues. This was eye-opening for me when I was overhauling our code review question bank at a previous role: I had a couple of questions I thought were going to be easy warm-ups, but when I got existing engineers to sit mock programming interviews with me, very good engineers whiffed it. If I’d used that for real interviews without testing, I would have misjudged candidates.

      A few rounds of tweaking and testing and I was able to develop a set of code review questions (sometimes down to specific ways of asking) that could reliably level people: good junior engineers would get 1, 2, and sometimes 3 but usually missed 4 and 5; senior engineers would have a good answer to 4 and 5; senior engineers with deep experience in our stack would generally have an even better answer to 5 (and then all the general stuff like asking more about trade-offs etc before proposing solutions, talking about testing strategy, etc).

      And speaking of Alison’s point about bias: for problem-solving/algos questions (like your second example), I recommend really thinking about what skills you’re assessing–and testing questions on engineering colleagues at the appropriate level who do not have CS/Math degrees. A lot of companies think they’re assessing programming skill when they’re actually assessing whether someone took an algorithms class at an elite engineering school.

      Self-taught engineers, even senior ones, often don’t have a deep background in algorithms outside of practical application. They may not know what “big O” or “time and memory complexity” mean, but they can still explain why one solution has a faster runtime than another, and why the slower one might still be better.

      If you really do need engineers who can optimize for time and memory complexity (over engineering time, extensibility, maintainability, and readability, which are almost always more important), then your company can almost certainly take a little longer to hire. So you can tell candidates you prioritize those things (and why) and give them a few weeks to study up on algos. Doing that broadens your candidate pool to a lot more engineers who’d be great hires.

      1. Carit*

        This is an awesome response. Thank you for spelling it all out so clearly! And for pointing out the need to level set.

      2. I Have RBF*

        A lot of companies think they’re assessing programming skill when they’re actually assessing whether someone took an algorithms class at an elite engineering school.

        I have been burned by this very often! I am a self-taught sysadmin and script hack. I don’t know any algorithms except for the credit card validation one. I do not know how to write a reverse b-tree sort, that’s lower level programming than I do. That’s writing basic OS functions, but I write “glue” – scripts that use low level OS functions/utilities to automate stuff. This always keeps me out of places like Google, that wants their SREs to do CS grad programming.

        1. Annalee*

          If you ever decide you want to try for companies that index heavily on algorithms, I strongly recommend “Cracking The Coding Interview,” by Gayle Laakmann McDowell. It’s written for people who know how to code but haven’t sat an algorithms class (or haven’t done it recently), so it covers the theory and math from an engineer’s perspective.

          I learned on the job, and I had previously only worked for companies where engineering time was far more valuable than computing power. I found Cracking The Coding Interview enormously helpful in studying up for interviews at a certain Nameless Big Company.

  12. Nev*

    Re: # 3:
    If people push, you can always say the bruises are from aerial aerobics, since a lot of pole fitness classes are taught at the same places. If people ask for video proof, demure and say your gym doesn’t allow outside videos/photos of students.

    1. Language Lover*

      I was going to recommend the same thing. Saying something like regular or rhythmic gymnastics….or parkour.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Yes, fellow aerialist here LW3! I’d just go with something from the more circussy and less sexy end of aerial— in my experience people tend to think of silks and sling as more circus, and hoop can go either way depending on whether people associate it with circus or burlesque. We probably bruise slightly less in hoop just because hoops are taped so we’re not using bare skin to grip, but if you’re someone who bruises easily you’ll definitely have visible bruises from it.

      (Also grrr at sexwork stigma and shout out to the strippers who developed pole as a dance and art form!)

      1. amoeba*

        I mean, certainly not proof, but if it’s work friends, I might possibly just ask out of curiosity! Not necessarily for a video of themselves, but for more details, maybe a youtube video of somebody else doing the thing they do… Because I’d just think it’s really cool and most people tend to be happy to chat about their hobbies.

        Which is why I’d stay as close to the truth as possible, because I’d find it… weird if my coworker told me they’re into, I don’t know, handball, and then block any further chat about the topic.

        The “aerial acrobatics” explanation sounds really good to me as a non-expert!

        1. bamcheeks*

          Exactly this– and to be honest, most aerialists are very videotastic and are panting for the opportunity to go, “yes, as it happens, I DO— LOOK FINALLY I GOT MY STRAIGHT ARM INVERT!!” But saying, “you can look up aerial silks on YouTube!” because you don’t want to show colleagues a video of yourself in a sports bra is also very normal.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          It sounds like it’s more for students and parents and so on, in which case it would be easier to avoid such requests.

        3. kiki*

          Yes! It’s not that people are looking for evidence or nosey– it’s that they’re trying to show interest and support in their coworkers’ lives. I think that’s what makes having a cover story difficult in these cases– not that people actually are suspicious and will be searching for evidence to disprove LW’s story– it’s that a few natural follow-up questions from interested coworkers could cause issues with the cover. If my coworker said they started doing Roller Derby, I’d think that is so cool and want to know where in the city roller derby is played because I’d be interested in that too. If my coworker had no answer, I might be confused.

    3. JubJubTheIguana*

      The problem with lying is that if you happen to have a coworker who actually does do aerial stuff (I know loads of people who do), it’ll almost certainly end with you being exposed as a liar when you can’t answer basic questions about it.

      I realise AAM has a tendency to treat questions like this like we’re all collaboratively writing an episode of a wacky sitcom, but in real life lying can go wrong so easily.

      1. ecnaseener*

        LW said their coworkers know the truth and this is just for students, parents, etc. Easy enough to change the subject when you’re in the middle of class or a parent teacher conference.

        1. Antilles*

          Yeah, this is the key.
          OP has already solved this for the colleagues she sees regularly, this is just needing an answer to ward off the super casual inquiries where someone sees the bruises and goes “whoa, what happened to you? is everything okay?”.
          You don’t need a CIA-caliber bulletproof legend with accompanying fake documentation, you don’t really need to worry about being pressed for all sorts of details. All you need is an answer that’s sufficient and breezy enough to satisfy that level of vague curiosity and let you redirect the conversation back to Johnny’s C- in math.

      2. bamcheeks*

        Pole IS an aerial discipline, though, so LW could answer the questions! It’s also super normal for people to do more than one discipline, or focus on one but drop in to a taster class in another, or move from one to another, and strength and flexibility are common to all. They wouldn’t have a lie at all, just be a little vague about whether pole/hoop/trapeze/silks/sling/acro is their current focus.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        I doubt that fibbing about a hobby will end up seeing someone “exposed as a liar” but it might make people more concerned about the bruising than you would want. I would just keep it as vague and generalised as possible – “It’s a workout that is based on some aerial gymnastics and as you can see I am super new and clumsy at it!” then if someone says “Oh is it like my hobby doing x and y?” you would just say “Don’t think so! That sounds more advanced, this is just a workout inspired by aerial stuff.”

      4. Allonge*

        Yes – I would keep it as simple as possible. Sports or workout should cover a lot of these situations.

    4. I'm just here for the cats!*

      That’s a great suggestion. And if people ask for proof, then the OP can look at them oddly and say “Why are you wanting to see videos of me exercising? Thats incredibly invasive and odd.” and then just walk away.

      1. metadata minion*

        That’s unnecessarily harsh when asking about a hobby that sometimes does involve recorded performances. She can just say “nope, sorry!” and nobody is going to bat an eye.

      2. Roland*

        If you’re making small talk and someone mentions a cool hobby, it’s really normal to be like, oh that’s cool, do you have any photos. A reply lile you suggest is really aggressive for an innocuous question.

        1. kiki*

          Yes! That response would make people more suspicious and confused! If somebody literally asks for proof, this is a merited response, but if somebody is just trying to show interest in their coworkers’ hobbies, this will come across as very odd.

    5. Bethany*

      I do gymnastics and my favorite event is bars. I often end up with lots of bruising on my upper thighs and could see how pole dancing would be similar, but worse, bruise-wise.
      You could always say that you’re doing gymnastics, specifically working on the bar, and had a couple wipeouts. Very close to the truth and not terribly outside the mainstream.
      Just as an aside, I’ve always wanted to try pole dancing! The pros make it look effortless but, as in gymnastics, it takes SO MUCH strength! So cool.

  13. zaracat*

    #4 It’s not just small companies that don’t take cybersecurity seriously or don’t understand what activities are risky – or maybe the company as a whole does, but individuals within it are the weak point. In order to get accreditation at a particular hospital a couple of years ago, I had to provide multiple identity documents plus a copy of my degree and current medical registration to the HR department. This was a large, multi hospital group with mandatory cybersecurity training. And yet …. when I messed up using the secure single use link I was sent for document upload and the HR person I followed up with to didn’t know how to generate another link, they suggested I just email all the scanned documents to them. Yeah, no, I’m not going to set myself up for identity theft thanks. I drove to the main office and made them scan the documents into their system while I waited. Worth losing half a day just for that peace of mind.

    1. münchner kindl*

      The complete lack of cybersecurity for hospitals, given it’s such sensitive data for patients is horrible.

      Once you start looking -or just following general news! – you don’t want to tell them anything anymore.

      Don’t know the specifics of US, but in my country, the recent public scandals were:

      MRI machines had for ages sent a copy of each scan for safe keeping (good idea), but: sent where, you ask? Well nobody knew because nobody had told IT at the hospital or doctors offices when the machines were bought.

      Several hospitals had their patient data locked when ransomware infected them.

      And before the digital age, there was more than one scandal were confidental patient files during record cleaning were not destroyed correctly, but just dumped on the landfill or in an open dumpster on the hotel parking lot.

      Even here, where hospitals are not yet owned by for-profit companies, each hospital is still their own unit, and thus has to pay for their own IT department, which then also has to do cybersecurity, and given the market for competent IT employees and public wages, that’s not possible.

      A normal doctors office is of course hundred times worse, because no IT person at all.

      The smart idea would be to say that because hospitals are part of public infrastructure, it’s the governments job to do one IT office that does safe backup and security, along with digitalsation of patients records while protecting privacy, for every hospital and doctors office.

      But that would require politicans to understand IT enough to be worried, which.. they don’t.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        Our health service in Ireland got hacked two years ago and it caused chaos. They said the delays as a result were worse than those caused by covid. And a lot of people’s health information ended up I the hands of cybercriminals.

      2. ecnaseener*

        On the flip side, my hospital is so gung-ho about cybersafety that they send EVERYTHING through a secure link requiring a login. I’m talking wellness newsletters with absolutely zero personal or health information.

        1. Jay (no, the other one)*

          Yup. I work per diem for a medical company and when I email from my personal account about what days I’m working they always send it encrypted. Not patient info or my info – a list of dates and times.

        2. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          I think it’s easier for the (often overworked) staff to send _everything_ through a secure link than to decide which things need to be sent that way, and to set up two or more messaging systems.

          The annoying thing from the patient end is that the only way to know whether a “new message on MyChart” is a test result or answer to a medical question, a link to a covid screening questionnaire, or an announcement that their patients can get flu and covid vaccines in the doctor’s office is to log into the system.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Ugh, yes. The UK government website (which to be fair is held up as a standard of excellence internationally) sends you messages that just say “you have a message: log on to read it” and far too often the message is just confirmation that your online renewal application was received by their server, or whatever.

    2. Snow Globe*

      Individual employees are always going to be the weak link.

      Different but similar – I once chaired the finance committee of a not-for-profit. Our auditors had written a management letter detailing a number of internal control issues. I worked for months to develop procedures with the staff to set up dual control for all the cash management processes, only to get the same issues in the next audit. Turns out when someone went on vacation, they just handed over their responsibilities to the other person, even handing over their half of the combination to the safe (where cash was kept) …

    3. J*

      I work on my company’s privacy team in healthcare and this is so typical. I will say that the majority of our breach reviews come from incidents involving HR. Everyone is so focused on patient data protections that HR ignores they have some of the most important data too. Even though we train everyone and HR gets extra training every time they mess up.

    4. kiki*

      It’s tough because right now I’d say most organizations are pretty lax about cybersecurity in a lot of ways, especially when it comes to having people email documents. It often takes something going very wrong for the specific organization (a breach) or an industry-wide shift to see change.

    5. JustaTech*

      A few years ago my company’s HR asked everyone to bring their passport/ proof of identity and permission to work in-country into work to get scanned (again). (Not super reassuring since it made it seem like they’d lost all that stuff that everyone did on their first day?)

      And one coworker, who is known to be a real stickler about privacy stuff, asked how they were going to make sure that the scans of our documents were no longer on the scanner? It turns out that we don’t own our printer/scanner, we lease it, and that the scanner hard drive is quite large.
      HR was utterly confused by this question and getting upset that he wouldn’t let them scan his passport, so finally I suggested that once we were all done he should just scan a whole ream of paper to fill up the hard drive so the older stuff 9our passports) was deleted.

      It was an educational experience for everyone.

  14. Lorikeet*

    Alison’s advice re No 1 is spot on. Part of my job involves cemetery planning and myself and the cemeteries supervisor will quite happily have discussions about all the varied issues that come with this topic. Occasionally someone will get squeamish and say so, at which point we will always stop because we like our colleagues, don’t want to upset them and are fully aware that what we find fascinating arouses different emotions in others. I’m sure Barry would be exactly the same.

    1. Random Dice*

      #1 – It’s very very reasonable to speak up about this.

      You’re applying kindergarten rules (everyone gets a turn)… but in kindergarten one doesn’t discuss dismemberment.

      I have PTSD from childhood violence (among several reasons). Before I got EMDR therapy, daily talk of death and violence would have had me spiraling for *DAYS* – and even now would deeply impact my mental health.

      Talking about violence and death is deeply upsetting to many people. It’s also an ADA thing if someone has PTSD. (Though we very rarely disclose at work.)

      (Repeat post b/c it threaded under the gym bruise discussion)

      1. Random Dice*

        I find that so distressing too! I can’t fathom all the women who watch true-crime murder shows in order to relax. I grew up surrounded by murder and shootings and carjackings and chalk outlines on the sidewalk (real or kids playing, who knows?). So stressful and scary.

  15. SansSerif*

    #2: If no one answers a specific question correctly, it actually may not be a problem with the question. It could be a problem with what you consider a good answer. You may have unrealistic expectations; perhaps there several good answers to a question but you will only accept one specific option.

    1. LW2*

      There is no single question that everybody got wrong. Also, this is a technical interview, so it’s much less open to interpretation whether a given answer is right or wrong (there is some judgment involved, but not as much as in other types of interviews).

  16. Forensic What*

    #1 is sort of typical for people who do have to deal with death and awful things daily – they cope by talking about it with people they feel safe with and it’s often a way to decompress. Personally, I think since it’s “work related” to simply deal with it rather than but him in a spot he cannot discuss these stories. I am surprised you’re in the field you are, actually, since covering unpleasantness is part of the job description. It sounds like you lucked out with a different assignment.

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I was thinking the same actually when I read the letter, but felt sure I would get piled on with a response… my thoughts are that being in ‘news’ or ‘current affairs’ or something allied, you need to keep up with -all- the news. Not just the nice parts or the celeb gossip or whatever. Shutting out the unpleasant parts and asking someone not to talk about them so they are not on your mind – is sort of contrary to a ‘news’ orientation.

      1. Ms. Norbury*

        Hearing graphic, upsetting details of violent crimes is not in any way a requirement of keeping up with current affairs, and I feel your wording (“the nice parts or the celeb gossip or whatever”? Really?) is recasting the LW as a delicate little flower that wants to stop their colleague from talking about sad but important news, instead of someone asking for help enforcing a reasonable boundary around office chit-chat. No pile on needed, but I do think that’s a bit ungenerous.

      2. Jackalope*

        I mean, there’s a big difference between someone making lunch conversation about, “I think the death count for Incident is up to 28,” and going into graphic detail about what the bodies looked like and how exactly all 28 of those people died. The first one is reasonable to expect to hear, it a lot of people would be uncomfortable with the second, and it’s reasonable to ask that those details not be shared. Especially on a regular basis; if Barry really needs to talk it through he can find a different outlet for that.

    2. Ms. Norbury*

      I think that’s a pretty ungenerous, and not quite accurate reading of the letter. The LW says Barry will not only mention the events he’s covering, but will “go on to describe the death in detail”, which is really not something that is necessary to even include in the news reports themselves, much less in chats with coworkers that are not even covering the same type of news.

      I agree it’s probably Barry’s way to decompress, but LW shouldn’t just have to “simply deal with” graphic descriptions of upsetting crimes when it’s not even part of their job to deal with it.

      1. Constance Lloyd*

        I agree, Barry is probably sharing too many gory details and simply doesn’t realize it’s making LW uncomfortable. When asking Barry to adjust, I think it would also be helpful for LW to give examples of details they are okay hearing, so Barry can still talk to his coworkers about his work. Using incredibly benign examples, something like, “I’m okay hearing what color sweaters the alpacas were wearing that day, but knowing the exact motifs depicted on those sweaters can be unsettling for me.”

    3. Objection*

      I was coming here to say this. As someone who works in a field where we are regularly subjected to descriptions of trauma and violence, part of how I deal with it emotionally is talking about it with my coworkers. I’ve learned that keeping it inside is not good for me. I don’t like talking about it outside of work because 1) I want to leave it at work and not have it seep into my personal life, and 2) I recognize that most people outside this field don’t want to hear about it. That being said, even within my workplace I know that my various coworkers have different levels of comfort with the subject matter of my specialized field. So yes, certainly talk to Barry and alert him to your discomfort, but also maybe give Barry some space to process this stuff if that’s part of what is driving him to talk about these stories. If he does bring it up now and then (hopefully not every day after you talk to him), maybe take that as cue to talk a walk or go get a cup of coffee for a few minutes.

    4. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      “Covering unpleasantness” is clearly not part of the job description or LW wouldn’t have written in. And it’s weird that you think a coworker is entitled to their colleagues’ attention because they feel safe with them. Just like I don’t have to listen to Jane talk about her pregnancy complications or Juan’s problems with his divorce, I don’t have to let you dump your “awful things” on me at work so you can feel better and now I feel bad.

      If you need to decompress and can’t cope without it, then it is on *you* to find an outlet for that. It is not okay to dump that on anyone nearby. You are not the only one who matters. If you are doing this now without the consent of the people you are dumping on, stop it.

      1. SAS*

        The difference with your examples are that Jane and Juan are not sharing details related to their daily work. Barry is participating equally to the sports or science reporter who I assume go into detail about whichever events they are reporting on that day. I think the onus is more on OP to say, “ok I’m tapping out of the crime conversation guys” and putting on their headphones, rather than restricting Barry.

    5. Katie*

      Granted I don’t know how much detail he is going into but I had that feeling too. He has probably one of the worst of the fields to have to cover and I would feel frustrated if I were him if I was also asked not to talk about it.

      My job sucks and part of the way I deal with it is talking about the problems that are occurring.

    6. Batman*

      But it doesn’t sound like Barry is discussing this material in a work-related situation, just a social one (at work). That makes a huge difference. If it were necessary for the work, the LW would need to make adjustments, but making small talk about murder is only acceptable if everyone is on board.

    1. münchner kindl*

      That can easily countered by “Then lend a car” because car rental companies exist.

      The disconnect here is that LW doesn’t even have a licence and won’t get one for medical reasons.

      Too many companies still haven’t caught up that even in US, as more people move into the cities, and as the younger generation are facing tight budgets, it’s no longer “immature”, but common to not have a license at all and just use public transport, because owning a car is too expensive and not necessary in a decent-sized/ or decent-organized city.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Sure, but I wouldn’t have thought it’s where most companies will jump to since that costs money whereas a lift with a co-worker is free. And if they do LW can still come back and say they don’t have a licence.

      2. Mister_L*

        I don’t know about the situation in the US.
        However I can tell you, that at least until a few years ago owning a driving license was seen as an unofficial “idiot test” (literal translation), where applicants who didn’t provide a medical reason for not having one were somewhat side-eyed.

      3. Tucson has sun*

        I disagree. The job description expressly asked for a willingness to travel. There are plenty of places, especially in the US, that are realistically accessible only by car. Not every city is a “decent size or decent organized city.” It is also presumptuous to say that only “decent” cities have huge public transportation networks. Are you going to tell us that places like Lubbock, TX, or Tucson, AZ, or Boise, ID aren’t “decent” cities because they’re not in the Acela corridor? How arrogant, and how typical of big city coastal types.

    2. Fiona Orange*

      Or you could just say “I can’t drive for medical reasons” and leave it at that. I believe that it’s against the law for them to ask what your specific medical condition is.

  17. WS*

    LW #1 – gruesome chat is really common in medical fields, but there’s no problem if you ask someone to tone it down. People forget that not everyone has the same experiences as they do.

    1. Darkside*

      I was just about to say, it almost sounds like he’s so steeped in this as part of his job, he’s gotten a little desensitized to it. It immediately reminded me of family visits with Mom and Cousin (both nurses in a nursing home) who would “talk shop” about things they saw with a casualness about it that made the rest of our stomachs turn.

      1. I'd Rather be Eating Dumplings*

        I think it can also be a bit of a coping strategy, tbh. I work in a field where I regularly have to confront pretty terrible things.

        Occasionally I’ll feel almost compelled to talk about it with friends or family, and I think there is an element of me wanting to have other people validate that these are horrific and unusual things. It can feel weighty to be holding on to all those stories with no escape valve.

        But I still think Alison’s script is really appropriate here; he might be doing this a bit compulsively and not realising the impact it has on OP.

  18. Irish Teacher*

    LW4, your issue reminds me of a quote from Silas Marner about how people always believe things are safe if they’ve done them regularly with no problems, even if the risks are increasing. The book gave the example of a man working in a mine for 40 years and now it’s getting more and more unstable but he’s convinced it’s safe because he’s been going down there for years with no issues.

    I think you are running into something similar here.

    I also think people often don’t respect expertise or even understand what an “expert” is. They seem to think that “experts” are some shadowy group somewhere or even that they are the government or the media (or at least, they believe that you get the expert’s opinions from the media). And therefore, they think “if this was necessary, it would be on the news.”

    1. Lightbulb*

      Yeah. I have a relative who works in “the news”, and observing their work has changed my understanding of how “the news” works. I used to assume, unconsciously, that if something important happened it would be on the news or in the papers. Now, after decades of watching my relative and their colleagues work, of course I deeply understand that it’s simply journalists and producers looking for stories they want to tell…and most “important” stuff OF COURSE goes unreported.
      For example – and this is a sad example with mention of murders in it – when I was young I used to unconsciously assume that if a murder or car accident was on the main news, then the news covered all the significant murders and car accidents. Obviously, when you think about it, that’s naive. There’s are massive numbers of both kinds of tradegy that simply don’t reach the attention of news-makers, so aren’t reported on.

      1. münchner kindl*

        Not even murders: car accidents. When my local radio station does 3-4 pieces of news, it’s either local or big news. If they report on a Monday about a traffic accident on the weekend, it’s because either it’s “slow news day” or because it’s a tragic accident – whole family with kids, multiple dead.

        Yet if you look at the statistics at the end of the year, with several thousand traffic accident deaths, there must be traffic accidents with dead people every single day.

        By not reporting on every single one, people’s perception is distorted on how dangerous and how common it is.

        For murders: Missing white woman syndrome has a name for a reason.

        1. bamcheeks*

          When I lived in Ireland in the 00s, they actually *do* report nearly all fatalities on Irish roads on the national news, and usually finish the item with, “bringing the number of deaths on Irish roads to 121 this year”. There’s often more detail if it’s young people from a small town or village. It really changed my attitude to hearing about road fatalities on the news!

          1. Irish Teacher*

            I was going to reply that we do report all murders, but that’s because we have an average of maybe 40 murders nationally a year.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Tom Nichols has a whole book about this, The Death of Expertise. Tied to the loss of faith in institutions.

  19. anononon*

    I don’t have a driving licence, and work in a role where I need to visit other offices (across the UK, in Spain and in a couple of US cities). I’m very matter-of-fact about this – ‘I’ll be taking the train to A and then getting a taxi to the office at B’ or ‘when I get to the airport I’ll be getting a cab to the hotel at A and taking Ubers to the office and back’ and that’s just… how I get around.

    I’m absolutely Willing To Travel. But that travel is by public transport.

    1. amoeba*

      Yeah, me too, but hereabouts it’s very normal to travel by public transport and you can pretty much get anywhere you need to go without a car. I guess it can be very different in places where there’s just no way to get to certain areas without driving!

      1. anononon*

        I’m yet to find anywhere that a taxi can’t take me.

        Lots of places don’t have app-based, instant taxi services like Uber, but even the most rural places have a pre-bookable taxi. You just have to be organised.

        1. not like a regular teacher*

          I have absolutely visited/worked in communities so rural they had one or zero taxis for the entire area. I doubt this is OP’s situation or they would have mentioned it though!

        2. Don't Be Longsuffering*

          I missed my brother’s wedding last month because I couldn’t afford the 100 mile taxi ride from the nearest public transport. The cost of a flight across the ocean was considerably cheaper than the taxi. Just sayin’.

          1. Caramel & Cheddar*

            In this scenario, the company would be paying for the cab, not the employee. They might not love the cost, but it’s still the cost of having this particular employee do their business elsewhere.

            I’m sorry you missed your brother’s wedding.

            1. Tucson has sun*

              In this scenario, the company would be paying for the cab, not the employee. They might not love the cost, but it’s still the cost of having this particular employee do their business elsewhere.

              Not if some other employee can do the same job without inflicting exorbitant costs on the company.

              This particular letter writer probably has an out because she needs a medical accommodation, but that’s not true of your generic “won’t get a driver’s license because I don’t wanna” person.

              1. CantDriveNowWhat*

                actually, if the company says travel is an important part of the job they can require someone to drive rather than pay (likely significant) additional transportation fees for a non-driver. ADA does not require changing core job responsibilities or significant additional burdens on the company to meet them (financial or otherwise). It does require absorbing additional travel costs if incurred because of a disability if travel is infrequent/incidental.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I really wish the United States was more like the UK and other European countries. This is just not an option, especially in the Midwest and Western states. Places on the east coast like New York and DC have pretty good transport options. Chicago is pretty good, but anything west of Chicago is almost non-existent, especially from city to city.

      For example, I live in Wisconsin and looked at getting a train to Chicago Illinois, just for the day. The train only leaves at 8 pm in my city and would arrive in Chicago after 10. That’s the only choice for public transit, besides maybe a bus but they do not come through every day.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        And add in the literal costs of procuring a driver’s license, the Midwest needs to do better.

        Public transit where I live is laughable.
        The first driver’s education course costs about $500. There’s a second class, a road test, and across the process, around 100 hours of driving time to log, and a probationary period to get through…all to say that I can completely UNDERSTAND why someone might not have a driver’s license, but I’m not sure what the logistical alternative is either.

  20. bamcheeks*

    I’m kind of surprised at the answer to LW2! I would have thought it was sensible to pitch interview questions so that some of them are going to be at the limits of candidate’s knowledge— if they’re pitched where multiple candidates can provide great answers for all of them, it’s much harder to differentiate between candidates. Whereas if you can see that Pete is strong on llama costuming but weak on the latest llama hairstyles, and Zara is a great all-rounder but doesn’t have the technical depth on llama colour matching, it feels like you can have a much more solid and robust discussion on which is going to be right for the role.

    The one thing I would say is to make sure you’ve got back ups, alternate wording and prompts for all your questions, so that if a candidate misunderstands the question, mishears, gets off onto the wrong track, or just has a mind-goes-blank moment, you’re not taking that first answer as a fail. You want your interview process to be testing knowledge, skills a d qualities relevant to the job, and generally speaking, “can think of a time when you had to make a decision without access to all the information you needed” isn’t the skill you’re trying to test. Giving people written questions, giving people time to think about the question, giving examples of the type of thing you’re looking for and stopping people if they get off on the wrong track and saying, “we’re looking for something more like X” are all more likely to help you get the information you need than just firing a question at a candidate and taking whatever comes back as their final answer.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I agree. I like stretch questions, as long as they’re still within the scope of the role. I expect employees to grow and mature in a role, not know everything out of the gate. Those questions help contextualize where they are within that “starting expertise” range.

      And for senior roles, I think these questions are vital. I need to know how senior people are going to respond when presented with problems that are new to them.

  21. Frying Panthiest*

    #2 Interview Questions – personal opinion. All too often this is viewed as a test, if you don’t answer a question properly you’ve failed the question and another person did so they get the job. Rather than they answer all the quesions in the way that the interviewer wants the questions to be answered, surely there should be more discussion rather than questioning.
    Due to the nature of my “niche” I have moved around to many companies doing the same thing so I’d be interviewing every two years or so. The worst was when they had a list of questions they would not deviate from, one place they asked a specific question to which I answered that I couln’t answer that as I had never done that specific thing, they couldn’t handle that as it meant they couldn’t mark the question how they wanted so instead circled around like a persistent buzzing fly. In the end it felt like the whole interview hinged on the fact that this question could not be answered to their satisfaction.
    The best interviews had leading questions designed to create a discussion where follow-up questions could be asked. This would lead to a work-based dicussion where we all learnt about each other.
    So if I have an interview that is a series of questions which have to be answered regardless of the previous one, I’m put off. If you include the old chestnuts “What can you bring to the company”, “How do you see yourself in 5 years”, “what is your greatest weakness”, “Tell me about yourself” I’m even more put off.
    Engage me in a meaningful discussion about the company and what is needed and what my contribution would be – now you have my interest.

    1. Home Today*

      I agree, although I’m conflicted on this. Some people advocate for strictly set interview questions (without follow-up conversation) on equality and diversity grounds The idea is that every candidate is subjected to the exact same scrutiny, so can be marked fairly against each other. But, as someone who cares about equity and inclusion, I still don’t think I’m on board with that interview style. I like set questions yes, but inflexibility around follow up discussion just seems ineffective to me … How are you meant to get to KNOW someone? And I’m not sure that follow-up discussion is necessarily discriminatory.

      1. bamcheeks*

        As far as I know, it’s not just equality and diversity (as important as that is!) Whenever I’ve looked this up, the evidence for structured interviews as a better predictor of job performance than unstructured ones is pretty conclusive, and most interviewers over-rate “getting to know a candidate” as an effective way of judging their potential job performance.

        1. Emmy Noether*

          I agree. “Getting to know” a candidate is heavily biased towards choosing candidates just like oneself, instead of the most competent.

          Best practice is to have a structured list of questions, and to actually know what skill/characteristic one is getting at with each question (this is where a lot of interviewers fail – they ask questions that sound good to them, but don’t know what they’re trying to find out). Then for each question, also leave time for restating or a follow-up question or the candidate asking a question back. Then evaluate that skill/characteristic based on the exchange.

        2. Irish Teacher*

          I’m biased on this one because I am…not very good at small talk. I actually loved it when a school asked for a short demonstration of how I would teach a class (they let me know in advance that I would be asked to do this and what the class should be on, obviously) and then asked questions following up from that – “why did you choose those resources to support this skill?” “how would you adapt for a student with x need?” etc.

          And I agree that “getting to know a candidate” can lead to hiring the “person you’d most like to go for a drink with” rather than the most qualified person.

          I do think, however, it is important that the questions not be too narrow in this case. For example, in teaching interviews, it is common to ask what extra-curricular activities you would be willing to organise/help with. A couple of schools have instead asked something like “what else are you willing to contribute to the school in addition to teaching your subject?” or “what extra-curricular or other activities have you been involved in?” which allows people to mention things like offering students an additional subject outside school hours or any Transition Year modules they have taught or would like to teach or that they organised the graduation ceremony in their previous school or they organised supervision for the Christmas and summer tests or they were on the committee that revised the discipline code or increased enrollment by promoting the school.

          Not sure how this relates to other fields but certainly in teaching, simply asking about extra-curricular activities will benefit people whose contribution is more in the sports or arts area and tend to ignore work that is more related to organisation or discipline or academics.

      2. Allonge*

        Set list of questions is great, but some follow-up and some explanations / rephrasing should be allowed in my view – insisting on a particular teminology can be just as non-inclusive as going by gut feeling.

        In my experience, using a pre-arranged scoring system, adding a time limit to the interview and having more than one person present can balance out the inevitable differences that come from allowing follow-up.

      3. just a random teacher*

        We just had some less-than-great interviews (for an aide job – the type of thing that does not require any formal education beyond a HS diploma) due to a strict list of questions from district HR, mostly because they used vocabulary that some of our interviewees didn’t know. I would have really appreciated being able to ask questions getting at those issues in a less formal way.

        In our case, one interviewee clearly had never encountered the term “culturally competent” before and the other was clearly still learning English and had a “false friend” problem thinking that “confidential” meant “confident” and so completely blew the question about keeping data confidential by instead telling us what they’d do to boost students’ confidence. The first is kind of a yellow flag to me because I’d prefer someone who’d been spending enough time thinking about how to work with people from other cultures to have come across the term before (although I’m not sure if “culturally competent” is an education-speak term or a general one), the second was incredibly frustrating because ability to handle confidential data correctly is completely unrelated to how well you understand English and I’d prefer to pull those two issues apart to consider separately.

  22. Dog momma*

    All the job ads I’ve noticed for at least 20 yrs will state if you need a driver’s license, including some of mine..RN

  23. Media Monkey*

    LW4 – if any of the data is on an EU resident, sending it unencrypted via email is a serious GDPR issue. Could that be a way to help you push back? most companies dealing with any Personally Identifiable Data (PII) in the EU have totally overhauled their data receipt and retention policies as a result – the fines for contravention are huge!

  24. Charley*

    It’s not LW1’s responsibility to provide this, but I do hope Barry has an outlet/space for processing the violence and sadness he sees through his work. Secondary trauma can be a thing and I wonder if some of his oversharing on the graphic details is coming from a place of not having a good processing outlet otherwise. When I worked in a heavy, emotion charged job my supervisor was really good about providing specific spaces for us to unpack our feelings, I wonder what LW1’s workplace is like on that.

    1. Silver Robin*


      my workplace has a lot of secondary trauma opportunities and plenty of people in this work went through similar trauma themselves so primary trauma can get triggered plenty too. Plus just…lots of frustration because the systems we work in are awful.

      The whole org has the option to join a book club that reads about trauma and discusses it. These turn into both “how do we serve our clients better” discussions and mini group therapy sessions of a sort. The facilitators are trained therapists.

      My specific team has “shade and shout outs” at each team meeting to vent and celebrate each other. Our boss also brought in the book club facilitators for a special session just for our team when we got particularly upsetting news a few weeks ago.

      Dealing with death and violence all day is rough on the psyche, I hope that coworker has support systems in place.

  25. DJ Abbott*

    LW5, It’s a cultural thing in America to assume everyone drives. It’s because America was designed to be car-dependent from the beginning, and there’s little to no transit outside the big cities. Car-dependence keeps people poor from the necessity of paying for that big expensive machine, and it has a bad effect on our culture because people are always isolated in their cars. I have always wished we could be like Europe and have more and better transit.
    I don’t own a car because I don’t like them, and every single time I Google destinations it shows me drive times, even though I’ve been switching it to transit since the beginning.
    So whether you can get along with transit depends on the area.
    I hope something can be worked out with your job. It would be really stupid of them to put driving requirements on an employee who loves the job and wants to stay several years. Good luck!

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      America was not designed to be car dependent from the beginning, it was a political choice then as it is now. Check out historical maps of American train routes to see how much more plentiful they were a century ago vs now, or stories of walkable neighbourhoods that were essentially bulldozed to make room for interstates, etc.

      I appreciate that it might *feel* like it was this way from the get go, but I think it’s an important part of the car dependence discussion to talk about the fact that it wasn’t always like this.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        The Founders would have been crazy smart to forecast the invention of the automobile by over a century and plan around it.

      2. B*

        Very true and important to realize that this is both a political choice and not an inevitability. Since we are such a young country, though, it is fair to say many of the places where people live today were autocentric from the “beginning” because they were simply undeveloped until the mid-20th century or later. Basically the entire Sun Belt, for instance.

      3. fhqwhgads*

        Or just watch “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” which has a remarkably apt take on it, considering that movie is mostly known for being a technological marvel of its time.

    2. Irish Teacher*

      In Ireland, I feel this differs greatly depending on where you are. I don’t drive and I’ve found that when I was going for interviews in the Dublin area, where transport is at the best we have in the country, they would ask “are you driving or coming by public transport?” before telling you how to get to the school, whereas in rural areas, they would immediately tell you the driving route because in those areas, most people do drive as public transport is often poor.

      Just checked and in 2016, only 2/3rds of households in Dublin said they had a car, compared with 91% in rural areas.

      So yeah, this is really area dependent.

    3. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Not correct. America was very much not designed to be car dependent. We were actually very close to seeing cars banned as too deadly, but lobbyists saved the day. /s

      As recent as the 1930s you could get around, even in rural areas, by bus quite easily. The rise of the highway and interstate system changed this, but additionally, the perception that poor people (i.e. black people) rely on public transit led to it being defunded.

      If you have any interest, there’s a book called Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City that covers how this all happened.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        I know enough to be annoyed. Doubt more info would help that. :)
        I meant since the beginning of cars, America has been designed to be car-dependent. Yes, transit was better 90 years ago.

    4. Tucson has sun*

      Car-dependence keeps people poor from the necessity of paying for that big expensive machine

      Yeah, that GBP 3.50 fare on the London underground to go two stops, one way, is sure competitive with buying a whole gallon of gas that will take you 20-30 miles, more if you’ve got a hybrid.

      1. DJ Abbott*

        You make a good point your legislators should be aware of, if they’re not already. Are they trying to be like the US, with congested highways and parking difficulties? ;)
        It’s the opposite here. In the Chicago area we pay one fare to go as far as we like, and low-cost transfers to other trains or buses. While cars cost $tens of thousands + $hundreds/month in maintenance, insurance, gas, etc. Plus the fun of driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic and spending hours looking for parking! I really don’t recommend it. It’s worth fighting if your area is heading toward more cars.

  26. Yup!*


    I really, really hate that the default for being a worker and often, frustratingly, a valid adult, is driving. Some people can’t drive, some don’t want to, it’s bad for the environment, expensive, and more, yet there is so often an expectation that a non-driving role can only be accomplished if one has a car. Plus there’s a HUGE stigma about not driving being indicative of poverty, immaturity, mental health issues, and other terrible stereotypes.

    I am lucky to live in an NA city where public transit, walking, and biking are viable ways to get around. In fact, many people where I live do not drive or own cars (over 50% of families in my neighbourhood have no car). But I have faced so much criticism about my capacity as a functioning adult from outside where I live when people learn I don’t drive.

    It should be discriminatory to not hire someone based on their access to a car/ability to drive if the job isn’t one requiring driving. There are so many alt ways to travel, and an employer who cannot see past their own prejudices and stereotypes to hire capable people who prefer to take the bus, bike, Uber, or their feet is really problematic.

    I hope you find an employer who acknowledges and appreciates your abilities instead of focusing on what you can’t do. Good luck!

    1. George C*

      I wish more people understood this! One thing that I think about is how likely the elderly are to lose car access in their old age.

      My grandmother used to live in the city, taking a streetcar, walking to stores, etc. Later, they moved to the suburbs, where they started using cars.

      Now, my grandmother can’t drive, but cannot access public transportation or walk through her suburb, which leaves her homebound and lonely.

      Having alternatives to car transit benefits a lot of groups, job seekers included!

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This is why it can be so hard for families to get their elderly relatives to stop driving long after it is safe for them to be doing so. They’re completely dependent on their cars for independence. Being disabled and unable to drive I know the uptick in home delivery systems over the past 5+ years (especially during covid lockdowns) has been life changing for me, but those are relatively new and still mean you’re in your house. Driving alternatives are so vital.

    2. Emmy Noether*

      The stigma thing is interesting, because I’ve found that increasingly, not owning a car can be a sign of priviledge. We don’t own a car. We live somewhere where we have multiple supermarkets, restaurants, pharmacies, shops, etc. etc within 10 minutes walking. The tram/bus stop is 2 min away, and there are 5 lines that each have a rythm of every 10 minutes or less, and they let us access long-distance trains and an airport. The biking infrastructure is fairly good.

      We don’t need a car, but we pay more in extra rent for living so centrally than a car would cost. So this isn’t because we can’t afford it, it’s because we’re privileged enough to spend money to assuage our environmental conscience. And I know more people like us. It’s a growing class. The cargo bike is our status symbol (those things are expensive!).

      1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

        Yes and no – you’re spending the money you would have spent on the car on the central housing instead. So you’re not saving that money, but transferring the expense.

        I don’t think many people actually count the full cost of owning a car though, partly because it’s considered the default, but also they only count the car payment itself, forgetting insurance, gas, tolls, parking, wear & tear, tag fees, maintenance, etc. It’s like people who only look at the cost of the mortgage when talking about how affordable a house is.

        1. bamcheeks*

          There’s also the fact that owning a car is heavily subsidised! I’m in a similar situation to Emmy Noether, in that we live close enough to a large city centre that we could manage without a car quite easily if we didn’t have children, but the cycling and public transport infrastructure isn’t *quite* good enough for a 4-year-old who doesn’t have the stamina for longer walks or a 10-year-old who can’t cycle around traffic. An e-cargo bike would be great for us, but we’ve nowhere secure to put it. Of course it’s fine to keep the car on the public road 24/7, and all I have to pay for that is £10 annual road tax. But you have to have your own secure storage space for a bike.

        2. Observer*

          Yes and no – you’re spending the money you would have spent on the car on the central housing instead. So you’re not saving that money, but transferring the expense.

          That’s often not the case. Rents in NYC are crazy. But if you are near the better bus / train lines? Crazy doesn’t even touch it.

          I’m very well aware of the real cost of a car. And if you get a lower end car (not the cheapest, simply basic), carry minimum insurance and keep your car for more 5-10 years, the monthly cost can be a lot less than the added rental cost.

      2. DJ Abbott*

        That’s the thing-central housing with good transit and walkability is getting more expensive. I ended up moving to the edge of my city to get a nice apartment that’s not too expensive. Luckily close to transit and a reasonable distance from stores.
        If something isn’t done, middle-income people will end up with a choice of paying too much for housing, or paying too much to own and operate a car.

      3. CantDriveNowWhat*

        Or the significant extra expense is a disability tax – my friends can move further from the city and pay only expensive housing costs rather than exorbitant costs, or live 20 minutes from the subway instead of 5 minutes easy and pay $600-900+ less per month in rent, but because I can’t drive I have to pay significantly more in housing. More than one paycheck per month goes to rent – just rent, not utilities or non-housing expenses- and I’ve never been able to buy housing because there are few options close enough to public transit and you literally have to ge a millionaire to buy them.

    3. L*

      When my husband started at his current job, everyone assumed he had a DUI because he rode a bike into work! Even people not in his department. No DUI, just a medical condition that (we though) prevented him from getting his license.

      It’s nuts how driving everyone is considered such a default (even in not-the-US) that if you don’t drive it’s assumed you did something terrible!

    4. Lainey L. L-C*

      Well, but you live somewhere that has the infrastructure for it.

      I live in Appalachia. My workplace actually services multiple counties – one of which is an 1 1/2 hour drive one way from our corporate office. There is only a limited bus service in one of those counties – the rest have none. I live in one county over from our corporate office. It would take me an hour to walk to work (I just asked Google). I would say the amount of our clients from our many counties that could reasonably walk or bike to work/school/groceries, etc. is probably insanely tiny, some of our counties are actual food deserts.

  27. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    LW 4 – I have more traction with, “Oh, I’m sure it’s secure on YOUR end, but my end is sitting on a gmail server and their servers are the ones I’m worried about.” (does not work if you are dealing with Meta, of course). Not that this is the only issue (transit, their email servers, etc.), but it’s one that most people seem to understand.

    Honestly, most people think like an email goes from their machine to your machine, completely ignoring the transit and email servers, because that’s what it looks like to them.

    1. mlem*

      I’m surprised that doesn’t get responses of, “Well, if you’re so worried about security and you think Gmail is insecure, why are you using Gmail?”

    2. Observer*

      I think it’s actually better to mention the transit, if you are going to argue.

      I just used an analogy that seemed to resonate. I said that it’s why you use Brinks truck to transport cash. The facility you are going from is secure, and so is the facility you are going to. But the highways are a whole other deal.

      So, yes, *your* email is secure. And *my* email is secure. But how does it get from here to there?

  28. George C*

    I suspect that HR departments don’t really get how the landscape has changed. The internet and computers have made it feasible for everyone to send job applications at light speed over the wires – great!

    That same speed of communication has also made it feasible for someone to have a computer sit in between your computer and the one you’re emailing with, opening every letter and recording the contents. That just wasn’t possible before – it sure is now.

    For HR departments reading this: When people talk about sending securely, they mean having a system where messages are jumbled up (“encrypted”) so that is someone casually opens a piece of mail before it gets to the recipient’s computer, they just see gibberish test instead of a full social security number or the like.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      FWIW – some of us are very aware, and have even been tasked with updating cybersecurity, but are given no time or budget to actually do so. And leadership doesn’t want any systems to change or want to take extra steps to do anything. But they want it to be more secure. It becomes chasing your own tail very quickly.

  29. Blarg*

    LW 1: Your coworker has to expose himself to the upsetting news as part of his job, while someone else reads the entertainment stories and someone else gets the business section. Many people process traumatic info by talking about it (even casually), and doing so with co-workers is prob better than taking it home. Perhaps rotating the topics would allow him a breather.

    I respect your request to not hear it, but hope you understand that he may NEED to talk about it. This may mean you absenting yourself from the situation, as his job requires him to engage with this material.

    1. ecnaseener*

      That’s what EAPs and similar resources are for. His job does not require him to bring those topics to the break room and require everyone else to suck it up or absent themselves, for goodness’s sake.

      1. bevan*

        Yeah, needing to talk != needing to talk right now to these specific people no matter whether they are OK with it or not.

        My job involves reading a lot of medical material. Some of it is dark and upsetting. Sometimes I find myself reading about my own OCD trigger. Sometimes I see pictures of any and every body part you can think of. Sometimes it’s just flat out gross. Usually I’m fine, occasionally I’m shaken or sad, but at no time would I need to announce the gory details to my colleagues whether they wanted to hear it or not.

    2. kalli*

      He can engage with the material to write about it at work and do the talking-processing in an environment where he’s not traumatising himself or others – death, gore etc, are 100% opt-in topics at work, especially when they’re not everyone’s job. It is also not generally part of a journalist’s duties to be a therapist for colleagues; it remains a choice and boundaries can be set and enforced individually.

      If it’s so bad that dude can’t cope without traumatising his coworkers then he either needs to go on workers comp or get himself to EAP for directing to an appropriate resource. His coworkers are not a captive audience for his mental health.

    3. Broadway Duchess*

      If Barry “needs” to talk, he needs to find the appropriate outlet. OP should not have to remove herself from her work environment simply because Barry may be a verbal processor.

    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Not for a teacher. It’s going to come off to sexy. That she is stripping or something ele inappropriate (in some people’s minds).

      1. fhqwhgads*

        I think the implication there was if one wanted to be more specific than “sports” one could say “gymnastics” and not be lying.

  30. salt*

    #3 a friend and i we do martial arts. some years ago, one of the exercises was to get hit on the thight by a low kick to learn how to block that and to endure pain. this led to big bruises on our legs. later the friend went to a doctor for different reasons and the doctor asked if the friend got beaten at home. it must have been funny to explain doing martial arts because the friend had some horrible bruises on the legs. (i had them too at that time, but i didn’t need to go to a doctor ;) ).

  31. Ex-prof*

    LW #3, say karate. My junior high English teacher was a black belt and we all behaved beautifully in her class.

    1. Jan Lavinson Gould*

      I have a suggestion for OP #3… tell them you do roller derby! It’s easy to get bruised doing that for sure.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        What league? What team? When’s your next match? Can I come watch? Are you the jammer, pivot, part of the pack?

          1. The Person from the Resume*

            You’re right. That’s very likely to be the first question from anyone with even a little awareness of derby.

            1. Phony Genius*

              That should be the easiest part of the cover story to make up. Some of the usernames here would make good ones.

        1. Dahlia*

          OP is a teacher and this is about what they tell students. They can redirect away from their personal life and have no obligation to answer questions like that.

        2. I'm just here for the cats!*

          YOu can say that you’re just learning and don’t have a leage. Or that you are helping a friend learn but don’t plan to be on a team. My friend is just learning rollar derby and she is just doing on on ones .

      2. Random Dice*

        I would ask 100 followup questions about roller derby, and want to go to a match.

        Karate, I’d ask a question or two max.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      All of these say another sport lies run into the problem of follow up questions. I feel like karate is particularly misguided because some kids would be fascinated by it and may possibly be in martial arts as well so might know enough to trip up the LW.

      I personally think a vague workout (not sport, especially not an organized sport where someone wants to find out more) is the way to go.

  32. Nancy*

    LW5: ask your employer what they mean and explain that you will be traveling using alternative modes. I don’t have a car and with a bit of extra planning can still get wherever I need to be, no matter how public transportation inaccessible.

  33. Ally McBeal*

    OP4: If you have the time, this topic (“HR professionals should learn more about and implement more measures toward cybersecurity”) would be a very, very good one to pitch as an op-ed to business and HR-focused publications. If your company has a PR team (or a comms team more broadly) – and, again, if you have the time and desire – I recommend reaching out to them and asking for help with researching and contacting some of those publications.

    This is a really important, time-critical issue and it worries me greatly that apparently HR experts are still very much in the early-learning stages. My company does plenty of anti-phishing learning opportunities but I would feel safer knowing the HR team had their own specific opportunities.

  34. EA*

    LW5 I think you’re overthinking this. I know lots of people who were born in urban areas who don’t drive. It is a little more unusual in more rural areas, but mostly because rural dwellers have to drive by necessity.

    I don’t think you need to say “for medical reasons” unless pushed or involving HR – but I highly doubt it’ll come to that. Just say “I don’t have a license, but I’m happy to travel.” If you have proposals of how to get there (eg Lyft, public transport) you could suggest an alternative way to get there. I’d also say you should be open to getting a ride with a coworker if that makes the most sense.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’ve also noticed this number goes up a lot for people under 40 – with economic changes, increased climate concerns, smaller families that don’t require as much bussing around, the ubiquitous nature of ride sharing apps, etc. Generationally I think millenials and even young gen X are driving less when they have an option. I assume that will continue, and employers will need to be aware of it.

  35. Fluffy Fish*

    #2 Alternately its not the questions, it could be your evaluation of their answers that’s the problem. Perhaps your expectations of what a good answer is, is expecting more from an interviewee than is reasonable.

    I’m not saying this is 100% the case, merely something else to consider.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      This. I used to interview a lot and we had a scenario question that was heavy on details but also where you couldn’t really answer it perfectly without knowing how we work as an org, something an outsider can’t possibly know. The coworker I often interviewed with usually didn’t like people’s answers to that question because they didn’t give the answer she’d give, whereas for me they were more about seeing how that person’s brain worked when it came to problem solving because it was unreasonable for them to actually know what someone working there might do without training.

  36. HonorBox*

    OP3 – if someone presses beyond “sports” for your bruises, maybe do a little crowdsourcing with other students in your class and see if they have suggestions. I don’t imagine you’re the first person to encounter a few questions about the bruises, and others may have an idea or two that worked for them.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Very good idea! They’ll have better suggestions than commenters here, I expect. Save for commenters who do pole dancing classes.

    2. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I first read your comment and thought you ment the OP (teacher) needs to ask HER students, not the other students in her pole dancing class.

  37. Czhorat*

    For LW3, my sympathies. This, from Allison, is SO very unfair and unreasonable:

    “”Yeah, stick with “sports”! People are so weird about teachers’ private lives (God forbid one of you get photographed with a red Solo cup) that it’s safer.””

    This is ESPECIALLY female teachers’ private lives, and especially if there’s a hint that anything in their current life or even history can be perceived as even the slightest bit sexual.

    If your colleagues know and this is mostly parents then I can’t imagine that a breezy “oh, I do some pretty intense sports on my off days” followed by an immediate segue back to the academic topic at hand wouldn’t end it.

    I just wish it didn’t have to. I have two kids in the K-12 years, and I really don’t care at all if their teachers have a personal life. The puritanical moralizing is such an unfair thing (as is the sexualization of a pole-dancing class in the first place, but that’s a different discussion).

    Good luck.

  38. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #1 – yes definitely have that conversation. Barry probably doesn’t realize how morbid he’s gotten and could use a dash of cold water in his face.

    Personal anecdote — my mother did a lot of funeral planning for her church a decade or so ago, and I noticed it was really affecting her. I had to tell her “do you realize that you’ve gotten really morbid lately? Every time we talk, you bring up death.”

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s so easy to normalize these things when they’re part of your daily life. For some people it’s joking that turns into gallows humor to deal with the dark content you deal with but I think for most people it’s just desensitization. Nine times out of ten a gentle reminder that they’re in a different context is plenty, and they’ll apologize and change the subject quickly.

  39. Acroyogi*

    Ooh, for the pole question, I’d say trapeze or aerial. Similar skill sets but less stigma. (And maybe a little less popular than gymnastics, so people are less likely to ask follow ups)

  40. For the love of decency*

    I kinda feel for the coworker of LW1. They seem like they are in journalism. My brother was a crimes beat journalist and while his role was so important in protecting the community and seeking out justice he was treated like an outcast in social circles. He saw the awful things humans did to each other and that over time is hard to deal with. He had supportive coworkers he could talk to and even utilize therapy. I don’t think it’s fair that he can’t talk about work at work. My brother complained once saying he would love to trade places with the entertainment/family writer for just one day so he could write about the county fair or really anything other than death. These crime reporters play such a key part of our news sources they need to be given space and support. You do have standing to ask that this person stop sharing grisly details if it makes you uncomfortable. (My brother and police offer father would often do this over dinner and they both described it as a compulsion to get it out or process rather than trying to gross or shock). You can also excuse yourself from that conversation when it happens and follow back with your coworker with a safer topic. It certainly isn’t your job to be this person’s therapist but a support system goes a long way for the people who have to bear 1st hand witness to the cruelty of our communities.

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      But, again… there are resources for this kind of thing. It is great that your brother had a sort-of in-house way to deal with the grisly nature of his chosen profession, but expecting colleagues to do the heavy lifting of another person’s issues is not reasonable or appropriate. There may be an EAP, Barry can seek therapy on his own (sometimes providers do a 4- or 6-session package deal), or if he really needs space, FMLA.

      Semi-disclosure — I work in Healthcare and part of ny job is reading medical records for long-term admissions. The NICU records are so triggering, especially for a person who has suffered challenges surrounding childbirth. What is not appropriate, in my opinion, is relying on my colleagues to “fix” that for me.

      1. Broadway Duchess*

        Added to previous comment — we agree on a lot, but I don’t think OP should excuse herself like she’s the problem. Barry needs to do a little self-censoring here.

    2. Melissa*

      I’m a forensic psychologist and spend my days talking with offenders about the terrible things people do to each other, and a big part of that job is recognising that it’s just not appropriate to share the terrible parts with other people in any kind of detail.

      Asking Barry to reduce the frequency/detail or choose his moment/choose his audience isn’t unreasonable, nor is it unreasonable to expect Barry to develop coping strategies that don’t vicariously traumatise his coworkers. I think it’s perfectly fine for the LW to ask him to tone it down, and I’d certainly want to hear from my colleagues if my work stories or gallows humour are too much.

  41. The Person from the Resume*

    Does “willing to travel” mean I have to drive?

    I doubt it. I intepret this as a question if you’re willing to go on business trips, be away from home, possibly get on a plane. When you applied all the travel was to the city and I bet nearly everyone in the company just assumed without much thought that it would remain that forever. So it wasn’t a trick or code.

    If this was about driving, there’s no reason they wouldn’t mention driving or requiring a valid driver’s license.

    However in much of the US, especially rural areas, being able to drive and having a car are expected because the public transport infrastructure and taxis and now lyfts and ubers are not common or entirely absent. I think you need to bring it up now. You can just what are the plans / accommodations / guidance on how to get to and get around the new location for those who do not drive such as yourself. You’ll be asking for yourself, but alerting them to a possible problem for other non-driving attendees too.

    Things to consider. Is the motel/hotel within walking distance of the training location. Is the motel and training location within walking distance of lunch options or is lunch catered so that’s not a concern. Are there taxis and rideshares available in the this rural area? Where I grew up it’s still too rural for that, but living in a city you definition of rural could be different than mine and the place they’re looking at does have rideshares and taxis.

  42. Over It*

    #4 My HR was supposed to send me background check forms for an internal promotion. (Why I had to redo my background check when I already worked there and had previously passed is still beyond me). Instead of sending me a blank copy, they sent me a copy another employee had filled out, complete with her address, birthday, social security number, drivers license number, and conviction history (she had none). When I told HR, they told me to just delete the email and made no efforts to ensure it was in fact off my computer. Luckily I have no interest in stealing anyone’s identity, but I did let my affected coworker know what HR did in case she wanted to rip them a new one. But yeah didn’t leave me feeling terribly secure about my own PHI :(

  43. I'm just here for the cats!*

    #3 a good cover story may be roller derby. I have a friend who has just taken up the sport. The best thing is she is learning with a friend one on one. It’s a safe sport (as in no one should have a problem with it like pole dancing) and it’s not something everyone is comfortable partaking or watching. If they did ask, you can say you are just learning with a friend or helping a friend and don’t plan to play in any public tournaments.
    You could also say that you are learning zumba or some other dance?

  44. Yellow*

    LW 3- Just say you take dance classes as a hobby. Lots of kinds of dance use props where you could get banged up.

  45. Justme, The OG*

    Y’all, LW#3 shouldn’t have to lie about why they got the bruises. Saying it’s martial arts or roller derby just opens them up to questions about the sports, which then could blow their cover. Being purposely vague is a much better option.

    1. Lily Potter*

      Yeah, all of these people suggesting this story or that story are off base. As Judge Judy is fond of saying “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to have a good memory”. If you lie, you have to keep track of your lies. If you do decide on a cover story, have it at least be somewhat in the realm of truth – “I’ve been taking some intense dance classes and I bruise so easily” might work.

    2. Delta Delta*

      Or will prompt the person to say they also do that activity or that they want to. Seems like a vague, “oh, it’s from a fitness class I take” and leave it at that. If she says it’s a martial arts class, that may invite more questions about where she goes, etc.

    3. I should really pick a name*

      It’s a tricky area.
      Bruises + vagueness could definitely lead people to the wrong idea.

      Not really sure what the best solution is.

      1. Justme, The OG*

        Lying about a sport isn’t a good idea either, could also lead to the wrong idea. Saying it’s from “working out” or “exercise regimen” is fine and not lying.

      2. Weaponized Pumpkin*

        I’m for lying, because in this case both the truth and vagueness are worse.

        OUAT there was a kind coworker who was concerned about me being abused, and I still feel bad about that. Back then I bruised very easily, I always had weird marks. I was also vague and squirrel-y about my life, because I was secretly dating his manager. So from his perspective he had a coworker who showed up with bruises and was hiding a relationship, and that’s potentially icky. He never overstepped or said anything directly, but I could see his concern.

    4. Observer*

      shouldn’t have to lie about why they got the bruises

      True, but unhelpful. The simple fact is that in many schools, if this particular hobby were known by parents, the LW would be a *former* teacher. It should NOT be that way, but that’s the reality, and that’s what people are trying to navigate here.

  46. Mmm.*

    Re: The teacher with the awesome hobby :)

    I used to be a teacher. You need to come up with a specific sport you can’t possibly be asked to coach, as they’ll as follow-up questions if they don’t already. It might be worth saying something like “I play [sport no district schools offer] with my friends. I’m really bad, hence all the bruises!” It makes it clear you a) aren’t good enough to coach and b) don’t play anywhere they could run into you. B is important because someone will eventually ask.

    Also, add in “I bruise easily, and they don’t go away! Stupid iron levels!” I used to do this because I was always COVERED in bruises as a teacher and do actually have an iron deficiency issue. You have my permission to fake it. ;) That can help explain the number of bruises.

  47. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    #3 – sounds like an opportunity to educate people on the changing world of pole! If you are willing, of course. I took a pole class years ago and I was surprised to see how it can be about athleticism and beauty. It can be just like something you’d see in Cirque du Soleil – nothing to be embarrassed about. I don’t do it anymore but I share that story sometimes to help open people’s minds that it’s more than what it used to be!

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      The very important part you are pushing aside is she is a teacher! Teachers are routinely fired for things in their private life that have even a whiff of “inappropriate”.

      It’s not about being willing. Its about the very real threat of losing her job and not being able to work in the field – ever.

    2. Cyndi*

      Agree that work, and especially LW3’s workplace, isn’t really the right venue for this.

      Also I apologize in advance because I’m not awake enough to articulate this properly, IME this is an attitude that can imply contempt for people who do pole dance for the “stereotypical” reasons of actually making a living and/or for their own or other people’s sexual gratification. It reminds me of the idea that comes up a lot with burlesque people that they’re better than strippers because it’s “artistic” and “classier.”

  48. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

    LW3: I empathize; I’m a whitewater boater and am regularly covered in bruises/scrapes/the occasional black eye. I’ve found brushing off questions with a lighthearted response, followed by a quick subject change, works best – like “my nose had an unfortunate encounter with a rock, gonna try not to do that again! What did you do this weekend?” It helps to think “how would I explain this to a fellow boater who would laugh about it with me,” and use that same tone. My past attempts to more seriously convince people I was fine backfired when people picked up on the fact that I thought they needed convincing.

    I wonder if you could use a similar approach framing it as “dance” rather than the specific type of dance, like “I slammed my leg into a prop at the dance studio, it happens sometimes, no big deal – what have you been up to?” If someone really wants to know what type of dance, you can always generalize like “it’s just a class I’ve been trying out for fitness, not like I’m trying to be a professional ballerina or anything.”

  49. Dulcinea47*

    Cybersecurity person- you’re assuming that people in general have way more knowledge about cybersecurity than they do. I guarantee you 90% of the people you say that to have no idea what you’re talking about at all, so the burden is always going to be on you if you want things done a certain way.
    The other probability is that like me, they know that regular email is not secure, but don’t have access to any kind of system to make it secure. This actually became an issue recently b/c HR at my new job told me the only secure way to get something to them is by fax. There is no fax machine available anywhere at this large university. (I took it to them in person which made them snarky.) So when you ask them to do something a certain way, please make sure they can access whatever it is you’re asking them to do.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      You’re not wrong…but I think the sentiment behind the question is that it’s appalling employers don’t have their own secure way of doing it already. The applicant is not in the position of power. Nor is it unreasonable to not want to be subjected to identity theft just for applying. “When you ask them to do something a certain way, make sure they can access whatever it is you’re asking them to do.” is what the Employer should be doing. Not necessarily on the HR person to know what would be better, but should be on the HR person to push back to the company to say “hey we’re treating applicants’ – and probably employees’ – PII like shit here”.

  50. Sneaky Squirrel*

    #3 – I am also doing pole dancing and the bruises are impressive sometimes! I’m pretty open about mine with my colleagues, but I can fully appreciate that you may not want to be as open with your students/parents/colleagues. Perhaps you can say “aerial arts” or “aerial gymnastics” if people ask about it. If you leave it open as ‘sports’, it may seem a little too evasive.

  51. HannahS*

    (I’m getting into some examples here with the intent of sharing my perspective with the OP so if you don’t like gory details, skip this.)

    LW1, it’s tricky. I work in a field where a lot of bad things happen to people (a medical specialty that a lot of people find particularly upsetting,) and we think a lot about trauma and vicarious trauma. I also do a lot of teaching with students who are being exposed to it for the first time.

    I think it depends on what’s being said. There’s a really big difference between Barry saying in a conversational tone, “Oh, that reminds me of this mugging that happened in metropolis yesterday. Two guys pulled over in a car to grab this lady’s phone, but they didn’t realize that it was on a lanyard and they wound up dragging her with the car,” and Barry telling the same story with sensationalism and telling you exactly how much blood there was and kind of relishing how gross and upsetting the story is. Or getting into one-upmanship about the awful things he’s seen. Or bringing things up just to bring it up. I have found that it’s pretty clear when someone is bringing up something that traumatized them and seeking commiseration/support (and therefore should really be talking to an close colleague or a therapist,) or seeking attention, compared to when someone is really just trying to talk about their day. Also to consider, if Barry is sharing things from his current work versus trading “war stories” from the past.

    I’m not sure what your exact job is, but in my job, it would be unusual but acceptable for someone to privately say, “Hey, I find it really hard to hear about the deaths of children; could you share those stories in a more private way?” Or, “It’s tough for me to listen to stories about sexual assault. Could you save those for private conversations?” But a blanket “Can you please hold back on upsetting topics” would mean that we could not talk about work at all, and it’s not a reasonable request, especially if Barry is the only one in his department and has no one else to talk to. It’s not wrong to want to work in a place where you don’t have regular exposure to descriptions of terrible things that happened to other people. It’s also not wrong for Barry and your colleagues to be comfortable with it.

    I’d suggest that you think about what are the hardest things to hear about, and say to Barry, “Hey, Barry, I wanted to ask–I’m not used to working in an office with so much exposure to [his topics;] I’m finding it really tough, to be honest. Can I ask you to hold back on stories that are really focused on [your 2-3 most upsetting topics]? I really do want to hear about your workday, I just find those topics in particular to be really upsetting.”

    1. Rachel*

      This is such a great answer and I really appreciate how articulate you are on this issue.

      Where I am struggling today is that it seems the attitude is that Barry’s topic is so bad the LW can’t hear about it referenced in meetings, but it’s okay for Barry to cover it permanently.

      I think the entire workflow needs to be rethought so soft and hard news are balanced. If the LW can never ever handle hard news, that’s an issue between them and their manager, not them and Barry.

      The circuit court in my county rotates judges because burn out is high in the really gruesome cases whereas some courts, like probate, aren’t as emotionally difficult. It seems like this is acknowledged in some fields already and may apply here as well

      1. LW1*

        I want to be clear that it is not the case that I can never handle hard news. I just prefer not to be hearing about gory deaths while I am working—I think those are different things!

  52. NaoNao*

    For “willing to travel” I want to chime in here as a voice of someone else who doesn’t drive/have a license. I’ve held high-travel jobs without a license and it’s doable—but there’s a couple things I’d be aware of:

    You may already have experienced the weird looks and reactions of “I don’t drive/own a car/have a license” already and some of that may be mitigated if you’re an expat or relatively recent immigrant, but when and if you travel with a boss or coworker and you don’t have a license/can’t drive it can become A Thing. So just know that it may come up more than you’re used to.

    Being able to rent a car to get around in smaller towns or more suburban areas of town (where the office parks are often located), driving from one site to another, carpooling, or going out to dinner etc.–it’s all assumed that everyone shares those duties equally. But unfortunately you’ll be “passenger princess” and that can create a weird dynamic.

    For example, when I was in high-travel jobs I’d get a hotel within walking distance of the office if it was possible, but let’s say the team wants to go out for lunch–at a spot that needs driving. I’m left either calling a Lyft or tagging along with one of them, and people can feel put on the spot having to have a passenger on a day they didn’t plan for it.

    I’ve had more than one job get squirrely about this–snarky remarks, treated like a child or a nuisance, and so on.

    1. kiki*

      Yes! I’ve had a high travel job where I was never expected to drive because I was only travelling to major cities with solid public transit. But I’ve had friends in high travel jobs who almost exclusively traveled to areas that did not have great transit (suburban, rural, smaller cities), some without great rideshare. For my job, somebody not having a driver’s license would be a complete non-issue. But for my friends’ jobs, there would genuinely be some concern about how a lack of driver’s license could be handled. Sometimes there are creative solutions, but sometimes there aren’t. It’s worth investigating what is meant by high travel because some travel locations are more doable without a license than others.

    2. Work taxi*

      This is very true. And from the other side, I have been the person who was designated driver for a colleague who couldn’t drive for medical reasons but really wanted to attend an international work conference that took place in the rural USA during the winter. We had different functions during the conference and it was a bit stressful for me. There was no public transport, and the few taxis in town were pre booked all week by the international travelers.

      I had to give presentations, be at other presentations, show up to educational events, make the rounds to meet and greet and at local businesses for networking, and man a booth off and on between all of this. The coworker had a completely different schedule (she volunteered for the late shifts and spent time socially with the night owls networking) so I ended up dropping her off and picking her up-sometimes with no notice of a time change and even had to go pickup meals for her when the weather turned. I’d get her back to the hotel by 2:30am and then I’d have a presentation to attend at 8:00am that morning. It went on like this for all four days.

      I honestly don’t know how she would’ve been able to attend the conference without me as her taxi service. And I don’t know what would have been the right thing for the company to do…but what I had to do wasn’t it.

  53. Aeryn Sun*

    LW 5 – I appreciate you asking this question! I don’t have a driver’s license either, and while I’m going to try and get one sometime I don’t have one yet nor do I really plan on getting a car even once I get my license. I’ve always wondered if willingness to travel meant needing a car/license, so I appreciate getting this answer.

  54. Kell*

    #3- I take aerial classes (aerial yoga, lyra, silks, etc) which also causes a lot of bruises. The skill set and class style is similar enough that if you use it as a cover story, you can probably answer any follow up questions from your experience in pole classes, just without labeling it as such.

  55. Weaponized Pumpkin*

    We recently went through I-9 verifications at work and figuring out how to send in my passport scans securely was a real PITA. My company says that email within our system can be encrypted, great, that solves the submitting part. But how do I get my passport images onto the work computer securely to send to HR to begin with?! My work laptop can’t connect to my scanner. For logical reasons it also won’t accept any external drives and you can’t airdrop onto it. I tried using a photo app to take a picture using the built in camera on the work laptop, but it wasn’t clear enough. Emailing it from my personal device/email would defeat the purpose. We’re also not supposed to access work systems from personal computers. So…yeah, PITA.

  56. Echo*

    OP #5 – I’m a very anxious driver and I’ve mostly managed to do work travel with a combination of air travel, trains, and rideshare or sometimes sharing a rental car with a coworker who does the driving. In fact, I used to have a VP who as far as I know didn’t have a license and she also made it work like this!

    But I also think there’s a bigger question behind your question that’s important to address too. At healthy, functional workplaces, there usually isn’t a hidden meaning behind the info on your job description, and you’re unlikely to have a conversation with a manager that goes like “well, by accepting the job, you entered into a binding, irreversible agreement that you could ‘travel’ and if I define travel to mean ‘drive’ then you have no excuses and we can’t discuss it.” Substitute anything else for travel/drive. I’m sure there are some terrible workplaces where this kind of thing happens, but it’s not the majority or the norm and unless you’ve seen other signs that your manager is really bad, you can always ask questions about requirements or brainstorm solutions to potential barriers without threatening your job.

    1. CantDriveNowWhat*

      the problem is that for a large percentage of people there’s no thought that some people may not drive – so they’ll think we put this in the job description and you said it was fine and now you’re saying no? – they see the person who can’t drive as having misled them not because they’re evil but because they can’t fathom any definition if travel that doesn’t include driving.

  57. ArtK*

    LW #4, I feel ya. I was responsible for cybersecurity for a product that stored very sensitive data. Unfortunately, it had been built over the years without any real attention to the security aspects. I could *not* get management to prioritize fixing these issues since the customers were demanding new features and not “invisible” fixes. One of the reasons I left; I didn’t want to see headlines about a major data breach and my name mentioned.

  58. Regular Human Accountant*

    #4 You can always take the tack a former co-worker used; he created three (extremely difficult) math problems sent in three separate emails, and the answer to each equation was a portion of his SSN. I had to get my (brilliant but also extremely difficult) boss to solve the equations.

  59. FD*

    #2- My opinion is that this is pretty normal for a technical interview but weird for soft skills interview questions.

    However I do think it is a good idea to tell candidates this, because you don’t want to get an inaccurate picture because they’re panicking over not knowing. Maybe something like: “We’re going to go into some technical questions. These questions are meant to get a picture of where you are in developing your technical skills. Most candidates won’t be able to correctly answer all of these questions. If you aren’t sure how to answer a question, you can suggest how you think you might approach figuring it out.”

  60. Have you had enough water today?*

    I am not in the US so teachers are not under as much scrutiny here. It baffles me that people would care what a teacher does, within the law, after school. Maybe I would be concerned if they were a white supremacist or wore crocs, but honestly, as long as they are not bringing that to the classroom there probably isn’t a lot that could be done about it anyway.

  61. Iheartyou*

    I just wanted to mention about LW1’s work environment is that everyone shares and they mention that others don’t seem to be bothered by his participation in the storytelling. I believe that if there are specific ways he can tone it down, it’s worth sharing, but I would feel bad knowing that I can’t participate in something that has been in place for a long time. I don’t take it as processing trauma but as feeling oarr of the group in an activity that everyone equally has held a part in. I just think this is something to consider while preparing to converse with the coworker.

  62. Remote worker*

    LW5 – if your company has multiple employees who live in the city, they may arrange a shuttle for employees to get from the city to the on-site location. That’s what my company has always done for on-sites when the location is not the city center.

  63. Michelle Smith*

    LW3: Maybe I’m missing something, but is there a reason they can see the bruises on your arms and legs? Would you be able to cover them with long pants and a cardigan? That might cut back on some of the questioning.

  64. Humble Schoolmarm*

    LW 3: Fellow teacher commiserating

    For the kids: I would suggest something vague, boring and truth adjacent. Dance might work. If you’re generally a teacher who doesn’t share a lot of your outside school life with kids, you’re probably going to be in the clear with this approach (if you are the type of teacher whose students know your pets names and birthdays, you’ll probably need to build a cover story. They’ll notice if vagueness is out of character). Something like “A bad combination of loving to dance and loving to bruise!” could be a good side-step. The advantage with the kids is that you can flip it around into a teachable moment about respecting boundaries if they get pushy. A good teachable moment can take the intrigue out of just about anything.

    Parents: Whoo, here be dragons! I would suggest being as covered as you can if you have a parent meeting coming up (hate to suggest it, but maybe skip the class before conferences). I would also suggest a cirque style cover story and a light-hearted jokey answer if a parent does notice. Yes, you may run into a parent who actually does arials and might ask you questions you don’t have answers for, but maybe watch some videos so you can pivot to name a few skills you’d (theoretically) like to learn instead of what you actually do.
    For the non-teachers, yes, there’s nothing wrong with pole dancing and OP shouldn’t have to lie, but while 99% of parents are fine to lovely and don’t particularly care about your hobbies as long as their child is safe, learning and happy in your class, that 1% can make your life a living hell or cost you your job. Sad but true.

  65. HeraTech*

    LW #1 I would urge you to say something to your coworker. When you deal with difficult topics on a regular basis you tend to find them less distressing over time and you build up a sort of callus.Barry has probably gotten to the point where nothing shocks him anymore.

    At a previous job I worked with a very social group who used to eat together in the cafeteria every day. One of our coworkers (it was an office job) had previously worked in a hospital setting, and didn’t think anything of sharing particularly gruesome medical stories while the rest of us were trying to eat lunch. We had to remind him that while he might be used to hearing about medical details with cringing, some of us did not find that sort of information appetizing at all.

  66. Jonathan Kamens*

    It saddens me that so many people here, including LW#4, misunderstand the basic threat model wrong.
    Data theft while email is being transmitted is not the threat you should be worried about. The vast majority of email transactions nowadays are encrypted end-to-end. HTTPS, IMAP, and SMTP all support TLS and all modern clients use it when it’s available.
    Literally none of the breaches that have been in the news in the past several years have been caused by unprotected data in transit. ALL of them have been about stolen data at rest.
    What you should be worried about is your email, and the data it contains, being stolen from the recipient’s email server, or for that matter from your server if you forget to delete the message from your Sent folder and empty your trash.
    Alas, even if you manage to get someone who asks for a document by email to send you a secure upload link to use instead, the odds are that if they need to pass that document on to someone else after you upload it, they’re just going to email it. *sigh* The problem needs to be addressed at an institutional level to be truly solved. (And, of course, even if you upload the data securely, and the recipient never emails it, it could end up in a data repository that gets breached, as evidenced by all of the MOVEit data breach letters being sent out to people all over the country recently. *sigh* again)
    Having said that, all of us should keep fighting the good fight and ask for a secure file upload method every time someone asks us to email private data. We have the right to demand that our data be handled securely, even if we don’t win every one of those battles.

  67. Anonymous For Now*

    I did not like the response to LW1 at all. Everyone else can run their mouth all day about whatever area of news they cover. All their coworkers have to listen to endless tales of who is dating who in the entertainment world or which sports figures nay be traded before the next season.

    But not Barry. No, Barry has to think before he says anything about the area he covers. Barry has to tiptoe around on eggshells because LW1 might get upset by something he says.

    Barry isn’t talking crime at the LW, he’s talking about the area he covers just as all the co-workers are going on about their areas.

    If I were Barry and the LW “talked to me” about what I can and can’t say, I’d be asking HR for clarification.

Comments are closed.