interviewer asked what brings me pain, I reported a coworker for hitting a child, and more

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

1. Interviewer asked what brings me pain, my favorite color, and other inanities

I’m hoping you can give me some insight as to what exactly happened at an interview I had this morning. It started normally, I walked in, let them know I’d arrived, and sat down to wait to speak with the HR manager. We went over my resume, which was again normal, but then the weird questions started.

Questions included: what brings you joy, what brings you pain, what color were the chairs in the lobby, what was the hair color of the person you checked in with, what’s your favorite color, what animal do you identify with, among others. Then the logic questions started: if you’re in your car and only have room for one person, and you pass a bus stop where your best friend, the man of your dreams, and an old woman in need of medical attention are waiting, which one do you give a ride to? How can you make this scenario a win for everyone?

I could go on and on about how absolutely weird this was, and it was with the HR manager! From what I gather, one other person was supposed to be there but he was on vacation, and I have no idea if things would have gone differently had he been present. I feel like the whole thing was some kind of test to see how much I was willing to put up with.

I can’t afford to be picky about jobs right now and the position would be an amazing opportunity for me, but I have no idea what to even say in my follow-up email. Is this a thing people do now or should I run away from this as fast as possible?

At a minimum, this is an interviewer who has no idea how to hire. I mean, the questions about the lobby chairs and the receptionist’s hair color are obviously intended to test your attention to detail — although unless this is a job as a security guard or detective or other role where you need to be paying attention at all times, I’m doubtful they’re getting useful data from them — but the questions about pain and favorite color and animals are so laughably bad that we can write off the entire interview as evidence that this person sucks at hiring.

That could mean that the company sucks at lots of other things, or has weird ideas about lots of other things, or it’s possible that it’s confined to this HR person. It’s hard to know from the outside. If you were in a position where you had lots of options, I’d tell you to think critically about whether what you learned in the interview makes you interested in continuing to interview there, but since you don’t feel you do have many options, you might as well continue onward with them and learn more. But do it with a skeptical eye.

2. I reported a coworker for hitting a child

Today, I saw a man hitting a small child. I confronted him and he got very aggressive, insulting me, acted in a physically threatening way, and finally pushed me. I was able to find out his name and the incident has been reported to the police and social services. I also googled him, and it turns out he works for the same employer as I do, but a different department. It’s pretty unlikely that I’d ever run in to him at work. It’s a big employer and he works in a different building. Still, do you think this incident, the fact that I not only witnessed and reported him committing a crime but also pressed charges against him for the push, is relevant to work in any way? Such as, should I inform HR or anything like that?

I don’t know if this will go to trial, but I expect at least the child abuse will. We’re not in the U.S., by the way.

It might not become relevant to you at work … but it also might. For example, if you unexpected find yourself in a meeting with him, or if he becomes aggressive toward you in the parking lot, or if he finds out you work there and starts smearing your name … none of that might happen, but the situation is charged enough that you’re probably better off giving your employer a heads-up about it. You could talk to HR and frame it as “this will probably never come up at work, but I wanted to err on the side of caution and let you know about in case it ever does.” Make it clear that you’re not asking them to take any action, but that you simply want them aware in case it ever does affect anything at work.

3. My boss has a burping problem

I’ve been at this job for a couple of months now and work with a very small team, about seven, all under one manager. My manager is great, except for one thing — she has a burping problem. She’ll burp loudly throughout the day, every couple of minutes, and usually doesn’t say “excuse me” or pardon herself at all. It’s jarring and frankly irritating, and I find myself glancing up from my computer every couple of minutes when she does it. The office is very small (one room) so there’s no separation or anything.

I don’t know if there’s any sort of medical issue that could be causing it or if it’s just a bad habit. She will typically start each day with one to two bottles of soda, which I’m assuming may contribute.

I don’t know what to do here, or if there is anything I can do. I tend to be on the reserved side and avoid confrontation, personally, so I haven’t broached the topic with any of my coworkers to see if there’s more background/a reason/why no one says anything about it. I’m honestly just kind of nonplussed about the whole situation and thought I’d reach out to see if there was any advice!

Well, it’s possible that it’s a medical condition, which she wouldn’t necessarily disclose to people. (You might be thinking that if that’s the case, the soda is an odd choice as it might exacerbate it, but plenty of people drink soda without regular burping, so I’d come down on the side of thinking her beverages aren’t really our business).

If it’s not a medical condition, that is a lot of burping, so I’d lean toward assuming it is. And really, if it’s not, there’s nothing to lose by being wrong about that.

Regardless, there’s not really anything you can do to address this. If it’s a medical condition, it’s definitely off-limits … and you’re not likely to find for sure that it’s not — which leaves this in the realm of an annoying behavior that you have to learn to live with.

One adjustment to your thinking that might help, though: It’s probably better that she’s not saying “excuse me” each time — with it happening every couple of minutes, wouldn’t that be more distracting?

4. I accidentally ditched a peer at a conference and then cried publicly about it

Last year, I was a speaker at an industry conference. I was part of a three-person “package” with a well-recognized peer in my industry, Sansa. Sansa was super nice, helped to keep me calm, and I felt like we really hit it off. On the last night of the conference, she texted me after sessions to say she’d text me when she was going to the industry dinner so I could come with her and wouldn’t have to go alone, which was very kind as I’m a big introvert. I was exhausted but I said thanks. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to dinner. But I took a short nap and went down to the hotel lobby just to get myself out of my room and motivated. Another peer, Arya, saw me sitting in the lobby and said she and a few other folks were going to the dinner, and did I want to hop in their Uber? I was iffy but she was excited, so I said yes, and off I went.

I was having a good time, with about 15 other peers (four of whom were at my table at the restaurant) when Sansa walked in. She saw me and had a look of shock on her face. I totally TOTALLY forgot she’d said she’d go with me. I missed several texts somehow, but she also emailed me and tried to contact me through LinkedIn and Slack, and email; she even tried to ask other people to contact me. In other words, she tried really, really hard. Her last message was, “Well, I’m going to go, I hope you’ll decide to join me!” — at least 45 minutes after she first tried to contact me. And I completely ditched her, but not on purpose. She was angry and frustrated, but not unkind. I told her to please sit next to me, let me buy her a drink, and I must have apologized 20 times, no exaggeration. And then … I started crying. Everyone at my table was uncomfortable after that. I think I was just so appalled at my behavior because I don’t often get included in things, and to know that someone was trying to include me and I acted so poorly, I couldn’t get past it. I wound up staying out for hours past when I’d normally go back to the hotel, going wherever she went, just to try to make it up to her. It was pretty obnoxious. She was still angry, and then annoyed, which I totally get, but she was still being fairly nice to me.

So now, it’s six months later, and I’ve been asked to go to this conference again and be on a panel with one other person: Sansa. How do I address not only ditching her, but worse, acting like that afterwards? She is more well-known than I am, and getting to do something with her again is very good for my career, so I can’t just say no. I’m cringing just thinking about it. I have to balance acknowledging how crazy I acted with being a professional adult person who knows how to control her emotions. Or maybe I don’t acknowledge it at all? Do I make a joke? Do I build a time machine to go back and not be so weird? Do I say something now, since we both have to figure out this panel thing, or do I say something later on?

This might be counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do is to put in the past and just move forward. Don’t apologize again — it sounds like the apologizing might have gone over the top last time, so you don’t want to start it up again! Don’t make a joke about it (too much risk of it not landing well). Really, don’t try to address it in any way. It happened, it got weird, you tried to address it at the time (and addressed it too much, it sounds like), and if you raise it again there’s too much risk of the old weirdness getting raised along with it.

Instead, make a point of being warm (but not too warm) and professional. Greet her pleasantly, shake her hand (if that’s a thing people there do), tell her it’s good to see her, and then treat her like you’d treat someone you know a little but not well. The message you want to convey with your behavior here is “professional person behaving appropriately at a conference,” not “abashed person trying to fix something.”

It’s okay if Sansa feels a little weird or is stand-offish with you. That’s fine! All you can control is you. Plus, this conference isn’t the final word in how people see you. It sounds like you’ll run into Sansa and others again from time to time, and over time you can build up a calm, professional image that will eventually be a strong counterweight to something that at some point will be many years in the past.

5. Can I negotiate when a pay ceiling was named earlier?

I was recently a casualty of mass layoffs. An old boss of mine reached out to me about another job right away, making it very clear he wanted me on the team. He told me off the record the base offer would probably be about ~$10K more than I was making at my last job, which makes sense — the job would be a step up in terms of responsibilities. However, when HR reached out to me about the position, they told me the budget they had for the position was $15K below the number my ex-boss gave. After saying that wouldn’t be doable for me, they called me back and said they could go up to $X, which is about what I was making in my last position.

Here’s where I’m getting tripped up: I’m not at the offer stage yet. This was a preliminary phone call to check if I want to move forward with the process, given their budget and my specified salary band. I am moving forward regardless because … well, unemployment, but my question is, if/when I get an offer, would it be tacky to negotiate more? I know under normal circumstances, it never hurts to ask, but given how early they gave me a ceiling, I don’t want to come off out of touch.

I am also curious in general how my negotiation power is affected given I got laid off — the salary would be a significant step down from my last position given the added responsibility, but I’m not at that job anymore. So is it actually relevant to negotiating?

I’d argue that your old salary is almost never relevant because jobs should pay based on their value (and too often salary history is used to depress wages), but sometimes it can be effective to use it to convince an employer to increase an offer. In your case, it’s true that it’s less relevant because you’re no longer at that job (so it’s not a case of “I’d need you to at least match my salary in order for me to consider leaving”) but it still does convey that your work was priced at a certain level previously.

The bigger thing here, though, is to talk to your old boss. It’s possible that when he told you the job would pay more, he was guessing and didn’t have hard numbers. But it’s also possible that he’d go to bat to get you that higher amount because you’re a known quantity and he really wants you, or would shuffle money in his budget around to make it work. So before assuming anything, touch base with him and say something like, “HR originally told me they’d budgeted $X for the role, then called me back and said they could go to up $Y. Since you and I had talked about $Z, I was wondering if you had any insight.”

In general, you don’t want to hear a pay range at the outset, agree to move forward in the process, and try to negotiate for more at the end — that’s seen as operating in bad faith and wasting people’s time. But if you can genuinely frame it as “as I’ve learned more about the position and talked with (former boss) about the role’s responsibilities, I’m hoping you can go up to $Z, since in my experience (including at my last job), jobs paying $Y generally don’t including managing a large team or doing so much travel” (or whatever).

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