interviewer asked how I prepared for the interview, boss wants me to be “emotional and raw,” and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Interviewer asked me how I prepared for the interview

I had my first job interview in close to a decade the other day. It was an initial phone call.

The interviewer asked me a few questions that initially caught me off guard. One was, “So how did you prepare for today’s interview?” Then this followed: “Can you tell me what it is our company does?” To be clear, I’d researched the company thoroughly, including speaking to someone I know who works there (who did not have great things to say about how management treats the staff; this was backed up by several reviews on Indeed and Glassdoor). But the way the interviewer asked the questions, it’s like he was looking for a “gotcha” moment.

My resume shows that my professional experience goes back almost 10 years. I thought the conversation would be more along the lines of reviewing my qualifications and how they might align with the requirements for the position. Instead, I felt like I was being treated like I was a kid in grade school being given a pop quiz by the teacher. Perhaps it’s because I haven’t been in an interview in a while, but am I wrong to be a little put off by this line of questioning?

You’re not wrong. Those questions come across like gotchas — an attempt by your interviewer to somehow catch you out (the second one less so, except in a context where it’s coming on the heels of the first). It might come across differently in an interview for an internship or entry-level job, as a way to probe into the person’s approach to organization and preparation, but not for someone with a 10-year track record of working to look at. (And I’m skeptical that he’d have responded well if you asked how he prepared for the conversation.)

For what it’s worth, he didn’t necessarily come up with those questions himself; they periodically appear on lists of suggested questions for interviewers to ask. But he or someone else at the company chose to ask those instead of using the time in other ways. You’re entitled to find it off-putting.

2. My boss wants me to share my “emotional and raw” reasons for working in my job

I have a manager who is new to me and my team but not new to the company or management in general. We have had a strained relationship but are slowly building a rapport.

In our most recent 1:1, he asked me to describe my emotional and raw personal reasons for working in my current role at my current company. I am a woman in tech, and I have worked my entire career to not appear emotional or tie my emotions to any portion of my work, in part for professionalism and in part to avoid the “emotional woman can’t handle the work” stereotypes. How do I push back on my manager and tell him I am not comfortable tying my emotions to my work? When I told him I prefer to be rational in my workplace and keep emotions at the door he told me I was “leaving all the fun out of it” and implied the only way for us to move forward was if I bared my soul to him. I am not comfortable with this! Please help!

This is weird for so many reasons, not least because most people don’t have “emotional and raw” reasons for choosing their jobs. And I’m not sure I’d want to hear anyone’s emotional and raw reasons if they did!

You could try to educate your boss about why his request is inappropriate (perhaps including “your request is a real land mine for women in this field, in ways you might not realize”) but the path of least resistance might be to just make up some BS that will satisfy him. Give him a very serious speech about your dedication to (subject matter of your job) and how seriously you take the opportunity to ___, stare at him meaningfully, and call it a day.

You shouldn’t have to do that. But if the relationship is already strained, sometimes the better part of valor is to take the easy way out and conserve your energy for other things.

3. Does remote work harm junior employees?

I’ve noticed that a lot of the questions and answers on your site are generally supportive of remote work. I work for an engineering company that has a hybrid approach. Most people can work from home two days a week, and we have a few fully remote employees. There seems to be interest from some employees, both junior and senior, in working from home more than two days a week or full-time.

My concern is that over time, the junior staff’s learning and growth will be impacted by not spending as much face to face time with the senior staff. This is the kind of thing that may not be noticable in short term metrics, but becomes impactful over time. The type of work we do is somewhat complex and requires a lot of on the job training, learning through experience, and learning through mentoring. So much of this happens in ad-hoc conversations around the building, chatting after meetings have officially ended, and overhearing other conversations that are happening around you. We use Zoom for meetings when people are not in the office and encourage people to have their cameras on to help facilitate connection and conversation between staff. However, I notice that this does not seem to happen as much on remote work days, and happened significantly less during Covid shutdowns when everyone was fully remote. Everyone is fully comfortable in Zoom meetings by now, but I don’t know if one can force the human connection that happens in person to happen over Zoom.

I am concerned about the long-term impacts of this on our business, but I haven’t seen much of that in the conversations on remote work. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on this — do you think remote work hurts the growth of junior employees (and the company) when they are not getting as much face time with the senior staff and their peers?

Yes. In my opinion, it’s the biggest drawback to the shift to more remote work and one we haven’t figured out how to solve. For early-career people, a huge amount of learning happens simply from being around more senior people as they do their jobs — hearing how someone talks to a client, or puzzles through a problem, or interviews a source. And that’s before we even get into the ad hoc conversations you describe that happen naturally in an office but require more formal planning to make happen remotely.

The benefits of remote work can be so enormous that in some cases they might outweigh that concern — but it’s a very real issue that I haven’t seen anyone come up with a good solution to (aside from hybrid schedules where everyone comes in on the same days).

4. Should I take a job offer at the start of my search if it’s not what I want to do?

I just learned I will be laid off two months from now, and immediately sprang into a job search. I’m well advanced into my career, serving as a department director for the past 18 months and having worked in the same industry my entire career.

Within 24 hours, I one of the jobs I applied to called me in for an interview, but here’s the catch: it’s a position well below my abilities and salary. It’s nearly identical to a position I held more than 10 years ago, and I have no doubt I could do it easily and well, but it’s not where I see myself now.

So how to proceed? Do I take this lower job while continuing my search, knowing full well that I already have a foot out the door? Or do I hold out for a more suitable position, which will likely take longer to find? I’m debt free, have a healthy emergency savings, and two more months of employment, so there’s no immediate desperation. Just the same, I don’t want to put myself in a precarious situation just because I refused a job I felt was beneath me.

There’s no guaranteed-to-be-right answer to this. There’s inherently some risk built in no matter what you do.

But if you’re getting invited to interview within 24 hours of beginning your search, it’s very likely that you’re going to get invited to other interviews too, and some of them will probably be for jobs you’re more interested in.

If you had less of a financial cushion, you might not have the luxury of turning down a job you didn’t want. But in your situation, I think it’s worth gambling that there more interviews will come. It is a gamble, but given that you’re only a day into your search, I don’t think it’s a huge one.

You also do have the option of taking the job and continuing to search. It’s not a great thing to do to the employer, but sometimes financial realities don’t give you much choice in that regard.

5. A temp bringing bagels

I’m wondering if you can give me some perspective on something I did while I was in a temporary position at my current job. (I’ve since been hired on permanently in that role, and have been here for a year and a half.)

While I was a temp, I came into a bit of unexpected money, and since I liked everyone I was working with and had recently come from a job with a heavy emphasis on potlucks and sharing food, I decided to use my windfall to treat everyone to bagels and cream cheese. So I went around the office, stated what I was doing, and asked everyone what flavors they wanted. (There are only 10 people in the office at maximum on any given day, so this wasn’t a huge stretch.)

I got mostly surprised (but pleased) reactions and assurances that I could get whatever flavors for the most part, and plenty of people thanked me at the time and enjoyed a bagel. But thinking back on it now, and given that I’ve never done anything like this again, I’m starting to wonder if it read more like a “please hire me!” campaign ad. The position was temp to hire, so while I feel like my intentions were pure, could this have backfired on me if I had misread what I could and couldn’t get away with as a temp worker? On the off chance that I end up in that position again, I want to get an outside perspective on what that looked like. (I’m not a supervisor, for the record, just a regular, front-of-office drone, in case that changes anything.)

I think you’re fine and I doubt it looked like a “please hire me!” campaign.

In some offices it might have felt like a mildly surprising act from a temp. This analogy isn’t quite right, but sort of like if an intern had done it — there might be a feeling of “save your money and don’t spend it on treats for us.” (The analogy isn’t exactly right because temps are different from interns, and you might have been far better paid, but that’s as close as I can get.) However, the longer you had been temping there, the less that would be the case, and the kindness of the act (and the joy of having bagels) would have outweighed that anyway. And in most offices it wouldn’t seem strange or register at all.

Also, this kind of thing tends to get interpreted through the lens of what people already know about you. If you were doing a lot of other stuff that read as a “hire me” campaign, then this might have felt like part of that. But assuming you weren’t, and you just had warm relationships with people, it would have been seen through that lens.

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