should my spouse have to be background checked for my job, one-way video interviews, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. My work assignment would require my spouse to be fingerprinted and background checked

As part of my job, I’ve been tasked with securing a permit for the organization to serve alcohol at an upcoming event. In our jurisdiction, this requires submitting extensive personal information, background checks, fingerprinting, etc. for the applicant and spouse (“and spouse” is bold and underlined in the application instructions and forms).

I’m one of the few employees of our organization who is married, and I’m not comfortable with having my husband do this. He would certainly pass the background checks – he’s never had so much as a traffic ticket – but he’s a very private person and is not comfortable with it. Even if he was, I feel like it’s asking a lot for my employer to expect my husband to take time out of his workday to attend the appointments associated with applying. Is this as unreasonable as I think it is, or am I off base?

I want to push back, but I’m afraid it will look like I have something to hide. I’ve thought about asking someone else to do it but there aren’t any great alternatives. Our CEO really should be the one to do it (technically, no one else has authority to sign the forms on behalf of the organization) but he can’t due to a conflict of interest due to his relationship with the local authorities. My supervisor is also married, so her husband would be subjected to the same requirements. The org has a few other employees, but this event isn’t within the scope of their jobs. So, is there a tactful way to decline this, or do I need to suck it up and ask my husband to do it?

What on earth?! I’m dying to know the reasoning behind the spouse requirement.

If your husband just needed to sign his name on a form, I still wouldn’t love it, but just having him do it might be the easiest path since you don’t have other great alternatives. But fingerprinting and a background check and time off work for appointments? You can quite reasonably decline on those grounds. I’d frame it as, “Gavin is swamped right now and can’t take the time off work to do everything they’d require of him. Since that means I’m not an option, how do we want to handle this?”

(Also, any chance there are options that don’t require any of you to apply for the permit — like using a catering company that has their own liquor permit?)

2. Should we use one-way video interviews?

I’m in the middle of a hiring process, and my HR department is recommending that we do a one-way video screening (Spark Hire), instead of a phone screening. We have already done preliminary screening of written responses and need to cull the list down to a manageable number for zoom interviews. What are your thoughts on one-way video interviews?

Resist! Candidates hate those, and with good reason. They’re horrible. You’d be asking your candidates to invest not-insignificant time on their end doing something a lot of people find really uncomfortable (even people who are comfortable on camera in a more natural back-and-forth set-up) and to invest more of their time in your process without any opportunity for them to ask their own questions and find out if they’re even interested in the job. (This is true regardless but it goes double if the “written responses” you mentioned were something more than a resume and cover letter. If you have already asked them to produce something beyond the initial application, then it’s way too much to ask them to do yet another thing before they can even have a conversation with you.)

And you will lose some of your best candidates who will nope out rather than bother with it.

Do phone interviews so you can have real conversations with people. If you’re not convinced everyone you’re considering is worth the time of a short conversation, then cull them from the pool (or put them in a maybe pile to possibly go back to later).

3. Giving a dishonest reason for a layoff

In one of my first jobs out of college, I was in an assistant to two senior people at my organization. One of my bosses, Shirley, was super organized and easy to work with. The other, Laverne, was extremely unreliable. From what I could tell as her assistant, she worked maybe 20 hours a week max in a salaried full-time role. She worked in the office one morning a week, when we had a weekly team meeting with her boss. Otherwise, she “worked” from home and was almost entirely unreachable. Fending off folks demanding a response from Laverne became a significant part of my job. Projects were delayed, collaborators were livid, significant mistakes were made, costs were incurred, all because Laverne was unreachable and ultimately not really doing her job.

I got a sense from vague comments from Shirley and other senior folks that Laverne had some significant things going on, possibly health related, but she was not on FMLA to my knowledge — everyone, including her boss, seemed to expect that she would be working a normal number of hours, and none of this really appeared to be above-board or accommodated.

So clearly Laverne was not doing the tasks of her job. In retrospect, I do think Laverne was placed on a PIP while I worked there, because we had a very strange meeting where she called me into her office to let me know that “we” really needed to start doing better, and was very frantic about it for about two weeks.

The interesting thing was, Laverne was a nightmare to work with internally, but she clearly had a real knack for parts of the job. Everything was chaos before a project was delivered, but she had some of THE best performing work in the organization. In terms of sales metrics, she was doing incredibly.

Eventually, Laverne was let go — probably about eight months into my time there. However, her boss let us all know that Laverne had been laid off due to her market area underperforming, and there not really being a market for what she did. This was the same week that one of her recently released projects had reached a metric that our organization gave out special plaques for, so clearly the market for her work was there. Even though Laverne had been making my life miserable, it really rubbed me the wrong way to be so obviously lied to about why she was gone. I think as a kindness to Laverne, her boss decided to say she was laid off rather than fired due to poor performance, but that felt kind of unfair to the rest of us who had been dealing with her. I expected to feel hugely relieved that Laverne was gone, but the whole situation left a bad taste with how everything was handled.

Should her boss have been honest with us, or is this a reasonable thing to do as a manager of someone who is performing poorly, but possibly due to circumstances outside of their control? Did he assume that we would all know what really happened so it didn’t matter if he had a different cover story?

It’s common for employers to try to help fired employees save face a bit; in general, firings (and the circumstances around them) should shared on a “need to know” basis. Colleagues need to know the person is no longer there, of course, but they don’t usually need to know “and it’s because she was doing a terrible job.” So it’s not uncommon to be told something more bland than the real story.

What’s unusual in this situation is that they came up with a really specific cover story that didn’t make sense for the circumstances. They may have figured that anyone close enough to have seen the problems would read between the lines (and really didn’t need more information than that) … but I also wonder if this is the story they told Laverne herself. Sometimes employers do try to lay people off instead of firing them (there are times when that can be a kindness, although there are times when it’s not) and it’s possible they decided it would be easier for all involved, Laverne included, if they framed it as being about the market rather than her work, regardless of what the actual facts made clear.

4. Interviewing for out-of-state jobs just for practice

My soon-to-be-graduating-from-college son is getting contacted by recruiters for out-of-state jobs, even though he’s listed as interested in local jobs only. His stepmom, who used to work HR for a large company, told him to apply for those jobs even though he knows he wouldn’t accept them, because the practice he’d get from the whole process is good, plus they have connections and contacts that might lead to a local job.

This isn’t a good idea, is it? Applying for a job you know you’d never accept? My thought is no, but I’ve never worked HR, so, maybe?

It’s not a terrible idea for him to get some interviewing experience in low-risk situations, but he also shouldn’t waste a ton of people’s time while doing it … so I could see taking a few initial calls with recruiters to get a feel for how they go (and who knows, maybe someone will have an opportunity that intrigues him enough to consider a move) but he shouldn’t progress through multiple steps in their hiring process if he’s sure he’s not interested. Also, he’s very likely to be asked about his willingness to locate in those initial calls, so he’d want to be prepared for that.

If part of the motivation would be that the recruiters might have leads on local jobs too, then he’d want to be especially careful not to come across like he’s wasting their time. So, an initial call = fine, but remaining in their process after that = probably not.

5. Can I asked for clarification about the wording of this rejection?

I am currently, let’s say, the director of llama grooming at a very small company. I recently applied for a position as a manager of llama brushing at a much larger organization. Though the title is a step down and the area of focus is less broad, it seemed like the level of responsibility was on par with what I currently handle.

I just got an email letting me know that they’re not moving forward with my application. I’m disappointed, but understand that they’re making the decisions that are right for them. My question is about a specific line from the rejection email: “We hope you’ll continue to keep an eye out for more senior level openings that match your skills and experience.”

I am conflicted about how to interpret “more senior level openings.” To me there are three options:

1. Please keep an eye out for additional/other senior-level roles similar to this one that might be a better match for your skills than this one was.

2. Please keep an eye out for jobs that are more senior to this role, as we think those would be a better match for your skills.

3. This is the form letter they send out to all applicants and I am reading way too much into it.

I really like this org and don’t want to ruin my chance of maybe being hired someday by sending a reply digging into the ambiguous grammatical implications of their polite and timely email. No one likes unsolicited grammar critiques! But … I also feel like getting some clarity on what they mean would help me to be a better candidate in the future, and I would really like to be a better candidate in the future. Do I need to just let this go? Or can I send a brief and polite email asking for a little clarity? I need to just let this go, right?

Yeah, let it go. I agree it’s ambiguous and could be any of the three options you listed, but I think it would be a little too much to write back and ask for clarification.

For what it’s worth, I’d guess the third option (form letter) is most likely, followed by the first option (apply for similar roles). The second option (target jobs that are more senior next time) seems least likely to me if there wasn’t any other context for it (but could be more likely if, for example, they’d told you in an interview that they were concerned the role wasn’t senior enough for you).

Also, keep in mind that while candidates tend to read rejection emails really carefully, scrutinizing each word for meaning, on the employer’s end they’re often written more haphazardly than that. I would just continue to apply for roles there that interest you and seem like the right match with your skills.

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