candidate said “you shouldn’t hire me,” inappropriate music in a family-friendly store, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. A candidate said “you shouldn’t hire me” at the end of our interview

I wanted some feedback on the interview I conducted with a candidate earlier today. Overall, the candidate performed exceptionally well during the interview process, showcasing their skills and experience effectively. However, towards the end of our discussion, they made a surprising statement that gave me pause.

During the closing remarks, the candidate said, “I’ve got to be honest — you shouldn’t hire me. I am not the perfect candidate for this job.” I asked for further explanation, to which they cited concerns about competition from other candidates and mentioned feeling awkward. While I appreciated their honesty, it left me uncertain about how to proceed.

On one hand, their self-awareness is commendable, and it’s important to consider their perspective. On the other hand, I believe the candidate has a lot to offer and could potentially excel in the role despite their concerns.

I would appreciate your input on how to interpret this feedback. Should we take their advice into account and reconsider their candidacy, or should we proceed with our evaluation, considering their nerves and lack of confidence during the interview?

That’s a pretty weird thing for a candidate to say. It would be different if they were raising specifics — like if they’d said, “It sounds like you really need someone with strong skills in X, and that’s not an area of strength for me. To meet the goals you’ve laid out, I’m concerned you’d need someone with significant experience in Y and Z.” That’s the kind of honest conversation that can make for a great interview — not necessarily one that leads to an offer, but one that leads to a good outcome for both sides: the employer doesn’t hire the wrong person for the job and the candidate doesn’t end up in a job they’ll struggle in … and if X, Y, and Z actually aren’t so important, it’s an opportunity for the interviewer to clarify that.

But if this person was just feeling awkward about who they imagined the competition was, that’s different.

So: My advice is to think about whether someone without a lot of self-confidence will be able to thrive in the job. In many jobs, it wouldn’t matter. In others, it would make things hard on everyone. This is a situation where I’d bet a nuanced reference check would tell you a lot more. (As might an additional conversation with the candidate where you ask to hear more about what they’re thinking, saying explicitly that you thought they’ve done well in the hiring process so far and you want to hear more about their concerns.)

2. Manager plays inappropriate music in a family-friendly store

I work in a store meant to be family-friendly. Parents bring their children in all the time. I’m a stocker and help unload trucks and put things on the shelves. My shift ends when the doors open for business, but I’ve stayed over a time or two, and even come back in during business hours to shop for myself.

Our stock manager is an absolute piece of work. She has thrown fits at employees for not working as fast as she wants them to. I had to report her to the company hotline for demanding that we do unpaid overtime as “punishment for not working fast enough to get your job done in the allotted time of your shift.” A corporate bigwig personally paid a visit to the store to reprimand her.

She got really quiet for a while, but now a new problem has come up. This manager has access to the store’s music system, and she puts in her own music. Some of it is okay, and you wouldn’t raise an eyebrow walking into any other store. But one particular song is on the music list, and it’s a doozy. Once an hour, every hour, a guy starts singing about how he spotted a random beautiful woman. He has no relationship with this random woman; she’s just someone who is attractive and who rejects his advances. So he spends the entire song blaming this woman for making him want to kill himself so now it’s all her fault, how could she do this to him, and he wouldn’t be like this if she would just date him. The song is sick, manipulative, and downplays real depression and mental health issues.

The manager refuses to remove the song from her playlist. She insists that corporate okayed the music, despite complaints from staff and customers alike. Several parents with children have made their opinions known and have been brushed off. Those who ask for corporate numbers are refused with, “You don’t need the corporate number because corporate okayed the music we play here.” Then she walks away from them and refuses to discuss it anymore.

I have serious doubts that corporate okayed the music, but I also am not sure if I’m being overly sensitive, since it’s a single song. Having already filed a complaint over things that I know for sure are illegal, it might sound like I’m whiny to file a complaint over store music. Customers seem willing to complain to the manager in person, but are not offended enough to Google a phone number on the internet when a direct request is denied. (The information is there if you bother to take 10 seconds on your phone.) I’m afraid to hand that hotline number out myself since the manager has been giving me the side eye through most of my shifts and none of the other managers will lift a finger or even acknowledge the issue themselves. Am I being overly sensitive, or is this wildly inappropriate?

It’s wildly inappropriate. You’re right, she’s wrong, no question. But you’re also not really in a position to do anything about it. You’re feeling like this is on you to solve, but it’s not. It’s the definition of “above your pay grade.”

But this manager is so deeply out of her gourd that something’s going to blow up at some point.

3. How do I set boundaries with my building’s cleaner?

How do I maintain boundaries with my building’s cleaner? I started a new job at a university as an office assistant. The building cleaner is very nice but she has started to try to spend a lot of time with me at work. I am a private person but also a people pleaser and feel a lot of pressure to make sure people walk away from conversations feeling comfortable and happy. However, it has many times caused people to monopolize my energy and time, and my alone time is very precious to me.

The cleaner asked me to have lunch with them one day but then asked to go for a walk during my lunch the next day and to do something else the day after that. I only have an hour lunch and they want me to spend it with them every day and will constantly visit my office throughout the day asking if we are still on for our plans. I feel a lot of pressure and they seem to get their feelings hurt easily if I seem less than happy. I want to be left alone but I don’t want to hurt their feelings or to discourage them from being friendly. I am frustrated as I really value having alone time to myself to read or listen to music and to decompress from masking all day. I don’t know what to do. Can you please provide me with some tips or key phrases that I could use to set up certain boundaries without hurting their feelings?

The easiest way to set a boundary is to cite a different commitment — which can include commitments to yourself. For example:
* “I made plans with my sister to call her at lunch today.”
* “I need to start using lunch to get caught up on reading for my book club.”
* “I made other plans, but I’ll see you later!”
* “I’ve got a bunch of personal stuff I need to take care of at lunch.”
* “I can’t today, sorry!”

Since they’re asking you daily, it will help to come up with a reason that covers you indefinitely, not just for one day (so the reading one or a new standing call with a friend/sibling could be useful).

In an ideal world you’d get comfortable saying, “Most of the time I use my lunch hour to decompress on my own and if I don’t, I have a harder time later in the day.” But for now, whatever lets you set a boundary will get the job done.

Caveat: You can’t guarantee this won’t hurt the person’s feelings. If that’s your measure for “actions I’m allowed to take,” you’ll always be at the mercy of other people and your time will never be your own (especially when you’re dealing with anyone who’s more assertive about what they want than you are). Instead your goal should be “I’m polite and respectful and asserting something I’m reasonably entitled to assert.” How other people feel about that is up to them.

4. Should I bring up that our in-office rule is enforced inconsistently on our team?

I was hired in the pandemic and have worked in my position remotely for two and a half years. This year we were required to return to office two days a week.

My team is only five people, and everyone except one other person is based out of a different location than me. I do not work directly with anyone in my office day-to-day. My manager does not go into an office location even though, according to them, they live within a reasonable distance to commute. The one teammate who is also in my location only comes in once a week. No one else on my team is close enough to an office to reasonably go in.

I know there may be arrangements going on that I don’t know about, but when I tried to bring up a different arrangement with my manager they quickly shut it down and said it was above their head.

Performance reviews are coming up and we also get to review and have a discussion with our managers. I’m thinking of raising this issue that there seem to be differing expectations for in-office attendance across the team. Is this inappropriate? Should I just deal? I’m finding it hard to take this policy seriously when management will not follow it or appear to enforce it equally across the team.

It’s not inappropriate to raise it — you’re being held to a rule others aren’t being held to — but you might not be reading between the lines correctly. It sounds to me like your manager is saying they don’t have the authority to make any official arrangements for differing schedules, but they’re also clearly not enforcing the in-office days with your team. So you could just see what happens if you go down to once a week like your coworker has.

Obviously that’s not ideal since you could potentially be called out for breaking the policy. But it’s not unreasonable to conclude your team has different norms, based on what you’re seeing, and to just quietly follow those norms yourself. (Frustratingly, if you take this route, you’re better off not raising it with your boss again, because then it can become “we specifically talked about this several times and I told you that you couldn’t” … whereas if you just follow your boss and coworker’s lead, it’s “I was calibrating myself to the rest of the team.”) This doesn’t work if your job involves tasks that truly require more in-office time, but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case.

5. What to say in an email that has your resume and cover letter attached

My boyfriend is applying for jobs. After a lot of work, he’s ready to email his resume and cover letter to his current first choice. As his cover letter will be an attachment, does he need to include anything in the body of the email besides:

Dear hiring manager,
Please find attached my cover letter and resume.

He should say what position he’s applying for. And it’ll look more polished if he adds a closing sentence and a sign-off. For example:

Dear hiring manager,

Please find attached my cover letter and resume for the X position. I hope to hear from you.

Barnaby Plufferton

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