Sunday, June 13

Can You Bill For Your Time After a Long Interview Process? columnist Alison Green answers questions about workplace and management issues–everything from how to deal with a micromanaging boss to how to talk to someone on your team about body odor.

Here’s a roundup of answers to five questions from readers.

1. Can you bill for your time after a long interview process?

A friend recently sat for 29 — yes, 29 — half-hour interviews for the position of senior director. The interviews included the CEO, president, COO, CFO, etc. The company’s hiring manager called her two references, both of which are highly respected in the field, and both of which attested to giving her stellar reviews. In addition, she has an unblemished record and excellent credentials. Regardless, she was not hired and the position remains unfilled.

Considering that the company took up so much of her time, should she bill the company for her time? If so, how would she go about doing so, a simple request by mail? Attorney? If not, do you suggest she voice her disapproval, assuming it is somehow constructive?

She can’t bill them for her time. You can’t send people a bill for a fee they never agreed to pay; otherwise we could all send each other bills for draining, annoying interactions.

Trying to do it would make her look really, really out-of-touch. It would be the kind of thing people would gossip about for a very long time and would seriously hurt her reputation.

To be clear, 29 interviews is  beyond excessive. It’s absurd! But no one required her to continue participating in them, and she was never guaranteed a job at the end of the process.

The better move would be to resolve in the future not to do anything in a hiring process that she’ll be bitter about if she doesn’t end up getting an offer.

2. Speaking to an employee who stayed late during a family emergency

I manage a small team. It’s been an all-hands-on-deck kind of week, including a late night completing work that had to be done outside of business hours. After a stressful night, at about 11 pm, one of my top performers tells me on her way out, “Sorry if I was a little off tonight. I found out this afternoon that my cousin passed away, and I’ve been just trying to hold it together to get through today.” I was pretty shocked and horrified she’d stayed (and myself pretty exhausted), but managed to keep a lid on that, give condolences, have enough of a chat to know she was close to him but that he’d been sick a long time and this was expected, and tell her that she was absolutely fine to take tomorrow off if she needed it. (At this point, she did look about to fall apart but said she was planning to come in; she let me know this morning that she was going to take today and tomorrow, which I fully support.)

We work for a very employees-are-people-first organization, and everyone would have been 100% supportive even if she had left in the middle of the day on the day of this big piece of work for a reason like this. But she’s relatively new (within first six months, but doing amazing) and I want to make sure she knows this.

I am at a bit of a loss of how to handle this. On one hand, her help was really valuable and I want her to know I recognize her contributions-especially in the face of life troubles-are noticed and appreciated. On the other, I definitely don’t want to build a culture where people feel like they have to stay at work pretending everything is okay until 11 p.m. when relatives they’re close to pass away. Any suggestions of how to handle this in a way that best supports her?

Yes! Talk to her and be direct about what you’ve said here.

For example: “I will always appreciate it when you go above and beyond at work, whether it’s staying late or putting extra effort into making sure that we get a project just right … but you are also human with a life outside of work, and when something serious happens like a death in the family, I don’t want you to think twice about coming to me and telling me that you need to leave. I was mortified when I realized we’d kept you here the day your cousin died, and I want to make sure that you know in the future that we are 100% supportive of you taking the time that you need when you have something serious going on in your life, even if it’s in the middle of all-hands-on-deck-type of project.”

3. Companies that have resigning employees leave on the spot

I’ve been working for a small company for a few years now. Despite touting themselves as flexible and having great work-life balance, the company is pretty rigid with 50+ hour work-weeks and I’ve been burning out quickly. My coworker recently put in his two-week notice and was terminated on the spot. I learned that the company routinely does this to any employee who puts in notice. I’m not in the type of field where this makes any logical sense, and it seems spiteful. Can you explain why some employers use this tactic when employees give notice? If you know your employer does this, is it better to still give the customary notice anyway, but line up your next job for immediate start?

Most commonly, employers who do this across the board are doing it because they don’t want existing employees to take client lists or other trade secrets. This doesn’t make a ton of sense because obviously anyone who wanted to do that could just do it before resigning. Sometimes it’s also that they don’t want the person poaching other employees … which is also silly because you could just do it after leaving. And in particularly dysfunctional workplaces, it’s because they take resignations as personal betrayals. 

And yes, if you work somewhere that does this, the best thing to do is to assume they will do it to you as well and set your start date at your new job accordingly (particularly if your company won’t pay out your notice period, which is a particularly bad practice).

4. Do my coworkers all pity me because my job is boring?

My job involves a large amount of data entry at a nonprofit. Currently my work volume is very high, so some other staff members were assigned to help some of my tasks so that everything can get done. Recently said staff members made some well-meaning comments along the lines of “I’m so sorry you have to deal with this every day” and generally joking about how they can’t believe I don’t have a drinking problem.

I know that these coworkers, whose jobs involve much more varied tasks/interaction with others, did not mean to be hurtful and simply aren’t used to this kind of work. But the thing is, I’ve already been feeling stuck in my current position and frustrated with the repetitiveness of my work. My coworkers mostly work in positions that have a direct impact on our mission and in the community. By contrast, my job is necessary but has none of the “warm fuzzy feeling” that comes with doing good in the world. I was already slightly in the middle of a career crisis, and now suddenly I feel as though I have the “pity job” at my office — like everyone feels bad for me because I have to do the drudge work. 

How do I deal with this feeling that my job is unimportant? How do I deal with being surrounded by passionate, inspired people and feeling completely uninspired and uninvolved?

Well, the fact that a job isn’t glamorous or particularly exciting has nothing to do with whether it’s important! And your work apparently is important enough that people with those more glamorous jobs are being repurposed to help out with it — so that’s a pretty good indicator of its importance to your organization. I don’t know what kind of data entry you do, but if it’s something like membership work, that’s basically the lifeblood of the organization. Yes, it’s boring at times, but it’s crucial. It’s literally the thing that makes it possible for your coworkers to do their own jobs (all of which have plenty of boring elements too, I promise you).

Your coworkers were insensitive — although I suspect they were trying to create camaraderie, not trying to insult you or condescend to you about your job — but I think you’re taking it the wrong way. I’ve worked around a lot of people doing data entry, and no one ever thought of their work as the “pity job.” In fact, when people were good at it, they were particularly valued, because it takes focus, attention to detail, and a high rate of accuracy, all of which are harder to find than you might think.

Wipe this from your mind and don’t let it mess with your head.

5. Can I be friends with candidates who I reject for jobs?

I am a hiring manager and I meet a lot of candidates who I grow to like. I have had some applicants ask if we can be friends after I send them a rejection email. I’m new to the area and only have work friends, so I really do want to be their friend! Can I?

How often is this happening? If on occasion you really click with someone and a friendship develops organically, I don’t think anyone would criticize you for that. But if you’re routinely finding friends among the job candidates you reject, there’s a risk it will come across oddly to anyone who happens to notice it.

There’s a middle ground though: there’s no reason that you can’t consider these people to be business contacts now that you’ve gotten to know them in a business context. You could treat them just like you might any other business contact, and if over time that eventually turns into a friendship, then so be it. But I wouldn’t go straight from job rejection to clubbing, or anything like that.

Want to submit a question of your own? Send it to

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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