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our meetings start with instructions about breathing, interviewer told me to ask all the questions, and more — Ask a Manager

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

1. Our meetings start with too many instructions about breathing

I work in a small nonprofit, managed by kind, well-intentioned people. But they do one thing that really bothers me. They start staff meetings and trainings (and there are many of those) with a session of breathing, and advice about “where we are holding tension in our bodies” and similar topics. We have to breathe with them, sometimes wave our arms, sit a certain way, close our eyes, act like we’re focusing on our “tension,” and listen to their instructions about how to feel.

This feels creepy, invasive and inappropriate to me. It’s not harassment, not sexual, and it’s clearly well intentioned. But I don’t want my managers focused on my body. I don’t want them telling me what to do and feel about my body. And what’s next — hugging? Group therapy? Mandatory yoga?

I’ve been trying to just shut my eyes as instructed and think about something else while they do it, and I should probably try to get better at that. But it leaves me very tense. This seems to be very important to them, and I feel that any resistance would hurt my career. Any advice will be much appreciated.

Yes, that’s an overstep. I’d be more okay with something like “we’re going to take a minute at the start of the meeting to close our eyes and clear our minds” — I still wouldn’t like it, but it would be less invasive than instructions to move your body a certain way and focus on your “tension.” What they’re doing is … A Lot for work meetings.

You’re already doing what I was going to suggest — simply sitting there with your eyes closed. Think about whatever you want during that time! Use it to ponder what’s wrong with Brad Pitt or what you’re going to make for dinner.

If you felt you had the capital to take it on, you could ask that they tone these down or at least do them less frequently. But since your sense is that pushing back would harm you, just sitting there doing your own thing with your eyes closed is your best bet. They can’t make you focus on your “tension”; you can sit there and think about penguins or whatever else you want.

2. Interviewer told me to ask all the questions

I had an interview recently that was very different from what your typical interview is. It was for a first interview, with an HR individual, and she said “I do things differently, where I want you to ask me questions.” The only questions she asked me were if I had seen the salary range/was it okay and if I was comfortable with 100% remote work.

I had my standard interview questions I ask, but was not prepared to basically conduct the interview myself. Am I out of line in thinking she should have warned me this would be the case, so that I could prepare a bit better? I’m okay at thinking on my feet but typically need a bit more time to put together thoughtful questions, which was obviously a hindrance in this case. I knew when I got off that it was not a good interview, and the rejection I just received confirmed that. Maybe this is the new way of doing interviews? Am I completely off-base? Should I prepare to do this more going forward?

It’s not the new way of doing interviews. It’s just this one bad interviewer. Since she’s HR rather than the hiring manager, it wouldn’t have been weird if she had said, “This stage is really for any questions you have about the job or the company or the salary and benefits — the hiring manager will get more into the nitty-gritty of what she’s looking for.” And it’s possible that that’s exactly how she meant it! But she didn’t frame it that way and left you feeling like you had to structure and run an interview yourself without any prep for that. (And yes, she should have told you beforehand so you could have prepared for it.)

This isn’t something that’s likely to come up a lot but if you encounter it again, the way to approach it is that you’re both there to figure out whether you and the job are well-matched. So in theory you could have asked questions about what they’re looking for in the role, what the biggest challenges are, what success will look like a year in, what qualities/previous experiences they’ve found are most predictive of success in the role … but a lot of HR people wouldn’t be able to answer those with the nuance you need; those are really better suited for conversations with the hiring manager.

3. Interviewer asked me to produce free work and present it to their client

I got laid off while on maternity leave (my job wasn’t covered under FMLA, and the company had a very legitimate decline in business so I negotiated severance and moved on), and luckily found a new job within a month! Before I did, I had an experience that really rubbed me the wrong way.

The job was a director-level position who would be brought on to work on a single client account. The final interview was to take the data they sent (theoretically, it was fake data but there was so much of it that I assume it was real, but anonymized), come up with a full 2024 plan to improve their performance based on detailed KPIs, and present the plan not only to the internal hiring team but to the client as well! Not only did this seem like an inordinate amount of work (and work they should be paying someone for), but the fact that the client would be there seemed extremely inappropriate. After a quick review of the request I politely bowed out, and I never even heard back to my “thanks but no thanks” email. What do you think? Was this a normal final interview procedure, or was I right to take it as a giant red flag and move on?

Giant red flag / right to move on.

That’s way too much work to request for free. I could maybe see taking old data — like from several years ago — and asking you to come up with a sliver of that overall plan, like just one small portion in order to see you in action. But this is far too much, and it’s real work, not an obviously-never-going-to-be-used simulation. And yes, having the client there makes it feel even more like it’s real work they might use. It’s possible that the client is involved in hiring for the position and would be there solely in an evaluative capacity … but it doesn’t sound like it (especially if they didn’t explicitly say that).

I tend to think people are too quick to jump to “they’re just trying to get free work from you” (and good hiring exercises are specifically designed not to produce anything they’d use in real life) but in this case it really sounds like they were.

4. Coworkers cc our managers when they don’t need to

It bugs me when colleagues email to ask me for something and copy the email to our supervisors. To me, it sets up a tone of distrust, bottom-covering, and tattling. Is there a way that I can address this issue in a way that doesn’t come across as negative, or should I continue to let it go, especially since most colleagues don’t do it? For the record, I have a reputation for being responsive and easy to work with. I seldom forget to follow through with what I say I will do, and don’t copy supervisors when I need to remind colleagues of things.

In most cases you should let it go. It’s hard to address it without looking like you’re trying to shield yourself from your managers’ view. (That’s not to say it’s not legitimately annoying; it is. This is just about what it can look like.) Also, you never know when someone’s manager said to them, “Email Jane about X and cc me when you do” — which sometimes happens for reasons that have nothing to do with lack of trust in you.

That said, sometimes you’ll have a context where you can credibly say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been cc’ing Cordelia on things like X and Y. She’s mentioned her inbox is swamped as it is and I want to protect her time, so I suggest we only bring her in if there’s a specific need to.”

5. Can I apply for a different internal job after I just changed departments?

I have been working for the same large nonprofit for six years. The location I was working at had zero progression opportunities, so after things changed with my partner’s job I started putting feelers out and saw a posting at my company for a job two pay grades higher at a different location, applied, and got it. I relocated — it’s been 2-1/2 months and I’m settling in well.

Only snag: my company has now posted my dream position (different department, fully remote, same pay grade). How bad would it look if I applied for it so shortly after taking my new role? If this was external I would apply, but as it’s internal my application would go through the same recruitment team as previously. I don’t want to come across as flakey, but I also don’t want to miss out on shooting my shot at something that truly excites me. (I wouldn’t consider looking for the same role with a different employer. My company is a fantastic employer on many levels, I love our cause, and I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else.) I have a week to decide and I keep going back and forth.

Unless you’re an extraordinarily stellar candidate, they’re very unlikely to consider you for it. The organization has just invested the time and energy to hire you for your current job and you’re still in the middle of learning it; you’d need to be an unusually strong candidate for the new job for them to consider causing that much upheaval to your current team. And even then, they’d be likely to worry about how long you’d stay in the new position, since at that point you’d seem very willing to move around quickly.

I could see this working in a very narrow set of circumstances where you’re an unusually stellar candidate, the job you just took is relatively easy to fill and the new one is much harder, and you have enough rapport with someone involved in hiring that you can have a candid conversation about your interest and ask whether it makes sense to apply. But if all those factors aren’t present, I’d pass it up this time and assume it’s likely to come open again at some point in the future, and you’ll be in a stronger position to apply after you’ve been in your new job for a while.


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