Employer Entitlement (Know Your Place)

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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102 Responses

  1. Murali says:

    I’ve mentioned this before in a different context. In theory, the position of workers should be a lot worse here than in the US. Unionising and collective bargaining is heavily regulated. It is illegal to strike. Yet, no employer will dare tell his employee that they cannot go to the toilet. Moreover, employers expect interviewees to ask about salary and working hours etc. In fact, doing so indicates that you are serious about your goals and are sufficiently motivated to be an asset to the company. Someone who doesn’t bother to ask about the payscale, opportunities for advancement and the like is not only not sufficiently future oriented to be worth employing, they show a lack of commitment to the work. It as though you already expect that you will never progress beyond the entry level.Report

    • Vikram Bath in reply to Murali says:

      Some of this, I think is about social norms. In the US, asking about pay before one has been offered a position is something that we are taught is uncouth, and everyone knows this fact, so if someone asks, we consider them uncouth. It’s sort of like how we decided that the middle finger was offensive. It’s only offensive because we know it is supposed to be offensive.

      So, it’s unsurprising that these same questions might imply entirely different things in different places. The whole business is more about whether you belong in that social stratum by showing an ability to follow the rules.Report

    • Barry in reply to Murali says:

      Where is ‘here’?Report

  2. Brandon Berg says:

    I think it’s more an issue of prudence than of propriety. While it’s not seen as improper for an employer to ask a candidate about working weekends, this is very likely to deter candidates who have other options (i.e. the good ones) and don’t want to work weekends.

    Which is probably a good thing. If the job requires working weekends, you don’t want to hire a candidate who isn’t willing to work weekends.

    But if you want a job—any job—then you don’t say anything that could potentially make the employer think it’s a bad fit.Report

    • I think I agree, at least partially. I interpret the article (as Will summarized it) to be a guide in a world that’s not particularly fair. Prospective employees should recognize that they’re not in a position to make demands. It’s not a good state of affairs, but that’s the way it is. So it’s prudent to go in realizing the prospective employer has most of the cards.Report

  3. Brandon Berg says:

    By the way, for what it’s worth, most jobs for which I’ve applied have specifically had a question about salary expectations on the application form.Report

    • NewDealer in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I would be very curious to see if employer’s who asked this question always picked among the lowest possible numbers.

      I’ve been asked the same question and always write an amount based on current living situation (rent plus my desire to continue living alone). Considering I still freelance, I wonder if I am just being underbid by people willing to work for much less.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to NewDealer says:

        Some might, but I have typically lowballed salary expectations and have been offered positions at higher than my expectation because that’s what the job paid.Report

      • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

        Depends on the job: Nurses, yes, programmers no.
        Really, that question is there to ask three different ones:
        1) Can we realistically offer a salary that you CAN accept (if it won’t pay the bills, then we gotta talk turkey).
        2) How intelligent are you? Can you read the market?
        3) Do you really think you’re being underpaid/overpaid?Report

      • Stillwater in reply to NewDealer says:

        I would be very curious to see if employer’s who asked this question always picked among the lowest possible numbers.

        Yes, for sure. I’d also be curious to know what Brandon wrote as an answer on those applications. Brandon strikes me as very intelligent as well as savvy, and his pay expectations given performance – independently of what he wrote down – were probably very defensible.Report

  4. BlaiseP says:

    A number of writers at a number of these places are big on potential hires knowing their place. But Monster isn’t that, exactly.

    Monster.com is funded by employers, not the job-seeker. Monster knows the power equation. That’s how they’re making money.Report

  5. To be fair, I have on more than one (which means two, that I can recall) occasion cut off communication on a job opportunity due to the – for lack of a better word – behavior of the would-be employers.

    I’ve done this once. I called up a local college that had advertised for an adjunct position. The person I talked to hired me over the phone, without even asking if I had an MA (the minimum requirement for that position) and told me there’d be an orientation that weekend, and to be sure to bring my I.D.s. After the phone call, I did a little research on the college. Its website hadn’t been updated for a couple years, at one point it had lost (but apparently regained) its accreditation, and it seemed like one of those places that takes in less then qualified students, charges them a heckuva lot of money, and then graduates them. I called the person back and said I wasn’t interested.

    Maybe that’s not exactly the situation Will described, but it’s the only time a prospective employer’s behavior tipped me off to reject a job offer.Report

  6. Damon says:

    In most of the jobs I’ve interviewed for I’ve know the pay range and various particulars PRIOR to showing up. It’s either posted in the job description or the recruiter has told me the range. Then the HR chick (it’s always a woman) gives me all the benefits info while we’re doing “I-9” compliance. She’ll point out certain items that are notable, like the core work hours, 9/80 schedule, holidays, whether the company has a xmas shutdown or not, etc.

    Most of the meat of the job discusisons have been about actual work, they work environment, the possibility of over time during accounting close, various reporting deadlines, who’d I’d be interacting with, etc.Report

  7. BlaiseP says:

    The tesuji of salary/rate negotiations resolves to allowing the employer to expose his expectations first. I have a little list of questions for potential employees/contractors which can flush those expectations out into the open:

    1. Are you to be my direct supervisor?

    If not, trust nothing you are told by this person. Until you interview with your direct supervisor, you are being given a wheelbarrow full of Happy Talk.

    2. Am I a new hire or am I replacing someone?

    Open your eyes and watch carefully, prepare yourself, you will have about a tenth of a second after you ask this question to gauge the response. Like as not, you will be lied to at this moment. People are hired for their abilities and fired for their personalities. If you are coming in as a replacement, the chair in your cubicle may still have an ass in it, this minute. Firms interview for replacements before, not after, they terminate someone.

    But if the answer comes back “you’re replacing someone”, your negotiating position is stronger, for that chair is probably empty already.

    3. Describe my proposed responsibilities, as far as you are able.

    If the response is vague or contains nothing but acronyms and buzzwords, be prepared to be given responsibility with no mandate. If, however, the interviewer begins to talk about the ongoing work of the company in tactical terms, things are somewhat better. Respond with a moderate level of enthusiasm, saying that sort of thing sounds very interesting.

    If, however, you sense there’s some discord in the ranks (there always is), pay terribly close attention. The interviewer may need an ally. You might be that ally. EDIT. Size up the interviewer. You may get the job but you may be getting more than a job. You may be walking into a political minefield.Report

    • Patrick in reply to BlaiseP says:

      Those are all good questions.Report

    • Morat20 in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I’ve learned, painfully, to ask questions about the scope of the job, how critical it is to the main business, the degree of current expertise, and whether the position is an expansion one or a replacement — and if the latter, why did he move on.

      That was after working out — at the last minute — that a potentially interesting job is better tilted “Become ground zero for every screwup in software that we dump into your lap Day 1, with no in-house expertise AT ALL (it was maintained by consultants whose contract was up in a matter of weeks). Oh, and it’s the primary driver of our income. And it’s written in a language you don’t know, we know you don’t know it, and we’ll hire your team over the next six months. Oh, and we developed it originally then fired the whole team to save money and have used consultants for the last 4 years, so you can guess what your long term prospects are”.

      Screw that.Report

  8. kenB says:

    As one who’s spent some time on the other side of the desk, I’d say that list is overblown. If someone seems excessively concerned with salary, promotions, vacations, etc., that’s a red flag, but that’s happened only once in my ten years of (occasional) interviewing here. We expect questions about money and benefits — certainly none of us are working here just for the sheer joy of it.

    That said, we’re a small quirky company with no official HR staff — I guess there’s no reason to think that our attitude is typical.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to kenB says:

      I agree. It largely depends on the context. When I’ve interviewed for teaching positions, it usually a day full of multiple interviews with different people/groups. If I’m meeting with a group of teachers to discuss my demo lesson, discussing salary is not only inappropriate, it is irrelevant. If I’m meeting with an HR rep, it usually comes up one way or the other. Some heads will also broach it, or they might leave it to HR.

      Because education tends to be seen as a “labor of love”, some employers try to use this perception against employees. “Oh, you want a raise? I thought you cared about your students and loved your job…” That sort of thing. Harumph. Employment is an exchange. I’m giving something of value in order to receive something of value. If I feel the exchange is unfair, I will push to change it and/or seek another exchange.

      This last point, I’ve tried to hammer into Zazzy’s head as she conducts her first real open job search. “But my current employer took a chance on me! They hired me without real experience. Don’t I owe them?” “Nope. You don’t owe them a damn thing. Do you think they have their stomach in knots because they haven’t given you a raise in 25 months? Nope. So you shouldn’t feel anxious about exploring possibilities.”Report

    • Will Truman in reply to kenB says:

      Yeah. I’ve only been on the other side of the desk at one job. Salary requirements were posted in the ad, if I recall, or otherwise the person interviewing knew someone at the company. But if they asked about promotionjs, I don’t think I’d think much of it. On the other hand, if they kept hammering on it, I would assume that they thought they were going to be dissatisfied with the job that they were interviewing for.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Will Truman says:

        I’ve been on the opposite side of the table quite a bit. Once, I was looking for a replacement to take over a program I had developed and piloted. That was probably the most intensely I was involved. Other times, I’ve officially been a member of hiring times. And, generally speaking, I always try to attend “open interview” sessions with prospective employees. As my diversity role expands, I’m looking to formalize my place in the process, which might mean more of the forward work in terms of recruitment, advertisement, and initial screenings.

        I find it really useful to participate in the hiring process. You’ll learn a lot about your own institution and it will one day make you a better interviewee. When colleagues and I walked out of an interview all saying, “Oh man, we really liked that person. I hope they’ll consider us!” I realized that a lot of the fear candidates have is misplaced and/or unfairly cultured to disempower them.Report

  9. ScarletNumber says:

    Those are probably poor questions to ask on a first interview. If they like you enough to bring you back for round 2, though, they are probably ok.

    I have walked out on a few interviews becaused they insisted I fill out a paper application once I got there. Mind you, these were places where I had sent my resume and they called me in based on it. If they wanted the information so badly they could have emailed it to me to bring to the interview already filled out. Instead I’m supposed to know the contact information for my references off of the top of my head.

    They also get very annoyed when you offer other suggestions, like offering to fill it out once you get the position, or having a member of the secretarial staff fill it in.

    I also don’t understand why some interviewers think it is ok for them not to have a copy of your resume before the interview, especially when I had submitted it electronically. How difficult is it to say: Hey, I am interviewing three people today; let me make sure I have three resumes? And, of course, you are “unprepared” if you don’t have an extra copy for them.

    In a similar vein, they can keep you waiting all day to call you in, but God forbid you show up at 10:02 for a 10:00 interview.Report

    • Which is another thing. A lot of jobs don’t have “second interviews.” If I know that there is going to be a second interview (if I make it past the first) then it does make sense for the details to get hammered out then. But I’d say half, or fewer, of the jobs I’ve taken have involved more than one interview.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to ScarletNumber says:

      This is only as true in certain circumstances. I started doing MUCH better on job interviews (and getting better offers) when I went in with a, “How are they going to impress me?” attitude rather than a, “How am I going to impress them?” one. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was conscious of the latter, but if I knew I was in demand and would have opportunities (which tends to be the case if only for the fact that I am a rare commodity as a male pre school teacher… also, I like to think I’m pretty damn good at my job), I didn’t have a “groveling” mindset. It made a big difference.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to ScarletNumber says:

      Those are probably poor questions to ask on a first interview. If they like you enough to bring you back for round 2, though, they are probably ok.

      And since your time is of no value whatsoever, that’s fine.Report

      • What really blows my mind is the waste these elaborate interview processes have on the company, which often invests more than one person during any given interview, takes people out of meetings and productive time, and so on.

        On the other hand, in this context, they can use it to prevent second or third interviews if they’re so inclined. “This interviewee asked basic questions about salary and hours, so they are obviously too presumptuous to waste Team Leader’s time with…” or “This person wore a red tie on a Thursday, which everyone knows you’re not supposed to do, so let’s not waste Team Leader’s time…”Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        I think it depends on the field. In teaching, you really need the elaborate process. A resume is insufficient to really verify someone’s abilities. You have to see them in action, conducting a demo lesson, and then have a variety of people digest that and speak with them on it. We could probably cut out some of the fluff, but it’d still be at least half a day. Schools, generally speaking, put a lot of emphasis on “culture” and the like (to both good and ill effect) so often times a candidate will meet with a slew of people to ferret out what sort of “fit” they’ll be.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        There are some questions that I would think would be important for a candidate to ask:

        “Will I be carrying a pager?” was the question in the 90’s. Now, I suppose, it’d be “am I expected to be on call 24×7?”

        The argument that says that “you shouldn’t ask this!” strikes me as a poor argument… if I were interviewing two people and one asked this and the other didn’t, I might be suspicious that only one of them knows what the job might actually require.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Software engineering is…really hit or miss. I’ve been given thinly disguised IQ tests, that tested absolutely nothing but how much algebra I’d retained. (They weren’t very good ones).

        I’ve had software discussions — some good (laying out a problem, asking broad questions about how you’d design it, bringing up theoretical problems, etc. The better ones are aware of things like ‘Okay, your recent experience is with X, so if we’re talking Y I expect more rust). The bad ones? Dumb, dumb, dumb trick questions, stupid little trivia.

        I got asked to demonstrate code for swapping two integers without using a temp variable. My very first question was “Why? This isn’t an embedded systems job. I’d go with a temp and clear code, over some clever little hyper efficient and unreadable algorithm for no reason”. Bit masking and shifting (there’s some interesting little quirks, things you can do) that were entirely unrelated to what I was doing or what I was applying for.

        To me, as an interviewer, I’d want to see psuedo-code and algorithms, and generally “how do you approach X” with minimal time assuring myself you’d actually coded C sometime in the last decade. Syntax is easy. Logical thinking is hard.

        But instead? Thinly disguised IQ tests by headhunting firms, ridiculous code questions that do little more than determine who can remember some obscure little trick with bit-shifting that they saw once and have never used while a job is on the line.

        Hardly anyone actually talks about how to approach a problem, design philosophies — the stuff that actual matters.Report

      • Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        When successful companies give stupid bit-twiddling quizzes, they must be right to do so, because they’re successful.Report

    • krogerfoot in reply to ScarletNumber says:

      “In a similar vein, they can keep you waiting all day to call you in, but God forbid you show up at 10:02 for a 10:00 interview.”

      I hate the bullshit that companies pull on interviewees, but showing up late for an interview is a devastating obstacle to getting hired, in my book. Like an un-proofread resume or an illiterate cover letter/e-mail (heres my resme, mail me if intrested thx), it’s a very definite indicator of lacking attention to detail and respect for others’ time.Report

  10. Jaybird says:

    It seems that there is one main audience to the article: people who have reached the point where they’re reading articles on Monster.com for advice (as opposed to, say, research).Report

    • krogerfoot in reply to Jaybird says:

      Indeed. Having been on the other side of the interview table, I’d think some more helpful advice for this readership might be along the lines of “Don’t dress like a hobo,” “Avoid laying your head down on the interviewer’s desk or appear to hope to be offered a pillow,” “Double-check the opening before the interview, so you don’t wind up asking the interviewer, ‘is this for the waitstaff position, or the roofing job?’.”

      That said, the HR pros cited in the article sound like simpletons. This should be worrying for job seekers.Report

    • Barry in reply to Jaybird says:

      Except that this same advice is everywhere (of course, it could be because sites copy…).Report

  11. LeeEsq says:

    These questions seem weird from a lawyer’s perspective. At least in my experience and from people I know, either the salary and work schedule is more or less known before the interview takes place or can be safely brought up and negotiated during the interview. At every job I applied for as a lawyer, I knew what was being offered in terms of salary and work schedule more or less.Report

  12. Mike Schilling says:

    This is like dating advice. You know why you’re talking to that woman at the bar, and so does she, but it’s not a good idea to bring it up too soon.Report

  13. Mo says:

    It also depends on the economy you’re dealing with. In the go go late 90s, you could ask these questions with reckless abandon. Now, not so much. I also can see how some of them are presumptuous. You don’t ask a girl the frequency of intercourse on the first date.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Mo says:

      Yeah, but in dating, it is not assumed that you’re going to make a long-term decision after the first or second date. In job market, that’s sort of the case. If you know there’s going to be a second interview if you make it to it, then I can see letting the harder questions go. But that’s often not the case.

      OTOH, this is from HR people. If they’re doing the interviewing, then that’s a case where there probably will be more than one interview.Report

      • Mo in reply to Will Truman says:

        But the first, second or even third interview isn’t the only part of the process. Even if there’s only one interview, the compensation part of the conversation has yet to begin and there’s plenty of time for that.Report

      • That’s the time to nail down specifics. I just don’t think it is – or should be – out-of-bounds to have a rough idea of what the salary range might be. For the same reason that employers often ask before the interview.Report

      • Kim in reply to Will Truman says:

        yeah. Thing is? if the employer thinks it will be a sticking point, they will bring it up. Doesn’t do them any good to waste time with an applicant who will decline the jobReport

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Mo says:

      You don’t ask a girl the frequency of intercourse on the first date.

      Correct. You ask her if she likes beer.Report

  14. NewDealer says:

    I will also say that there are a lot of consulting companies that basically provide research on pay data.

    They will look at firms across one industry and then determine what a good pay structure will be like and provide the data to the employers/companies.

    So the companies end up paying remarkably similar anyway usually (if they participate). The spreadsheets would be based on title, years of experience, education level, etc. All very detailed.Report

  15. LWA says:

    Does this advice apply only to midlevel workers and below?
    Or does it hold true for executives and CEO types?

    To save everyone time- it doesn’t hold true for anyone more empowered than a midlevel manager.

    At the executive level, you will likely have a compensation consulting firm doing the negotiating, and they will definitely ask pointed questions about pay, in what form the pay takes, frequency of adjustment, factors of adjustment, etc.

    Compensation firms act as a sort of labor union- they provide advice and negotiating assistance, leveraging their knowledge database of CEO jobs and offerings to increase the bargaining power of the employee against the employer.Report

    • Barry in reply to LWA says:

      “At the executive level, you will likely have a compensation consulting firm doing the negotiating, and they will definitely ask pointed questions about pay, in what form the pay takes, frequency of adjustment, factors of adjustment, etc.”

      And getting contracts – those people are not ‘at-will employees’. They don’t seem to like ‘right to work’.Report

  16. greginak says:

    In most public/gov jobs pay schedules, rules and benefits are all public and there is no room for negotiation. If i told you my job title and how long i’ve been here you could find my exact pay and benefits. This has some major benefits such as no one gets more or less pay based on their gender, it removes a lot of ambiguity, takes away lots of way employers can jerk people around and is open. The downsides is that the lack of flexibility means nobody gets %20 raises and there is no profit sharing or perks like that.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

      Wages tend to be more rigid at a lot of companies, too. This has upsides and downsides. It’s frustrating to have team members frustrated that they are twice as productive as the guy sitting next to him, but making the same money. Frustrating, of course, because they have a point.Report

      • Morat20 in reply to Will Truman says:

        Also, despite being illegal as sin, you can often get fired for discussing your pay at work.

        I can’t think of a major company I’ve worked out that wouldn’t have your butt out the door if you discussed compensation. Oh, that’s never why they fired you (and your manager or team lead would quietly let you know, if you happened to bring it up, that such topics were taboo) — but it was VERY well understood that if you talked to people about what you made, you’d find yourself out the door.

        Unfortunate one-person layoff. Personality conflict. Didn’t log your lunch time properly. Something. Anything. Nothing, in an at-will state.

        Never, of course, that you discussed salary. That’d be illegal.Report

  17. Brandon Berg says:

    Having actually clicked through and read the article, it seems to me that it’s saying not so much that you shouldn’t ask about raises and promotions as that you shouldn’t ask in a way that implies that you don’t understand that they needed to be earned. The obvious answer to “When will I get a promotion/raise?” is, “How the hell should I know, when I haven’t seen your work?”

    The other two do strike me as unreasonable. If you need flex time and the job doesn’t allow it, or if you have a minimum salary requirement above what the employer is willing to pay, then going through the interview process just wastes time for everyone involved. It probably helps to preface such questions with an explanation of why you’re asking, though.Report

  18. Kim says:

    I’ve been to multiple interviews where the employer knew they were offering either “less” or a “low pay” position. They ALWAYS brought up pay. I was clear where I was dissatisfied (either in a “I’ll take this job until a new position opens up” or “this will be difficult but manageable”).

    the real deal is that nobody wants to be on the hook for an actual salary quote, and that next to nobody is going to give you less than what you’re already making without bringing it up themselves.Report

  19. Shazbot3 says:

    The flipside of this is that when you get hired with the help of a friend, family member, or friend of a friend (i.e. by “networking” which is just a euphemism for “nepotism”), that person often puts in a word to negotiate your wage for you.

    I have heard some scary statistics on how much hiring is done through favoring friends (or relatives) and friends of friends. Ditomaso suggests it could be as high as 70 percent of the jobs an average person holds over their lifetime.


    Indeed, I’d bet dollars to dounts that hires through favoritism, networking, or nepotism get higher wages than those who are strangers to the company, and that may explain some of the racial wage gap (for the same jobs), just as Ditomaso suggests that it explains some of the unemployment gap.

    I am still amazed by the extent to which people can be in denial about how much their network of friends and family members was necessary for them to get the position they ended up getting. It really very often is who you know, not what you know.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      Re: 70%, I believe it. Before I started moving around, a lot of the jobs I got involved people that I knew. If I went back home where I have that network, that would probably be the case again. On the other hand, I have repeatedly landed in cities where I didn’t know a soul or knew barely a soul, and I did independently find work everywhere except Arapaho. So it’s not determinative (I almost said something about the work-through-friends perhaps providing a resume that helped, but looking back my pace-setting job was one of the ones that didn’t involve knowing somebody). I would be interested to know how it effects salaries. I’ve never gotten the impression it helped me all that much, as far as that goes (because the networked jobs I got had pretty immutable payscales), but I could see it having an impact.Report

      • Barry in reply to Will Truman says:

        “I would be interested to know how it effects salaries. I’ve never gotten the impression it helped me all that much, as far as that goes (because the networked jobs I got had pretty immutable payscales), but I could see it having an impact.”

        Being hired as a Yadda Yadda Senior rather than Intermediate or Junior?Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      “Well this whole thing is just who knows who. And then over here you have favoritism.”Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      Every adult job I’ve gotten thus far I did so without networking. Now, I likely wouldn’t have gotten the camp counselor gig back when I was 14 if not for my mom, and that ultimately propelled me down the road to being a teacher, but there was no direct connection between that and my jobs since graduating. I did once try to tap into some networking I had done, which got me nothing more than a personal response from my connection (who was the head of school) that they would not be considering me for the position.

      I do think that not all forms of networking are the same.

      Scenario 1: “I worked with this guy back at Corp X. He’s a phenomenal talent.” Guy is then put through the same interview process and hired, partly based on his reference and partly based on his interview.

      Scenario 2: “I worked with this guy back at Corp X. He’s a phenomenal talent.” Guy is then hired without a competitive interview process.

      Scenario 3: “I grew up with this guy. He’s a good friend.” Guy gets selected into a candidate pool he otherwise would not have been in, but then impresses and is chosen on talent.

      Scenario 4: “I grew up with this guy. He’s a good friend.” Guy is then hired without a competitive interview process.

      I don’t consider those to really be the same thing.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Shazbot3 says:

      Huh. The only job I’ve ever gotten through networking/nepotism was working at my father’s business for minimum wage one summer in high school.Report

  20. DavidTC says:

    Businesses should know how much a position is worth, generally speaking. They are, after all, hiring someone to fill it, so they’re going to have to decide on salary _anyway_. But instead they’ve decided to ask you. When, in fact, they should be telling you the number they’ve already decided on. Before the interview. And what the normal salary increases are.

    It’s amazing how many insidious memes have worked their ways into our brains about the ‘proper’ interaction between employers and employees, and compare them to an actual working market:

    1) Employers do not have to state what the job pays upfront. You know, like when you go refrigerator shopping and they don’t tell you how much each one costs until you’ve hauled it up to the register. (It was hard to actually think of an analogy of buying something that required as much work as getting a job.) And even then, it’s considered uncouth to just _ask_ about it.

    2) Employees are severely discouraged, and it often is against the rules, to discuss wages. You know, like people are forbidden from discussing what store has cheaper prices.

    3) Employers feel that all aspects of their employees life is their business. Employers have even decided, recently, that it is their business how their employees use the health insurance they are paid. You know, like we as customers can decide how a store we buy things from uses ‘our’ money.

    There’s a reason it has been deliberately policy of the right, and even the pro-business left, to not worry about unemployment. (At least until it got absurd, when the left finally appears to care…and will go right on caring until it gets back to ‘normal’ unemployment, and it stops.)

    It’s so we internalize this _bullshit_, this idea that the labor _market_ is a place where unemployed people wander around _begging_ people to hire them. That this is the way it is _suppose_ to work.

    This country will be a lot better off, in _every_ aspect (Except the super-rich would not get super-richer), if instead of the unemployment rate, we talked about the job vacancy rate, where there were 4% of the jobs floating around out there without people to fill them.

    And it is not the least bit hard to create a structure where such a thing happens. We have rather deliberately not done so.Report

    • Kim in reply to DavidTC says:

      And, generally, they do know what it costs to hire a person. they dont’ want to get pinned down on pay, though.

      Ask a noob interviewer, and you occasionally get a number “Oh, around $30,000”. I shoved that number so far up HR’s bum it nearly came out the other side.

      And, THAT’s why nobody’s gonna give you a number. HR sets the number, your primary report says “yes or no.”

      Ask for a range, and then ask if you’re “high or low” based on your experience.Report

    • Will Truman in reply to DavidTC says:

      I like the comment in the overall, but a couple of disagreements:

      As far as #2 goes, there are reasons independent of employer benefit to preventing people from talking about salary at least within a company (and maybe outside of it). It can be a real morale-killer.

      As far as #3 goes, it’s always been the case that the health insurance an employer provides includes provision for some things, but not others. It was the contraception mandate that was the change, not the employer response to it. (Which doesn’t mean the contraception mandate wasn’t good change, or that it was, just that it was change.)Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to DavidTC says:

      And it is not the least bit hard to create a structure where such a thing happens. We have rather deliberately not done so.

      So 1968 called…Report

    • LWA in reply to DavidTC says:

      #2 is actually the reverse- as if the stores (seller) were prevented from knowing what other stores were getting for their product.

      Which is interesting- if the labor market is a market, no different than purchasing a can of beans, then why is there such a thing as “morale”?

      Don’t the laws of economics apply equally, whether one is purchasing a toaster in Toronto or labor in Los Angeles? Greater transparency, yadda yadda? Wouldn’t public knowledge of rewards just give incentive for employees to work harder, and outcompete? (Seemed to work pretty well in Glengarry Glen Ross!)

      Why does “morale” matter among a group of labor sellers, but not among a group of shirt sellers?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        Which is interesting- if the labor market is a market, no different than purchasing a can of beans, then why is there such a thing as “morale”?

        To be clear, I haven’t advanced that argument.

        Anyhow, I don’t think that liberals want to be arguing against morale in general. It’s usually used to advance liberal objectives (more pay, better working conditions, etc.). My objection here is logistical. I don’t think that knowing what everybody makes would actually increase everyone’s pay. But I do think it would cause a lot of negativity between coworkers. I mean, really, it would be almost perfectly suited to turn employee against employee.

        Or maybe I am unusually petty.

        I’d argue that it would decrease, rather than increase, labor solidarity. The mercenary marketeer in me wouldn’t mind it. But it would advantage comparatively few – those for whom being pissed off actually matters to the employer. The others, well, let’em be pissed off. It’ll just be the new normal. Or more normal than it is now!Report

      • Kazzy in reply to LWA says:

        But isn’t that the employer’s problem?

        “Hey… the workers found out what each other are making and seem none to happy about it.”

        It is the employer’s responsibility to create an environment that is positive for morale, not the employees. Once within, the employees have certain obligations, but avoiding talking about a troublesome practice that the employer is engaged in is not one of them.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        That assumes that either (a) they need a happy workforce or (b) that there is anything they can do about it.

        As far as (b) goes, the only thing I can think of is to have uniform salaries. Which that, I guess, could be a liberal objective. And in some cases, that’d be okay. But it’d also create a situation where the good cannot be rewarded for being good without a promotion, and nothing can be done about the not-good short of firing them (or demoting them, I suppose.

        I just don’t see very much good coming from this, for employers or employees. There is a reason that we, here, don’t talk about how much we make in anything but abstract terms. And in the real world. We want to get along, and that means not talking about such things. It may benefit employers, but I think it benefits us first and foremost.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to LWA says:

        #2 is actually the reverse- as if the stores (seller) were prevented from knowing what other stores were getting for their product.

        Actually, my analogy was indeed wrong, but I also think yours is wrong. If the store is equivalent of the labor seller, and the customer is the equivalent of the labor buyer:

        The customers come in, waste hours of the stores time, demand that the stores _not_ post prices (And is offended if they do), and then, after spending everyone’s time, state the price they’re willing to pay. At which point the store, because it badly needs money, usually just accept that price.

        It’s hard to see how this is any sort of working market. Working markets have _at least_ one side state the acceptable price, and often both sides. You can’t have any sort of transparency if _no one_ knows the price of things except the sole thing they themselves bought.

        Stating prices in the labor market? Why, that’s crazy talk.

        I just realized this is a classic psychological bias called the ‘sunk cost fallacy’. Get people to invest in a ‘purchase’ for days, spend hours of time competing to get it, and then there’s no way in hell they’ll pass it by even if it’s not quite what they were expecting.

        Like I said, the entire system is set up so we think that is somehow ‘normal’ behavior in a labor market, despite the fact we’d regard the same behavior as utterly and completely insane in any other market. (You’re…not going to tell me how much you’re willing to pay for my sofa until I haul it to your house? I understand you want to determine the condition, but you won’t even give a _range_ of possible prices you might hypothetically be willing to pay?)Report

      • DavidTC in reply to LWA says:

        I’d argue that it would decrease, rather than increase, labor solidarity. The mercenary marketeer in me wouldn’t mind it. But it would advantage comparatively few – those for whom being pissed off actually matters to the employer. The others, well, let’em be pissed off. It’ll just be the new normal. Or more normal than it is now!

        The problem is that the most labor solidarity there is are in places where everyone _does_ know everyone else’s wages. Specifically, union shops with clearly defined wage scales.

        The reason that ‘knowing everyone else’s wage’ would _appear_ to cause problems is that current wages are completely and utterly random and have no relationship to the value provided. And everyone knows this.

        This fact, I feel I must point out, rather clearly demonstrates the labor market _is_ completely broken. In fact, that is the most obvious way to prove a market is completely broken, showing that none of the prices paid for anything appear to have any sort of logical relationship to where they should be. (Not that prices are supposed to be entirely ‘logical’, but they should at least have some sort of logical relationship to _each other_. I.e., if large pizzas cost less than medium pizzas, the market is behaving weirdly.)

        Exposing the market as broken is, indeed, going to annoy a lot of people, both ones who benefit from the brokenness and those who have unknowingly suffered under it, but that’s not a good reason to not fix it. (Not that transparency magically fixed broken markets, but un-transparent ones are nearly completely _un_-fixable.)Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        Union shops tend to have flat wages and wage schedules. Which, if that were to be the result of disclosure, would be a good thing in the eyes of many.

        I’m not sure it would happen, though. At least, not among those careers where you are most likely to see the wage differentials. Janitors might get a pay schedule, but engineers wouldn’t because the employees simply aren’t worth the same.

        Or maybe they would, which would cause its own problems because… they aren’t worth the same.

        No matter what happens, people will be pissed off. There is a reason that we don’t talk about these things. Even in contexts where there aren’t employers forbidding it. Employer with these policies are formalizing what we already do to go-along-get-along with one another.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to LWA says:

        Oh, and before people take issue with my calling the labor market ‘completely broken’ (What ‘broken market’ means was apparently the subject of some discussion the other day.) let me clarify:

        I mean a market where bullshit externalizes like gender, race, attractiveness, personality, idiotic and uninformed concepts of job worth (instead of actual job worth) including over-valuing of upper-management, and sheer random chance have completely swamped the normal supply and demand curve.

        Employees are supposed to be paid based on how much value they bring vs. how replaceable they are. It’s basic supply and demand. They…are not paid that. At all. Their pay is almost _completely_ unrelated to that.

        I’m not some sort of market fascist saying ‘The market must only consider these things’, but when every single bit of the labor market puts vastly more consideration on nonsensical bullshit over actual supply and demand, I have to suggest something is screwed up, and that part of what’s screwed up, or at least allowing it to continue to be screwed up, is the complete lack of transparency.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to LWA says:


        I don’t think you need equal wages across the board. But you need to be able to justify why certain people are making more.

        “Why is so-and-so making 10% more than I?”
        “His performance review put him in our top 5%. You were in the top 35%.”
        “Oh. Well, what do I need to do to make top 5%?”
        “Let’s schedule a meeting to discuss your review, areas of potential improvement, and draft a plan for such.”

        I think a really well-run organization can whether that storm and ultimately earn employees’ trust in the system. Problem is, most organizations are not well run.Report

      • DavidTC in reply to LWA says:

        No matter what happens, people will be pissed off. There is a reason that we don’t talk about these things. Even in contexts where there aren’t employers forbidding it. Employer with these policies are formalizing what we already do to go-along-get-along with one another.

        I also agree there is a reason we don’t talk about these things. However, I assert that reason is that _we have been carefully trained by employers_. Just because we appear to not want to do something doesn’t mean doing that thing would not being in our best interests.

        I don’t actually understand the logic here. People seem to have no problem with people learning other people were _promoted_. Obviously, promotion comes with a salary increase, and yet somehow workplaces don’t dissolve into catfights when people are promoted.

        The only reason that exposing salaries would tear a workplace apart is if _salaries were completely insane_ to start with.

        And, in fact, this is true. If tomorrow, salaries were made public, something like 20% of women would not bother to come into work tomorrow, for example, when they realized how much more their male counterparts make.

        But saying we shouldn’t know the truth because it would…annoy us? I don’t really follow this. Sure, workers might grumble…but they also grumble about unearned promotions, and yet somehow society keeps functioning.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        Personally, I think the degree of disclosure that goes on now is problematic. I remember when I was a programming team lead and we were really worried about losing some key employees. We tried really, really hard to get these guys raises. They were worth their weight in gold. But the general attitude was that it would be bad for morale if we had some programmers getting paid more than other programmers, because people would find out and it would cause a lot of bad blood.

        Now, one can look at this and say “See? Anti-disclosure rules aren’t even doing what they’re supposed to!” Except that I don’t even think we would have been able to get what we got for them, if everyone would then turn around and find out about it. Because we valued these two more than this third, for whom a case also could have been made, and then there was the fourth that if we gave it to the third would have a claim to being in contention for a bigger raise. And on and on.

        I have no faith whatsoever that most employees will look at the people who are getting paid more than they are and think “Well, they deserve it.” And I think this is particularly true when it’s people on the same team. At least if it’s someone getting paid more because they were promoted, they could tell themselves “Well, if I’d gotten that promotion, I’d get paid more.” You can’t have quiet promotions, though, so the conflict that arises there is unavoidable.

        I don’t think employers are the reason that I don’t talk, pseudononymously online, about how much I make. The closest I’ve come is talking about how much I made in the distant past. Even apart from the actual office environment, we don’t like to hear people talk about how they make more than us, so we don’t talk about that, and we don’t like talking about how much less we make, because it feels bad to talk about it. This isn’t a result of employer hypnosis.

        The inability to talk about it during interviews, on the other hand, I view differently. See OP. This is valuable information that it is being considered verbotten to actually transmit. That’s pretty much self-interest. And I don’t think that there is an absence of self-interest on the part of employers not wanting employees to talk about much they make. But sometimes, what’s best for the employer is also best for the employee. I believe this is one of those times.Report

      • LWA in reply to LWA says:

        Which is again why I think it is erroneous to just look at wage negotiations through the lens of economic analysis- encouraging people to treat it this way (to trade labor for money like a toaster) produces outcomes that are harmful to the larger goals and desires of society.

        I am thinking of Michael Crawford’s and Richard Sennet’s work on craftsmanship and labor. They make the point that having a tangible, clearly defined output of your work is essential to morale, and allows for a rightful sense of hierarchy. As Crawford puts it, the work itself testifies to your quality; there isn’t need for an outside party to tell you if ajoint is tight or not, or if a engine runs well or not. So a superior work product justifies a superior wage.

        The reverse is also true- when a wage is merely the product of clever negotiating, it takes on the air of unjust whim and cruel caprice. Think of all the volumes of books telling us how to win at negotiation- today’s Wall Street Journal has a typical example,
        of how your posture establishes “power and assertiveness”- ending with an anecdote about how one lucky woman assumed better, more aggressive body posture….and won a partnership!

        First “Power Suits”, now “Power Poses”. Next up, “Power Crystal Talismans”. How can anyone find meaning or a life narrative when your primary occupation every day is simply to be the lead chimp baring his teeth and winning a banana?

        If we accept that a goal of society is to produce something like “domestic tranquility”, a society marked by a spirit of fellowship and good will, why would we accept public policy that works directly against this? What good result is it achieving? Cheaper toasters?Report

      • morat20 in reply to LWA says:

        Will: I don’t see your case as persuasive.

        Sure, management would LIKE to keep all the employees. But if one of them feels he’s not getting paid enough, relative to the others, and quits — that’s his business. You shouldn’t be able to hide it just because you can’t afford it.

        Management knows ALL the things. Employees know nothing. There’s massive informational disparity here, all to the benefit of management.

        I can’t find it within myself to say “Oh, that’s okay, because sometimes hiding that information might make management’s life a little easier”. Isn’t management paid more because their jobs are difficult?

        Aren’t we all for freedom and choice here? If I chose to quit because I disagree with your assessment that I’m only 80% as good as Tom, why shouldn’t I? Why should management get to play paternal and keep that information from me? “For my own good”?

        No, for theirs. In the end, yes — you’ll lose employees if they’re not paid what they think they’re worth, and yes — they’ll often judge this based on how others are paid. So yes, it’ll cost more or you’ll lose employees — but isn’t that how the market is SUPPOSED to work?

        It’s how, as noted elsewhere in this thread, it works for CEOs. They all know what everyone else is paid, and they darn well use it in “Pay me more or I’ll quit” negotiations.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        LWA, Cheaper lots of things, possibly more people making and doing things, and the ability of Mr. Blue and his employer to thrive. The ability of people to negotiate on their own behalf, rather than have LWA negotiating on their behalf.

        Morat, but is’ not (just) about making management’s life easier. If it were, I would say “Screw’em.” It’s about creating an environment that is actually bad for employees, because everyone is jealous (or more jealous) of everyone else. It’s not (just) that they would be upset with management, they’d be upset with each other. It strikes me as a spectacular way of undermining employee solidarity. Everyone competing against everyone else. Even moreso than now.

        I wouldn’t mind laws against employers coercing employees against talking about wages being passed. Except that, as you point out, they don’t work. And I am afraid I cannot get on board with what would be required to prevent the workaround (a proof-of-cause requirement for termination), which itself might not work. And even without these employer regs, I actually don’t think we all start talking to one another about how much we make anyway.Report

      • morat20 in reply to LWA says:

        So, just to sum up:
        “We, management, know you employees are just too fragile, emotional, and foolish to know where you fall on the wage scale. We’re gonna keep it secret for your own good.

        The fact that this allows us to pay you a lot less, in aggregate, and employ people who would otherwise quit and seek better paying jobs (whether they can find them or not) is a totally incidental benefit.

        Trust in management. Management knows best“.

        I’m pretty sure you’d be insulted, angry, and ideologically offended at the thought of government treating you like that — but it’s okay for middle management?

        I wonder what other secrets my employer needs to keep from me, for my own good.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        Like I said, sometimes I think the interests of management and the rank-and-file do coincide. That just because it’s good for management, doesn’t mean that it’s bad for the rest of us.

        Every experience I’ve had with salary disclosure as a norm has lead to negative results and I don’t think putting it above-board would fix it at all. If management didn’t require it or enforce it, I think it’s still a good thing for the same reason I think it’s a good thing that we don’t talk about precisely how much money we make in the outside world, either.Report

      • morat20 in reply to LWA says:

        So again, you’re pushing an informational disparity — one in favor of employers — based on two prongs: First, you feel it’s generally in the employees own interests not to know — because they often react badly. That’s pure paternalism, and it’s nice to know you’re not even slightly apologetic about it.

        Second, you’ve got some weird sort of cultural/moral element to it — we don’t “talk about what we make” to the outside world. Well, I don’t talk about my sex life with my WIFE to the outside world, but I sure as heck talk to her about it.

        Again, this boils down to deliberate informational disparity: Something that is considered a flaw in markets, but apparently a boon for labor markets.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        I don’t support passing a law to prevent the discussion of wages. I even said that I wouldn’t care if a law were passed preventing employers from preventing it (just that, for the reasons you point out, it would not be particularly enforceable).

        I support non-disclosure primarily as a social norm. As something that, even if employers couldn’t require it (and that were somehow enforceable) that I would still consider it something that people in general shouldn’t do. I see it, as common behavior, causing more problems than it solves.

        Places where such things were commonly discussed, in my past, were not made the better for it.Report

      • morat20 in reply to LWA says:

        It’s already illegal to fire people for discussing wages. It’s done anyways (got to love “at will” employment).

        Again, we’re back to the initial problem: Labor has no leverage, in general. CEO’s do (as noted, they have compensation firms, and bargaining power and utilize it and their salaries have soared). Unions are verboten.

        We’ve just seen Monster.Com mention that “talking about salary in interviews” is verboten.

        This goes back to the fact that, sometime in the last thirties years, there was a lovely battle fought between management and labor — and labor became a cost to the bottom line, not an asset to the company.

        And when I point out one tiny little way that employees might have some SMALL fragment of a lever for compensation (the ability to point to Bob and say “Why should he get paid more than I?”), you slam down on it as “bad for employees”.

        How many other market interactions do you feel should have such information disparities?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        Maybe I could write a post about how I don’t think that it should be verboten to talk about salary during an interview? It might demonstrate that I am not in favor of complete opacity. I just don’t think the transparency you think would be beneficial to employees would, actually, be beneficial to employees.Report

      • morat20 in reply to LWA says:

        And I’m pointing out that the effective status quo is to perpetuate an information disparity that would be seen as a market failure anywhere else, but that it’s somehow seen — in a very paternalistic fashion– as a boon here.

        I think that paternalistic impulse is a serious problem.

        I mean, think about it — when are information disparities good for a market? What other market situations (and if trading labor for cash ain’t a pure market function, nothing is) is that considered a “good thing” overall?

        And your best justification continues to be “the poor workers will react so badly, dear things”.

        I’m seriously asking you: Given your best justification is paternalism (“We know better than employees”), your outcome is an information disparity considered a market failure in every other market context, are you absolutely sure this is a good thing?

        For the labor market as a whole — not for you, as a single line manager at Company X.

        More specifically: Can you think of a single, other, even vaguely analogous market situation where you would promote a paternalistic information disparity?Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        My primary objection to “paternalism” is when it is forced. In this case, it’s not forced by the government. To the extent that it is forced by the employer, it’s illegal but there’s no way to enforce the law. But even if there were, I’d still suggest it’s a bad idea to go around talking about how much you make. I’m not sure that’s “paternalism” as much as “what I would prefer people do and do not do.”

        To answer your question, I generally do support transparency. I cannot think of another exception to that but this one. I think, however, this one is an exception to that. I don’t think that transparency in this arena would actually lead to higher pay. I don’t think that interviewees being able to ask about pay would lead to higher pay either. However, in the latter case, I cannot think of a downside, so that’s a norm that I think ought to go (to the extent that it is a norm). In the former case, I can. In the latter case, I think of it as demonstrative of the lack of leverage employees have. It may be a factor in the former case, but I think more important is that we don’t spend our time resenting one another when we don’t have to.Report

      • morat20 in reply to LWA says:


        I think, in your shoes, I’d think a LOT harder before I declare the labor market a massive exemption from the regular market dynamics, especially when the best you can come up with is “employees might argue with each other”.

        Well yes. And in other markets companies go bankrupt and people lose or gain money. Creation and destruction, you know?

        Offhand, I’d say the side with the thumb on the scale is more about money than employee relationships, because let’s face it — by “upsetting employees” what you really mean is “Bob might quit because he’s not getting paid enough as Sam”, because if he’s actually causing a problem he’d just be fired.

        Which boils down to money, very simply. This informational disparity isn’t about workplace congeniality. It’s entirely about low-balling salaries as much as possible.Report

      • Will Truman in reply to LWA says:

        Oh, I maintain no illusions about why employers favor non-disclosure. It’s not for our benefit. Except to the extent that what benefits us benefits them, and I don’t think that’s the driver here as far as they are concerned. But just because they believe it benefits them, doesn’t mean that I don’t think it benefits us in ways they mostly don’t care about.Report

      • morat20 in reply to LWA says:

        Neither union shops nor the Civil Service are hotbeds of employee-on-employee hate, despite having very clear payscales and it being quite well known who is what.

        Again, it boils down to something simple: You’re excusing a winked-at employee behavior that literally screws me out of money, based on mealy mouthed what-ifs, paternalism, and claims of social politeness.

        My relationship with my employer is simple: I do stuff, they pay me. I’d like to be paid as much as possible, they’d like to pay me as little as possible. They literally conspire to hide critical information from me (on top of the heaps of information they are privy to but I am not), because I might actually say “Pay me what Bob makes or I quit” and thus either force them to pay me more or find some other idiot to work for too little.

        They have more than their thumbs on the scale, they’re jumping up and down on it, and you’re saying “it’s impolite to ask them to not to wear their heavy boots, they’re just looking out for you by paying you a less”.

        I don’t like that. I find it insulting and offensive.

        I was not, in the distance past, pro-union. My field has never been unionized, and while some of my family has been union — enough to see the good and the bad — I had always thought they were a bit of a relic.

        As I grow older, I start to see that they — for all their ills — were a counterweight against certain forces and I’ve started thinking either those forces need to be addressed or unions need to be rebuilt.

        Because, as it is — the scale is tilted heavily against me to the point where even supposedly pro-market folks (not so much you, but I’ve lost count of the libertarians and Republicans who suddenly drop market basics the moment the labor market is brought up) view labor as some sort of blight on the economy. Something to be squeezed by business, as opposed to an asset.

        To the point where, golly, wondering if you’re being paid roughly the same for the same work is not just impolite, but something you should be protected against wondering.Report

  21. Will, I’ve only skimmed the comments, so maybe some of this has been covered (and I didn’t read the actual Monster list, I assume it is the usual). As someone who has worked in staffing and who regularly gives (free) employment seminars, I give this sort of advice – ie don’t ask about pay, and the corollary, try to dodge their questions about salary expectation. As I say in seminars, context always matters, and some people can afford to break the “rules” (if they’re already employed, have a highly sought after skillset, etc).

    There are a few reasons and clarifications:

    1. Most interviews end with a “do you have any questions for me?” question from the interviewer. If your first question is money or time off, it makes it look like that is what you most care about. The employer wants someone who is interested in the job. If you don’t care about the job, just the money, you might not be the top candidate. (This doesn’t mean that you can’t ask, just that it shouldn’t be your first question.)

    2. There’s a lot more to a desirable job than money (benefits, work environment, etc). There’s probably a lot to find out, aside from money.

    3. A specific dollar figure can shut down a discussion before it gets going… which is why a lot of employers (especially if they have a lot of applicants) will ask the question before an interview. They want to screen people out. As a potential hire, you want to sell yourself on them, and you want to get the best deal possible. You want to get them liking you first, and then you can give them a figure. If they’ve all but decided that they want to hire you, and you come in at a slightly higher rate than they were thinking, they may just suck it up and hire you because they already got their mind set on it.

    In the end, there’s nothing wrong with discussing the issue of money (or flextime/work hours/vacation), but you have to demonstrate that you want to be a good employee first and foremost. We’ve all worked with or hired people who always have one eye on the clock. They’re out the door 5:01, they always take a full hour lunch and they’re more focused on their paycheck than on the work they produce. No one likes that employee, and you have to demonstrate to the interviewer that you are not that employee.

    It might seem unfair, but it is what it is.Report