my boss hates when I mute myself on group calls, telling a job I’d only take it if I could work remotely, and more

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

1. Shouldn’t we mute ourselves during group calls?

Our org is working remotely right now. A few times a week, I’m on calls with my boss and two coworkers. During these calls, I keep myself muted when I’m not one of the people in the conversation. For example, if my boss and a coworker are talking about a project they are working on that I have zero involvement in, I’m not really in that conversation and will mute myself. When appropriate, I’ll unmute for a few seconds to add in encouraging responses to indicate I’m listening and engaged. (This is not to fake that I’m listening and engaged; I am actually listening and engaged.)

Over the past few weeks, my boss has started commenting on me muting myself. It’s happening repeatedly and often, to the point that it makes me equal parts irritated, uncomfortable, and worried/wondering why it’s become an issue. It usually sounds something like this: “Well, Jane is over there muted” or “Jane, you keep going on and off mute” or “Jane, do you know you’re muted?“ —all said when I’m not being addressed or am a party in the conversation. It may also be relevant that we don’t have videos on during these calls, and the comments aren’t being made to anyone else.

It’s obvious my boss doesn’t like it, so I know the answer to what to do is to stop muting myself. But my question to you is, is this weird? I thought muting yourself when not speaking was the norm. Or at the very least, it’s a sign of respect for the people you’re talking with so that your background noise doesn’t overtake their speaking.

For what it’s worth, our boss never mutes their end of the calls. We can hear them typing, audibly reacting to chats or emails, talking with their dog, muttering about the people walking by their window, etc. It’s distracting and a little demoralizing. Maybe I’ve started muting myself more without realizing it as a reaction to that? It’s weird to me that it’s become “a thing” and I’m wondering if my read on work norms is wrong, or maybe things have changed or evolved in the past year and I’m not aware?

No, you are right and your boss is the outlier! Muting yourself on a group call when you’re not actively engaged is usually considered proper etiquette, especially if you’re anywhere with background noise. If anything, most people have become more conscientious about muting themselves over the last year, with so many more group calls than previously.

Any chance your boss thinks you’re muting yourself for some kind of problematic reason — like that you’re actively doing something else instead of listening? It sounds like they have plenty of reason to know that’s not the case (you’re paying attention and showing signs you’re actively engaged), but the comments are oddly critical of a normal practice. It’s made all the stranger by your boss’s own aggressive lack of muting on their end (muttering about the people walking by their window?!).

In any case, your read on work norms is not wrong. Your boss just has a hang-up about muting for some reason. (You are right, though, you should stop muting yourself in light of her response.)

2. Can I say I’d only take a new job if I can be remote?

Late last year, I had the opportunity to interview at a dream company (it’s a huge, globally known corporation). I knew the hiring manager as we worked in the same division at a previous company. I was completely sold on this company throughout the interviewing process—great benefits, lots of room for growth, etc.

Their only concern was that I would have to move about five hours away from where I am now if I accepted the position. They were very clear that everyone would have to work from the office full-time once the vaccine came out, no exceptions. At that time, I assured them didn’t mind at all. I have family in that state and there were many job opportunities in the area for my husband.

Unfortunately, I did not get the role. I was pretty heartbroken about it. The feedback I got from the hiring manager was that it was between one other person and me, and they chose the person with more experience. I let them know that really liked the company and hoped they would keep me in mind for future opportunities.

A few months later, the hiring manager reached out and asked if I would be interested in reapplying for the role. At that point, I had already accepted a fully remote job and my husband also started a new job. It just was not the right time to pick up and move five hours away. So I politely declined and said I wanted to see things through at my new company for now.

What I wanted to say was, “Look, you want me, I want to work for you, but moving five hours is out of the question now. I will reapply if I can be remote full-time. You and I both know that I am a great fit for this company and that I am sure that we can make it work.” Maybe I’d say it more eloquently, but you know what I mean.

So many of my friends and family keep asking me why I didn’t just go ahead and ask. There really wasn’t anything for me to lose. But I feel like that’s a completely delusional ask. Do you think it’s totally inappropriate to ask something like this? Leadership was very against remote work throughout the interview process and could not stress enough about reopening the second employees got vaccinated. If someone was very clear about their requirements, I shouldn’t try to negotiate.

Nope, it’s not delusional. They reached back out and asked if you might still be interested. The honest answer is, “Yes, but only if I can be remote.” It’s okay to say that; they’re approaching you, after all! It’s fine to give them your real answer. If it doesn’t work for them, they’ll let you know.

(That said, there are a lot of downsides to being the one remote person at a company where everyone else is in-person: You’re likely to be left out of informal or ad hoc discussions, you’ll be the only person joining meetings remotely, you’ll have less visibility with your boss and other decision-makers, you probably won’t get a shot at as many opportunities as people who are in the office do … and it can feel a lot easier to cut you if cuts need to be made. You might be fine with all that in exchange for being able to stay remote, but make sure to think carefully about those downsides.)

3. My boss ghosted the candidate I recommended

My team was recently hiring for a position, and Rob, a former coworker of mine, reached out to let me know he was interested. I thought he’d be a great fit, so I put in a good word for him with my manager (who is the hiring manager). My manager, Jon, brought Rob in for an interview, and ultimately Rob made it through four rounds of interviews, one of which included a test that required several hours to complete.

A few weeks after that, Jon updated me that he thought Rob was still a very strong candidate, but that he’d realized he should talk to a more diverse pool before making a hire. (Rob is white.) That was the last I ever heard from Jon about Rob. This week, Jon announced to the team that he’d filled the role with someone who isn’t Rob.

Obviously, I’m not upset that they didn’t hire Rob, but what upsets me is that Rob says he was ghosted after four rounds of interviews and the time-consuming test and never even received a rejection email. I care a lot about diversity, of course, and am a woman of color myself, but I still feel frustrated that it seems like Rob was put through this whole process and then rejected due to something that had nothing to do with his qualifications. I also feel Rob was owed a rejection of some sort after investing so much time into the process.

I am not sure if I should let Rob know that the position has been filled (the person does not start for another month) or if that would be going behind my manager’s back. I am also not sure if there is anything I can say to Jon to indicate that I feel it was discourteous to ghost Rob. Am I out of line for thinking it’s discourteous to me, in addition to him, since I made the referral?

It’s rude to both of you. It’s rude to Rob, who invested significant time in the interview process, and it’s rude to you because your connections should be treated with care by your manager. This kind of ghosting of candidates is very, very common — but doing it to someone who a current employee recommended is particularly thoughtless. (For what it’s worth, it’s not clear that Rob was rejected over something that had nothing to do with his qualifications — it sounds like Jon wanted to ensure he had a diverse interview pool but presumably then chose the candidate he thought was the strongest. But either way, Rob deserved an answer.)

You could say to Jon now, “Rob has asked me about the status of the job and mentioned he hasn’t heard anything yet. Could you let him know you filled the position? I worry it could affect my relationship with him if he feels he was left hanging.”

4. A good experience with an interview presentation

Prior to an interview, I was asked to create a presentation about myself and my previous work. I found this a little weird and stressful, so I went looking for advice on your website and basically everything I found was negative or awkward experiences. Well, I went to my interview and it turned out to be really great, honestly the best and most enjoyable interview I’ve ever had. So I thought I’d write-in to tell you how interview presentations can be positive on occasion.

This was for a mid-career, highly technical and specific engineering role at a company of around 70 people. I was asked to put together about 5 slides: a slide about me (where I got my degree, my previous jobs), a slide describing the general technical skills I developed as a foundation in my prior jobs, a slide describing work I’ve done that applied particularly to the role I was interviewing for, and a slide or two about what I thought the key factors were for addressing the technical problem at the core of the role.

At the interview, it turned out that they didn’t want me to stand up and go through it all as a straight presentation. It was really a tool to provide some structure and guide the conversation between myself and the interview panel. On each slide I’d talk through it some, maybe pause part of the way through, they would ask me questions to get more detail, sometimes we would jump ahead or back a slide if the info they were asking about was on a different page. It was very casual and flowing.

All in all, the interview had the same content and questions as a regular conversational interview, but having the presentation at hand made me feel so much more relaxed. With the slides right there, I didn’t have to worry about completely blanking and forgetting something from my resume, and I was able to make sure I had an opportunity to highlight my most relevant prior experience without the interviewers needing to ask a specific question about it. I think it was also helpful on the side of the interviewers to have something displayed in discrete chunks instead of having to look down and parse through a whole resume at once. Plus it’s great for folks who have trouble focusing or absorbing information only through audio.

Obviously this doesn’t work for every type of job, and frequently presentation requests are just unnecessary work that add nothing of value to the interview (and even in this situation I could see it going poorly if I hadn’t been given details on what they wanted for each slide), but in some instances it can be a tool to make an interview better than it would be otherwise. In the end, I got the job, accepted it, and so far have had a great month working at this company!

Thanks for giving an example of how these can go well! We tend to hear about the bad experiences here because people are writing in for advice (just as we tend to hear about the bad managers and the bad coworkers), but there are definitely times when presentations in interviews make sense and are set up well!