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Risky Hire after sex harassment query at interview; response by Marty Seldman

Collaged layout by Franke James, MFA.; Fisheye woman ©istockphoto.com/Sharon Dominick Spider photos ©istockphoto.com/Antagain

Dear Office-Politics,

I‘m a recently hired college grad, and I was asked back three times during the interviewing process. On the third time I hadn’t prepared the night before, and I was on the train three stops away trying to conjure up good questions. I recalled one really good one my sister suggested. I was supposed to research it on the web, but I decided to just ask the question. So I asked “have there been any incidences of sexual harassment?” hoping to get insight on how they would handle a situation. It was a last minute question that turned into a bad idea. I’ve been in sexually charged workplaces before. I’ve been blatantly ogled, and been told sexually suggestive things. I never reported anything. I deal with those things daily; it bothers me, but I can’t change people.

The CFO commended my bold comment that he says women don’t ask enough, and then on how well prepared I’d been. The HR manager turned pink, and then went on about how she understands. I accepted an offer, and on my first day she went on about how she was fondled in the workplace eons ago. She appeared unsettled, but understanding. Apparently, she went and told some co-workers on my floor before I started that I asked about sexual harassment, and that I was a risky hire. She said “She thinks she’s hot, and she thinks someone’s going to do something to her.” I always maintain a modest appearance and demeanor. That was character assassination.

Every office has a gossiper; ours should be a crier. Now, everyone likely thinks I’m some kind of black widow who’ll scream rape the minute a man walks past me in a dark corridor. Today, I was having a work-related conversation with a male co-worker. When we began talking about my home city he recently took a business trip to, he casually asked me about my high school. That’s when the office gossiper yells; “Watch it K***!” She had this look of worry on her face, and he looked up at her as if he understood. I’m humiliated. I was advised not to confront the gossiping HR Manager, or consult with the CFO; because she’ll get defensive and make my job hard, and CFO’s just don’t have time for interpersonal crap. I was told that those interviews were confidential. What should I do?



marty seldman.jpg
joshua seldman

Dear College Grad,

Your analysis is probably correct that, unfortunately, the HR Manager has the upper hand at the moment. She is on the inside when discussions of people come up and she has an extensive, long standing network in the company.

So we agree that confronting her is a high risk and probably low reward action. There are, however, two proactive steps you might take that may soften the impact of these unintended consequences from your question on sexual harassment.

The first is that it might be helpful to talk with the Human Resources manager in a non-confrontational way that attempts to clarify a misperception. You could take her out to lunch and explain that you realize the question you asked was unusual and actually a last minute suggestion from your sister. Tell her that, in reality, this is not a concern for you because in the past you have always been able to deal with situations in a quiet, effective manner. That has always worked for you and you are confident you can handle situations, should they come up, in the same way going forward. Tell her the reason you are mentioning it is that upon reflection you see that you could have created a misperception. If she seems receptive, ask for her help in correcting this perception with the CFO if it exists.

This is not guaranteed to work but it has a decent chance of sending her a message about the perception and a foundation for going back to her if it persists.

The second thing we suggest is to accelerate your network building activities. It is important that people get to know you and form connections. Try to understand their roles, challenges, agendas etc and see where you can add value. It is important to take advantage of opportunities for people to form their opinions of you independent of the gossip.

Then if the “buzz” persists the people who know you will conclude you are not like that.



Marty Seldman, Ph.D. and Joshua Seldman
Co-authors, Executive Stamina

cover of Executive StaminaMarty Seldman, Ph.D. and Joshua Seldman, are Co-authors of Executive Stamina: How to optimize time, energy and productivity to achieve peak performance. In Executive Stamina, you’ll learn all the skills, techniques, and positive practices needed to create a sustainable path to achieve your full career potential. Renowned executive coach Marty Seldman and endurance coach Joshua Seldman will introduce you to the revolutionary training system they’ve used with great success on top executives and endurance athletes. You’ll find hundreds of tips and tools that will help you maximize your career potential, while maintaining your health, staying in touch with your values, and avoiding costly tradeoffs in your personal life.

  1. One Answer to “Risky Hire after sex harassment query at interview; response by Marty Seldman”

  2. Dear Office Politics Advisers,

    After reading your letters and advice, I feel so empowered instead of regretful and helpless! I’m writing to you from my cubicle with a huge grin on my face wishing that I had this knowledge and insight days ago! I enjoyed Jennifer’s letter immensely! She sounds like the kind of woman I would like to have as my best friend! Her letter was full of depth and power. I can take control! I give my friends so much advice, but they never have anything this good for me in return. Not even my college advisor had a response that insightful. I wish that I had thought of saying “there seems to be some false rumors circulating, and I am actually perfectly comfortable talking about my high school and even willing to go to lunch (!) with ‘K’!” Unfortunately, Mr. Handsome was laid off; but that would’ve been a smooth line I regret not being able to use!

    I’m no longer interested in approaching the HR manager, or CFO. As was mentioned; it would just add to the unfavorable light that’s already been cast upon me.

    I appreciated Marty’s advice about networking. I am the best representative of Jennifer Martin. As the old cliché goes; actions speak louder than words. I’m going to work at moving forward as both advisers recommended. I have stopped wanting, and needing to justify myself for asking what in my opinion is a question that women should ask more often, as the CFO suggested. I’ve begun to realize that I don’t owe anyone an explanation for discussing something that only reflects a sign of the times. So I agree that the best thing I can do is allow people to get to know me by demonstrating who I am.

    This service is truly unique. It is a valuable tool for new entrants like me. I’m trying to make a soft landing into a career after flying around in the safety of a university for four years. I’m young and a little clueless on how to handle these mini-sagas in the workplace. Students virtually don’t receive any warning about office politics before entering into their careers. I find that it requires a sort of savvy that I don’t have yet. I feel very clumsy, and unsure; constantly worrying about acting and sounding professional. I also don’t want to be viewed as a non-player when I’m approached, but a doormat wouldn’t be good either. Office politics is definitely something I’m going to learn more about until I’m better at it. So, I plan to visit your site quite often in the future! Your responses provided me a much needed boost, and immensely constructive advice.


    College Grad

    By Feedback from College Grad on Mar 31, 2009

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