Tell Me About It: Confidence shaken by being hit on by a potential employer

My relation in her 20s recently applied for work experience only to get an inappropriate email from her interviewer

Illustration: Getty Images

Illustration: Getty Images


Q Many years ago I was working in the secretarial pool of a large State company, a job that required training and exams to qualify, at my not very well-off family’s expense.

I was sitting taking dictation for an accountant when he leaned over me from behind to look at a letter on my desk. Then I felt a hand sliding inwards towards my groin. I had no time to even think, and with horror I drew up my hand and came down on the straying male hand.

From that day on I was a marked woman. All chance of working my way up in the job was gone. That man hounded me but never again tried to fondle me. He made up all sorts of petty infractions so he could inform me my work did not reach the required standard, and I knew then I had to move. My parents had seven children, and how could I explain leaving a permanent and pensionable job? I did evening classes (more expense) and got a job in the local VEC.

All this came flooding back recently when a brilliant relati on in her 20s confided in me that she had recently applied for work experience . She was called for interview with the boss, and felt she had done well. Then she received an email from that gentleman stating clearly that this was not a business communication but that he would like to meet her for a drink some time. She promptly declined and mentioned her steady boyfriend.

She hasn’t yet heard back about the job but fears she has ruined her chances, and she is very angry. She has thought of making a formal complaint, but fears repercussions.

I’m worried that this is more of a setback to her confidence than she admits. What should I advise her?

A You must be fuming to see that the Jurassic era of gender relations at work can emerge half a century later when typing pools have ceded to digital communication. The clumsy grope has been replaced with the flirtatious email. Using work internship interviews as a way of meeting potential dates is either sleazy, gormless, or both, and it gives a whole new slant on the term human resources.

Without more information, it is hard to know whether the boss is a sexual predator with form, or whether he’s a hopeless romantic who fell for her and has never done such a thing before. It’s such a stupid thing to do that you wouldn’t want to be working for him anyway.

It can be a knock to your dignity and integrity when a person in authority sees you not for the person you are but as a sex object, even if he thinks no harm was meant. Your young relation would do well to explore the reasons for her anger – inappropriate contact, ruined chances, the unfairness of it and perhaps a feeling of having been violated. Better to acknowledge it than to have it stewing in the back of her mind every time she goes for another interview.

She has choices. Peter Ledden, a psychologist who specialises in workplace matters with Abate, suggests that to clear up the confusion, one option is to send him an email using the previous correspondence as part of the thread and simply ask him if there is any update on the interview. “There is a safeguard in having the email he sent if you were to be offered work experience. Depending on his reply you could then consider your options, to include contacting the company’s HR department,” says Ledden.

If she were an employee, she would have a number of safeguards against inappropriate contact that were not in place 50 years ago. These include dignity at work policies, bullying and sexual harassment policies, and in some companies an equality officer, employee assistance programme service and occupational health department.

If she does nothing else, she should write out the experience to have a record of it, and to help her to resolve her own unsettling feelings. It would be dreadful if her confidence were shaken for future interviews, so it is good that she confides in you. If this experience lingers in her thinking, she might even want to talk to a counsellor.

Email questions to or contact Kate on Twitter, @kateholmquist. We regret that personal correspondence cannot be entered into

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