From the Salt Mines: What Drug Questions NOT to Ask During a Job Interview (by Sasha)


During my ongoing quest for employment in Sarasota, I was recently among a group of job applicants brought in for an orientation by a Human Resource (HR) department of a large local employer. We were there to learn about policies and to fill out forms.

We were also treated to an eight-minute film on the employer’s policies regarding alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and urine testing. The HR person announced that there was “zero tolerance” for abusers, then let the film roll.

The film depicted obviously drunk or high employees (played with abandon by terrible actors) who jeopardized the safety of themselves and others. But the message was clear: Zero Tolerance. Random urine tests would be used to screen violators, and if an employee tested positive, job termination would follow. Zero tolerance. Roll the film credits.

Now in previous blogs I’ve been hard on HR departments (see my posts at this blog from the Category “Salt Mines”), but what followed the showing of the film (with only minor embellishment) gave me sympathy for HR personnel: when the HR staffer asked the perfunctory question about whether we, (the job applicants supposedly eager to be hired), had any questions in regard to the film, several hands immediately shot up in the air.

You have a question?

“Yes. Like, what if I party with weed on a Friday night and then go to work on Monday and I’m tested but I’m not high?”

Sir, as stated in the film, marijuana can stay in the system for 5 days or more. If you test positive, you will be terminated.”


“What if everyone else was smoking and I only inhaled the air?


“Yeah, how ’bout that?”

“That’s happened to me!”

Same answer.”

Pause. More hands.

“Really? Another question?”

“The movie said something about crack cocaine, but what about blow?” Continue reading “From the Salt Mines: What Drug Questions NOT to Ask During a Job Interview (by Sasha)”

From the Salt Mines: “Flexible” Florida Employees (by Sasha)


Anyone looking for a part-time job in Sarasota, needs to understand the conflict over the meaning of the term “flexible.”

There is the employee definition: yes, I can work 20 hours spread over days, evenings, and weekends. I am flexible: just give me a schedule and I’ll be there.

And then there is the employer definition: yes, you must always be available, at our whim, and with little notice. You must be flexible: we own you.


So even though you may be scheduled to work Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays (for an embarrassing wage like $10.50 an hour), management can call a mandatory one-hour meeting on a Monday morning, or a required 8-hour training session on a Tuesday, or demand that you fill-in for another employee for 4 hours on Wednesday, or assign you to a different location miles away from your normal workplace, or shift you from working in one unit to another in the name of the “best practice” businesses call “cross training.” If you protest, you will be reminded that you stated at hiring that you were “flexible,” and that there are 100 other people who also applied for the job.

Without a doubt, these practices are oppressive. They prevent the part-time employee from holding two jobs, make arranging for child care nearly impossible, override the employee’s choice to apply for one job but then be assigned to another, and interrupt the employee’s outside life with little notice—and all this while working for a low paying hourly wage without vital benefits like health care. Some employers don’t even guarantee a set number of hours, so your paycheck with rise and fall like the stock market.

Work Life Balance signpost from

A proposal, by a coalition of worker advocates based in New York State, is about to take on some of these oppressive practices. On Tuesday September 6 (nicely timed as the day following Labor Day), they announced in Albany, NY the start of a national campaign, The Fair Workweek Initiative, to change the work environment for the approximate 75 million (not a typo) workers who are paid hourly, many of whom are part-time.

The changes sought:

  • No more calling in employees for work without a guarantee of four hours of paid time (this is already illegal under NYS law);
  • No more forcing employees to stay beyond their assigned shift;
  • No more on-call scheduling; scheduling needs to be done two weeks in advance.

Before you feel sorry for the hapless employer trying to make this work, consider that the biggest offenders are from the biggest corporate brands:  American Eagle, Aeropostale, Payless, Disney, Coach, PacSun, Forever 21, and more.

Some of the other corporate giants have already agreed to reform their practices: Pier 1 Imports, Abercrombie & Fitch, Gap, Banana Republic, Old Navy, J. Crew, Urban Outfitters, Bath & Body Works, and Victoria’s Secret.

But retailers, restaurants, and companies are not the only offenders.

City, county, and state governments are also large employers and some of them are equally guilty of these practices—and they should be ashamed. One should expect governments to treat their citizen employees fairly.


During my experiences as a government employee in Florida, mandatory educational sessions were regularly held outside of my scheduled work hours; I was called in on days off for mandatory one hour meetings; when supervisory positions were vacant, the workload was distributed among the workforce without the additional pay; other employees felt they had no choice but to agree to being transferred to locations further from their homes; and when I questioned the fairness of these practices I was reminded that I could go work somewhere else.

True. Now I’m truly flexible—I am unemployed.

But the person who should be unemployed is Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi, who did not join the AGs from the eight states and District of Columbia who have called upon retailers who do business in their states to embrace a fair workweek.

Sources:  “Coalition Makes Push for Reliable Schedules,” Michael Virtanen, Associated Press, 9-7-16. Reprinted in the Herald-Tribune, p. A2.

From the Salt Mines: Reasons to Hate Online Job Applications (by Sasha) A few months back, I was helping an unemployed plumber with his online job application. When I asked him for his password to the employment site, he replied, “bite me.” Unfazed, I moved the keyboard toward him and said, “okay then, you type it in yourself.” “No,” he said. “You do it.  My password is ‘bite me;’ I figured I wouldn’t forget it because that’s the way I feel each time I have to fill-out an application online.”

I told him I understood completely, and that it made no sense to have the unemployed jump through so many hoops for some very ordinary jobs.

“Yes it does,” he said. “That way, when we give up, do it wrong, or don’t bother, it’s our fault. It’s like there’s a conspiracy out there to screw us, man!”




As director of the Human Resources Department, I’ve called this meeting because we have an emergency on our hands.

Plainly stated, for every job advertisement we place, we receive on average 125 applications.

People, this is taking up too much manpower, therefore based on the best practices of HR departments throughout the country, we will manage this problem by following a new strategic plan.

To wit, effective immediately we will implement three policies.

First, all applications must be completed online and all documents submitted electronically.

Q:  All? How about say for groundskeepers and maintenance?

A:  All.

Q:  But typing and computer literacy are not skills required for doing those jobs.

A.  Hmmm. Let’s agree that to hold them to the same standard we’d hold ourselves is to treat them fairly and equally.

Next, we will erase all contact information for this department from any eternal site; No more phone calls, emails, or heaven forbid, texts from external applicants. And as backup, we’ll put someone at the front desk who will deny anyone who comes in access to HR without a verified appointment.

Q: But then how would applicants ask us questions?

A:  Pay attention! That’s the point. We don’t have time to hold their hands! Make them figure it out!

Finally, our software will be upgraded to provide applicants with new challenges; we will add questions that are irrelevant but with spaces that can’t be left blank, we will have the system reject any phone number that doesn’t contain two hyphens, and we will discourage the casual applicant by demanding their social security number upfront.

Q:  How about ask them to click on buttons that don’t exist?

Q:  Or could we also log them out automatically after just 30 minutes.

Brilliant ideas team! Now you’re getting into the spirit of this meeting. Other suggestions?

Q: What if we list in the job description every conceivable responsibility the new job holder will have and ask them to document how they meet every single one?

Q: Oh, oh, I’ve got one: our software could upload the applicant’s resume then cannibalize it to fill out the application form automatically but incoherently.

Q:  I’ve heard that other firms apply algorithms to each application to pre-screen for the presence of keywords and then automatically reject all the others.

Q:  We could require them to download the latest versions Acrobat or QuickTime before they apply.

Q:  Wait, but what if they can’t because they don’t own the computer? Oh, I get it, that’s the point.

These are great ideas, people, just email me the details later today.

Q:  Perhaps if we took down the ads for the jobs that have already been filled we’d have less applicants?

This is not, I repeat NOT, in keeping with “best practices.” It would be far too time consuming to take down every position when we fill it. What next? Would you have us thank applicants for applying or inform them when they are no longer being considered? For heaven’s sake, people, let’s stay on track here. 

(Someone else enters….)  Excuse me…I hate to interrupt, but the toilet is overflowing in the Executive bathroom.

So call the company plumber! Now!

I did; but he told me that for this job to be considered, I had to apply


And I have to use his password.

Which is?

Bite Me.





From the Salt Mines: Ridiculous Interview Questions (by Sasha)

          Remember that old feminist saying (originated by Irina Dunn) that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle?


Well, given that the Sarasota employment market is so tough, those of us searching for a job need ridiculous interview questions thrown at us as much as …. well, you get the point. With so much “riding” on a 30 minute conversation, then, it is deflating to be faced with questions that are, well, just plain stupid. And even more distressing is that the person asking the question is serious. They want an answer.

So here are some of the most memorable ones I’ve experienced or heard about as people search for a job in Sarasota (followed by a variety of imagined responses).

(1) Is this your dream job?

  • Yes, I was hoping to earn 70% less and lose most of my benefits;
  • Of course. I have nothing else to do on weekends and I even look forward to spending every holiday working here;
  • Right on. Until I’m appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, this IS my dream job.

(2) Which day of the week do you bring your best to work?

  • Tuesday. Monday I’m recovering from the weekend; Tuesday I’m back to normal; Wednesday I’m tired; Thursday I’m recovering from Hump Night; Friday I’m busy making plans for the weekend, so yes, definitely Tuesday.
  • Sorry, but I leave my best at home.
  • I bring my best every day (isn’t this answer obvious?)

Continue reading “From the Salt Mines: Ridiculous Interview Questions (by Sasha)”

From the Salt Mines: Bring Money (by Sasha)



Do not come to Sarasota thinking that you can make a living. Unless you are a developer, you will be lucky to make even 1/3 of what you made elsewhere (especially if you’re from well paying communities in the Northeast, Midwest, or the West Coast.) Instead, you will be told that employees here pay the “sunshine tax.” That is, you live in paradise, so you won’t be paid much to work here.

See that guy hauling pool chairs on the beach? He was a school district supervisor. The woman checking out books at the library? She was a college professor. The guy checking out your purchases at the department door? He was a corporate executive. Ask the person waiting on you what they were before the move and you’ll be shocked at how underemployed they now are. Continue reading “From the Salt Mines: Bring Money (by Sasha)”

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