A reader writes:
After I declined a career opportunity at a company, the hiring manager emailed me and asked me out for dinner and drinks, in a way that he clearly didn’t intend as professional networking.* I tried to read the message every which way, hoping it wasn’t what I thought…but basically I feel totally creeped out and disheartened. I’ve never been in a situation like this professionally. How do you recommend responding to this advance? Is ignoring the best way to go in this situation?
* Note from me: The letter-writer quoted the email to me, but asked me not to print it for privacy reasons. The email is indeed clearly asking her out on a date.
Ugh. I’d bet money that he thought that now that you were no longer dealing with each other in a professional capacity, there was nothing wrong with trying to make the relationship a social one — but it misses the point that there’s still a power dynamic in play: he’s a hiring manager and a professional connection you might have hoped to call upon in the future, and he has basically just told you that he was assessing you physically/sexually during your interview with him.
Anyone who doesn’t see what the problem is here would be well-served by reading this excellent essay by Hannah Waters about her own experience with “not quite harassment” – situations that might not seem particularly bad or troubling if it weren’t for the fact that the man involved is in a position of power and the woman isn’t. (That essay is part of a larger situation that’s been playing out in the online science writing world, a saga that’s interesting to read as well.)
To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s impossible for people who meet in this type of situation to ever develop a mutual romantic or physical relationship; of course it’s possible. But if you’re hitting on someone in this context, you need to be damn sure that they’ve already signaled it would be welcome.
As for your question about what to do now, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to ignore the email if you want to. You’re not obligated to respond, and that might be the best option if you’re not interested in having additional professional contact with this guy.
Another option is to handle it the same way that you would any other social overture that you weren’t interested in — say no thanks and move on.
And still another option, of course, is to also tell him that he should rethink asking out job applicants. While this carries the risk of making him defensive, it has the advantage of saying “hey, this isn’t okay,” which is a message more people on his side of this equation could stand to hear. But that’s really your call — it depends on what you’re comfortable with and just how creepy you found the situation.
What do others think?