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My parents are not wealthy and I didn't receive a stipend. To finance my studies I worked for an escort agency (all legal, not under my real name). But I finally graduated with good grades and these days are now gone.

Not long ago I interviewed for a job in the IT industry. One of the interviewers was a former client. He certainly recognized me and I botched the interview after he asked me with a smile how I financed university. I didn't know what to say neither wanting to lie nor reveal it so I kind of remained vague. He didn't harp on it but it was already too late. I want to learn from this experience and be better prepared next time.

What to do when one of the interviewers knows something about me I'm reluctant to reveal publicly because it could reflect badly upon me and is nobody's business?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 21 at 17:29
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    @JustAThrowaway - can you clarify what your goal is? You're getting a lot of answers, but it's hard to answer in context without knowing what you want out of the situation. When this happens, are you still trying to get the job? Or are you trying to exit gracefully and look for another opportunity? Or something else? Answers to the question may change depending on what you are trying to achieve. – dwizum Jan 21 at 18:47
  • Sleeping with prostitute is also going to reflect poorly on him/her. If sexual interactions are the reason for a "no hire" you could try to get him fired and/or sue the company (depending on your locale) – ajeje Jan 23 at 3:29

10 Answers 10

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In my opinion, this is a one-off case, and the chances of this incident being repeated is slim (though, it exists). However, don't start to think negatively about this. You seem to appear as a very strong-willed person - not everyone can do what you did and achieve what you're achieved - thank you.

Now, coming to the question you asked:

What to do when the interviewer knows my dirty little secret?

Well, we can only expect professionalism from the employer and the colleagues but cannot guarantee it anyways. Sure, we can expect the interviewer to maintain professionalism and not to bring up any past histories, but since they did - you did a correct thing to take the decision to walk away. The way they interacted with you - it does not seem you were about to get a good working environment there, having that interviewer around you.

During other interviews, if this incident repeats (i.e., someone knowing about your past and making some references about that) - don't feel ashamed and step backwards - they exactly want you to do that. Instead, respond in a calm but strong voice

"I did what I had to do to finance my studies, starting from part-time jobs to some other day-jobs. I don't see how that information is relevant to this discussion, may I ask why'd you like to know this?"

Don't lose hope, don't fear, stay confident. Not everyone is unprofessional (majority of them are not) and you will surely find another opportunity where people will be more interested in your present and future than your past.

That said, entirely my personal opinion: At times, maybe we all did some things we're not really proud of, but don't let that feeling take control of yourself. A favorite quote of mine:

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to harm you.”

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    Additionally-- it sounds like this interviewer wanted to shame the OP for her previous job. If they try to push ("You look a lot like someone I used to know") it's perfectly okay to push back and ("Oh? Who was the person? Where did you meet them? Please, tell me about the circumstances when you met.") You provided a service that this person clearly wanted and was willing to pay for, because they couldn't get it by other means. You had the supply, he had the demand-- if he wants to play holier-than-thou, you've most certainly got the upper hand. – NegativeFriction Jan 21 at 13:24
  • I think that the answer to the finance question is still to elaborate. No way you can ask a question like this. It does not deserve a response. If pushed further by an interviewer do what @NegativeFriction suggests. Beat him at his own game – user180146 Jan 21 at 13:43
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    Yeah, I disagree with this part "I did what I had to do to finance my studies, starting from part-time jobs to some other day-jobs. I don't see how that information is relevant to this discussion, may I ask why'd you like to know this?". This is being way more of an answer than you should give to this question, no matter the circumstances – Cruncher Jan 21 at 16:06
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    @John3136 You don't want me on the team for reacting to something inappropriate? Hell, I don't want to be in your "team", in first place, if you ask those irrelevant question. – Sourav Ghosh Jan 22 at 5:41
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    @John3136 It wasn't only an inappropriate question, it was one that should have never been asked. Maybe a better answer would be "I didn't want to mention this, but (pointing at interviewer) contributed substantially to my funding, and I'm grateful for that". Now, interviewer, find an answer when your colleagues ask you about the funding. – gnasher729 Jan 22 at 13:56
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It's quite possible that there was no right answer to this question. The question was clearly intended to discomfort you and to amuse himself at your expense, which is not something any professional ought to be aiming for in an interview. It's quite likely that once he recognised you, he was no longer prepared to take you seriously as a candidate, and no clever answer would have changed the outcome here. So don't beat yourself up for being unable to come up with one.

It's also entirely possible that this isn't a guy you'd want to work with. Behaving like that to an interviewee isn't exactly a promising sign. If you feel safe doing so, you would be within your rights to mention this incident to his company, though unfortunately there's no guarantee they won't feel the same way.

That said, it's possible you might get more innocuous questions that touch on this subject, so it's worth preparing for those. Some options:

  • "How did you support yourself?" has two sides to it. As well as "how did you make money", you can also answer from the perspective of "how did you save money", focussing on ways to economise etc.
  • If you had other jobs, mention them instead.
  • If you didn't, options like "I had support from my parents and some savings" might do.
  • Probably worth asking other escorts/ex-escorts how they'd handle this kind of topic, since they will probably have more experience than the average SE poster!

There's also the option to turn the question on its head:

"Can you clarify what you're looking for here? I could answer this question better if I knew what kind of capability you want me to demonstrate."

If nothing else, that buys you a little time to think about it and may put him on the spot, if he can't show that his question has a point.

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What to do when the interviewer knows my little secret?

should actually be:

What to do when the interviewer knows our little secret?

or maybe closer to the reality:

What to do when I share a "little" secret with the interviewer?

Joke aside, keep reading...


Do what I do: do not answer for a few seconds, take a deep breath, allow your brain to think. Then find an alternative answer, which either presents you in a good light, or at least fogs the information.

In your case, you might have said:

I had a variety of small, job offering various services and jobs, from ... (some service / job) to ... (another service / job). Similar how other people work at fast-food businesses. As far as I remember, we had the opportunity to work together. I am just unsure exactly from which job we know each other.

see below for update

Of course, even if you lie a bit, the interviewer will most likely refrain themselves from pushing the discussion further.


Remember: he knows your secret, but you know his at the same time.


@TymoteuszPaul has a very good point in his comment:

... And now the interview is going to be awkward if the OP is mistaken in suspecting that the interviewer really recognized her, and if he didn't recognize her until now, this will jog his memory for sure.

So the first thing to do is to answer the question, leaving out the "unnecessary" part. If the recruiter insists with questions on the subject, keep answering, still leaving out the part which you want to keep hidden.

If the interviewer gets specific, then you start to get specific too, staying as far away from the subject as possible, and involving the interviewer as much as possible.

Example:

Interviewer: - Were you involved with company X during the moth of ... year ...?

You: - What makes you think that I was involved with company X during the moth of ... year ... ?

Of course, you need to adapt according to the situation. There is no generic script with all the possible answers.

... he asked me with a smile ...

Please remember that it is his job to smile. Sometimes just to appear nice, sometimes to put some stress on you, to make you say more than you want. Do not let yourself puzzled by this.


I had a situation at an interview, when the recruiter (manager in the respective company) had some confidential information about a detail at my job (which put me under some negative light, while I was mostly innocent). They asked specifically about this issue. Instead of saying:

I did ... and I think ... and maybe I should improve ...

I actually answered with the (primary) truth:

The situation is 100% decided by my managers. Please ask them why they did not make abetter decision in due time.

In this way, the conversation about the topic finished faster than it started.

I will mention that they had the info from my manager, who breached the rules of confidentiality, to respect the friendship with the interviewer. Unfortunately, I did not audio / video recorded that interview, to be able to claim anything.

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    This is a very good advise, but in the case that the other person was not directly involved, it'll not be useful. Adding to that, asking why'd they like to know that particular details can help - it'll portray that OP is not going to be embarrassed and submit, rather can take the stand for themself. Just my two cents. – Sourav Ghosh Jan 21 at 8:10
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    "As far as I remember, we had the opportunity to work together. I am just unsure exactly from which job we know each other." And now the interview is going to be awkward if the OP is mistaken in suspecting that the interviewer really recognized her, and if he didn't recognize her until now, this will jog his memory for sure. – Tymoteusz Paul Jan 21 at 9:12
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    @TymoteuszPaul: you have a very good point. I added it to my answer, I hope you do not mind :) – virolino Jan 21 at 9:55
  • @SouravGhosh: I added an example from my own experience, to cover that situation (at least partially). – virolino Jan 21 at 9:56
  • I applaud the principle, but I think something less definite is required: "I worked a part time job. (pause) Have we met before somewhere?". Remember the interviewer is in a much worse position if the secret comes out. Your interview will be over in an hour, but he has to work with these colleagues every day. – DJClayworth Jan 21 at 14:35
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(Your question reads like there was someone else in there besides you two)

If you're not ashamed by your previous career, and you sound like you aren't, then just own it!

Not only did he know your secret, but you also knew his. Either way it's very likely that he'd have shared your secret with his collogue so just counter his power move with an even more powerful one.

with an even better smile: "I used to escort (or "I used to work in an adult industry" for a vaguer answer), why do you ask/have we met previously ?" turn the table on him. Screw them (figuratively this time) for being an A-hole like that). Also what Sourav Ghosh said.

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    While justified and probably fun to see his reaction, I don't know how far this approach would get them in landing the job, if that was still their aim. – Michael Jan 21 at 16:30
  • If this is the right conclusion about the situation throw it back on him: "You already know the answer to that". – Loren Pechtel Jan 22 at 4:10
  • There's a difference between "being ashamed" and "being aware that it might hurt your chances at a job you want". – Geoffrey Brent Jan 23 at 2:31
  • The OP has a huge advantage: loosing (the reputation in) a job you have is much, much worse than don't receive an offer. Play offense. 😉 – ajeje Jan 23 at 3:19
  • Also, if you made clear you were intimate with that interviewer he might be required to excuse him/herself from the hiring committee. – ajeje Jan 23 at 3:22
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"Oh, SMALL jobs here and there"

He might have information about you, but the same goes vice versa.

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I fail to understand why these two things are related, that of you having worked as an escort in the past and wanting to work in the IT industry now. With that said:

1) Why is it the interviewers' business how you paid for your studies? It sounds like this interviewer was trying to get a rise out of you, and they got it. That interviewer is, pardon my French, a total asshole, and you should not want to work at that company anyway. In fact, if I was you I would report that interviewer to the recruiter and explain the situation; if I was that interviewer's boss I would at least ban them from ever conducting interviews again, or perhaps even fire them for such egregious behaviour. In future, if you are asked this question, I would simply ask back "why is this relevant to the job?". Unless they can give me a satisfactory answer, I would simply refuse to answer the question, and worse case simply walk out of the interview. A satisfactory answer would include something like "we want to know if you have a criminal record" or something to that effect, to which I would reply "I did nothing criminal, and indeed you will of course be doing a criminal background check on me prior to employment, so if there's anything to be found you can know it at that time; for now I believe there is nothing you need to know".

2) By nature of the fact that you have paid for your school and graduated and are searching for a "real", above-board job, you have changed who you are now. You aren't the same person you were then. Yes, in the past you may have done XYZ which you didn't want to do, but you stopped doing that. So if someone brings it up directly, just say something like "yeah, I did that, but I don't do that anymore, I'm trying to get a real job". And if they try to bring it up indirectly as this person did, simply play dumb about it and force them to bring it up directly. In this case, rather than being flustered, the conversation could have gone something like this:

Interviewer: May I ask, how did you pay for your studies?
You: Why would you like to ask that? Is it important for the position I am interviewing for?
Interviewer: Well, did you do something that we might want to know about?
You: I dunno, I had my methods of making money, I worked some part time jobs, you know, the usual stuff...
Interviewer: And what did you do to make money?
You: I dunno, some odd jobs here and there, helping out friends, etc., parents helped me some...

[continuing on like this, until...]

Interviewer: Were you ever an escort or something like that?
You: Hang on a second. I know you are taking notes about this interview, and from this point on I would like to do the same. I'm going to be voice recording the remainder of this interview. [take out your phone and start voice recording] Can I ask you to repeat your question for my notes?

At this point the interviewer has a choice: With knowledge that they're being recorded, they can choose to repeat the question, or they can choose to not repeat the question. If they choose the latter, the conversation might go something like:

Interviewer: No, I don't think I want to repeat that question.
You: Fair. Then I will choose not to answer. However, as a note, the question that is not being repeated was with regard to an accusation that I may or may not have been an escort in the past. For completeness, I will continue recording the remainder of this interview for my personal notes. [and then continue the interview but do not turn off the voice recording.

They may also choose to press you, in which case it might go something like this:

Interviewer: [repeats question]
You: Do you know something I should know about? Are you accusing me of something? Do I look like an escort to you?
Interviewer: Well yeah, I mean I definitely was your client when you were an escort...
You: First of all, the mere suggestion that I was an escort is sexual harassment. Secondly, the fact that I may or may not look like an escort that you previously frequented has no bearing on my readiness for this job. Thirdly, even if I was an escort, that's making money, that's a job. There's nothing wrong with being an escort.
Interviewer: Well, yeah, escorts are [whatever negative connotation they may want to add]
You: Are you implying those things about me?
Interviewer: Yeah, I mean, if you were an escort, then...
You: There is nothing wrong with being an escort. There may be something wrong with perverted people who frequent escort services though. This interview is over. Also I will be filing a sexual harassment case against you personally through your HR department, which I will also CC to my recruiter, your company's CEO, and [your local news outlet of choice]. Goodbye. [and then walk out of the room, collect the appropriate email addresses from reception who will likely give them to you especially if you provide context for why you need them, and send the appropriate emails]

(Of course, at any point, the interviewer can simply choose to drop the subject and continue on in a different way, which will cause this conversation to end; this is just the worst-case scenario being illustrated)

The important part here is that you never actually admit to being an escort. You simply continue to play dumb, all the way to the end. Do not admit to anything, and allow the interviewer to continue raising the stakes of their accusations more and more, and always keep plausible deniability. For example:

"I was an escort" -> "Do you think I look like an escort?"
"You frequented me as a client when I was an escort" -> "Maybe I look like an escort you frequented"
"I made money as an escort" -> "Escorts make money"

All of these are true statements, but none of them apply directly to you unless you admit it.

Most of the time, things like this are better left in the past, for both parties. Most normal people will not raise them, indeed ever, and then if they do they will do it in a much more discreet way than this. I wouldn't worry about it for the future, this is probably just a one-off instance.

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First, you have learned one important lesson:

"Do not do that which you would not have known."

While there is nothing that can be done abou the past, remember that going forward.

For the here and now

Your past is your past, some people will judge you, others will not. The important thing is that you do not judge yourself. You need to be at peace with yourself and not be embarassed by your past. The person you were made the person you are.

You may have regrets or not. Either way do not be ashamed of what brought you to this point. That is the most important thing you can do. This may come up in the future so you should be prepared.

I didn't have a scholarship or enough help from my parents, so I took part-time work to help fund me.

And leave it at that.

The bigger issue is how you feel about yourself. THAT is what will translate into an interview. If you feel ashamed, then an interviewer will see that as you don't have confidence in yourself.

You didn't blow the interview, it was a jerk move on his part.

Let it go and should it come up again, know that you did what you had to do to get ahead, all without breaking the law. THAT is what matters. If an interviewer knows or does not, you shouldn't let that affect you.

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What to do when one of the interviewers knows something about me I'm reluctant to reveal publicly because it could reflect badly upon me and is nobody's business?

Politely decline to answer.

If asked why you are not going to answer, you remind them that the question is inappropriate. I say remind because any competent interviewer should already know what they can/cannot ask a candidate. Depending on your jurisdiction, such questions may even violate the law.

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I understand you might not be willing to share details about how you financed your studies, though I respect your determination in pursuing a legal way to achieve your goal.

Since you had clients in your previous job, it's plausible you will stumble into them if you are living in the same area where you exercised your activity. In a similar situation to the one you have been through, you could have simply held your ground with something along the line of "well, you know the type of activity I was doing to finance my studies, since you were a client of mine, but now that time is over and I am looking for a new job, which is the reason why I am having this interview. Can we move on?".

For what I know about US and the average sense of morale there, I don't think frequenting escorts is an activity one is going to proudly brag around. Not more than having worked as an escort, at least. If they take the hint, good for you and you can move on. If they don't take the hint, do you really want to work in an environment where you can be blackmailed daily for that secret? I think not, than again, good for you, and move to the next interview.

In case instead the interviewer ignores the details of your previous job, you can remain vague and state you worked as a hostess. A job is a job, and pecunia non olet.

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    To me this looks like admitting that OP worked as an escort. It might not be sufficiently direct that the other interviewers pick it up directly but they do get the information that it might be worth asking the former client for the details. So this leads exactly to the situation OP wanted to avoid. – quarague Jan 21 at 7:50
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One of the interviewers was a former client. He certainly recognized me and I botched the interview after he asked me with a smile how I financed university.

I think you are reading too much into it, and his question is also pretty standard when interviewing graduates, one you will have to face again and again when doing interviews as it goes to painting a picture of who the applicant is. For that reason, you should have answer prepared for that, and whether someone recognized you, or not, simply provide the answer you were going to give anyway.

I didn't know what to say neither wanting to lie nor reveal it so I kind of remained vague

It seems like you were not prepared for that question and then had to fumble and figure something out, and human beings (in general) are not great at improvisation, more so when under the pressure you were facing right now, if being interviewed alone is not enough. So my chief advice will be to write down how do you want to answer that question in the future and stick to that.

What to do when one of the interviewers knows something about me I'm reluctant to reveal publicly because it could reflect badly upon me and is nobody's business?

Unless you are willing to move to another region eventually you will run into one of your clients again, it's not something that can be avoided, so it's best to be prepared. As you don't want to lie, but also not expose your occupation (which I am not sure that would actually harm you, especially in IT. I have personally met and hired, people from all walks of life, including former thieves, people who previously worked in the porn industry, etc) then that only leaves you with sticking to the vague truth, and that's a dangerous game to play, as you may be asked for details and not giving those out will cause a bit of a stink as you are hiding something, and surprises are rarely good.

I am not really sure what would be a template answer for you, at least without wanting to spell out the truth. If you cannot figure one out, you can always excuse yourself from the interview and hope that another company won't ask. Or maybe say that you've worked at an exotic club (could be a barmaid, could be a bouncer, who knows, no need to be more specific than that) will generally not lead to any follow-up questions, and should not be held against you. If the company decides that this is too much for them to handle, it's best to find this out now, not when it blows out somewhere down the line IMO. This would also frame nicely any future conversation if someone else in the workplace will recognize you; they've simply seen you at the exotic club you've worked at. Not something most people will want to admit in the public, and for sure want to go into details of. And if they then want to act on it in a sinister way, HR is already aware of your history and can tackle it, giving you that place to reach for help.

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    Is asking how you financed university a standard question? Its not one I've ever encountered in an interview. – Tim Jan 21 at 9:55
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    @Tim When you are given a graduate with a very thin CV, there is very little there to ask about, and yet you have to get a good feel of persons to work ethic, among other things. If you are in countries where universities usually cost money (like the USA), then asking this question is usually an opener for them to tell the story of how they worked part-time while studying. Or at least it's the hope that this will be the answer, as showing that you WANT to work is a great quality to have. – Tymoteusz Paul Jan 21 at 10:01
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    I've conducted hundreds of panel interviews for entry positions and I've participated in interview coaching programs at local schools for two decades. I've never heard someone ask how an applicant financed their education, and doing so would strike me as extremely awkward and prying given the private nature of personal finances. I'd be willing to bet that most HR people would be upset if they heard an interviewer ask that question, due to the risk of it sounding discriminatory. If you want to know if someone worked in college, you can look at their resume or ask about their job history. – dwizum Jan 21 at 14:04
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    @dwizum So your issue is with the fact that the question was worded as asking how a person financed university, instead of "Did you work through college?". The jump between those two, and lead into discrimination territory is quite... preposterous really. Some answer with "family paid for it", others worked and paid their way for it, are among of the most common answers I've heard to the question, and deciding to pick the one who worked, over the paid-for is a perfectly valid criterion (in that imaginary scenario when it's down to this one bit), not some sort of discrimination. – Tymoteusz Paul Jan 21 at 14:16
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    It is not a standard question. A candidate's financial status or how they paid for something is none of the interviewer's business. If you want to know about a candidate's practical experience and work ethic, ask about that, not how they paid for college. – Seth R Jan 21 at 16:31

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