Your Company — Do you work in it, for it, or at it?

This is a quick topic that arose in one of my Write It Right discussions. I thought I would share it here.

I used to work for a company called Westinghouse. It has a main headquarters (HQ) building in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The following scenario is set in (takes place in) the city of Pittsburgh:

Stranger: Where do you work, Mr. Lee?

(Note: Even though this question starts with “where”, a stranger is probably just asking “What kind of work do you do?” or “What company do you work for?” rather than just asking me about the actual location where I work.)

(Here are some possible answers from Mr. Lee. Which one(s) is correct?)

  1. I work for Westinghouse.
  2. I work in Westinghouse.
  3. I work at Westinghouse.

If I thought he might not be familiar with Westinghouse, then I might go on to explain what kind of work I do for/in/at Westinghouse.
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There are two possible correct answers (#1 and #3). Both are correct but their meaning could be slightly different depending on how I am thinking about it in my mind.

I work for Westinghouse => (my work location is vague; maintains my privacy)
I work for the company. I may work at the HQ or I may work remotely from
my home or in an office in another city or country.

I work at Westinghouse => (my work location is implied to be at the local HQ building)
I work for Westinghouse and I work at the Westinghouse HQ building that we
(the stranger and I) are assumed to know is located here in Pittsburgh.

We never say “I work in a company”.

We work for a company or at a company (understood to mean at its known location).

If I work for myself (private business owned by me), I might just say “I am self-employed.”

If I had no job, I might say “I am currently unemployed.”

(Some men might be embarrassed to admit they are unemployed because they are afraid the stranger might view them as a failure (loser) that nobody wants to hire, so these men might tell a white lie and say they are “self-employed”.)

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So, dear students, where do you work (or whom do you work for or what kind of work do you do)?

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