boss is hanging terrible artwork, my spouse fired someone in our social network, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. Our boss is hanging terrible artwork in our new office space

I am the office manager of a small, tight-knit consulting firm of 15 employees. We recently relocated our offices to a larger, more modern location. The new space is very nice and I, along with two other admin staff (all ladies), have been tasked with hanging artwork in the new space. Boss (the owner and president) has brought in some paintings his sister painted. Some of these pieces are large and disproportionate, and none of them relate to the very specific work we do. To be blunt, they are really terrible! This morning, Boss hung the largest (and arguably the ugliest) piece on the wall that faces our main entrance. It is way too large for this wall and looks awful!

How can we talk to him about this without hurting his feelings? Or do we just suck it up since his name is on the door and he can put up anything he wants? He is a very reasonable person and a great boss, but we don’t know how to gently tell him this artwork is truly heinous. Help!

Especially because they’re painted by his sister, I think you probably have to just suck it up unless (a) it’s terrible in a way that will offend or repel clients, (b) it legitimately makes you or your coworkers uncomfortable (for example, it’s highly sexualized), or (c) you have the kind of relationship with him where you can tell him difficult things and he’s grateful you spoke up. But if neither (a) nor (b) is the case, I’d probably lean toward just telling yourself that taste in art is really personal, and that’s one of the things that makes it so interesting, and that artwork that everyone agrees on can be boring. (Of course, I haven’t seen these paintings, so that may be cold comfort.)

2. My spouse fired someone in our social network

My spouse just fired for cause a worker who is a member of our social network, although we don’t socialize with the worker, who I’ll call “Pat.” Pat’s younger than us, but Pat and spouse are former coworker/neighbor/friend to several of our friends. It’s a small universe here – everyone is intertwined by ties of family/friends/shared history.

Pat was on a PIP, but either didn’t understand what s/he needed to do to improve or wasn’t willing to – it’s not clear which. Pat is a nice person – just unable to do the job. Pat was getting coaching by my spouse and by the direct manager, but it didn’t help. Making it worse, I’m not sure Pat’s spouse knew Pat was on a PIP so this may be an enormous shock. They have various financial obligations, some new since the PIP.

I don’t want to and know I can’t talk to any mutual friends about this if they ask, but I’m afraid they might ask or (maybe even worse) silently think the worst of my spouse. My spouse feels terrible about this, but Pat really didn’t leave any choice. If a mutual friend asks, is there anything I can say – other than “I’m not at liberty to talk about it” – to make it clear my spouse feels bad about this and tried to prevent it?

You can say, “It’s tough when that happens. I know (my spouse) really regrets that it didn’t work out.”

That way you’re not revealing any details you shouldn’t reveal, but you’re acknowledging that it’s an unfortunate thing. And the “it didn’t work out” implies there was a reason for what happened, just not one you’re talking about.

3. Interviewer got angry that I called so many times while she was out sick

I had an interview last Thursday, which went well. I was told I would hear from the manager on Monday. I called her Monday around 5:30 p.m. to follow up and thank her, and was told she had another interview that was scheduled for Tuesday, and I would hear from her Tuesday. Tuesday evening came around and no call. I called the office at 6:30 p.m. and was told she had left for the day. I called twice Wednesday, was told she wasn’t in yet, left another message. Thursday I called again around noon, was told she was coming in but the receptionist wasn’t sure when. I waited until 5:40 p.m. and called back to show I am very interested, and was then finally told she was out sick the past couple of days.

The manager called me from home and left a voicemail saying “my receptionist told you four times today that I was out sick, I don’t know how many times you need to be told that. At this point, I’m not able to offer you a position with us.” My problem is, I was NEVER told she was out sick until my last phone call. How can I approach this to let her know she was misinformed and I had not been told she was out sick? I wouldn’t have continued calling to follow up if I had known.

Well, the thing is, even if she hadn’t been sick, this was way too much contact. You called her on Monday when you didn’t hear anything that day — fine, a little aggressive since they were barely past the timeline they’d given you that point, but okay. But then you kept calling. It’s okay to call once and leave a message. And then if you don’t hear back after a few days — not one day, but several — you can try one final time. But that’s really the maximum amount you can do it without looking overly pushy.

After all, there are all kinds of reasons why someone might not have gotten back to you yet — they might be out sick, or dealing with a family emergency, or dealing with a work emergency, or just dealing with higher priorities. Continuing to call over and over doesn’t show you’re very interested; it says “I think the thing I want from you is more important than anything else you’re dealing with right now.”

You can certainly send the manager an email (don’t call again) saying, “I’m so sorry — I hadn’t known you were out sick or I wouldn’t have kept trying to contact you. I really apologize, and hope you’re feeling better now.” But that’s just about leaving this in a better place; it’s not likely to change her decision. I’m sorry.

4. Changed my name, now changing it back

I’m a woman who got married a few months ago, and changed my name socially and professionally, but not legally. I took on a hyphenated last name. I’ve since decided I’m actually more comfortable going by my maiden name, and want to socially and professionally change it back. However, I’m a little concerned about colleagues thinking that going back to my maiden name on LinkedIn and on my work email signature might signal that I’m getting divorced, which isn’t true. I just want my old name back. Is there a sensible way for me to signal that I’m going back to my old name, yet not getting divorced, or would that be making a big deal about nothing? Is there a way for me to message this that doesn’t sound too weird?

I’d just be breezy about it — people probably aren’t paying that much attention or reading that much into it. I wouldn’t worry at all about people noticing on LinkedIn, but for people who you work with regularly, you could just say, “By the way, I decided not to hyphenate after all so I’m sticking with just Snorffleworth!” I think that will be fine for most people, but if you notice anyone looking particularly concerned, you could add, “I’m working on convincing Dave we should pick a brand new third name” or anything else that mentions Dave in a non-divorcey way.

weekend free-for-all – October 22-23, 2016

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school. If you have a work question, you can email it to me or post it in the work-related open thread on Fridays.)

update: how do I choose a career path?

Remember the letter-writer back in March who felt aimless and unsure about how to figure out a career path? Here’s the update.

I know it’s been a while since my post was published, but I thought I’d give everyone an update about my life.

First, thank you so much for your advice and for the advice of everyone who commented. It feels a little silly to me now, but I didn’t know that this angst was a common thing for so many people! Most of my friends are the sort who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives since they were in utero, and it was so refreshing to hear that not everyone has it all figured out, and that it’s OKAY not to have everything figured out. I have spent the last six months mostly trying to chill out.

As for my job, I took your advice and started asking people in my department if they needed assistance on projects or teams. No surprise here, they did! In the time since you posted my question I have learned so many different facets of library work from my regular admin duties, including things like library marketing, library instruction, patron services, cataloging, etc. and I decided that…I really like it. I also started talking to a few senior staff members about what made them decide to be librarians, what they think makes a good one, what they think of the field (the list goes on). I had some time to mull this all over while we waited for my fiances job offer to finalize, and I realized that I might actually already be on my career path (something about hindsight being 20/20).

So, I’ve found another paraprofessional job at a library in our new town and I’m putting my feelers out towards a MLIS program nearby (I’m considering Fall 2017). However, I’m still leaving my possibilities open, should some other job come along and sweep me off my feet.

Thanks again for the support and great advice! I felt much better about the whole situation after I read your post and all the comments.

my boss blamed me for her mistake

A reader writes:

My boss and I have a standing weekly check-in where she is supposed to call my cell phone (she works remotely). Occasionally, she will just not call in to the meeting. At first I would ask to reschedule, but after this happening several times I eventually accepted that she just will sometimes not make it for that meeting. She didn’t call in this past week but the next day emailed me saying I needed to be better about keeping our check-in. I apologized and asked if maybe the time scheduled on our calendars just wasn’t a good/convenient time for her. She said it was and that she had called me at the scheduled time and left me a voicemail.

Except that she didn’t. At least I’m almost positive she didn’t. I don’t have any missed calls or voicemails from her and I sat by my phone the entire time. I also sit next to the sales phone so if she couldn’t reach my cell, she would typically dial that but that didn’t ring or receive any messages. I haven’t responded to her last email since I’m not sure if mentioning I didn’t receive a voicemail would come across as accusatory. Do I respond at all? If so, what should I say? Am I being crazy? Is there some way she could have recorded a message and I just wouldn’t have received it?

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • My boss has one foot out the door and is constantly complaining
  • Can my employer require me to use English when talking to coworkers?
  • I loaned a coworker money and she won’t pay me back
  • Can I bring notes into a job interview?

open thread – October 21-22, 2016

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue :)

can I ask my manager to tell sick people to stay at home?

This is timely, because I’m currently laid up with a fever and terrible sore throat…

A reader writes:

I work for a company with an accrued PTO policy that is used for all vacation time and sick leave. However, we have the option to work from home if we need to, and the manager of my group is pretty flexible and understanding.

However, over the past few weeks, several of my coworkers have come into the office while obviously sick. They spray Lysol and take medicine at their desks instead of taking a day off or working from home. Most recently, a coworker who sits close to me has come in while coughing, sniffling, and even groaning throughout the day.

Our manager is being very kind to her, but I really wish she’d tell this coworker to just take her laptop and work from home. I understand why my coworker doesn’t want to take a sick day since that would eat away at her bank of PTO, but coming in when she has the option to stay home and work is driving me crazy. Even if I don’t get sick myself (which I still might, as we get further into cold and flu season), it’s very distracting.

Is there a way I can address this with my manager that doesn’t come across as whiny? I also don’t want to negatively impact my coworkers, such as my complaint leading to them being forced to take PTO. Is it way out of line to ask if *I* can work from home if she’s going to allow people to stay in the office while sick?

I think you’re more likely to get a better response if you say, “Would you be wiling to encourage people to work from home rather than  coming to work while they’re sick? I tend to catch colds and flus easily, and I imagine others may be the same and that it would be better to have one person working from home than the whole office waylaid by sickness.”

If she says something like “well, it’s really up to each person what they do,” then at that point you could say, “Would you mind if I work from home while Jane has this bad cold then? I really want to avoid getting sick right now” … but if you do it every time someone comes to work with a cold, you may end up looking like you’re being a little reactionary (in part because you’re probably coming into contact with cold and flu germs plenty of other times without realizing it, just by being out in public).

Your better bet might be to talk to your coworkers. You could say something like, “I’ve noticed that in past years, colds and flus have ended up spreading around the office because we’re a group that tends to come to work even when sick. Would y’all be up for us agreeing this year to try to work from home when we’re sick and see if it helps?”

Also, for what it’s worth, this tends to be one of the side effects of combining vacation and sick leave into one bucket — it often results in people avoiding taking sick days because it will mean fewer vacation days. In your case, though, it sounds like people can work from home and thus avoid taking any PTO at all, and so it’s reasonable to expect them to do that (especially when you throw in the fact that some of their coworkers may be immunocompromised or going home to people who are).

some surprising benefits of procrastinating (at last!)

Over at the Fast Track by QuickBase today, I take a look at several big work-related stories in the news right now: some surprising benefits of procrastinating (at last!), misconceptions about remote work, and more. You can read it here.

my department assistant is grumpy and impatient with me

A reader writes:

My department’s administrative assistant (we’ll call her Olga) is incredibly impatient, and expects me to quickly complete things that I don’t have any control over. For example, I work often with her on finalizing the contracts for freelancers that we work with. She will create the contract, and I will email it to the freelancer, as I’m their main contact for the organization.

While I understand that freelancers have other clients and may take a few days to get back to us, Olga doesn’t. She will ask me if something has been returned to me only a few hours or one business day after I’ve sent it out. I will say, “I understand that we need to have Fergus’s contract returned for him to be paid, but we just sent it to him on Friday and it’s now Monday. I am planning on following up with him later this week if he doesn’t return it.”

Her response to this is often defensive, like, “Okay, but all he needs to do is sign it.” I understand, but I’m not in the same room with the contractor and I can’t force them to complete a task for us immediately!

This happens not only with contracts, but with a number of different tasks. She will ask my why someone hasn’t responded to my email, or why I haven’t finished a non-urgent task she asked me to do only an hour prior.

I think that Olga is just grumpy and is taking out other frustrations on me, rather than actually expecting me to have other people complete things in only a few hours. I don’t know what to do to stop being the target of this, and even though I tell her that I can’t control what another person does, the problem isn’t going away. What should I do?

I wrote back to this letter writer and asked, “What’s your relationship to Olga, in terms of hierarchy? Are you senior to her, or is she senior to you? Or are you peers?” The reply:

Technically I’m senior to her — she’s an administrative assistant and I’m a marketing associate. But I’m much younger than her.

Age doesn’t matter here. Relative authority in the relationships matter. She’s your department’s assistant, and you have the authority to tell her how you want this stuff to work. You just need to be clearer.

For example, when she bugs you to know if you have a freelancer contract back yet, say this: “In general, assume that it may take a few days or even a week to get freelancer contracts back, and sometimes longer. They have other clients and we’re not their only priority — and plus, it can take time for people to carefully read over contracts. It looks bad if we rush them, like we’re trying to push our terms on them without giving them time to think. I follow up if I haven’t heard back after a week, but please assume that I’m on it.”

Then if she does it again, say, “Like I said before, I don’t expect it back by now. I’ve noticed you often follow up on these quickly. I’d rather you not check back unless it’s been a week or longer.”

If she asks why someone hasn’t responded to your email, say this: “I’m not at all concerned since it hasn’t been very long. Is there a particular reason you need this urgently?”

And perhaps: “I’ve noticed that you will often check in on various items I’m waiting for from people. I actually prefer to track these myself. If there’s something you need to hear back about and it’s been several days, feel free to check with me. But otherwise I prefer to manage this stuff on my own.”

If she asks you why you haven’t finished a non-urgent task from earlier that day (!), say this: “I’ve got a bunch of other priorities that I need to deal with first. Did I misunderstand the urgency?”

And if that keeps happening: “I’m on top of everything that’s on my plate, and I don’t let things fall through the cracks. Can I ask you to assume from now on that if you’ve asked me for something, I’ll get it to you, and that you don’t need to keep checking back with me? Of course, if it’s time-sensitive, please tell me that initially so that I know from the start and can prioritize it correctly.”

In other words — be calm, clear, and direct about how you want her to handle this stuff differently.

I know that it’s easy to feel awkward about age differences and about telling someone older than you that you want them to do something differently. But really, age is not supposed to be the operative factor in working relationships — experience and authority and standing are what count. You probably don’t want people changing how they deal with you based solely on your age, right? Same thing here — don’t do it to other people. (And if it helps, pretend in your mind that she’s a year younger than you.)

my abusive ex works at the company where I’m interviewing, friends keep trying to lure me from my job, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My abusive ex works at the company where I’m interviewing

I have been out of work since June, when my previous company laid me off. My unemployment benefits end at the end of November, and I have been just barely scraping by this whole time. I received a call from a company this afternoon to discuss a potential position. They were very enthusiastic to find someone with my qualifications and even asked how long I had been on the market, and said that I would likely hear from someone within the week to discuss further steps (i.e. an in-person interview.) They didn’t bat an eyelash at my salary requirements, and had no difficulty with offering me the refresher training I would need for some lapsed certifications.

The problem is that my abusive ex-boyfriend is currently employed by the same company. Obviously, we did not end on good terms, and I have spent the past two years since our breakup doing my utmost to avoid him. After some of the things he put me through, I don’t know if I can in good faith be in the same room as him.

The position I’ve been offered would be located at a different office, but I am concerned that I would have at the very least contact with him. I feel like this is something that should be addressed if an offer is made, but is it appropriate for me to say that I wouldn’t be comfortable working with this particular individual? Should I cut my losses and keep searching? I’m worried that time is running out.

Ooof. Is the job you’re applying for one that’s likely to have to work with him, or be around him? If so, I do think you need to just keep looking — as a new hire, it’s going to be hard to refuse to work with someone already there. If that’s not likely, then I think it comes down to how willing you are to accept the risk that you may end up having casual interaction with him. If you truly can’t be in the same room as him, then I think that’s your answer — you’d need to keep looking. It’s reasonable to prioritize your well-being over a job that would put you back in contact with an abusive ex.

2. People keep trying to get me to leave my home-based business

What is the best way to deal with people who are unhappy with your career and are always trying to get you to change it when you are happy and satisfied with it?

I have owned my own home-based business since around 2004. During that time, friends, family members, acquaintances, etc. have propositioned me to come and work for/with them. In many cases, the jobs that they proposed were things I was neither trained nor qualified to do, nor did I have any background in the field. On one occasion, after months and months of nagging, I applied at my brother’s company as a retail sales rep. The hiring manager seemed baffled that I would be willing to give up being my own boss to come and work retail. I imagine had I pursued the various security guard and food service, flight attendant, astronaut jobs I have been propositioned with over the years in spite of having no training, certification or experience in them, the other hiring managers would have felt the same way.

“No, thanks, I’m very happy with what I’m doing.”

That’s it, seriously.

But why are these people nagging you so much? Do they have the impression that you’re struggling financially or that your business isn’t doing well? If so, I could see them pushing job leads on you to try to be helpful. In fact, maybe this points to a need to be more explicit that you’re happy and doing well — at least when this subject comes up. But really, I think you just need to let it roll off you — say you’re not interested and that you’re happy where you are, and don’t give it more attention than that. (And definitely don’t get pressured into applying for jobs that you’re not actually interested in.)

3. Withdrawing a reference after uncovering serious problems with someone’s work

I worked with a doctor who I shall call Dr. Feelgood. He was a brilliant man with a good knowledge of medicine, kind to the nursing staff, and well liked by his patients. However, he was terrible on documentation. He was often 4-8 weeks behind on his notes, and he used a lot of cut-and-sloppy. (Cut-and-sloppy is pasting the old note into the current note, but not updating the current note. He wrote that one of his patients had her dog die five months in a row because of his use of this.)

When he decided to move back to his home state, he asked me for a reference. Because I thought his documentation issues were fixable with good supervision (he could do great notes on time if administration kept on top of him), I agreed to give it to him. I was very clear with him and with the clinic he interviewed at about the documentation issues, and that they needed to be on top of it.

After he left, the other doctors I work with and I took over his patients. We were shocked to find that his care was terrible! He completely ignored abnormal labs and x-rays. He was prescribing opiate pain pills to people who were clearly using cocaine or heroin. We all had the experience of having patients giggle when we went to do a physical exam and saying, “Dr. Feelgood never did that. He didn’t think it was necessary.” (Although he documented a full physical with every visit.) One of his patients died a month after he left of a condition that he should have diagnosed three months sooner. (I don’t think his negligence made a difference in the outcome, but he still missed a blatant problem.)

A month or two after he left, I got a call for another reference. I refused to give it. I got an email from him asking me to give the reference, and I responded that I had found enough issues with his care that I was no longer willing to give him a reference. I am hoping never to have this situation of going from being willing to give a reference to not willing never come up again, although I have had other cases where I went from wildly enthusiastic to lukewarm. However, if it does: 1) Do I need to contact the person and ask them to no longer use me as a reference? 2) Do I have any obligation to contact the place I gave a good reference to amend it?

I’d contact him and let you know that you’re no longer comfortable giving him a reference, so that he’s not out there assuming that you’re saying positive things about him when you’re not. You can be as direct about why as you’re comfortable being.

The second question is trickier. If this weren’t a job caring for patients, I’d say no — there’s no obligation to contact the place you gave the good reference to. But with a doctor, the calculation changes — you’re talking about potentially putting people at risk. I don’t know the standards of your field in this regard (or for that matter, whether there’s any other reporting you should be doing about him), but I’ve got to think there are some industry norms governing how to handle this kind of thing. Anyone?

4. Is my manager hinting that I won’t get hired?

I’ve been covering for a vacant position for 18 months and have consistently received glowing reviews. I’ve interviewed for correlating positions elsewhere, but I want to remain in this city. The deputy director has strongly encouraged me to apply for the open position which is now about to post.

However my new supervisor (no previous management experience) is asking me what to do if he doesn’t find a viable candidate, what language to use, my thoughts on potential candidates, etc. — questions that are inappropriate to ask someone who’s applying for the position.

I’m not sure if he’s asking me because I do have management experience, or he’s thinking out loud, or he’s implying something. He’s aware that I’m applying for the position. It’s also common knowledge that the deputy director is an avid avoider of confrontation. He will encourage employees to apply for internal, open positions but is on the record stating that he refuses to hire internally.

How do I handle this? I’m sitting at my desk crying! I knew I wasn’t an automatic shoo-in but was strongly encouraged nonetheless. (The deputy director had me rewrite my job description with the implication that it would affect this decision). Clearly, crying isn’t going to resolve this, and the situation will not improve until the position is filled. Do I just apply and wait for the inevitable? Should I take his questions as an implication that I am not a suitable candidate?

I wouldn’t assume that’s what his questions mean. That would be an incredibly passive and lily-livered way to signal to you that you aren’t getting the job. I suppose it’s possible that that he really is that silly and ineffectual or simply callous … but if that’s the case, it’s worth considering whether you’d want him to be your permanent boss, no?

On the other hand, if you have a deputy director who’s known to encourage people to apply for internal positions but who also says that he won’t hire internally — well, that’s pretty clear. I’d assume that what you know there is accurate, and that there’s no reason to think he’s following a different pattern here. Given that, I’d mentally move on from this possibility, assume you won’t get it, focus on other job leads, and let it be a pleasant surprise if this one does pan out.

5. Can my resume list projects and services that have since been canceled?

My workplace recently experienced a significant restructure in which several people, myself included, were removed from project management positions in an effort to consolidate all decision-making on the upper management level. For various reasons, some of them associated with this reorganization, I’ve decided it is time for me to move on to my next career step, ideally shifting into a role at another organization with more leadership opportunities on either a project-leader or department-management level.

Given this career goal, my cover letter and resume both feature a number of successes related to added-value customer-focused services I developed while managing my former program. Unfortunately my new boss has a very different vision regarding both customer service and the “obligations” of our work and is in the process of stripping many/most of these added-value services (regardless of success or popularity with customers) in favor of a more basic/core services model. Can I still feature these accomplishments in my application material, even though they have been scrapped? If so, what is the best way to do this? I’m concerned potential employers may question why I refer to subservices no longer advertised as offered and think I’m being deceitful, but I’m also concerned about preemptively indicating these services have been cancelled because it may imply a more dramatic reason for their removal.

Nope, you can still list them. They were legitimate accomplishments, and they don’t stop being things you achieved just because they’re no longer around. You also don’t need to include a caveat on your resume that they’re now defunct programs.

If asked, you can simply explain that they were successful for a while but the company has since scaled back to core services, which is one of the reasons that you’re interested in moving on the type of job you’re interviewing for.

an employer asked me the lowest salary I’d accept, rejected me, and then refused to keep talking

A reader writes:

This is a puzzler for me: I recently had a third party recruiter get me in touch again with the hiring manager of a position I had applied and interviewed for but got passed over for earlier this year. I was excited for the second chance since this was my dream company, albeit this time it was gonna be contract to start. And even though they found out I had interviewed previously, they still phone screened me and had me come in for another face to face, and I believe and felt it went well.

Then the third party recruiter calls me early on a Monday the week after, to confirm my lowest salary number, then later that morning emailed me that he will get back to me. When I replied with my thank you, I got his out of office message, which was until Wednesday. I was excited and waiting patiently, heard nothing back for those days, but then on Thursday, he emails and says he has mixed news: that they me really liked me and wanted me on their team, but for some reason, their budget wasn’t there for a variety of factors and they can’t even come close to my minimum and that he didn’t want me to take less than I’m worth. He was glad to have worked with me and still hopes to in the future, and hopefully the dream company I just interviewed for has the budget in the future, and to let him know if he can do anything for me. I email back immediately to see if there was anything else we can do and I reiterate I am negotiable, and hear nothing back.

Was there anything else I could do? I can’t help feel that my opportunity got botched somehow since if they really liked me, I was willing to find out what their number was. I felt it would be weird to contact the hiring manger directly, since the times I’ve sent him thank-you emails for speaking with me (the first time around I got his email from their in house recruiter) he’s never responded.

Ugh, this is exactly why candidates fear giving out the salary range they’re looking for, and especially naming a bottom number.

On the company’s side, though, they asked for your minimum salary, you gave it, and they know that they’re really far away from that. It’s not unreasonable for them to have believed that that was really the minimum you’d accept, and to conclude that your numbers were just too far away from each other.

Even if you could have agreed on some lower number after that, it’s not unreasonable for companies not to be excited about hiring someone at a salary far below what the candidate wanted … because they want people who will feel good about their salaries, and they don’t want to worry that they’re going to lose you over pay in six months.

Really, the problem is that they asked you for your lowest number in the first place — because not only is it a rude and intrusive question, but the reality is that candidates often aren’t really giving their lowest number even when they say they are. When you gave that number, you might have genuinely felt that it was the lowest you’d go … until you found out that they wouldn’t meet it, at which point you realized you might be willing to entertain a lower offer anyway. But of course, by that point, they’d been told it was the lowest you’d go. Other times, candidates know from the start that they’d go lower but aren’t inclined to share that because they don’t want to lowball themselves. Either way, it’s a clusterfudge of a question that puts candidates in a really bad position and leads to all sorts of bad outcomes — this being one of them.

They could have avoided this whole thing by telling you their range and asking if it worked for you, or by just making a fricking offer and letting you decide at that point.

So, is there anything that you can do now? Probably not. You already emailed the recruiter back to say your number was negotiable and he hasn’t replied — which means they’ve moved on, or they know their number is so far below yours that it really doesn’t make sense to try to work it out. (And again, there’s logic in that. If you said your lowest number was $80,000 and the absolute top of their range is $50,000, they’d reasonably assume that it won’t work out — or that if it did, you’d be a flight risk.)

But in the future, if you get questions about the lowest salary you’d accept, I’d handle them differently. If you happen to have a figure that you know is truly the bottom limit of what you’d accept (meaning you would definitely walk away if the offer came in lower) and which wouldn’t feel like a lowball to you if that’s what they offered, then sure, go ahead and tell them “I wouldn’t be able to take it for less than $X.” But otherwise, I’d start responding to that question this way: “I don’t really want to discuss salary in terms of the lowest possible number I’d accept, obviously. I’m looking for a range of around $X-Y but it depends on the rest of the package and benefits.” Or you could even replace that last sentence with “If you tell me the range you’re planning on, I can tell you if it would work on my end” (but some recruiters will insist you name numbers, so whether that will work will vary).