boss asked me to be “brutally honest,” manager ignores my emails, and more

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

1. Boss asked me to be “brutally honest” during an exit interview

I resigned earlier this week with my department head. I would have liked to have done so with her assistant, who more closely manages me, but she is on vacation. This assistant is a difficult person to work for, and is quite a micromanager. I came to this organization brimming with excitement on making improvements and showing off my skill set. However every time I tried to innovate or be creative, the assistant would tell me exactly what I should do and how I should do it. She also tried what I believe was her attempt at diplomacy by being vague in how she told me to do things. This created unclear instructions, resulting in me having to redo my work sometimes up to 10 times to suit her particular taste. Over the course of just under a year, I lost the motivation to innovate or create new things. I read in a Linkedin posting, “To innovate and create one has to be allowed mistakes, creating new processes, formulating new ideas requires freedom. ” I don’t feel that I was ever afforded that freedom and I began to feel like I was not trusted to do the job I was hired for.

The position has had very high turnover. I am one in a long line of people who have come to the same conclusion in my position for the same reasons, according to several trusted coworkers. At this point, I am happy to just move on and chalk it up. However, the department head has requested that I join her for lunch next week for an exit interview. She is well aware of the assistant’s management style, as several people in the organization refuse to work with her. She specifically asked that I be “brutally honest,” forthright, and open about my reasons for wanting to leave. So many of the sites I’ve looked for advice on say to steer clear of exit interviews because I have nothing to gain and a lot to lose. That being said, I think this department head wants something concrete to bring to the higher-up’s and seems to be pleading with me to help.

I want to be honest, but I don’t know if that’s the right thing to do.

Yeah, I’d bet she’s looking either for ammunition to address a problem she already knows about (although as the department head I’m not sure why she’d need it) or insight into something she suspects is happening but which she doesn’t details about.

Do you know her to be a reasonable and sensible person who handles bad news well and doesn’t shoot the messenger? If so, I’d be honest with her, as long as your future references are going to come from her and not the assistant, and as long as she agrees to give you whatever type of confidentiality you want to ask for. (For example, you might agree to let her share your input with her own manager, but not to be quoted directly to the assistant.)

If you don’t think she’s particularly reasonable or that she handles bad news well, or if you don’t believe she’s capable of effectively using your input to change anything, then there’s no point in being anything but vague. (Or, alternately, there’s a middle ground, which is “I think Jane is looking for someone to execute activities she assigns and has trouble trusting people she assigns work to, whereas I was looking for a role with more room to use my skills and judgment.”)

2. My boss ignores my emails if they don’t require a response

I work for a small, family-owned business. There are a number of issues, but what bothers me the most is that my boss — the co-owner of the company — ignores my emails.

These emails don’t require a response (most of them notify her that I will be working from home, am out sick, etc.) but I feel that it’s unprofessional and downright rude. While a response is not necessary, an acknowledgment would be nice. I feel ignored and disrespected. Should I say something?

No! Email that don’t require a response … don’t require a response, by definition. It’s true that it’s some people’s style to respond to everything anyway, even if just to say “okay!” or “thanks for letting me know,” but that’s not everyone’s style and it’s not rude not to reply.

It sounds like you have lots of other issues with this company, and I suspect that’s impacting how you see this. But this in and of itself isn’t something to feel disrespected over, and it’s definitely not something you have standing to complain to your boss about.

3. Another job candidate and I were asked to give presentations in front of each other

I was selected for a final interview for a job. HR asked me to prepare an analysis document for the company and that the interview would last three hours. I spent over 30 hours to prepare myself for a three-hour discussion about the company.

The big surprise when I got there: the presentation was going to last only 20 minutes and therefore was truncated. The other finalist was there and did the same — a 20-minute presentation — in front of me and the interviewers. The other candidate was at least 10 years younger, did not deliver the document in time, and his analysis was for sure not as good as mine.

Then the interview panel left the two of us alone and asked us to perform a competitive and a cooperative exercise. Even worse, the company was aware that my knowledge of their language was good but limited, while the other candidate was a native speaker. I felt that bad that I cold not understand what I was asked on the notes left. When HR came back, I decided to quit the interview process and went away, telling the other candidate “congratulations, you got the job.”

Is this recruiting process a common practice? How can I provide anonymous feedback on websites and prevent legal actions, given that I’d be easily identifiable?

Nope, not common and not reasonable. Making candidates gather in the same room and compete with each other is not good practice.

You could certainly describe the experience on Glass Door. You might be identified by the company, but the legal risk is low (I want to say non-existent because it’s not illegal to accurate report on facts that happened, but you can theoretically be sued over anything — it’s just highly, highly unlikely in this case.)

Also! Do not spend 30 hours preparing work as part of a try-out unless you’re paid for it. 30 hours of prep not reasonable, and a company that expects it of you (I can’t tell if they did here or not) is not one you want to work for.

4. How should we handle a difference in employee discounts?

I work for a small retail business cofounded by my sister-in-law. After she became the sole owner, she hired me. For a while it was just her and I running things, plus one or two part-time employees packing orders. During that time, she was okay with me taking a certain budget’s worth of items from the store inventory (we had a set amount I could take per month), particularly since my wearing them/posting photos and tutorials on social media is part of my role in the business and increases sales.

We have grown and now have more employees, resulting in the need for an official employee discount policy. The number agreed upon for part-time workers was 50% off retail. This was so different from what I had been getting that I felt guilty about it, and my SIL agreed that from now on I would pay wholesale price for whatever I took, instead of getting a certain amount free.

We recently hired a new business manager who is full-time and salaried, like myself. Technically she is my superior, though she does not directly supervise most of my responsibilities. She heard about the employee discount of 50% and now goes by this for her own purchases. She doesn’t know that I have official permission to purchase at wholesale, and neither do any of the part-timers. This is making me feel like I am dealing under the table, even though my SIL has said that if anyone notices the prices on my orders she’d be happy to explain to them.

I don’t want anyone in the packing room to think I’m fudging my discount (it happens that I am also the one who makes/issues the employee discount codes) or stealing from the business, nor do I want our manager to feel like she is being treated unfairly. Because of this, I’ve been avoiding ordering for some time, even though there are things I’d love to buy. What is the best course of action here?

I don’t think it’s outrageous for you to continue with the plan to pay wholesale, but your sister-in-law should explain to others that you were grandfathered into that plan because of your longevity with the store (or that it’s because of the social media work that you do featuring the items). But if you’re uncomfortable with that, then I’d think your only other option is to switch to the 50% off discount that everyone else uses.

I wouldn’t keep the wholesale price plan without telling others about it though. Otherwise you’re going to feel like you’re sneaking something that you shouldn’t have to be covert about.

5. Is it reasonable to require employees to find their own coverage if they want time off?

I’m a new admin manager at my company and I support several departments with small teams. When a person wishes to schedule time off for vacation, even if it is a month in advance, the manager tells them find someone to work for them. If they can’t find anyone to work for them, (in one case it’s just two transportation drivers and the same one is always scheduled for Sundays), they are denied vacation. It is such a common practice that the employees feel guilty about taking time off!

I hate to rock the boat, but I feel like a reasonable request of time off should be accommodated and it should be the managers responsibility to cover or make arrangements. Is this a common practice?

It’s not uncommon, but you’re right that it’s really, really crappy. It’s a practice that you tend to see at crappier employers who don’t particularly care about attracting or retaining great people (because great people will not stick around long with this kind of practice). Since you’re in a management role, I urge you to speak up about changing it — or just to change it for the people you manage. A more reasonable policy is for the manager to find coverage for the person, when coverage is needed, so that people aren’t dependent on the good will of their coworkers in order to be able to use the benefits included in their compensation.

{ 180 comments… read them below }

  1. MK

    Frankly, OP4, I think you are being way too sensitive about the entire situation, to the point of having created a problem out of nothing. It’s not unfair that long service comes with some perks that newcomers, even in a higher position, don’t have. You should have stuck with your original budget and explained to your coworkers that it is aprt of the initial agreement you made with your boss.

    1. Alanna

      I have the opposite feeling – if the arrangement is so aboveboard, why doesn’t the sister-in-law just explain it to the business manager? It’s weird to have an employee policy you don’t tell the business manager about, and I think they haven’t told her because they know it’s a problem.

      1. Daisy

        Why wouldn’t it be above board? Presumably the owner can dole out whatever benefits she likes. Since the OP’s fretting about it though, she should get the SIL to send an email now telling the manager the discount’s approved. Boom, done. I don’t think the ‘feeling guilty about a better discount’ thing has any validity- the suggestion to announce it to all her coworkers seems weird to me, like announcing she gets paid more or has more holiday out of the blue.

        1. Alanna

          I wasn’t thinking an all staff announcement, but aren’t those kinds of financial arrangements the type of thing a business manager should know about?

          1. Daisy

            Oh I didn’t mean your suggestion- I think the manager needs to know probably, but Alison’s reply makes it sound like the suggestion is to tell everyone she works with? Which seems odd

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I didn’t mean everyone — just people who conceivably need to know. The OP wrote, “I don’t want anyone in the packing room to think I’m fudging my discount.”

        2. OP

          OP here. This ^ was my thinking as well. In some sense I would love for SIL to email everyone and say, by the way, just wanted to clarify that OP buys at wholesale because she’s a founding member of the business and that was the deal we made with her (or something to that effect). However, it seems like a really weird thing to announce so widely and may even cause bad vibes where there weren’t any before. I’m wondering if a more case-by-case or small scale version of informing people would work better.

          1. Amadeo

            I would think that the only people who need to know are yourself, your SIL and the business manager.

            1. Megs

              From what OP has said about the setup, I’d agree – basically I’d want to make sure that if anyone else finds out and is concerned about it, the person they would naturally ask knows the answer.

            2. Chinook

              OP, I have to agree that it is none of the employee’s business what your employee discount is. You have a different one for a number of reasons:
              1. It is part of your remuneration from day 1
              2. You are using these items to promote the store
              3. You negotiated this with your SIL
              4. (this one I know many feel uncomfortable about) You are family and, in small / independent businesses, it is not unusual for family to have a different type of discount than employees (in exchange for the fact that said business often impacts family life)

              As for buying it wholesale from the business, don’t feel too bad about it as it is not costing the business anything (or shouldn’t be, if done right).

              Lastly, I wouldn’t bother telling the other employees unless they ask. Unless they are ringing in your sale, they literally have no reason to need to know how you are being compensated.

          2. TychaBrahe

            I think it would actually be more of an issue if you were getting your discounts because of your longevity or relationship to the owner.

            You buy at wholesale because part of your job is social media including demonstrating the items. There’s really only two fair ways to handle that. One is that you get to keep the items, so you buy them at a greatly reduced price—and much lower than other employees who aren’t doing that work is entirely fair. Or else you use the items for the demonstrations and return them to stock to be sold at a discounted price, much the way electronics departments offer discounts on floor models.

          3. Katrina

            OP you sound really conscientious, as well as gracious. I’m wondering though, why would someone who was both part time, and lacking in seniority, feel resentful about your discount? You were there first, and you’re family…it seems to me that anyone who has bad vibes about your discount has entitlement issues!! It’s none of their business after all.

      2. Raine

        But it’s so common for early employees in a company to have all sorts of things — heck, stock options in the company that may be worth millions some day, vacation days more generous and grandfathered, etc. Often this originated as a way to attract employees to a place just starting, or to serve as a perk for wages that the company wasn’t yet able to pay at the competitive level it wanted.

    2. nofelix

      Yeah I don’t understand the fretting. If someone goes into a new role and starts trouble about why longer-serving members of staff aren’t doing things the way the new employee is, then that’s them getting it backwards. It’s not something the longer-serving employees should worry about. Just explain it if it comes up: “I buy things at wholesale because it’s part of my job to post clothes on social media”. Like I guess drop it into conversation if it’d make you feel better, but there’s certainly no obligation to.

      1. OP

        OP4 here. This is what I’ve done so far. I have actually made one order between submitting this question and now, and did not say anything about it – just purchased at wholesale. No one has made a peep yet.

    3. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      This is actually a pretty easy one. Think of it in terms of which budget line you are tapping.

      Employee discounts are mostly to have an employee benefit and for business promotion, to a lesser degree. A clothing store wants their employees wearing their clothing when a customer comes in.

      If the OP is doing other kinds of promotion with products, businesses give stuff for free all the time, out of their marketing budget, to get social media an other outside promotion. Free is totally justified if the OP is doing marketing. (You have to think, is it posting to 12 FB friends or is it actual social media with traction, are things going places, in order to justify marketing spend in that way.)

      I think a better idea, if anyone has time to set this up and run it, is to offer a deal for wholesale or free to ANY employees who do XYZ to promote products, right? More bang for the buck. I wish I had the kind of business that would benefit from this myself, because this could really work.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

        Also, could we please get more marketing questions because I really really like them. Thanks for your cooperation. :)

    4. The Rat-Catcher

      I don’t think it would be such an issue for her if she weren’t the one issuing the discount codes. You’re right that perks of long service are certainly not uncommon and I don’t think any reasonable person would find that weird. It’s just that the combination of that and her being the one to determine the discounts could make it appear like something was going on under the table. (Personally, I feel like employees should not be in the office complaining about that, especially with a discount that steep! But I know MYOB is not always a valid answer for managers to give.)

      1. TootsNYC

        easy-peasy.
        ask SIL to issue a separate discount code to the OP, and communicate the details to the business manager.

        Then the OP continues to issue the discount code for other employees. There are two discount codes.

  2. Jennifer

    I feel pretty sensitively towards the last question, because if you are short staffed it is just godawful to try to find someone to “switch with you” for a week or more. (Especially if you have, say, 3 people and you can’t really switch with anyone because all of you are working shifts that day and there is no one left not working a shift to fill in for your absence.) I have been begging my supervisors to just reschedule everyone altogether instead of “switch with me.” Now we’re going to have someone out for a month and I am going to have to do all of her shifts as well as mine. Grrr. Argh.

    1. Debbie Downer

      I actually get annoyed by the email responses when no response was necessary, but I realized recently that a lot of people probably consider it polite, so I’ve started doing it myself. And now I’m worried if my “Ok. Thanks.” sounds too terse. Blech.

      1. Debbie Downer

        Woops. This belongs in the comment line below. Sorry you’re so short staffed, though. Sucks more knowing that the are perfectly capable of rearranging schedules when they have too.

      2. Ralph S. Mouse

        I usually add an exclamation point. I don’t know why, but it feels friendlier to me. “Great, thanks!” or “Awesome!”…even if it wasn’t needed, I can’t imagine an actual downside.

        Just don’t Reply All. Christ.

    2. INTP

      Yep. In college I had a job where the management would flat-out ignore both our regular hours of availability/unavailability and our special requests for time off even when filed before the schedule was made for that week. We were just expected to scramble to get all the shifts during our classes and such covered. Most of us were college students so this was a major problem.

      One finals week I just couldn’t deal and told the manager on staff at the time, “I can’t come in for this shift, I have a final, and I notified you of this ahead of time.” He said “okay, I’ll deal with it.” I walked out of my final with like three angry voicemails from the head manager who was convinced I no-showed.

      1. Nerdling

        I quit a job over that in college. I was expected to make up the assistant manager’s shifts so she could study for and take her ginals. I’m not really sure what they expected me to do about my own. Sleep on the textbooks and study by osmosis, maybe?

    3. themmases

      I actually had a student job where it was handled very well. Everyone had the same shifts every week for a semester, everyone had to accept one on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, and we had a sign-up sheet by the clock for people looking to give or take hours (not necessarily to switch). It worked great and it was worth it to have the same schedule every week.

      However my feelings about the practice changed a lot when I worked retail. My store was very understaffed and we got a new manager who didn’t want to handle shift changes and tried to put it on us. My boss asked me to sit down at the end of my shift (off the clock) and start calling people I didn’t even know at home and on their cell phones if necessary, so I could get the day off to attend the funeral of a friend who had just died in a horrible accident. I said I couldn’t do that, I had plans after work I couldn’t break, and walked out. It didn’t feel like much of a victory since I was crying at the time. :/

      Now I see it much more as a manager or scheduler just deciding not to do their job.

      1. TootsNYC

        I do not understand why retail managers don’t have set schedules–it would be SO much easier. Even with that new stupid computer program.

        1. doreen

          I think whether it’s easier or not depends on the specific group of people you’re talking about. My retail/fast food type jobs always had a small group of people who wanted a set schedule and they generally got it (and it usually involved a Mon-Fri day shift) . But there was always a larger group of people who didn’t want the same schedule every week – they might want Friday off this week and Thursday next week- and it may have been easier for the managers to do a new schedule every week rather than deal with constant trading.

  3. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)

    #2, Alison is right that emails which don’t require a response don’t require a response, but… I would feel really odd not getting acknowledgement of emails advising people I was off sick/working from home/etc. as its one of those messages you want to know has gotten to its recipient!

    1. Mephisto

      I wonder why the OP doesn’t just ask for what she wants. A simple “please let me know you got this email” message at the bottom of the email might work. I agree, it’s nice to know that a message has been received even if it doesn’t require a complex response.

    2. Jen S. 2.0

      This. If you want a response…construct your email so it encourages a response. This is a solvable problem.

      1. Sarahnova

        Yeah. “Please could you confirm that this is OK with you?” However, I’d be inclined to suggest the opposite – “please let me know if you have any problems with this” – because assuming the boss has as busy an inbox as many of us, I doubt they are dying to need to send more emails.

        1. nofelix

          Yeah, always compose emails so that no response = agreeing with what you want, if it’s something minor like this. Otherwise you end up chasing people around for trivial things.

          1. the gold digger

            I asked my boss when I started if he wanted me to reply to his email requests telling him I had done whatever he asked or if he would be happy assuming that if he asks, it will be done, (which it will), and that I do not have to give him a status report on everything. He chose Option 2, saying if he thought I needed that Option 1 level of scrutiny, he would not have hired me.

        2. The Rat-Catcher

          I am a big fan of the “please let me know if you have any problems with this” format. When I have to be out during the day, it’s almost never a problem, and I know that, but I still feel as though I have to send the perfunctory FYI email. This saves both my manager and me from more unnecessary dialogue.

    3. BRR

      I would feel odd too unless my manager had made it known that it’s alright to just send the email and I may not get a reply.

    4. The Cosmic Avenger

      I am normally the opposite of what you would call a fan of read receipts — there is exactly one person at work who uses them, and she seems to enjoy stirring up trouble — but this would be the perfect use for them, if the OP’s system has that capability. I would much prefer to see a read receipt request on an email that say “Just wanted to let you know…” or “FYI” than on the ones I get from this other person, which tend to be complaints about incredibly complex tasks not being done in a very few hours.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          Ugh no. It still feels so passive aggressive. I’d be super turned off if a direct report sent a read receipt on a “Hey, I’m working from home today,” email.

          1. Megs

            What if you asked the manager about it in advance? I’m not a fan of read receipts, but I wouldn’t be a fan of a manager not confirming that they got my message about being out for the day, either.

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

              I think you can ask a manager (or anyone) to respond to these kinds of messages, but then you have to let it be. Some people will respond, others won’t. One doesn’t have standing to insist that everyone follow your preferred email etiquette (with the exception of the people you manage).

          2. The Cosmic Avenger

            Well, that’s why I said “I would much prefer to see a read receipt request” rather than have a person keep asking me for confirmation about leave or that I saw a ticket was closed; I would not find it at all passive-aggressive when used in that way. It does depend on the sender, and their relationship with the recipient, obviously.

    5. Allison

      I agree. My manager and I are at a point where I work from home once a week, and I don’t need to ask but I do need to give her a heads-up. Same with working from home due to illness or taking a sick day, I just need to let her know. But a quick “got it, thanks!” lets me know that she knows what’s going on, and the e-mail didn’t get lost in the shuffle.

    6. eplawyer

      People’s inboxes are out of control. If you are the business owner, you really can’t spare even the 2 seconds to respond to an email that doesn’t require a response.

      No response to an email that does not require a response is not the same as ignoring it. Unless the boss is coming back later saying “I was looking for and couldn’t find you” and the employee is responding “I sent an email, didn’t you see it?” there really is no problem.

      Also perhaps the letter writer should consider how many of these types of emails are being sent? If it is arranged in advance to work from home is an email necessary?

      1. hbc

        That’s a good point. I have a colleague who works from home a lot, so if he’s not in by 8, I just assume he’s working from home. He lets us know about actual vacation days

      2. bkh

        Agreed – at a point, all email becomes spam and a response of “OK” is about as useful as an advertisement for ED pills.

      3. miss_chevious

        I LOATHE the “thank you” and “okay” emails, and try to craft me emails so that people don’t do it. I can understand wanting a response if it’s an email to a boss about work from home or a sick day, but I would favor the technique others have mentioned– “please let me know if you have any questions”–to read receipts or follow up emails. It saves time for the boss, who won’t respond if they don’t have questions, and is one less email in the inbox of the employee.

        Now if only I could figure out how to get my internal folks to stop sending emails that just say “thanks!” I would be a happy person.

        1. LBK

          I am a “thanks!” email sender and frankly, I don’t see what the big deal is. It takes zero brain power and less than a second to just delete them, and I like them because they confirm that the person got and understood the email. Maybe it depends on what kind of emails you’re sending/receiving but I almost always want some kind of confirmation that the info was received, reviewed and found acceptable; an email with no response at all makes me nervous, because I deal with a lot of time-sensitive and/or high-profile issues where I need to know if things are wrapped up or if I need to remain engaged.

          Even if you get 100 of them a day, it probably takes you under a minute total to delete them all – is your day really so packed you literally can’t spare one minute?

    7. Hot, Cross Bunny

      I once emailed a manager at 5 a.m. (too early to call) to let her know that I wouldn’t be in because I had been up all night at my mom’s bedside. No response to that; no response when I followed up a few hours later to let her know that my mom had died. That was on a Friday. On Monday I finally got an email back from my manager, but by that time I was close to just walking in and handing in my resignation. I decided to wait on that until I was in a better frame of mind, but it never really left the back of my head that I had told my boss that MY MOTHER HAD DIED and she just ignored it.

      Now I’m a freelance editor and I work with some major publishers–much larger companies than I ever worked for in my former career. The project managers I work with almost always send back an email that says “Got it” or “Thanks” or something for whatever I send, whether it’s an edited file or an invoice or a note to let them know when I’m available. I am *so* grateful for that; it helps my workflow, because I don’t have to spend a day wondering if I accidentally missed a deadline because somebody didn’t get a file I sent. Besides that, it makes me feel good about the PMs and their companies, and that makes me much more likely to take on projects I might not otherwise want to (small jobs, rush jobs, etc.). It takes 10 seconds to hit “reply” and type “thanks,” and it builds a lot of goodwill.

      1. Kyrielle

        I don’t necessarily think a reply is called for to every email, or even every notification, but I can’t imagine the frame of mind in which I would ignore an email telling me someone’s relative (or friend, or pet) had died. I would at the very least respond with condolences! O.o

        1. Cat

          I think what happens is that people worry about what to say, put it off, then realize they need an even more heartfelt message and that gets put off even more. Not a good cycle but pretty common.

      2. Observer

        Ok, that’s very different, though. The OP is talking about what appear to be truly routine situations. There is nothing remotely “routine” about any email about someone dying, much less an email stating that your parent has died!

        I’m with Kyrielle. I simply can’t imagine what your manager was thinking.

    8. JessaB

      Yeh, the one email I would think requires a response even if it’s not written to ask for one is when you’re saying you’re going to be off or working from home. It’s only reasonable as a supervisor to let the employee know that it was received. Because glitches happen and employees can get in big trouble for no call/no show.

    9. Stranger than fiction

      This reminds me of a former coworker who never replied to emails that did in fact need some action on her part. I asked her about it and she said she doesn’t respond unless theres a question. So I started phrasing everything as a question. Not the same issue but people’s email behavior in general can be odd at times. Everyone seems to have a different idea what’s right and brings those habits from other jobs where it was normal practice.

  4. KiwiLib

    OP1 – I left a job for similar reasons after 5 months and wanted to give feedback. I was the 6th person in my role (with 20 direct reports) in 2 years. I asked the HR person if they did exit interviews or if he thought anyone would want more info on why I was resigning – he suggested I could pass things on to my manager. As she was the problem and I had a low opinion of her manager, I realised there was no point. I felt sorry for mny of the staff there, but felt nothing would change. in your case, the manager has come to you – I would go with your gut – share what you feel safe/comfortable sharing, if you think it might impact other staff.

    1. Important Moi

      1. The department head assistant is a difficult person to work for, and is quite a micromanager.

      2. The department head assistant tried diplomacy by being vague in how she told OP#1 to do things by providing unclear instructions, resulting in OP#1having to redo his work.

      3. The position OP#1 resigned from has had very high turnover. OP#1 is one in a long line of people who have come to the same conclusion in this position for the same reasons, according to several trusted coworkers.

      4.The department head has requested OP#1 have an exit interview.

      5. The department head is well aware of the assistant’s management style, as several people in the organization refuse to work with her.

      I don’t think OP#1 should assume that “this department head wants something concrete to bring to the higher-up’s and seems to be pleading with me [OP#1] to help.” Alison tells us here not to make assumptions about things that haven’t been included or stated in the letter. I think you should do the same. The department head did not say he was looking for OP#1 to help.

      My personal policy is not to give complete honesty to people who don’t give it to me. Unless department head specifically asks for help OP#1 should tell him “I’ve learned a lot working in this position and think it is time for me to move on. Thank you so much.” Repeat as many times as necessary and leave!

      Also, the department head is not asking for OP#1 to stay…I’m just saying.

      1. Sue Wilson

        I can’t see anywhere where Kiwilab is making assumptions. You seem to be responding to OP1 in a very oblique way. Is this meant to be a standalone comment?

          1. Kelly L.

            I really don’t think the “believe the LW” rule is meant to keep LWs from speculating and having theories based on what they’ve observed–they often can see subtexts we can’t. I’m totally confused.

            1. Stranger than fiction

              Yes it sounds like Op got the impression from the dept head (gut feeling, reading between the lines) that he or she wanted the scoop, without coming right out and saying it.

              1. Stranger than fiction

                Wait sorry they did come right out and say be brutally honest. I need caffeine.

      2. Exiting Through the Gift Shop

        Thank you all so much for reading and reflecting! I was asked when I resigned if “there was anything they could do to change my mind” and I let the Dept. head know I had already accepted the offer.

        Bwmn, I really like what you said here “I think the position would best be filled by someone who works well with tight management and/or less experience.” I think I can expand on that if pressed, or leave it alone and be good either way.

    2. Bwmn

      I have to agree about going with your gut. Using the phrase “brutally honest” with work reminds me very much of someone saying “be brutally honest about how I look in a swimsuit”.

      It’s not that there aren’t employers or people who are able to hear that kind of truth, but it’s hard to go into that conversation with a lot of confidence. I think there are always softer criticisms to use at first such as “I think the position would best be filled by someone who works well with tight management and/or less experience” and then tease things out from there.

      However a reality remains that if someone has a really bad boss – but that boss is also there only real hope for a recommendation from that job beyond a standard HR comment – then doing anything that truly jeopardizes that person’s job is a risk for the leaving employee.

      1. Bob

        I agree. Anytime somebody asks me to be brutally honest, my first thought is “are you sure that’s what you really want”?

    3. TootsNYC

      I think it’s telling that this person wants to do the exit interview away from the office and in a “hospitality / eating together” situation.

      I would be honest. I might not be brutally honest–I’d choose my words carefully. There’s no need to be mean, and I’d want to express things in a way that made me look professional and credible. But you can absolutely say that.
      I worked with a guy who was nasty. I didn’t complain that he was so mean and so rude; I said, “When he behaves so abruptly with people and lets his frustration show, they feel attacked. Then they spend several minutes venting and doing other self-soothing tactics. It’s not just demoralizing; it hurts productivity.”
      I also didn’t suggest what the top manager should do–that’s his job. Mine was to provide information.

      But I would not worry in the least about protecting the assistant.

      Think of it this way: You are not attacking or demeaning. You are providing information and intelligence and data that the department manager is not in a position to gather for herself. Be her eyes and ears, and evenly describe actual things that happened. It’s OK to choose one example to be the stand-in for a whole chain of things, but be specific.

      She has asked you, directly, for help. She is the person whom you would worry about in the future; she’ll be whom you put down as a reference, even if the assistant worked with you. So worry about HER good opinion, and she has specifically asked you for honesty.

      Practice what you might say; and develop some phrases that professionally describe what she has done or the effect that she has had (try to make these less personal and more about the business goals or your -professional goals; if it’s “discouraged from tweaking the filing system so that it’s less wasteful,” say that; if it’s “discouraged/forbidden from acting independently or contacting other departments directly, which not only would have been good professional experience for me but might have saved quite a bit of time and created better links between departments. “Think of specific incidents that demonstrate your points.

      1. Wheezy Weasel

        Great point…being able to focus on business ramifications of the example behavior is one of the hardest things to do in an exit interview, but if it’s done well, you’ll both keep the good reference and also potentially help your former company and colleagues. It may be challenging to take 30-45 seconds and reflect on the questions that the manager asks, and phrase diplomatic answers in your head. One thing I’ve done is to prepare for an exit interview is to try and distill these things down into about 4-5 bullet points. For example ‘if I had 5 clues from the Magic Job Genie before offered this job, what 5 things would make the most impact and make me walk away?’

      2. Exiting Through the Gift Shop

        Excellent points! Thank you so much for your reflection on my situation, and reply. I am writing bullet points as Wheezy suggests, and am detailing how it affects the department without being overly negative.

    4. Bob

      I would especially be hesitant of giving feedback when I feel like they will be using my words to make a case against somebody. I would picture a lot of direct quotes from me being thrown around.

      A friend of mine was a VP at a medium-sized company. The board had a lot of concerns about their CEO and turnover at the senior level was very high. One board member convinced her to speak “off the record” when she resigned. He used her exact quotes in front of the board and CEO when they decided to put him on an action plan. In reality, the action plan was the culmination of many complaints over the years but my friend was the only one the board had actually spoken to. In his mind, the action plan was a direct result of the discussion with my friend. Needless to say, she never spoke to the CEO again and her professional network took a huge hit that day.

  5. Chocolate Teapot

    2. I attended a seminar on employment law the other day and they highlighted the issue of being out sick without providing a doctor’s note, but initially, there needed to be evidence you had informed your boss you were not coming into the office, so not having a response would be strange!

  6. Anonyliz

    OP5 I can go both ways on this issue. I agree generally that the manager should take care of time off requests and make sure vacation time is covered. The exception I see is for last minute requests or putting in a request after the schedule is out. If the manager can still do it at that point great but it is kind of crappy to make them scramble at the last minute. In those cases I think it is alright for the manager to say, that is fine if you can find someone to cover for you or who will switch spots with you on the schedule.

    1. doreen

      There are also two different types of coverage. There’s the sort of coverage that requires someone to work a different schedule and for which it should generally be the manager’s responsibility to find coverage. Then there’s the other type of coverage that doesn’t require any change in work schedule. For example, I’m taking Friday off. The person covering for me doesn’t need to change his work schedule at all. He just needs to handle any sudden issues that come up in my office. It’s not a problem to expect me to find my own coverage, because it really consists of making sure one of the two other people in my position are working when I want to take off.

    2. Bluesboy

      I agree with Anonyliz about last minute requests. In my last job, if you asked for vacation, assuming no issues, I would approve it, then plan the schedule around it. But it sometimes happened that someone would come in and ask for the Saturday of the same week off as a friend was in town unexpectedly – at that point it’s too late for me to plan the schedule around your day off. So it’s either a ‘No, sorry, you’re already scheduled’ or you find someone else to cover.

      Also because otherwise the manager spends far too much time rescheduling and replanning – or just has to say no to anything at short notice. In OP’s case it says ‘even if it is a month in advance’. My last office I had to plan schedules up to 6 weeks in advance, so that could have happened. The important thing was that everyone knew that, and knew when to submit holiday plans.

      OP, do you have fixed schedules? Are they organised a week in advance, a month in advance? I really think that makes a difference as to how reasonable or unreasonable this is.

    3. Joseph

      It’s worth mentioning that if OP5 wants to push back on the coverage issue, she and the rest of the management team should also really consider whether they *always* need 100% coverage.

      And the answer might be yes in some cases – OP’s specific mention of needing a delivery driver to replace the one Sunday driver is probably a case where they absolutely need coverage (since, y’know, nothing happens).

      However, it seems very common that management assumes that they always need full coverage for every role when that’s really not true. You may typically have 5 people boxing up teapots, but if one person is on vacation for a couple days, you could almost certainly survive with 4 people, so you don’t really need 100% coverage for the role.

      1. Joseph

        *to clarify, I meant that “nothing happens without a driver, so you truly need coverage for that job”.

      2. TootsNYC

        ” You may typically have 5 people boxing up teapots, but if one person is on vacation for a couple days, you could almost certainly survive with 4 people, so you don’t really need 100% coverage for the role.”

        I always thought that this was part of the reason why everything you buy mail-order (or online, which is really just mail order) says, “8 to 10 business days.”

    4. A is for A

      Yeah, in my position, my staff are asked to turn in all PTO requests by the 15th of the previous month. We work in healthcare, and there absolutely has to be someone covering for each person who is off. I will find coverage for anyone who turns their PTO slips in by that time, and I make the schedule by the 16th or 17th. Any requests for time off after that are only approved if the person finds their own coverage. But a lot of that has to do with the fact that my staff love to ask for time off the day before they need it, regardless of the fact that it would make everyone else have to scramble around to cover for them. I used to allow this to a certain extent, but it meant everyone constantly rearranging their schedules. The people taking off never really cared, because it didn’t effect them at all. Now that they have to find their own coverage, they’re more aware of that.

      I do make exceptions obviously for when there are emergency situations that come up or illness… things like that. But my one staff member used to love to ask for half days the morning of so that he could catch a movie or get an early start on tailgating a sports event. Not really okay when everyone else is having to change their entire job last minute to cover for you.

      1. BananaPants

        Mr. BP works in health care and they HAVE to have coverage. Everyone in his group works a schedule that includes alternating weekends. Using PTO during the week is no biggie and either the manager will offer up OT, cover it herself (she’s exempt, everyone else is non-exempt), or just have the department run slightly short handed for that shift. Their policy is that as long as PTO for the next month is requested by the standard date they will honor it. He tries very hard to avoid calling out on short notice due to an emergency or illness; in a year it’s happened twice, which is much less often than most of his coworkers.

        PTO cannot be used on weekends; to take a weekend day off, you have to switch your shift with someone who works the alternative weekend. The only exception is disability leave or FMLA the department just runs short handed on their “on” weekends until the employee returns to work.

    5. SophieChotek

      Agree with what Anonliz, Bluesboy, and Doreen said in general.

      If you mean a manager refused to ever allow vacation if one cannot find coverage (and one is planning weeks/months in advance) that is awful and I wouldn’t be interested in staying long term (likely).

      However, for last minute changes (unexpected fun opportunities, etc.) it makes sense that the employee has to find their own replacement; sometimes for “lesser emergencies”. In one of my side gigs as barista at a coffee shop – if you ask for time off by cut-off date then manager tries to accommodate the request (but usually limit of one or two requests for time off per day.) If last minute, then the employee has to contact all other employees and see if s0meone will switch/cover. If it’s a family emergency/illness, the manager is more likely to step in/perhaps even take the shift themselves.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule

        This is pretty much exactly what I do. Vacations & illness (personal or family), I’ll take care of it. Last minute tickets to Justin Bieber? Find your own replacement, you knew you were on the schedule.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          How do you handle folks calling out sick?

          In theory, it doesn’t seem reasonable to ask people to find a replacement while they are sick. But I imagine that if you didn’t, folks would claim to be sick when they got those last minute Bieber tickets.

          I’ve never worked in a role where coverage was a big deal (… I guess that’s not true. I don’t remember how we handled illness when I was a birthday party entertainer!), so I’m always interested in this.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            KIDS’ birthday party entertainer, to be clear! As in, I brought ponies to kids’ birthday parties. Not… the other kind. :)

          2. SophieChotek

            At the coffee shop where I work we are all on a list-serv (text) so if someone is sic it usually starts with “Help, I’m sick and contagious and cannot work. My shift is today from X to Y.” (In fact I just got one of those about 30 minutes ago.) Then everyone on the list (it’s only about 12-15 people that work at the coffee shop total) start texting back with “I can’t, I work tonight” (that was me.)

            I would say 50% of the time someone texts in “Sure I’ll take it”…if no one takes it, sometimes the manager will text a reminder “Hey, Jane was sick…can anyone take it?”…(And if it’s far enough in advance, like 3-4 days, I would say 99% of the time someone picks it up or offers to trade.)

            If no one takes it, I assume the manager has to take it.

            (We are a small coffee shop with only 2 people at a time, and no one can work alone for security reasons/accountability reasons) so someone has to take it, and it’s not possible to just “live” with 3 people instead of 4, it’s always only 2 people…so yeah, that’s a problem if it’s a last minute emergency….

    6. ginger ale for all

      My manager handles it well I think. Our schedules are the same, semester to semester but if you know you will be out ahead of time, you send a general e-mail to the group asking for trades or an outright coverage for desk coverage with no swap. She once sent out an e-mail telling everyone that she notices who always volunteers to cover and who doesn’t and keeps it in mind when it is time for our evaluations. It affected the coverage a bit better but we still mostly have the usual suspects volunteering but we also have people saying that they would love to cover but cannot due to previous commitments.

      Last minute requests due to illness or otherwise, other people will find the coverage for you.

  7. "Computer Science"

    OP 4, it’s been a while since I’ve worked clothing retail, but in my experience, differences in employee discounts are common. You’re performing different tasks than other employees, and you’ve invested a lot of time in the business. Your SIL should continue to formalize the benefit plans, including what she finds fair for the manager, and that should be communicated quickly and clearly. I struggle with sharing the details of your benefits with non-management coworkers, though.

    1. Elizabeth

      I’ve worked in retail for many years and it’s not uncommon for some employees to get a better discount, esp. managers.

  8. Chaordic One

    #1 I greatly admire the tactful diplomatic, but honest, response that Alison has suggested. In that situation I’d probably say nothing because I’d be afraid, if I did, I might overdo it.

    #2 There are times when someone types “Thanks,” and hits the reply button and it’s nice to get a response, but other times, when I’m overwhelmed , I see it in the preview screen and feel like, “Here’s another email that I have to delete, and they wasted 5 seconds of my time for this BS!”

    Don’t expect a response if it isn’t needed.

    #3 That was truly a horrible interview and probably a horrible place to work for. I admire you for figuring out that it wasn’t for you and leaving.

    #4 Is kind of a mess and you need to clarify things with your SIL. Then you or your SL need to have a talk with the new Business Manager about what your SIL has decided.

    #5 It really is the manager’s job to figure that out and a good one should have at least 3 or 4 backup plans, when someone is going to be out.

    1. Jaune Deprez

      I haaaate thank-you emails! Not substantive ones, of course. I’m always happy to get emails along the lines of, “This report has changed my life,” or “This email should be inscribed in letters of gold above our gates.” Those I re-read an embarrassing number of times and then move to my Praise folder for annual review fodder. But generic, cheerful “Thanks!” emails clogging up my already painfully distended In box? They get deleted while I snarl things like, “Why don’t you shove it up your a** and let it rot there?” under my breath. Mostly under my breath.

      1. OfficePrincess

        The only thing worse than a reply-all “Thanks!” is a reply-all “You’re welcome!”

      2. miss_chevious

        THIS. I cannot find a way to communicate to my business people that these are a waste of time — theirs and mine — that doesn’t involve me coming across as a harpy, but I wish they wouldn’t bother.

      3. TootsNYC

        Ditto!! I hate an email that says “thanks.”

        I don’t need an acknowledgment that you got that report you’d asked me to email you. If you didn’t get it, you’ll pop back up and ask for it.

        I do occasionally write thank-you emails, but they’re always like the ones Jaune Deprez describes. (to the woman who orders the copier paper, I always say, “As always, you make this so easy. Anytime I have to email you something, I feel happy, because I know it’s going to all get done well.”)

      4. Vix

        Okay, I occasionally do the “thank you,” even if it’s that brief, because I like to make sure people know I received and am grateful.

        But! Totally with you on the Praise folder. Mine is called “Smile” and it’s not just for annual review (although super helpful) but also for those days when I’m just feeling down and defeated and I forget that I actually am appreciated.

        It’s saved a number of bad days for me. Highly recommended to everyone.

  9. Kathlynn

    I just traded a 2 minute walking commute to a 10 minute drive, or a bus ride of at least 30 minutes (excluding walking to the bus). Having to find my own coverage, if I were sick, was one of the reasons. Not the biggest, but one of the things that bothered me. Mostly because the new owners took us from decent staffed to under staffed, and I was the only person who could be reached to cover shifts. Like, I’m sick maybe 3 days a year, but what if I did need coverage duringthe 6 months I worked there.

  10. ScaredyCat

    Do not spend 30 hours preparing work as part of a try-out unless you’re paid for it. 30 hours of prep not reasonable, and a company that expects it of you (I can’t tell if they did here or not) is not one you want to work for.

    I have a follow-up question here.

    The company I’m currently working for, gave me a take-home technical test (I’m a computer programmer). It was supposed to be completed over the weekend, and I spent about 20 hours on it. Granted, a large part of it was taken up by researching unfamiliar configuration settings, but about 3/4 of my weekend was taken up by the assignment.

    At the end of the day, it was my choice to spend so much time on the assignment, because I wanted to impress my interviewer (which I did). Was this unwise?

    Incidentally, the program was not usable as it was, in order to make money instantly. It could, of course, have been used as a basis for developing something more complex.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      Heh, outcome changes the answer to that question. If you’d spent 20 hours and not gotten the job, that would have been unwise? In this case, you made the right choice.

      IDK, programming is its own arena. I suppose the test could have been done in 5 if the test taker didn’t have to research so much?

      1. Scaredy Cat

        To be fair, if I hadn’t been given the weekend to work on it, I would’ve spent way less on it.

        I have only had 2 such assignments in my entire career, and the first one I refused. I had several interview offers at the time, plus they sent the technical test in response to me job application. Coupled with the fact that it was the middle of an insanely busy week, I just ignored their e-mail… and spent the remained of the week feeling like crap. :P

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

        Are they a bad idea? Just curious. We have a small staff of programmers and haven’t ever needed to use them because referrals, people who worked with the candidate and know what they know.

        Are untimed take home exams a bad idea?

        1. Mike C.

          I don’t know if they’re a bad idea or not (I’m sure there’s some good debate on this) but as the test taker they suck. There’s always more you can do, the questions are usually insanely difficult and so on. At least, that was my experience from college.

          1. Megs

            Yeah, I’ve never done one professionally, but in law school we would often have take home exams. Thankfully, my profs all seemed to have learned the lesson to set a reasonable time frame – 8 hours was standard. I’ve heard horror stories about 24-48 hour exams where no one slept the entire time. *shudder*

          2. Scaredy Cat

            In my case, it was a basic CRUD-type of web app, but using a framework I was completely unfamiliar with at the time. So about 12 hours went by because I wanted to have this very specific set-up, which most of the basic tutorials didn’t touch upon. So yeah, the “there’s always more you can do” aspect took up about half my time. :P

        2. MeridaAnn

          I don’t have personal experience with them, but my first thought is that it just wouldn’t give the employer useful information. You were able to spend 20 hours on it, but maybe another applicant with your exact skill set didn’t have that kind of free time available and had to turn in whatever they could manage in just 2 hours, which wouldn’t be as good due to time constraints, not necessarily skill. On the other hand, maybe someone else is really skilled in the topics on the test, and was able to create a product just as good as yours, but they did it in 5 hours – but the employer just sees the same results and doesn’t know that it took one of your 1/4 the amount of time.

          Essentially, there are too many variables – the employer doesn’t know if the better results were created by someone who’s better at the job or someone who had more time available (or a quieter work environment or fewer interruptions, etc.).

          I can see the merit in a skills test in certain fields, but it should be done in an environment / timeline that actually gives good insight to how work would be performed on the job. Otherwise, it potentially wastes the applicants’ time and still doesn’t provide enough information about your skill level to the employer.

          1. the_scientist

            Skills tests (programming, statistics) are a routine part of job interviews for my field, especially for more junior roles. However, they are always done on-site, as part of the interview, and they are timed. Plus, usually you’re not allowed to access the internet during the test, so you can’t Google your way through if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’ve done take-home or pre-interview assignments (prepare a 15 minute presentation on topic X; summarize this article, etc.) and those are fine, but I really think skills tests need to be more controlled for the reasons you mention- like, sure this person was able to complete the task but it took them 6 hours and took another candidate 5 minutes…..that’s important to know as a hiring manager.

            1. Elizabeth West

              True. You don’t want someone who routinely takes three days to do something you need in six hours. Nor would you want someone who gives you slapdash work because of the time limit.

              My job gave me an editing test before they scheduled an interview–it was a couple of pages long, and I was supposed to proof and edit it and send it back. I spent a few hours making it look really nice, mostly because I googled technical reports and ended up doing a format edit as well as a language edit. Going above and beyond got me the job; however, it wasn’t a long enough sample to take thirty hours!

              When you get into that length of time and tests that large, it starts to look like they’re expecting a freebie. :P

            2. Christopher Tracy

              That’s the way my skills tests have always been done too (I’ve taken them for marketing communications positions).

            3. themmases

              Huh, I would find lack of internet access unreasonable for certain skills unless you were only ensuring a bare minimum of competence.

              For example if I were testing someone on SAS, I’m not sure if I would expect them to control a specific analytic procedure without documentation. They should definitely be able to get data in, format and manipulate it, and generate some descriptive statistics, and they should be able to figure out what other people’s code is doing. Other than that I would say, only someone who does know SAs could find the appropriate documentation and apply it correctly.

              I suppose someone who claimed experience in a specific type of analysis shouldn’t need the documentation for those procedures. But in general I think finding and applying solutions is a legit job skill. To some extent it is context specific and proves that you *do* know about the thing you are Googling. I can pull up the SAS knowledge base in a snap and immediately tell if what I’m reading is relevant. If you told me to do the same thing with a language I’m just learning, it might take me a couple of tries to even choose the right terms.

          2. TootsNYC

            I do a take-home skills test, and I’m thinking about switching it to in-house. For two reasons: (1) to eliminate cheating (it’s been in use a long time, plus I know someone who claims that the person she hired must have had a friend do the test for her); (2) to get a sense of how long someone takes on the test.

            But I don’t know how to tell what a reasonable length of time is.
            I suppose I could just give it to a few candidates and have them go as long as it takes, and then time them.

            1. Meg Murry

              Do you know what you are shooting for (maybe 1-2 hours?)
              Could you give it to some of your more junior/recent hires (with the clear understanding that you are beta-testing, you aren’t going to fire them if it doesn’t go well) in the timeframe you hope for, and then ask them at the end whether they felt that was a reasonable amount of time? Or tell your beta-testers something like “I’m hoping this is a reasonable task for a 1 hour test, but I’ll let you know when it’s been an hour and you let me know if you need more time.” Then you could get feedback from your group on whether the timeframe is reasonable or not.

        3. Tammy

          Having spent most of my career (except for my current role) in IT/Engineering/Software Development roles, I think the answer is that it depends on what you use them for.

          If you construct a test with One Right Answer(tm) and you’re expecting candidates to find that One Right Answer(tm), the test is a waste of the candidate’s time and not particularly useful, because Google. Almost all of the tests I’ve taken in my career have been like this, and if you know your stuff they feel like a slightly patronizing waste of time.

          On the other hand, the last test like this I put together (for a database administrator role) was structured so that the questions you had to answer had multiple possible solutions, and the instructions said essentially “we’re less interested in whether you come up with The Optimal Solution(tm) than we are with how you approach the problems, what assumptions you make in solving it, and so forth. If you’re selected for an interview, please be prepared to talk us through those items.” The answers the candidates came up with were less interesting to us than how they got there, and we never had anyone submit blatantly incorrect answers. But we DID get some quite useful insights from seeing how they thought through a challenge.

          1. Windchime

            At my workplace, we ask a fairly trivial (programming) question and ask the candidate to whiteboard it out. It seems a little unfair to me, because they are having to do it in front of a small interview panel and that’s very nerve-wracking. We don’t care about whether or not you get the answer correct; we just want to see you thinking process and see if you really know any SQL like you claimed on your resume. :)

            1. Anonymous Coward

              I understand that this is a common interview testing technique in some fields, but in my early-career non-technical work life I hadn’t run across it… until I interviewed at Google and made a complete idiot of myself on that kind of question. Instead of a discussion of key issues that would affect my hypothetical customer service decision, they gave me real numbers (time, customer volume, dollars per interaction) and asked me to plan and defend my decision. I think I multiplied by too many zeroes. Or too few. I just know that a) I had never had to work directly with the type of problem presented to me because I’d never been a manager; b) The interviewer was the one out of five I had absolutely no rapport with; c) I felt like I was having a very slow panic attack.

        4. esra

          I have a few issues with them. You have no guarantee the person actually did them themselves. And you get a lot of people spending too much time on things. Even when we do have to do take home things (ex. putting together a presentation), I always try to assign a time limit. Say, come in and do a 15 min presentation, please spend no more than 2 hours prepping.

          1. Scaredy Cat

            I did have another technical interview over Skype as well. The take-home test was not the only one.
            But yeah, I agree that there’s always the risk of someone copying the solution.

        5. designbot

          I would ask what you hope to get out of them. If it’s a demonstration of certain skills, could you ask for a portfolio of previous work that demonstrates it, or do a shorter version that is timed and in the office, that is less open-ended? My concern is the distinction between a demonstration of skills and the development of original ideas (e.g. “design us a logo” or “prepare a plan of how you would upgrade our social media presence”). The latter is truly expecting free work. If assessing the ability to generate ideas is the goal, the solution is a portfolio. If skills assessment is the goal, a shorter and more focused test would likely tell you just as much with less time and hard feelings on applicants’ part.

      2. KR

        Except if you’re in school. Our psychology midterm and final was a 100 question multiple choice with extra credit long answers at the end – take home with a week to do it. Guess who passed the class with an A?

        1. Mike C.

          Multiple choice? Those aren’t the sort of tests I’m talking about when I complain about untimed, take home exams. Here’s a question from a Chemistry final a friend of mine had to take –

          Today, the sky is blue, and Avogadro’s number is 6.022*10^23. Tomorrow you wake up to find that the sky is green. What is Avogadro’s number now?

          This is the sort of thing I’m talking about. It’s perfectly possible to answer that question, but it took not only an application of nearly everything he learned that semester, but a deep, deep understanding about how it all interconnected.

          1. fposte

            Yeah, we had some of those (minus Avogadro’s number) in English. Hella demanding. I did like the variant of the three-hour take-home open-book exam, though–flexibility without obsession.

    2. hbc

      I’ve basically got the same question as Wakeen–was the research necessary for the assignment, or would someone better qualified be able to whip that out? If you’re applying for a job that’s a bit of a reach, it’s not unusual that you’d have to put in more time. But if the nature of the project was that you’d have to do lots of research or that they would know that applicants outside their tiny little niche would lose a weekend to the assignment, it’s a jerk move on the part of the company.

      It’s only unwise for you to invest the time if the job probably isn’t worth it or it’s a sign that it’s too big a step up.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, my question here is what the company expected. If they expected you to spend 20 hours, they’re jerks. If they wanted you to spend an hour and you spent 20 because you didn’t have knowledge they assumed you have, it’s a sign the job may not be the right match for you (because when you’re on the job, you won’t be able to spend 20 hours on projects that would take a different person one hour).

      2. Scaredy Cat

        The assignment stated that I had to use a specific programming language framework, that I was not familiar with. So first of all I had to read up on it a bit. And then I decided that I wanted to have a specific type of setup, which the basic documentation didn’t cover, and that took up several hours.

        So, I guess I could’ve finished things in about 5 hours, if I had been familiar with the framework and didn’t insist on having the application set up in a certain way.

    3. Schmitt

      I find that fairly tricky too. If possible I’d ask the employer how long they expect the task to take. The last one I had was supposed to be about half a day; I put in at least twice that, what with unfamiliar tools, needing to refresh my knowledge, and perfectionism.

    4. Stranger than fiction

      Well, there is something to be said for how long it takes one person vs another. Sounds like you and the Op were very thorough and are the type to take your time and make it perfect rather than good enough.

    5. Stitch

      Example of a programming take-home test:

      SO is self-trained in programming without a ton of past focus. He applied for a programming job. He received a test that, IIRC, they said “expected to take 5-6 hours” and ended up taking him 20+. He thought he did horribly because he couldn’t get the code to work 100% of the time, but turns out he would have had a much easier time if he’d been using their main language (Java), and that he impressed them by recreating from scratch a couple of important concepts.

      He’s turned out to be a very prolific and upwardly mobile entry-level hire. They are very excited to have him.

      Ultimately, I think the test is mostly just measuring qualities that are not-quite-exactly what they’re actually looking for. If they want to know that SO has the logic foundation to do well at the job, there is probably a shorter test to implement. If they wanted to know that SO knew at least one language well enough to code at that level, there is probably a better non-Java-weighted test out there (though it’s also arguable that knowing how to troubleshoot and research is more important, which seems to be the case with this job.)

  11. TotesMaGoats

    #2-I feel for you. I’m one of those people that likes to have a response even if it’s just to know that you saw it. I’ve always told my direct reports that I like a response to emails. It can be a smiley face or a check mark symbol or just a “got it”. But I’m going to wonder if you saw it. My current boss rarely responds to my emails about being out sick or what not. I’m learning to get over it.

  12. Menacia

    OP 1, I think you can give an honest exit interview by saying, “I came to this organization brimming with excitement on making improvements and showing off my skill set. Over the course of just under a year, I lost the motivation to innovate or create new things as I don’t feel that I was ever afforded that freedom. I began to feel like I was not trusted to do the job I was hired for. Which is why I’m leaving.”

    You don’t need to mention the assistant, just that the environment was not suited for your being able to use your skills and talents.

    1. designbot

      Yes! Tell the truth, but keep it to the facts of your experience there, not about playing a blame game. Most likely they will at some point ask you “who told you that?” or “who was responsible for assigning you those tasks?” and this will let them feel like they discovered the problem rather than that you whined about it.

      1. TootsNYC

        I think laying blame is perfectly fine. I don’t think it will hurt the OP. She just wants to be sure to express that blame in a non-personal, non-attacking, professional way.

        1. designbot

          I don’t know. I just went through this and really found people to be so much more responsive when I kept it to how I experienced my job and didn’t point fingers at all. “Before I came here I used to lead projects, now I am expected to take minute directions I frequently disagree with,” focuses the point on why it’s perfectly reasonable for you to move on rather than take a step back, while “Walda micromanages me” is less successful in so many ways. It puts the focus on someone else’s behavior rather than the way it impacts you, it gives of the impression that you just couldn’t take it rather than reminding the listener that you shouldn’t have to. Anyone who knows the hierarchy of the office can see for themselves exactly whose fault these things are, but what LW can add to the conversation is how she specifically was impacted in a way that caused this job to no longer be her most attractive option.

          1. Exiting Through the Gift Shop

            Wow, that’s a great way of putting it. Thanks designbot!

            Thank you so much everyone for your additional comments on this. I am reading them, as well as Allison’s advice, and taking steps I wouldn’t have thought to do.

    2. Stranger than fiction

      Yes I’m a big fan of making people read between the lines in cases like this.

    3. LBK

      I think this depends completely on the OP’s relationship with the manager and how the manager is in general. Being explicit about the issues caused by the assistant could be better if a) they have a very open, honest relationship where that’s the kind of feedback the OP is expected go give, or b) the manager isn’t someone who’s good at reading between the lines, so if the OP dances around the issue then it won’t actually help anything.

    4. Nico M

      I dont see the point in an honest, diplomatic exit interview. It wont do anyone any good.

      Either, look out for your self and dont say anything that could possibly come back to bite you.

      Or let rip on the despicable clod so they get disciplined/fired and your successors dont suffer.

  13. Lia

    #1, I did take the opportunity to be honest about the reasons i was leaving in an exit interview. My story alone didn’t make that much of a difference, but when the next three people who left in the following 6 months (in an office where one person leaving a year was Big News) all told the same tale, a change did happen and the problem person was ousted.

  14. BioPharma

    #2. I really like Alison’s response to this one. There are so many situations in life where you think it’s this one thing that’s annoying, but there’s a bigger picture. For example, I used to have a friend who did something that really aggravated me, but when I thought about it, other people do it too. What I realized is that while others “show me love/appreciation” in other ways, this one friend didn’t, so all the love/appreciation eggs were in fewer baskets, if that makes any sense.

  15. Trout 'Waver

    OP1, I’d view it as a negotiation. You have things the manager wants (useful information) and the manager has things you want (connections, reputation, reference). None of your things are mutually exclusive so it should be straight forward to negotiate a win-win solution. If you know her to be reasonable, go for it.

    It sounds to me that the department head has delegated her managerial responsibilities to the assistant and the assistant hasn’t had any leadership training. The assistant may lack the leadership skills to successfully manage a team. The department head should be able to figure that out for herself, but she may be grateful for a nudge in the right direction. Especially if you frame it as an opportunity for training and a personal failing on the assistant’s part.

    1. Exiting Through the Gift Shop

      Thanks, Trout! That is pretty spot-on for our departmental dynamic!

  16. INFJ

    #5 “so that people aren’t dependent on the good will of their coworkers in order to be able to use the benefits included in their compensation”

    Well put. LastJob had a similar policy of making people recruit their own replacements for days off, and this explains perfectly why it’s a crap move.

  17. DCompliance

    #1 If you don’t feel comfortable, you can make your response about you and not the manager. “I am interested in a position where I can innovate and create more.”
    Just as an FYI, you stated above that you thought your manager was being vague on how do things as an attempt at diplomacy. Often micromanagers have some much on their plate because they are trying to control everything, they don’t have the time to think about how they want things look before hand. They wait until you turn in a project and it actually in front of them to realize how you did the work is not what they want.

    FYI, “She also tried what I believe was her attempt at diplomacy by being vague in how she told me to do things. This created unclear instructions, resulting in me having to redo my work sometimes up to 10 times to suit her particular taste.

    1. TootsNYC

      don’t talk about her motivation or emotions–stick to the facts, and you don’t know what she was thinking. you only know what she did and said. Don’t say “what I believe was her attempt…” Just say, “she was vague, and then made me redo things so many times because it wasn’t the way she wanted it to be. That was demoralizing and a waste of time.”

      You can talk about your own motivations and emotions, absolutely; just do it in professional terms (demoralizing, frustrating, made it difficult to get invested) and not personal (hurt my feelings, was rude, treated me like a child).

  18. OriginalYup

    #1 – I’m standardly pretty direct in exit interviews, so your mileage may vary on this:

    If your department head is generally a reasonable person who you trust to take your feedback in the spirit in which it’s intended, then you should feel free to present the situation from your point of view. “When I took this job, I was very excited about the opportunity to innovate and try new things. However, the reality of the role was that Assistant had very specific ideas about what needed to be done and how I should do it. So my role was more to execute on her existing plan than to pilot my own ideas or try new approaches.” If the department head is giving the right signals upon hearing this, you can go further, “My working style wasn’t a good match for Assistant’s work style. She is very detail oriented, which can be great for quality, but redoing assignments repeatedly under intense oversight made me feel micromanaged. I work best with more flexibility and autonomy.”

    It’s always a risk to show your cards like this, but IMO the trick is to sound pleasantly matter-of-fact and self-aware. If you come off like you have an axe to grind with the assistant, it’s easy for the department head to write off your feedback as sour grapes. But if you can present your constructive feedback that’s intended to help the organization, then it’s all good.

  19. Mental Health Day

    OP#1 EXIT INTERVIEW
    OP, I would be very, very cautious here. I don’t disagree with AAM’s advice, but I would take the analysis of the situation one step further. Your letter indicates that this assistant is a legacy Problem Person. Frequent turnover under her? Other staff refuse to work with her? What more information does the department head really need besides these two major red flags?
    I think being brutally honest would be much more appropriate for a case where the assistant was a relatively new hire and it was becoming clear that it’s just not working out. Unfortunately, that’s not the situation you have. The department head is well aware of the difficulties created by the Problem Person. The department head has allowed the problem to grow and fester on her watch. I’m sure that on some level, she is also well aware that she is part of the problem as well for having let this get to the point it has. As such, I would advise being cautious about the exit interview as any negative statements may be internalized by the department head as an attack on her leadership skills. If she starts asking you questions like “Why didn’t you come to me with this before now?”, or any other sign of defensiveness, it’s time to back off.
    I mean, really, ask yourself: if this assistant has high turnover under her, and has other staff members refusing to work with her (wow!), how much difference is a little more hearsay really going to make in terms of getting the department head off high-center to do something about the problem?
    Sorry, if I’m overly cynical here. I’ve been burned badly on exit interviews and I’m speaking just from my own personal experience. Hopefully, other responders can provide you more positive feedback navigating this minefield. I’m just stressing the fact that there may be more mines in the minefield than you currently know about. Very best of luck to you! Congratulations on your new job!

  20. Former Retail Manager

    #4….I’m reading between the lines, but I think part of the reason that OP may be uncomfortable is because she believes that the new business manager and part-time employees may believe that her special discount is attributable to a family relationship. And no matter what explanation SIL gives for the special discount, I personally don’t buy it. I believe that it is precisely because of the family relationship and I’m sure the employees will feel the same. All that said, these are the downsides to working for a family owned business and that’s typically just the way it is. Once it’s explained, the employees should accept that that’s the way things are. And having been in retail, a 50% discount is very generous and a pretty great deal for them anyway. Who cares what SIL gets?

    #5…when I was in retail, any last minute time off (think day of or day before) I told the employee to find their own coverage. However, any requests made well in advance were my responsibility when scheduling. It also made more sense for me to cover those absences because I had access to everyone’s schedules as well as resources such as other managers and other employees at other locations and it was just more efficient for me to cover the shifts. OP should definitely speak up about this practice. The employer’s current practice isn’t reasonable, regardless of the level of position they’re imposing these requirements on.

    1. Megs

      I don’t know, I think it’s more indirect than that. Yes, the OP probably got the job in the first place due to her relationship with the owner, but since she was the only FT employee at the time and the only employee doing marketing stuff (aside from the owner maybe), the discount was reasonable and would have made sense if that first employee wasn’t a family member. As they expanded, it made sense to set a policy that worked for a company with more employees. As for OP being grandfathered in, that seems perfectly reasonable based on longevity, not the family relationship. And that’s how they should present it to the other employees if asked.

    2. Sue Wilson

      If everything is otherwise fair, I don’t think any reasonable employee is going to care what OP received when she was the only employee full-time.

    3. Exiting Through the Gift Shop

      Thanks FRM. That thought had crossed my mind lately. In the end, it is really the failing of the Dept. Head to solve this problem before so many people have walked out of the door.

  21. Lurker

    Can someone please explain what you have to lose in the exit interview, other than the reference? I always thought that the main value of exit interviews was that since the person leaving would no longer be working directly for their boss (and presumably has their next job lined up if they are choosing to leave) they are able to give feedback with the least amount of risk (compared to any other time they are working for the company).

    Is this a case where it is the least amount of risk, but there is still some risk (the reference) and it just isn’t worth it since the interviewee won’t be around for any changes/benefits?

    1. Collie

      Potentially and beyond a reference, your reputation in the field could be damaged (even if what you’re saying is true). I imagine there may be some (illegal) retaliation tactics involving withholding a final pay check and such as well. I’m not speaking from experience, though — just speculating.

    2. Mental Health Day

      Yes, I think you capture it perfectly in your final question. Kind of a game theory thing. If there is any risk at all, that greatly outweighs any benefits that the person leaving won’t be around to enjoy.
      Of course, to put it like that, sounds very selfish.
      I think the larger issue, at least for me, is that very often a single less-than-stellar reference can totally sink your job prospects within many organizations. That, coupled with the fact that it is now (apparently) common practice to seek out a person’s former manager on LinkedIn and call them up, even though the applicant did not list that person as a reference, kind of makes it a lose-lose for the person leaving.
      Plus, even though the job market has improved vastly in many locations and industries, I think a lot of us just still have the Recession Jitters. We’ve been to the edge, looked down, and seen how truly difficult it can be to find employment. It’s really terrifying, and there’s just no reason to make things harder on yourself.

    3. Windchime

      For me, it’s a matter of principle. I left a job a couple of years ago due to some systemic problems that I (and others) had brought to the attention of management several times over several years. Nothing had changed, and people started leaving. I was among the first, and I didn’t give an exit interview at all. The guy in HR who would be conducting the interview was BFF’s with the manager I would be complaining about; besides, the company didn’t care when I raised my concerns earlier so why would they care now that I was leaving?

      I’m not the kind of person who is going to leave in a huff. I always try to work things out first. But if things can’t be worked out, sorry. I’ve already told management how I feel before I leave and I don’t see a point in doing it again in an exit interview.

      1. Mental Health Day

        Yes, exactly. When you have repeatedly raised issues during your time there and nothing has been done, what is the purpose of beating the same dead horse on your way out? Many organizations conduct anonymous employee surveys every year. If I can leave completely honest comments and suggestions on these totally anonymously, with no cost to my future, does anybody really think I’m going to be “brutally honest” in person on my way out the door? No thanks.

        1. TootsNYC

          Our company just did one of those surveys; it was a joke. It was so very general, how it in the world would they use it to actually improve anything?

          If I have problems, it’s with the manager 2 levels up from mine who slows the work down. None of their questions were an opportunity to bring this out.

          1. Mental Health Day

            Yes a lot of them are. But, I have also done surveys that had a free text box at the end to pass along any information that senior management should know about.

    4. INTP

      Usually it’s just the reference that you lose – but it’s not worth losing even that if you need the reference (that person was your manager for a long time, or you have only had a few jobs in your industry). You have absolutely nothing to gain from honesty. Why give them that if you think you might lose anything at all? (If I think it will be taken well, I will provide honest feedback for the sake of my coworkers, but I’m not sacrificing my own best interest to help out a company that ran me off.)

      Sometimes even your former coworkers have nothing to gain by your honesty. One of my bosses kept digging for critical comments because she knew I had issues with the CEO’s style – but everyone in the company knew about his personality issues and tip-toed around them (I swear half my training was “How to get your work done despite Percival”) and the feedback of one person wasn’t going to make such a person change.

  22. Stella Maris

    OP3, overall that sounds like a terrible experience and I’m glad you’re not working there. But – I’m sad to see that the breaking point seemed to be that you are not a native speaker. (Especially since you indicated that the other presentation was not as good as yours!)

    I’m still glad you’re not there since that company sounds awful, but unless being a native speaker was an essential part of the job (which I doubt, since they were interviewing you) I would hope in a normal job interview environment (that is, not this bad one) you wouldn’t withdraw candidacy due to that!

  23. Bossy Magoo

    Re #2 – Different strokes for different folks I guess, as I can’t stand when people respond to emails that don’t require a response. Even when it’s to thank me for information I’ve provided — I don’t need a “thank you” email, and all it does is clog up my inbox. For things like taking the day off or something, maybe the OP can put something in there to make it a response-required email: “I’ll be working from home today. Please confirm if that’s okay.”

  24. Seal

    #2 – Why on earth would you expect a response from emails you explicitly describe as not requiring a response? If you want or need a response from your boss, end your message that way. Otherwise, let it go.

  25. Nobody

    #1 – Did you ever give feedback on these issues to your direct manager and/or department head before you resigned? If you did bring up these concerns and they ignored you, I wouldn’t bother telling them now. When I resigned from my previous job, my manager asked me for this type of feedback and even specifically asked if it was because of a certain manager who had made my life hell. I was conflicted because I think my manager genuinely cared about making things better and reducing the incredibly high turnover in the department, but I was afraid of burning bridges. Although my manager promised to keep it confidential, I had seen the company reach out to past employees to ask for feedback on why they left, and then put it in a report that anyone at the company could read (there were no names, but I easily figured out who the feedback was from).

    Anyway, I ultimately realized that I had voiced my opinions on many things while I was working there, and management basically ignored me because I was nobody. They didn’t care enough to listen to my feedback while I was working there. They only cared when it was too late. They had plenty of chances to fix things when it would have benefitted me. They obviously had some clue that the bad manager was a problem, so why didn’t they do something about her when I was still working there? So, I made the decision to smile and say that I enjoyed my time working there but I had simply found this wonderful opportunity at this other company.

    1. Exiting Through the Gift Shop

      That’s a good point. I had voiced my concerns directly to the Assistant and the Department Head a few times in as diplomatic a way as possible before resigning. I actually got the feedback of “that’s just the way things are here” once. They didn’t seem to care very much then…maybe I just accept a free lunch today and keep my thoughts on the matter to myself.

      Thanks for giving me something to think about.

  26. writer

    #3, I had a sort of similar experience with a writing “test” I was asked to do recently for a prospective job. I had already submitted a writing sample, and since it was a fairly high level writing job that also involved supervising/editing other writers, I expected there would also be some kind of test, perhaps something timed at their office or a short piece they’d ask me to do in a couple hours and send back. But I didn’t expect that it would be three separate writing/editing assignments for which I would have to read at least 60 pp of background research and spend approximately a week on the whole thing (apart from my current full-time job). One of the assignments was actually a strategic plan for revamping their system of creating & providing writing templates for their staff–something I think I’d be hard pressed to do as an outsider. After consulting some mentors of mine who agreed it sounded ridiculous, I dropped out of the hiring process–but sometimes I wonder if I did the right thing. It wasn’t really reasonable for them to ask me to do so much work (also, rather early in the hiring process), right? There were a few other red flags like indications that I’d be pretty much “on call” all the time in my off hours, particularly if they let me work from home, which I wanted to do. But I still wonder if maybe I should have done the assignments (ugh).

    1. Elizabeth West

      You did the right thing. That sounds like they were looking for spec work they could then implement without paying you (or hiring you). If you have a portfolio, there’s no reason for them to demand that level of testing.

      1. writer

        No, it was a full-time staff job at a nonprofit, and they wouldn’t have been able to use 2 of the 3 samples I would have done for them (fake donor reports etc) , but I agree it was excessive. Especially the strategic plan! My old bosses and I agreed that they seemed to be fishing for ideas to help them with their own brainstorming for re-doing their internal processes.

        1. Exiting Through the Gift Shop

          They wanted you to write a Strat. Plan?! That’s pretty ridiculous. You did the right thing.

    2. Chriama

      I’m pretty inherently lazy, and I find it works out for me. I wanted to work at a tutoring centre but they wanted me to take a calculus test. So I decided to find my own clients and I ended up with more money and a better schedule. Sometimes I feel like I should jump through those hoops. But when I don’t, I don’t regret it.

      1. writer

        That’s funny because I’m also thinking of going freelance again and someone just suggested tutoring, but I don’t want to have to take a test to qualify to work at a test-prep place (because then I’d have to study!). How did you find clients? How did you market yourself? Are you a former teacher? (I’m not.) Am also thinking about working with high school students on college essays.

  27. TootsNYC

    For #5, vacation time;

    I’m fortunate in that the department can cover the workload pretty easily, even if it means something has to wait for tomorrow; and if it’s crunch time, I can hire freelancers to cover when one of my people is out.
    In fact, I build vacation-coverage expenses into my budget. To not do so seems really irresponsible.
    My folks never, never ask for time off during crunch time. What, never? No, never. What never? Well, hardly ever.
    But when/if they do, I have money available to cover it.

  28. Ralph S. Mouse

    #3: Then the interview panel left the two of us alone and asked us to perform a competitive and a cooperative exercise. Even worse, the company was aware that my knowledge of their language was good but limited, while the other candidate was a native speaker. I felt that bad that I cold not understand what I was asked on the notes left.

    OP, being left to compete with the candidate was definitely weird, but…the company knowing that you weren’t a native speaker is kind of irrelevant. If you can’t understand notes they left, how would you be able to do the job on a day-to-day basis? This wasn’t them trying to trap you for not being a native speaker. It’s a stupid interview tactic but it’s perfectly reasonable for them to expect you to have mastery of their language.

  29. Robyn S.

    Time off requests – thank you for the response. You are right – the turnover is here is unusually high for this particular industry and this more than likely may be one of the main reasons why. I have work to do!
    ANONYMOUS

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