terse answer Thursday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

My boss forgot a major detail of my personal life

I have worked with my boss, Nancy, for 4.5 years. We are a two-person department in a 24-person bureau. We work extremely closely and well together. We frequently discuss what’s going on in our lives. I moved to Phoenix 7 years ago, and prior to that raised my children in San Antonio for 18 years. Yesterday, something came up and Nancy said, “oh, I never knew you lived in San Antonio.” I am hurt and disappointed in her, now I don’t think she really pays attention at all. I have turned down several opportunities because I didn’t want to leave her stranded with the work. I feel my loyalty has been for nothing. What do you think?

I think that if you “work extremely closely and well together,” you should be glad that you have a boss where that’s the case, not get sidetracked by something that has absolutely nothing to do with work. Return to enjoying your great relationship with your boss — which is something a lot of people would love to have.

Telling my departing boss I’d love to work for his new company

I currently work for a construction company which is not doing well, and hasn’t been for the past year or so now. There have been major lay-offs, and I am now required to do the work of two of the people they laid off in addition to my regular work. I don’t mind taking one for the team, but the way the owner and managers are handling things do not seem very professional, let alone respectful to us employees. In light of all of this, our VP (who is amazing) is leaving the company to start his own business. I have a good working relationship with him, and want to ask him if he would have a position available for me, but I’m not sure how to go about asking him. I want to be professional, but I’m not sure exactly how to go about it.

I don’t know what kind of business he’s starting, but often when people are starting a business, they don’t have money to pay employees. However, if that’s not the case here and he indeed hiring a staff, just tell him: “I’d love to come work for you.” (Make sure that you make it about wanting to work with him, not about hating your current job.)  If the business is just him for now, then tell him this: “Down the road when you’re ready to bring people in, I’d love to talk with you about working together again.” And then make sure you stay in touch.

How do I get around a master’s requirement in an application system?

I am applying for a position that I have done for the past 6 years. I do not have the master’s degree that is required for the new position. I know with the new software out for online applications, this question will automatically reject me for the position. How do I get around this problem? I enjoy the position I am currently in but will be laid off in a couple of weeks due to downsizing.

Network. Find another way into the company other than the online application system. If you’re stuck with the application system, you might be out of luck.

What does it mean when a job listing is taken down?

What does it mean when a job listing that’s been up on a company website for less than a week is taken down? I applied for the job, and didn’t hear back, but checked back on the website and saw it missing. Does this mean they’ve already managed to fill it and just didn’t bother to reject me?

It could mean that, but it could also mean that they’ve received a flood of applications and are turning off the spigot while they consider them.

My manager is a jerk

My manager started off as just a supervisor, and was lovely in the beginning. We’d often chit-chat about past jobs in the industry that we’d held, and contested about our most horrible bosses in the past. She rather recently became my manager, and while initially I was excited for her, I I was rather disillusioned when she turned out to be one of those managers we’d spoken about. Now she threatens not only my job, but the newer recruits as well over easily remedied things.

Not one of us in my department feels safe in our position, and that’s led to anxiety, and honestly, more errors. The harder we try, the more we panic, the more we make mistakes, the more she threatens. It’s gotten to the point that the place I once loved coming in to work to, now makes me physically ill with worry. What can I do? Should I talk to her superior and risk her wrath? I’ve already tried speaking with her -sugar coated and bluntly, that I don’t appreciate having my job threatened and it’s not doing our department any favors. She said she’d stop, though she hasn’t- it’s only gotten worse.

She sounds like someone who is so unsure of how to manage that she’s resorting to fear and threats. That’s the hallmark of someone who doesn’t trust their ability to get the work done any other way. The fact that she told you she’d stop (and then didn’t/couldn’t) points to that too.

Depending on your relationship with her boss, and what that person is like, it’s possible that you could bring the issue to her attention, especially as a group rather than on your own … but depending on the dynamics there, that could backfire horribly.  Unless you know that person to be fair and receptive to feedback, you’re probably best off determining your own bottom line and figuring out if you’d rather look for another job.

Job offer was pulled a day later

I went for a second interview at a company. That same day, the lady phoned and told me that I got the job and she would email me the salary package the next morning, and I should look at it and then speak to my current boss about resigning as they want me to start within less than 3 weeks. The next morning there were no emails from her, so I contacted her via phone as I made already a appointment with my current manager. One of her coworkers answered and told me that the HR manager first needs to go through the applications and then decide if I was successful. I sent the lady a email to ask what is going on, as she told me that I already had the job, why should I wait? I then received a email from the HR manager saying that there was a miscommunication and my application was unsuccessful, and they wish me all the best for my future. No reason why my application was unsuccessful whatsoever. Is there anything that I can do?

No. They’re allowed to change their mind unless you already have a signed contract (which most people never get at any stage). But don’t set meetings with your boss to resign until you have a job offer in writing, including salary details and start date, which you’ve accepted. They can STILL pull an offer at that point, but it’s far more unusual at that stage.

Manager won’t return reference calls

I had worked with the same company and manager for six years I had left in April of this year to move back to my home state to help my parents as they get older. My former manager and I didn’t have the best relationship and he was upset when I decided to leave for my home state. However when I had left he stated that if ever I needed a letter of reference/reference he would give one. I had read in a previous post of yours that it might be good to have a friend call and check if you are not sure about the reference. I had one of my friends call and they had left a couple of messages. My former manager had not called her back. My question is what is the best way to handle this? Should I contact me former employer and see if there is a problem? My concern is for future employers that try to call him for a reference.

Yes, call him. Say this: “An employer is trying to reach you for a reference and told me they’ve been unable to get ahold of you. I want to make sure that you’re still willing to serve as a reference for me, and if so, is there a good time they can reach you?”

His silence may mean that he actually doesn’t want to give you a reference (which he should have told you straightforwardly), or it might mean he’s on vacation or something like that. Ask.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Thank you so much for answering my question about my boss forgetting a major detail of my life. It really bothered me and I think I’m focusing too much time on it. Regards!!!

    1. Adam V*

      I had 2 comments about this story:

      1) It’s not surprising to me that, if you started working together 4.5 years ago, she might forget something you only talked about at the beginning and don’t bring up regularly.

      2) If you’re passing up other opportunities just because the two of you are close, you may not be doing yourself a favor. It’s entirely possible you’ll get along with your future bosses just as well and enjoy the work/pay/benefits/security more. If you love everything else about your job, it makes sense to stay, but it sounds like all it took to get you to consider switching was a re-evaluation of your “loyalty”.

      Best of luck! Glad you were able to put this behind you!

    2. Anonymous*

      I can’t even imagine the amount of information about the past of my coworkers and friends that I’ve forgotten… It’s probably enough to fill an encyclopedia.

      It’s not that it’s not important or that I’m not listening to them, it’s just anything I’m not reminded of on a regular basis will fade from my mind as more, newer information is constantly brought up about them / others.

    3. fposte*

      One thing that I often forget as a boss is how weight much of what I do or don’t do can carry with people who work for me. I would totally pay attention to the fact that you lived in San Antonio, refer to it in conversation several times, and then lose it entirely from my head because I cross-threaded your past with my cousin’s or something. It wouldn’t be because I didn’t appreciate our close work, and it wouldn’t happen uniquely to you–I’d lose track of family stuff like that too–but you wouldn’t necessarily know that. So on behalf of your boss, I’ll say that it’s not a measure of the relationship, it’s just the part of the brain that loses my keys sometimes handles personal details as well.

    4. Gayle Laakmann McDowell*

      The other thing to remember that is some people have MUCH better memories than others, or much better memories in certain areas. So while your forgetting a detail like where someone has lived might mean that you weren’t paying attention or don’t care, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything so strong with your manager.

    5. class factotum*

      I was stunned when a co-worker asked me where my dad lived after I told him my mom was in Colorado.

      Just four months earlier, he had been the first one in my office to offer his sympathies after my dad had died. We had spoken for half an hour about if heaven exists and my dad.

      Yet less than a year later, he didn’t remember my dad was dead.

      I realized that my life was important to me but not such a big deal to my co-workers. I adjusted my expectations.

  2. Nonie*

    Re: the job offer – I can only guess that it was the hiring manager who made the offer, without vetting it through HR. When HR got wind of it, they determined that, for whatever reason, the applicant wasn’t qualified.

    We deal with a similar issue here; hiring managers will interview and make offers to candidates without letting us know, and then – surprise! Hire this person! We’ll then go back and determine that the candidate isn’t even qualified for the position. Not cool – especially for the candidate.

    1. Anonymous*

      I admit I find that one a bit odd. The hiring manager is responsible for the hire, not HR. There are fewer roles where a qualification is unequivocally needed than where it isn’t (doctor yes, HR person – experience means more). At my organisation, we would see it as our role to make sure that managers are competent to recruit (including appropriate shortlisting and interview, understanding the pay grades etc), not to play policeman on the offer.

        1. Subversive Secretary*

          We work on a government contract and quite often the person we want to hire doesn’t pass a background check (forgotten DUI?) or they don’t have enough years experience in that specific job category. We even had one guy who had an offer and subsequently resigned from his current job only to find out he didn’t pass the BG check. Fortunately the person I interviewed with warned me of the long and convoluted process so I didn’t resign until I had that offer letter and start date in hand. Unfortunately I was only able to give 5 days notice because of this, but it was for a much better job.

          1. Bluphoenix*

            I’ll second the government contractor issue. Also some qualifications are not gray. Either you have the certification or you don’t. You have a clearance or you don’t. We have managers who want to write a job description that reqires abc and then hire xyz (especially when it someones kid/wife/cousin etc). If you say you want a network engineer (and want to pay them as an engineer) then you cannot hire a starbuck’s barrista with no experience not matter how nice they might be. Additionally, we will not allow you to pass over another candidate (especially internal) for not having x and then turn around say it’s ok that my candidate doesn’t have x if you cannot explain what the difference is. We get audited and need to be able to explain what we did and why.

      1. Joy*

        There are background checks, employment verifications, etc. that HR does when the manager has made a choice…Sometimes hiring managers forget to put in that clause ‘if everything checks out’ when offering employment…

      2. Anon*

        Echoing Joy here. If it’s a case of a background check that failed, then I see nothing wrong with it. The emphasis then needs to be that the manager, through ignorance or eagerness, didn’t follow through with the whole hiring process. However, if it’s simply someone getting their nose out-of-joint that the hiring manager made a judgement call that this particular person will best fill the position regardless of some material lack (degree, experience, etc), then that is an inappropriate power play.

        1. Mike C.*

          There’s plenty wrong with it when folks are not warned that the offer is conditional on background checks and the like. I mean shit, if that’s a normal procedure then it should also be normal to make the candidate aware rather than making it a “surprise”.

          1. Joy*

            I do agree that it’s wrong not to inform the candidate that the offer is conditional. This is just my best guess as to what happened. For this reason, I never offer the job myself. I e-mail HR which candidate I want them to offer the position to and let them take it from there.

          2. Anonymous*

            Has anyone actually had a non-temporary/seasonal job that didn’t require a background check?

            1. SME*

              I’ve been in the work force for almost 15 years, and the only background checks that have been run on me were for volunteer work.

      3. Nonie*

        WOW…..I’ve never worked for an organization that actually made sure hiring managers are competent to recruit.

        What’s that like????

        1. Anonymous*

          Pretty good actually!
          We don’t have many roles where the qualification for it is a matter of law, but a lot of our roles do require certification in specific areas – anything from a legal qualification to a chainsaw cert. Managers know what they need, shortlist on the basis of that, and check certs at interview. There is a culural difference here – I’m in the UK and we don’t have the same focus on wider background checks (except in areas like medicine, FSA-regulated roles etc). All offers are conditional on references and medical checks, with some (in very specific, legally mandated areas – we’re not allowed to do it randomly) requiring criminal records checks. If a manager fails to make this clear and it later causes problems, then it’s a performance issue for their manager to address.

      4. Anonymous J*

        This is pretty much what I was going to say.

        It’s the hiring manager who really knows what he/she is looking for and with whom the new hire will be working, day in and day out. The hiring manager will know better than HR what’s a plus and what’s a minus in a candidate.

        Just seems silly to me for HR to contradict the hiring manager, unless there’s some serious issue like a positive drug test or something in a background check.

    2. anon*

      Isn’t the hiring manager the person who is in the best position to decide if the applicant is qualified for the position?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep, I think so too. And if your hiring managers don’t make good hiring decisions, I question their fit for their role! Building a strong team is one of a manager’s most important functions; if you can’t trust them to do that, there’s a real problem.

  3. Ana*

    Re: Boss forgot personal detail… She “turned down several opportunities” because of an emotional attachment to her boss. And now she’s upset because of, and thinking about quitting over, something completely unrelated to work.

    So she wouldn’t leave when it would have benefited her career, but *now* she’ll leave over something that isn’t job related?

    Yes, I’m assuming this is a woman, because I see women making this type of career mistake a lot more than men. Although I understand that many factors affect why women get paid less than men, decision making like this has to be a factor as well.

  4. Josh S*

    RE: Following a VP to a new job

    There’s also the consideration that the VP may have a non-compete agreement of some sort with the company, stating that he can’t hire employees of the company for a period of time, and can’t pursue/work for clients that his old company has. It may even be that he wants to avoid even the appearance of impropriety and won’t respond to your request. (I have no idea if this is relevant to the construction industry, but to the knowledge-heavy industry in which I work, it’s fairly standard.)

    This needn’t imply that you can’t talk to him, or that you need to change what you say, just be aware of WHEN you talk to him. Don’t email him from your work computer about this. Rather, talk face-to-face in private (casually), or give him a call from your personal phone outside of work hours.

    If he acts coy about the possibility of working for him, it could either be a financial thing or a non-compete thing. Just be aware that such things exist and that it may color his response.

  5. ANON*

    Why does the OP think her boss-friend of 5 yrs should remember where she lived 11 yrs ago? Does the OP talk about it often?

  6. Anonymous*

    I once had a close supervisor space on my NAME. She loved me. So, sometimes people just space stuff. I’ve done that with co-workers/employees I’ve supervised. It’s not personal. And when stuff like that happens, why don’t people ever respond with “wait, don’t you remember me telling you I lived there?”

  7. Anonymous*

    Hi Alison,
    Thank you for your blog and your all your great advice. I’m the one that wrote in about the manager who won’t return a reference call. I’m going to follow your advice and check in with him to see what is going on. Thank you again.

  8. Debbie*

    The experience of being offered a job and then the offer being withdrawn by HR is particularly unfortunate, but I also think you are probably better off not working at this company. It certainly doesn’t give a good impression if they have miscommunications like this, and the manager that was willing to hire you doesn’t have the courage to explain this to you. Good luck in future job hunting, and don’t let this one bad experience get you down!

  9. Anonymous*

    Re: Jerk manager
    Is is a viable idea to get a few of your co-workers together and go see her boss (if the boss is the open kinds) to talk about the issue. Surely s/he must have noticed the decreased performance of the dept and would be interested in rectifying it?

    Worth a thought…

  10. Came back next day*

    At a previous company, one of our employees left to join a large firm. Tony was a well-liked decent fellow who commanded the respect and admiration of the dept. We took him out for lunch on his last day, Friday.

    Tuesday, Tony was back at the company. What happened was when he joined the large firm, there was some question on a form that he answered on investing. Immediately, they considered that a conflict of interest and pulled out their offer.

    Tony returned back, scarred psychologically and never smiled again.

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