can I leave early when my work is done, how long after a reference check should you hear back, and more

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

1. Should I pursue a job with a disorganized, scattered manager?

I applied for a job and got a call to schedule an interview. We agreed on 8 p.m. that night. I went to the business at that time and the manager wasn’t there. The person there called him and said to me, “He said he thought it was tomorrow. He’ll call you in the morning.” The next day, there was no call. So since he said he thought it was the next day I went to the business at 8 p.m. He wasn’t there again. The employee called him and he said, “He thought he didn’t have any interviews today. He’ll call you tomorrow.” The next day, there was no call. I waited a day to call them again. I called them and asked to schedule my interview, and the employee said, “The manager will be coming by in about an hour. I’ll tell him to give you a call.” Still no call that night either.

I have a friend who works at the business and he says the manager is all over the place but he likes working there. Should I continue to pursue this job despite the manager’s unreliability? I am in need of a job of some sort.

If you’re willing to take a job where the manager is chaotic and unorganized and doesn’t keep track of his commitments, then sure. That sounds like a loaded statement, but I genuinely mean it. Some people are just fine with that type of thing; if you’re one of them and know what you’d be getting into, then proceed — just realize what you’re being told about how this business operates.

2. Can I leave early when my work is done?

I work remotely and manage a team of 11 employees around the country. My workload is very much under control and I occasionally will work nights and/or weekends to get my work done. My projects are always done on time or ahead of time, and my boss is very complimentary of my and my team’s work.

Since I work remotely, I often have the dilemma of being done with work early and leaving the office before 5. I work at one of our company’s satellite offices, but none of my team members or my boss is there. I still answer emails after I leave, but I don’t see the point of staying if my work for the day is done. What are your thoughts on this? If my work is always done and no one would look for me, is it okay to not log in 40 hours every week?

I say yes, it’s completely fine — but it’s not my opinion that matters on this; it’s your manager’s. If your manager is sensible, she’ll have no issue with this — but it’s worth checking with her to make sure.

3. My manager asks me to do personal scheduling tasks for him

My manager will often ask me to do personal tasks for him that are basically the same as the ones I’m supposed to do for work, but I know they’re for family members. For example, he’ll ask me to schedule a call with his sister. I schedule calls with clients, but it seems inappropriate to me that he asks this for family. He also asked me to add more info to his out-of-town trip scheduling because his wife asked for it. I don’t think he should be using company resources (my time, which could be used doing actual work) to facilitate his personal life.

For what it’s worth, the other boss, with the exact same title, didn’t ask this of me. And there are several levels of executives above them. I admit I could be overreacting because I dislike him for other reasons.

If you’re his assistant, and it sounds like you are, it’s not crazy to ask you to do this stuff. Not every manager will (as you’re seeing with the other person you work for), but that doesn’t mean that it’s not legitimate for him to choose to. In fact, if he’s busy and working on high-level projects, there’s an argument that it’s a smart way to use an assistant — to allow him to stay focused on work that benefits the company. And if he’s traveling a lot, it’s not unreasonable to ask for your help in including info that will make it easier on him personally. Ultimately this usually comes down to what’s appropriate or inappropriate in your particular office culture, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with these particular requests.

4. My office is moving further away and my commute will be much longer

My boss told me that my office will be moving to another location, which is about 25 miles further away from my home than the current location. I currently travel 33 miles one way, against traffic, and it takes me about 50 minutes. I will soon have to travel 58 miles one way, plus $2 tolls Monday-Thursday, and $4 on some Fridays (seasonal thing), with traffic, and it will take about 1-1/2 hours. I also have young children who I need to get from child care by 6 pm.

What is a good way to ask for special arrangements in my situation? Is it even appropriate? I have thought about suggesting working from other departments that are more convenient for me, even if my office has to be somewhere else, or working from home. Is it appropriate to ask about an increase in salary even if simply based on the extra travel expenses I will incur? Otherwise, I don’t think I can actually afford to work there anymore.

You can certainly talk to your boss about the impact that the new commute will have on you and ask if it would be possible to work from another office or work from home (possibly only some days, rather than all). It’s a reasonable thing to ask for as long as your work doesn’t require you to be physically present in the new location. She may not say yes, but it’s reasonable to ask.

I would not ask for a salary increase based solely on this, although if you’re doing excellent work and are due for a raise, you could make this part of a raise request (but most of that request should focus on your value to the company).

5. How do I tell my manager that I’m overqualified and ask for higher level work?

Currently I am doing an entry-level customer service job for an underwear company. I have about 5-10 years of customer service experience, as well as salaried positions with Fortune 100 companies.

I have been in this position for a year. My stats are higher than average. I am on the same level as employees that have been in the same position for 3, 4 and 5 years. How do I ask/tell my manager I am overqualified and am looking to gain supervisorial / management experience?

Well, you can certainly say that you’d like to get management experience and ask for your manager’s help in exposing you to those opportunities. But you do not want to go about this by saying that you’re overqualified for your current job; that’s going to sound a lot like complaining about the level of a job that you willingly took. Instead, just explain you’re interested in moving forward and ask how you might increase your chances of that.

6. My manager brought someone else into his decision about firing me

My employer was trying to decide if he could dismiss me for a mistake I made. In determining this, he called in a friend of his from outside the company and discussed the matter with her. There was no contract or payment for her advice – just a friendly contribution to his decision-making process. He did not inform me about this either before or after he spoke with her. The consultation took place during business hours and at my employer’s office. Did my employer violate my right to privacy by bringing this person into the matter?

No. There’s no reason that your manager can’t solicit advice from others on stuff like this, and in fact, it’s fairly common to talk through these sorts of decisions with trusted advisors.

7. How long after a reference check does it take to hear whether you got the job?

After checking one’s references, how long does it usually take a company to get in touch with you regarding whether you got the job or did not?

Two glowing phone interviews were held with my former coworkers yesterday (a Tuesday) and I have yet to hear a word (is now Wednesday evening and I am hyperventilating with anxiety). Both references said it sounded to them like the job was mine based on the “boss’s” responses to their comments.

If you can, please tell me the average length of time companies wait before offering (or not) the position. The company has not had me fill out any paperwork with my Social so I doubt they are currently doing a background check — or am I wrong? Also, when would it be okay for me to send an email to them following up and asking, “so, what did you decide?” but more gently.

It can take anywhere from a couple of hours to weeks or months. In other words, there’s no meaningful way to know. They might finish checking your references but need to interview a last-minute candidate, who they can’t meet with until two weeks from now. Or a decision-maker might be out of town. Or they might need to focus on something higher-priority first. Or they might put the position itself on hold and not get back to you for a while. You can’t know. Often, you’ll hear something back within a week or two after your references are contacted. But there’s plenty of variation outside of that.

I would also not pay attention to your references’ assessment that it sounded like the job was yours. It might be, but it’s very possible for a reference to get that impression and end up being wrong. So put that out of your head entirely.

I know that’s frustrating, but the best thing you can do right now is to put the whole thing out of your head. Otherwise you could spend days or even weeks anxiously waiting for the phone to ring. Put a note on your calendar to send a note checking in on their likely timeline two weeks after your last contact with them … but other than that, move on mentally until you hear something. If and when they want to offer you a job, they’ll tell you.

{ 165 comments… read them below }

  1. Rob Aught*

    #2 – Leaving early when your work is done

    This seems contradictory. Working nights and weekends but getting done early? Maybe the letter is just oddly worded but it almost speaks of some poor time management or project management. Then again, based on the job maybe it is just odd workload.

    Anyway, if you’re not sure, ask. If your boss thinks you’re doing good work the worse they will do is say “No”.

    I know in the past I’ve worked at places where the schedule was a little loose and I would occasionally knock off early. I also had enough of a work reputation that no one was going to say anything about it. If it’s an occasional thing it’s no big deal but I did check with my boss when I decided I wanted to work 7:30 to 4:30 as my regular hours.

    All-in-all I don’t get these questions sometimes. Is it such a crazy thing to have a discussion with your manager?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I took it to mean that she works nights/weekends on occasion when it’s needed — in other words, that she’s not one to clock-watch — but that during times when her work is finished early, she’d like to leave early.

      I think with a question like this, it’s about not even knowing if it’s a reasonable thing to ask about, or how people normally handle this. So often the answer is just talk to your manager, but there’s a lot of anxiety around this stuff sometimes.

    2. Jessa*

      It could very well be that the work is time delimited – some things you may have to do late at night because you’re dealing with another time zone for instance. Or it’s predicated on the availability of other people.

      1. Anonymous*

        Yes, the workflow is not constant so some times there is more work in which case I work late or on the weekend to not miss a deadline. A couple of times I tried to let my boss know I was leaving early or taking a long lunch break and his answer was that they get a lot of work done from me and I shouldn’t bother letting him know if I need to leave the office during work hours.

        1. Anonymous*

          That really sounds to me like your boss is fine with you leaving when the work is done. And like a reasonable boss.

          1. The IT Manager*

            I agree. You have your answer.

            It seems especially silly to be putting in face time when you don’t actually get face time. And it doesn’t sound like your job needs you to be in the office to take calls and contacts during certain hours.

            I’d caution you about 2 things. Mentally note if the hours you leave early start to outweigh the extra hours you work when needed. You just want to be aware if your average workoad really slips below 40 hours. That could be a sign that you should simply be taking on more projects.

            In general as long as your boss is happy, you’re good. You do also want to watch to ensure that in general your employees are not upset about it either. ** ie You don’t want an erronious perception of slacking off to impact your work relationship with them.

        2. Rob Aught*

          That does sound like an odd workload, but I get it because I’ve been in that circumstance more than once.

          I also understand the anxiety. Even in my current role I feel odd leaving early. You get used to following certain rules and it feels like you are “breaking” them even though you’re not.

          Not sure what your boss is like but there is a good chance that if they’ve said you’re good to go they may be more concerned with your ability to get a little downtime in than just being present in the office.

          1. Victoria Nonprofit*

            This kind of workload doesn’t seem odd to me at all – it describes every job I’ve had. For example:

            Week A: Hard deadline for grant application on Tuesday, event on Saturday = 60 hours of work required
            Week B: Goal of having report finished by Friday = 50 hours of work required
            Week C: No pressing deadlines = 30 hours of work required

            … etc.

          2. Meg*

            I don’t think it sounds odd either. It sounds like most jobs I’ve had, especially ones involving admin work/customer service.

          3. NBB*

            Another person chiming in here to say this is completely normal to me. Some weeks are busier than others. I don’t think I have ever had a job where my workload was perfectly distributed to be exactly 40 hours a week.

            1. Vicki*

              Software development and tech writing jobs run like this. Sometimes busy, sometimes less busy, sometimes crazy busy.

        3. Elizabeth West*

          OP, if your boss seems fine with it, I would take him at his word. Of course you’ll not take advantage of it–I think he trusts you not to, or he wouldn’t be so blasé about it.

          It really does depend on the manager, the company, and the kind of job that you do. I could not do this as a receptionist unless there was someone to cover the phone. At Newjob, my manager is very flexible on it (I’m not remote, but a lot of the team I support is, nor do I get calls unless they are for me–yay!). I do try to log 40 hours, though, because I’m non-exempt and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Also, it’s helpful if the remote team members know when they can typically reach me. I try to let everybody know if I’m working through lunch and leaving early, or if I’m going to be on PTO.

          I have to send items to customers, so I try to do that in the morning when most people are in their offices, in case they have issues with them and have to call / email me.

    3. Brandy*

      I’m in a similar situation to OP. I work out of a satellite office (my office is in a back corner where I can basically come in/out and see NOBODY if I wanted…). My team is in another location, and my boss is in a third. When not traveling, I generally go into the office 1-2x per week; the rest of the time I work at home (from a home office). My boss if fine with this– I work far more than 40 hours/week (our company crosses all US time zones, and I’m answering emails/hopping on conference calls anywhere from 7am to 10pm). I know my arrangement isn’t typical, so this may not be appropriate for OP.

      But in my case, I simply talked to my boss saying something like “hey, if it’s a day where I’ve got calls all day, or if I’ve got meetings well into the evening, is it a problem if I work from home?” It is not.

    4. AnotherAlison*

      Where do I get one of these jobs where the work is actually finished?

      Even if I finish my work that needs to be done immediately, there is always something on the back burner, although I do agree if you work late one night to finish a specific task and want to leave early the next day when all the must-finish work is complete, you should be able to do that. : )

      1. Rob Aught*

        Unfortunately I have worked at a company in the past that wanted you to log 8 hours EVERY DAY. I never quite got the logic behind it because there were many times where I worked longer but I couldn’t offset it by working a shorter day later. In fact, even if I had put in a 40 hour week in 4 days I would have to take a vacation or sick day if I wanted Friday off.

        No one could ever tell me the logic behind it.

        1. Lora*

          There’s a company in my area that is notorious for requiring 10-14 hours/day of face time, even if you get your actual work done in 6 hours. The site in question is all research, has nothing to do with customers/clients, does not interact with the public in any way whatsoever.

          They also have the funniest clueless manager quotes on the industry gossip websites. Perhaps not a coincidence…

        2. Ruffingit*

          I had a job like that too. They advertised it as a full-time position, but it could honestly be done part-time. I had a lot of idle time sitting at my desk each day simply because they wanted 8 hours every day regardless of work load. I spent time finding little things to do here and there, but quite honestly it was irritating and a hassle to have to be there full-time when the job was really a part-time position.

          1. fposte*

            I had a temp job like that years ago. Weirdest job I’ve ever had–I walked microfiche data over to the other side of the building a couple times a day. I was sure I was missing something huge, and the kicker was they thought I was better than the person they usually had. Maybe she got lost in the building sometimes?

            I did a lot of reading.

            1. Meg*

              I had something similar too! I had a temp job at a nonprofit, where once a week I did donation entry, and the rest of the time I helped out with random tasks. I knew there was no chance of the job becoming permanent (they were moving to another state, and to be honest, were having some serious organizational issues), so I spent most of the time looking for other jobs.

            2. Claire*

              Yeah, I read the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series during a temp job with a particularly high amount of downtime. I appreciated getting paid full-time hours, but the position easily could have been part-time (or even less).

          2. Chinook*

            I have done (and am currently doing) jobs that could be part-time due to workload but they want someone full-time so they are there to do the work when it needs to be done. I have learned to think of it as being paid to be on-call for 9 hours a day (with the flexibility to take a 1 hour unpaid lunch either when it best suits the workload or when I need it because no one wants me grumpy from hunger) and, as a result, everything that comes across my desk is done immediately unless I am otherwise engaged work wise.

            In the meantime, I try to figure out ways to take on more work so that I can justify my existence F/T and spend the time to make sure that whatever I am doing is gosh darn amazing.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            I did too; I was moved from my original job at one place to a marketing thing–they wanted to rehire a former employee but had nothing for her to do, and they wanted someone extra to send out letters and brochures. Because I had newsletter experience, they put me in there.

            I asked if the new position could be made part time. I was told that no, it had to be full-time. No way that was enough work for full-time. Eventually, I was laid off along with a few other people, as the company was having some serious down time. :(

        3. Vicki*

          That’s because there is no logic to it.
          It’s Command & Control mindset. “Butts in chairs” are more important than work being done.

        4. Lindsay J*

          My fiance’s job is like this and I hate it. I mean I understand that during busy times he may need to put in extra hours. However, in high peak periods he’s putting in around 80 hours a week. Then in off-peak times where there is no work he is still required to put in 55 hours. If he’s putting in all that extra time, why not let him work some 30 hour weeks when the workload allows, it to offset those 80 hour ones?

          During the week is the same thing. He’s required to be there 5 days (and sometimes 6) even if he has already put in his 55 after 4 and the workload means that he doesn’t really need to be there.

          It just feels like they’re squeezing every possible minute of work out of him, at the expense of his well-being. Allowing a couple “short” weeks or off days here or there would do wonders for his mood and his feelings of goodwill towards the company. As it is he’s burnt out and searching for other work.

    5. AP*

      My schedule works like this sometimes. Yesterday I didn’t really have anything to do from 4-6pm, so technically I could have left early, but then I get a slew of emails and conversation at 9pm and spent an hour trying to sort it out. I was kind of bummed I didn’t leave early! But this does happen all the time, depending on the relative organization (or not) and schedules of your company.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I always think that I’m not going to have anything to do and then someone slams me at 4:30. :P

    6. Meg*

      I don’t think think it necessarily speaks to poor time management. It’s really common for a lot of jobs to have “busy” days and “slow” days. I work as an admin in a doctor’s office, and I’ll have days where I’m swamped with patient calls and requests from doctors and I need to stay late, skip lunch, etc to finish it all. But I’ll also have other days where it’s slow and I have more time on my hands. There are definitely plenty of jobs where your workload can change day-to-day.

      1. Rob Aught*

        That was eventually cleared up. The initial wording threw me.

        However, I have known people who are just bad at managing their workload.

        Not to even speculate what the OP does, the inconsistent workload described actually applies to a lot of software development especially if you are not working on an active project.

  2. Anonymous*

    #4: I used to have a high-level boss who would ask her secretaries to do her children’s homework.

    1. Angelina Retta*

      Parents who do this drive me crazy. Way to miss the entire point of educating your children…..

      1. Josh S*

        For some people, the point of ‘educating’ your children is that they get the result (good grades, acceptance to Prestigious University, good job), regardless of any effort put in, character shaped, information absorbed, or ability to learn developed.

        I hope and pray these people are rare. But I’ve seen too many college kids fail horribly once they were outside their helicopter-parent’s flight radius to believe that to be true. :(

        1. Pandora Amora*

          #6 – Have you started a job search yet? For better or worse, it sounds like you’re in your boss’s crosshairs. Maybe he didn’t fire you this time around; there’s very little hint that there won’t be a next time, though.

        2. A Teacher*

          @Josh, I can say from my teaching experience that at least in high school these parents are few and far between. Of course, you have a few parents that want “extra credit” when their child didn’t turn a ton of work or the parent that wants to excuse cheating on an open note college level final (I teach college level dual credit classes). Or the parents that don’t understand that the junior college we work with allows us to have a strict attendance policy. If you miss more than 5% of my semester course in which things like doctor’s appointments count, you drop a letter grade, at 15 days its 2 letter grades, and at 25 days you fail the junior college course. That policy was implemented because we had kids missing 15-27 days in a semester because they were “sick.”

      2. Emma*

        My librarian friend has/had parents give her their children’s assignment outlines and asked her to highlight the relevant sections of the books she’d pull for them, so the kids didn’t have to do the research themselves. Another parent asked my friend to help write (possibly even write) the college-attending daughter’s essay. The mother used to write the daughter’s essays in high school and wondered aloud with my friend at why the young woman couldn’t do it herself in college. Gee, I haven’t the slightest…

        1. Oxford Comma*

          I work at a university library. It’s not so bad anymore (I think all those articles in the news about helicopter parents helped). but for awhile I would occasionally get parents at our reference desk who wanted help finding sources for their children’s research papers.

        2. Ruffingit*

          Wow that is just sad on so many levels. I have assisted friends with editing their personal statements and college essays, but never will I write them. That is ridiculous.

  3. Overworked and abused*

    #3: I work as an administrative assistant for a small business of about 25 people. Long story short, scheduling personal events is nothing compared to what I have to do for my boss – I was asked to give rides for him all over town when he totalled his car (without financial reimbursement and driving my own car, mind you), run various errands for him all over town, and last but not least: download music for him illegally from my own home with my own internet. I am, again, an administrative assistant, not a personal assistant. If you think your boss is making ridiculous demands, think again.

    1. Meg*

      That reminds me of a story I heard from an another admin here (who works in a different department), who was asked to give his boss’s spouse a ride home from his colonoscopy. I’m all for helping my doctor with a couple personal tasks here and there (he’s very grateful, but very disorganized), but taking a spouse home from the hospital? NOPE.

      Also, what did you say about the illegal music downloading? That would have bothered me more than anything.

  4. Min*


    For example, he’ll ask me to schedule a call with his sister.

    I’m curious – Do you mean that he asks you to block out time in his schedule for him to make the call or is he actually asking you to contact her to schedule the time for the call? If it’s the former, that seems totally normal. If it’s the latter, that would strike me as odd. (Not that I have any experience with being a personal assistant, so what do I know?)

    1. The IT Manager*

      I agree; although, I do think it is odd to schedule a call with a family member. You mange his calendar. Carving out time during the when he can make a personal call seem perfectly within your job description. If it’s work non-work time it’s a little odder, but not outragious.

      He is asking you to do a bit more than the other people you work for do, but I kind of think you hit the nail on the head when you noted you may be biased because you don’t like him for other reasons.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      It’s absolutely normal! What OP wrote is the LEAST amount of personal work I’ve ever heard of an assistant doing. In my last job, I hired my boss’ household staff, arranged for their benefits, did his personal finances, would go on field trips looking for something his kid left somewhere, you name it. I was not a personal assistant; I was a corporate EA. The only reason it would be an issue is if you work someplace funded by taxpayer dollars. We are strictly forbidden to do personal work at my current job.

      1. Chinook*

        I am suddenly reminded of a Canadian senator (not a hockey player) who sent one of his staffers to (illegally) cut down some neighbour’s trees that were blocking said senators view.

    3. FYI*

      #3 — I am in an industry where secretaries are being laid off (legal industry) because many of the tasks they used to do (typing, filing, timekeeping, letter-drafting, etc.) are now being done directly by the attorneys themselves.

      My secretary is wonderful; she does normal work tasks for me (reimbursements, billings) but she also will do things that aren’t particularly her job (personal reminders, follow up with people for me, passports/visas, rescheduling dinner reservations or personal travel when work interferes, keeping track of CLEs and my bar dues, entering my time as needed, helping on my pro bono matters).

      I wouldn’t ever ask her to do my kids’ homework or drive me around time or pick up my drycleaning, but facilitating my personal life (in a job that overruns into my personal life all the time), makes her valuable to me, makes me able to bill more hours, and thus makes her valuable to the company.

      The secretaries who aren’t looking for ways to help make life easier for the people they support are the first to go (the “not my job” vs. the “above and beyond”), while my secretary will be around to stay. And I and the other attorneys she supports give her kick-butt reviews and a decent amount of cash for Christmas and Admin Professionals Day.

  5. YL*

    #4 – Anyone in such a position should certainly check their legal rights as depending on the location they might have benefits due to them.

    In my country, workplace moves of over a certain distance entitle the employee to an allowance for alternative (closer) accommodation (if I remember correctly). Certainly if we don’t want to work in the new location it can be considered constructive dismissal and we are entitled to severance payments accordingly.

  6. Jessa*

    Number 5 – I get that you want more/higher level work, but please please for the sake of other un or under employed people do not parse this as being “overqualified,” statements like that are why companies do not want to hire people with more experience than they think the job needs. Even if the person wants to slow down their life and take a lower level job. Even if the person has been unemployed and wants to work for a few years for them.

    Some people in CS don’t ever want to be managers (I managed the overnight shift at an answering service I had one woman who had been there for 15 years, she wouldn’t have taken my job for twice her rate.) So the fact that they’ve been there for years does not mean they were overlooked for promotion. They may never have applied for one. Do your managers know you want more responsibility, have you told them?

    1. Ruffingit*

      Excellent point Jessa!! There are many people who do not have the desire to be managers or climb the ladder. This doesn’t mean they’re not ambitious or hard workers, it just means they have satisfied their ambitious needs by getting and doing the job they are currently doing or they have ambitions for things outside the workplace that they enjoy.

      I find it sad that the accepted measure of success in the workplace is climbing the ladder. Some people are not meant to be/don’t want to be higher-ups. And it’s better for all if they are not promoted to those positions when they don’t really want them.

      1. anon*

        Very true. I have no aspirations to get into management, however I do want to progress as an individual contributor.

      2. Laura*

        Absolutely. I’ve had management jobs, and it’s not for me. I really like the mentoring aspect of it, where you’re able to help your staff learn new things, expand their skill sets, or find more efficient ways to do their jobs.

        What I couldn’t tolerate was the daycare center aspect of it: people complaining about so-and-so coming in 5 minutes late, or coming back late from lunch. I even told my staff clearly that I had no patience for complaints like that, but I got them anyway.

        I also have a very low threshold for BS, and the wrongest personality imaginable for the political maneuverings that happen at the management level.

        I am much more well-suited to an individual contributor role, so that’s where I am, and I am perfectly happy. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to continue to develop my skills and advance my career.

        1. AB*

          “I am much more well-suited to an individual contributor role, so that’s where I am, and I am perfectly happy. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to continue to develop my skills and advance my career.”

          I can totally relate, Laura!

          There is hope for people like us though. Some time ago I was promoted to the level of a manager I used to report to, so I started to report to his superior instead of him, without changing my individual contributor condition :-).

          1. Laura*

            Nice job! I am the lead on 2 big projects this year and I’m hoping that will get me up to the next level. After that I’m not sure what I’ll do. I have no interest in being a Project Manager…you just spend all your time in meetings getting yelled at about why things aren’t done, and then going to yell at other people about the things that aren’t done. Ugh. No thank you.

            1. Jessa*

              Or you might want to step sideways into some kind of training role. You don’t have to be a manager. Some companies have training divisions.

              Also the “must flow upward” military type thing, means that you have a huge bottleneck at the top. And at some point you’re up or out. At some point it needs to be really recognised that people don’t always want to be managers. Even if they want promotions or other responsibilities they don’t necessarily want to manage people.

              1. Ruffingit*

                So true. I would make a terrible manager. It’s just not my skill set. But I’m good with contributing individually and moving up in ways that are compatible with individual contributor growth. Peter Principle is alive and well and it’s hurting the work world as a whole.

  7. glennis*

    #5 – Good question. Ask whether there are some projects that you can assist with. Is someone out on leave – can you take over an assignment temporarily? For example – I took over editing an internal newsletter for someone who was out for three months. It was fun, I learned some skills, and I got a lot of compliments from people I hadn’t really known before.

    Ask if there are some interdepartmental teams you can be a member of. Do a lot of research and learning about your company and what future goals are, and ask your manager if there are things you can be assigned to. Are there company-wide customer-service trainings or initiatives? Offer to help.

    Even participating in a more social employee team is a good opportunity for leadership – a company “events” or moral-building effort – something as simple as a holiday party planning committee. Show your skills and experience organizing an activity so that people will see how good you are.

    Also, if your company has professional development training like workshops and classes, take advantage of them. You will gain knowledge but even more importantly you will meet colleagues from other departments, and on all levels (even managers sometimes need to take PowerPoint or Excel classes!).

  8. tcookson*

    3. My manager asks me to do personal scheduling tasks for him

    Different bosses will want different things, but as long as they are things that make her work life easier (as opposed to requests for illegal downloads of ones’ personal music collection), I consider it part of the job (other duties as assigned?).

    For instance, my previous boss would have me put his kids’ soccer schedules and the season schedules for football and softball games on his calendar, because that helped him to decide when he could schedule work commitments.

    My current boss sometimes has me schedule his personal doctors appointments, and sometimes he needs to schedule my meetings with him at his private office across town if he has appointments there scheduled too tightly to allow him a trip to his university office. I do keep a mileage log, which I submit at the end of each semester, when I’ve accumulated enough miles to make it worthwhile.

    To me, the things I can do to ease my boss’s calendar, though they may initially seem to overlap into the personal, ultimately serve the goal of clearing time for him to focus on higher-level tasks.

    1. Female Exec*

      From the executive’s perspective I see this as appropriate but I don’t do it. Why not? I am aware of the double standard for female execs. What might be seen as a reasonable request for a man is criticized in a woman. Although I will say that I have seen a female peer ask her staff to walk her dog, which I find truly problematic.

      1. Joey*

        I’m curious. Is that just your perception or have you gotten flack for asking assistants to do this type of work?

        Where I work female execs do this. Although what I find interesting is they typically hire male assistants while the males hire females. Not sure if tht has anything to do with it.

        1. Chinook*

          I always suspected that opposite gender assistants are hired so that the boss doesn’t risk being followed into the washroom by their assistant with tasks that need to be done (says the woman who has sent people into the men’s washroom looking for someone who was urgently needed for a meeting).

      2. tcookson*

        I wonder if that’s why the female bosses I’ve had haven’t asked me to do more personal tasks. I haven’t had very many bosses, but of the ones I’ve had, the female ones have been WAY more self-sufficient and even proprietary about handling things themselves. I tend to let my boss determine the level of assistance they want from me (I’m willing to do a lot of personal stuff, but I won’t foist unwanted interference on them), and it always seems like the male bosses are more comfortable expecting me to do personal stuff.

        1. Chinook*

          That is ironic because I found it to be the opposite – the neediest of people I have assisted have been women. The worst was one woman who openly admitted that she chose her career path so she wouldn’t have to do the type of work that she was asking us to do and would walk by me, the recepitonist with a switchboard for 140 employees and 6 lines, towards a client and ask for a coffee “when I have the time” in a tone that made it very clear that it was an order and not a request.

          1. tcookson*

            Hmmm . . . I guess it’s just luck of the draw, then, regarding which gender is more likely to use assistance on the more personal tasks.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        I’m a career EA and could not agree less. I have had plenty of female bosses and their requests were treated exactly the same as a male’s would be. I’m confused and almost offended by what you wrote – do you think EAs are somehow not able to be professional when they have a female boss? I have to assume that’s just your own hangup or you work somewhere awful.

        1. Liz in a library*

          I don’t know…it’s pretty common in many places for women to be perceived as too demanding or pushy when they ask their subordinates to do things that people wouldn’t blink an eye about if it came from a male.

          I don’t think it was meant as commentary on her EAs, but more a comment on how our larger culture watches women in power positions carefully.

        2. Elle*

          Most of the female EAs that I’ve seen have a very mothering relationship with their male bosses. Thus they give lots of leeway and they see them as a bit helpless. Whereas female bosses are seen as competent and thus lazy if they ask for the same treatment.

    2. Kelly O*

      I had a boss who did something very similar – all his kids’ activities were on the calendar, and from time to time he and his wife would have to take a turn at being “snack parents.” They were both full-time in a higher level professional capacity, and after a couple of times of being asked to pick up some extra Capri-Suns and crackers (or whatever) I just put it on the list for my Sam’s Club run when I knew it was coming up. (FYI, that expense came in the form of cash from him personally.) So I’d just remind him that they had snack at the soccer field on Saturday, and he would pull out his wallet and hand me enough cash to cover it.

      I had no issues with that. I was going to Sam’s for the office anyway, and it saved them a bit of time. This was the same guy who would ask me to run out and grab lunch (and, to be completely honest, would always tell me if I wanted something to get it too) when his days got crazy. I did more “personal” things for him, although I’m not sure what you mean by scheduling time for calls. I’m assuming blocking off time on a calendar so he’s undisturbed? Or possibly contacting the family member to make sure that’s a good time?

      1. Chinook*

        I had one boss who was reluctant to ask me to do anything for him even though he owned the company. Then, one day, I noticed he was particularly stressed and asked what was up. Turned out he was hosting his daughter’s sleep over (shared custody) that night but they had a software deadline moved to be due the next day. He hadn’t picked up anything for the party yet. I offered to do the shopping (on his dime, of course) and he refused. I pointed out that I can’t help with the software (I was the only non-IT person in the office) but I do know preteen girls and his presence at home for a few hours that evening was more valuable than who picked up the snacks and that I wouldn’t be offering if I didn’ think it was the best use of resources because he could then concentrate on the work at hand.

          1. Chinook*

            I forget to end my story – he not only let me pick up the snacks, but he, and his daughter, were happy with the choices and the work got done on time because he was able to come back to work later that evening.

        1. FYI*

          YOU are awesome and the key to making life better for execs. Again, not “your job” but the ultimate end was that it helped the company (and he owned the company), so going “above and beyond” made sense.

          I view “my job” as doing whatever needs to be done to make things run smoothly, so if it’s booking MY boss dinner at a wine bar with an ambassador or asking hotel staff to print something for her, I do it (as a high-level professional employee myself), and I am happy when my own staff goes the extra mile to get things done for me.

          That’s the different between someone who is good at their job and someone who is “great” at their job, finding ways to prove their value all the time.

      2. tcookson*

        There was one time when I was irritated at my boss for a personal thing that he wanted me to do. He had vacationed in Mexico with his wife and kids, and his wife had accidentally left a shopping bag of new clothes for herself and the kids in their hotel room.

        We were in the middle of a big, stressful project at work, and he wanted me to call the hotel in Mexico and arrange to have the bag shipped to his house. I thought to myself, “He has a wife sitting at home with no job and all three of her kids in school, and he wants ME to get her bag back from Mexico for her???”

        I was a little petulant about it at the time (in retrospect I’d just do it and not let it get under my skin), so every time he’d ask me about the bag, I’d say I was working on it.

        Then one day I made a mistake on his calendar: he had given me a list of dates on which he was responsible for the lecture in a class that he co-taught with another professor; I put all the highlighted dates on there, but overlooked one that he had failed to highlight. He noticed the un-highlighted, un-calendared lecture about an hour before his class, and he came running into my office and yelling, “tcookson, we have a F-ing problem!!” So after that, I immediately retrieved his box from Mexico in an act of desperately mending what fences I could.

        1. class factotum*

          That’s what bugged me about the VP at an old job: the admin was supposed to work for the entire group, but she was so busy making his haircut appointments and taking his car to get the oil changed that she could never do any admin tasks for the rest of us. I kept thinking, “He has a wife who stays at home with kids in school all day – can’t she take the car to the garage?”

          1. tcookson*

            For real! I think what really bugged me at the time is that I had just recently returned to work after staying home with my kids for a few years. I went back to work at the same time my youngest started kindergarten. So part of my irritation could probably be attributed to envy of a situation I would have loved to be in myself: at home all day with no kids at home. I still can’t think of anything more awesome than that (I do take the occasional weekday off just so I can be at home while the kids and husband are at school and work).

        2. Lily in NYC*

          I don’t get this attitude at all! It’s all part of the job and the boss gets to decide what is a priority. I’m an EA and have learned to swallow my pride and do the crap-work that comes with the job. And my bosses love me because they know I will do whatever crazy thing they want and that I’ll smile while doing it.

          1. tcookson*

            Exactly. You have to learn to keep your ego out of the equation. I don’t mean to suggest that assistants should be subservient or have no amount of personal pride. I just mean that you have to take the attitude (which I myself learned from customer-service positions) that your focus is on the professional transaction that is occurring between you and the other person, and any tone or attitude from them is irrelevant to the work at hand. I don’t think of it as swallowing my pride; I think of it as maintaining my pride safely behind a barrier of professionalism.

            1. tcookson*

              Compartmentalize — that’s the word I was looking for. You still have your pride, but it is in a separate compartment from the professional transaction at hand.

              1. Lily in NYC*

                Much better word choice, thank you! I didn’t like using “swallow my pride” for the very reasons you outlined.

            2. Chinook*

              Assistants don’t need to be subserviant at all. I think of it like I would a stereotypical Victorian era butler – he may have been a servant but he was powerful, had the ear of his “master” and knew he had done a good job when said “master” was able to do his. But, you would never here of a good one being subservient.

              1. tcookson*

                Exactly; a good assistant has to be willing to speak up and ask her boss if he has thought of this or that particular aspect of a situation (using the actual genders of me and my boss; not trying to perpetuate sexist job role stereotypes) and let him know if she thinks something might not be a good idea (and be able to spell out why). And also be willing to accept that once she lays it all out like that, it’s then the boss’s job to do what he will.

                1. Cassie*

                  Ditto. My friend in HR thinks it’s not her place to offer her opinion on work issues (even when she thinks something is a bad idea). Uh, hello?! If my boss is about to veer off a cliff, I think it is absolutely my duty to try to pull him back. I mean, if he insists on jumping off the cliff anyway, it’s up to him but I will have tried my best to protect him.

                  So I feel I have a duty to speak up – if it’s something minor/inconsequential, then yes, obviously I can just let it go. But if he’s about to violate laws or ethics, I’m going to say something.

    3. LMW*

      My aunt was once let go after 10 years as an executive assistant because she didn’t have the detailed financial background necessary to deal with her exec’s divorce. She’d handled all his scheduling, shopping, helping find nannies for the kids, etc. for a decade, but she couldn’t handle all the asset management stuff that suddenly came up. (They did give her an entire year of severance pay though, continued to pay her family’s insurance for that time and she got glowing recommendations.)
      So sometimes, handling the personal stuff is actually seen as just as important as keeping the office running.

      1. Anonymous*

        I’m surprised that he’d rather have a strange new assistant dealing with his personal assets. How do you find someone that you’d trust with that

      2. Ruffingit*

        Wow, that is incredibly sad. Honestly, I can’t imagine letting go of a valued employee who did 10 years worth of excellent work for you simply because they couldn’t handle the complex details of your divorce accounting. I’d have hired a CPA or whatever to do that work and kept the EA.

        1. tcookson*

          I agree; he could have had his assistant research competent CPAs for him and arrange his meetings with them.

          1. Ruffingit*

            Exactly. And to be honest, I’m not sure you could find an EA who would have the skills to do complex accounting. People with those skills are usually in the accounting field and/or higher positions than an EA. And to be clear, I am not saying it’s because EAs are somehow unintelligent or what have you. People with advanced college degrees can’t do the work of some of the divorce accounting/asset management. You need to have a specific set of skills for it.

            Seems so weird that someone would fire a decade-long, trusted employee for this reason.

            1. LMW*

              He was an incredibly demanding boss, so it was completely in character. She was on call 24/7. (Venture capital in Silicon Valley in the late ’90s/early 2000s, if that means anything to anyone.)
              Since this happened during the dot com boom, she actually had a job lined up before she even finished training her replacement, and since she had a year’s severance, she and the family went to Italy for a month before she started the new gig, where she actually gets a lot more personal time. So it worked out really well for her!

              1. Ruffingit*

                So glad to hear that! There are definitely silver linings to every dark cloud and it sounds like it wasn’t even really a dark cloud for her. Her life was made better by it and an Italian vacation? Right on!

  9. glennis*

    Personal tasks – that makes me remember with amusement a boss I worked for several years ago for only a few months. She was trying to raise funds for a project, and held lots of meetings in our office – which was one room in a hallway of other, unconnected offices. For these meetings, she always had me put out coffee and cookies for the donors, which I did not mind doing. Nor did I mind cleaning up after these meetings, although it meant washing coffee mugs in the ladies’ room sink.

    Of course, at these meetings there were plates and cups for both the donor and my boss – because of course they both enjoyed the refreshments while meeting.

    Where I drew the line, though, was when my boss decided that since I cleaned up her dishes after a meeting, she could ask me to clean her coffee cup and lunch dishes for a regular work day, with no donor meeting. She would pour herself a cup of coffee in the morning, and then at the end of the day, expect me to take it to the ladies’ room down the hall and clean it up for her, so she could have a clean cup the next day.

    There were other reasons I quit that job, but that’s the one that symbolizes all of it.

    1. Lily*

      funny you should mention this! I was just thinking that I would ask a secretary to clean up after meetings I have with others, but not my dishes when I am alone.

    2. Ruffingit*

      Yeah, I can see why you would dump that job. Having you do her personal dishes does cross the line. It’s symbolic of not understanding that you are not her personal maid. It speaks of a good deal of disrespect.

      I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve worked for people like that as well and it really makes you want to slap them on a daily basis. They just can’t understand the fact that people who work for them in an office are not their personal slaves/maids/dog walkers/etc.

    3. tcookson*

      That reminds me of one time when my boss was in a meeting with his boss, and he texted me to bring him in a drink of water.

      Now, I have never minded occasionally running out to pick up lunch for him or down to the soda machine several floors below to bring back a soda when he was heavily involved in work. But the water cooler was right outside the door of the office he was in, and I did not want to get him in the habit of asking me to bring him cups of water, so I just ignored the text.

      He asked me about it later, and he was pretty petulant about it. He said, “I was sitting in there thirsting to death, and I couldn’t even get a drink of water.” Dude, the water fountain was right outside the door!! No sympathy!

      1. Chinook*

        I would have seen a text for water during a meeting as being the same as getting him a soda when he was heavily involved with work. Going out to get water could be taken the wrong way if he was with his boss.

        1. tcookson*

          Chinook, you’re probably right. I guess I was just feeling extra persnickety that day, because that’s not even my usual attitude.

          1. tcookson*

            . . . and after reading back upthread, I realize that also sounded persnickety about it when I posted about it. I’m going to make a mental switch into the “I’m paid to work and consider no task beneath me (barring illegalities)” camp!

    4. Lily in NYC*

      Huh. I’m a high-level EA and clean dishes for my boss. That doesn’t even count as personal work, in my opinion, just daily maintenance of our surroundings. I’ve been reading a lot of comments here from former assistants that bristled at doing personal work. It’s part of the job. I think I’m starting to realize why I make such good money for being an EA. I never complain or think work is beneath me.

      1. Michelle*

        I feel this way about all jobs really. I’m not an assistant, but I’ve never really understood people who complain or refuse to do something at work. It never really occurs to me that I can or should say no (unless it is unethical or illegal). I’m paid to work and no matter what my job title is, if my company needs me to do something I am going to do it regardless if it falls under my official job description.

        1. AB*

          Right! I think the most successful people end up being the ones who don’t consider any task beneath them.

          I remember the CTO of a 50-people company I once consulted for assembling chairs for new hires arriving the next day, while the team continued to work.

          In that particular day, there wasn’t much in the job description of a CTO that could have helped the business that day, and he was smart enough to let us — who could make progress — work while he did the grunt work.

        2. OP*

          Well, to explain or defend myself a bit, a definitely do the work and never complain about it at work. This was an issue that I threw into the usual rant–And another thing he does… But then i thought maybe it was normal and decided to ask.
          Without outing myself too much, i worked at a school for a long time, and dealt with so much work that was gross or tedious. But i knew i had to get it done. In this job too, i do a lot of grunt work.
          I also do realize this wasn’t a devil wears prada request, i just wondered really how accepted it was.

        3. Ornery PR*

          I’m definitely the same way; I don’t think doing personal projects/errands for the CEO or an executive is outside the realm of the job. I’m the PR director, not an assistant or in admin at all, but my boss’s daughter is getting married, and I just designed invitations and printed all of the invite envelopes. I had no problem with that request and do strange personal design projects for her a lot (like designing graphics for an ice bucket for a Christmas gift).

          However, I was once hired at a start-up to do their books and manage shipping/inventory. Even though the job description didn’t say anything about being a personal assistant, there was only 3 of us, so we all did everything and we were working out of my boss’s house. However, the day he asked me to get hands full of free sugar packets from a gas station because he was out and didn’t want to buy any – which I did – he also asked me to do his dishes and watch his dog, so I put my foot down. I told him I wasn’t his maid or his girlfriend (we were the same age) and that his requests were demeaning. He got really mad, but then realized he needed me around so he quit the crazy personal requests. I don’t think I could have pulled that off with any other boss, though. He was special. However, I would definitely have quit if he would have continued that way.

      2. Laura*

        Any job has tasks where someone would think something was “beneath” them. I’m an IT geek, and provide ERP support. Sometimes, something will get completely hosed up, and it’s all hands on deck to get it fixed. And it’s usually really dull and tedious data entry type work, but it’s critical to get it fixed. I have no problem volunteering for stuff like that – the needs of the business trump my personal feelings.

      3. Ruffingit*

        I don’t think certain tasks are beneath me. That’s not the issue I’m concerned about with this kind of thing. I’ve just known many bosses who start having you do very personal things and they then start treating you like you’re their maid, not their EA. I’ve known bosses who had people start doing their personal dishes at work and then it progressed to picking up their kids at school using the employee’s personal vehicle and refusing to give mileage for it. Then it moved on to going to the house, walking the dog and cleaning the cat’s litter box and so on and so on. In other words, personal home tasks that were not in the description of the job for an EA at all and then not compensating for mileage, etc.

        For me, it’s not about a task being beneath me, it’s more about keeping the boundaries clear about what is work and what is personal. An EA should not also be someone who does your personal at home work on company time. Sure, some tasks make sense, but cleaning your cat’s litter box? No, that is not appropriate in my eyes. Babysitting your kid after school on company time and being made to cater to the kid who treats you like crap and actually calls you “Mommy’s maid?” No.

        I have seen all of these things and they end up happening because the line between professional and personal becomes extremely blurred. That’s my concern.

  10. AJ*

    Yikes, you mean they are actually interviewing other people for this job as well???

    Thanks for the response but I fear waiting two weeks for comment will kill me. The consensus among those I’ve queried thus far has been “if you got it you should hear by Friday” — which would be 3 days post reference check.

    Is there any way to send a short sweet note on Friday checking in, or is that completely inappropriate? I should mention that my interview occurred due to my short cutting the process and sending direct communications to the decision maker and was thus fast-tracked through the interview process. This may or may not be meaningless. Up to now, they have seemed keen on my assertiveness.

    As I think they know I am rather “Type A” could this be a strategic move, maybe wait me out to offer less money, or am I over thinking this.

    1. Josh S*

      Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Relax.

      Now, put the job out of your mind. Find the description for another job. Send your resume to them. Move on.

      I am incredibly hopeful that you get this job. But there is simply no way to know when, or even if, they will make you an offer for the position. Or that they’ll offer you an adequate salary.

      I know it’s a point when you WantEverythingToHappenRightThisInstantSoYouCanFinallyGetTo”Hired” but you really have to realize that hiring. takes. time.

      It’s painful as the applicant. Especially when you’ve gone through so many rounds of interviews, etc. Honestly, the best thing for your sanity is to put it out of your mind for (at a minimum) two weeks from the last time you talked to them, like Alison said. Then, if/when you get the call with an offer, you can see it objectively and not be so emotionally over-the-moon that you fail to give it the attention it deserves.

      It’s hard to hear it, but there is absolutely nothing that you can do to speed along their process. It takes exactly as long as it takes.

      So again: Breathe. Inhale. Exhale. Relax. Move on to the next thing until you hear from them.

      Best of luck. (And I *really* hope this doesn’t come across as patronizing…but it’s late and I lose sense of tone when I’m tired, so sorry if it does.)

        1. College Career Counselor*

          Applying to another job to give yourself something productive to do (and to move on mentally) is great advice. I was “two weeks away from a job offer” in my mind(ie, finalist interviews) last year for several months. It’s very tempting, not to mention easy, to let yourself get caught up in one position or another. I found it very helpful to keep exploring my options, and having something else in the job search pipeline was a good distraction. It also prevents you from having to gin yourself back up into “job search mode” if in fact they don’t make you an offer. Good luck!

      1. Rob Aught*

        Great advice. Depending on the company there could be a number of hoops the hiring manager has to jump through. Sometimes we do keep interviewing after finding the person we want just in case they fall through.

        There is HR approval, senior management approval, background checks, reference checks, possible recruiter fees, etc etc etc.

        As I am about to have to put a job req out soon I am not looking forward to the avalanche of work I am about to receive just for one open position.

    2. fposte*

      I’m not clear who these people are who are telling you it will be three days–are these friends, or are they people associated with the organization? If they’re friends, they’re telling you what you want to hear, which is nice, but not to be counted on. And no, don’t call the company Friday either way. If the organization said this Friday, you can call them next week and ask what timeline they’re looking at now; if the organization never mentioned a timeline to you, that would also be a reasonable time to call and ask what their timeline looks like. Note that this is not a “Have you made a decision yet?” call. That’s because it’s not that they’ve decided to extend an offer and just haven’t gotten around to contacting you; they’re still in the process, and you can’t speed them up just because.

      1. AJ*

        Thanks for the great comments. Each gave me pause to consider 1) if I could make it through the weekend without any indication of what was happening, good or bad, or 2) if it wouldn’t be too much risk sending an indirect questioning, “Hope you had a chance to speak with my references and that they satisfied your questions…”.

        I ultimately broke down and selected option 2. Upon sending I received an immediate response, thought it might be a curt “get lost”. It was an automated ‘out of town since he called my references through July 1’ reply.

        It might not have been the wisest choice, but at least now I can relax for 3 days, and by the time he get’s back and sees it, it would have been time to ideally send.

        Think I need to take up Yoga.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          AJ, if I may, I think you’re looking at this wrong. Your goal is not to get a quick answer. Your goal is to get a job offer, right? Would you really rather have an answer now if it meant that the answer was no, versus waiting two weeks (or even longer) but eventually getting a yes? Right now, you’re focusing on Needing to Know, but that’s the wrong goal.

          You do not want to come across as pushy or aggressive. It might get you a faster answer, but it won’t help get you the answer you want.

          Believe me, if they have decided to hire you, they will tell you. Until then, there’s no point in following up like that.

          1. AJ*

            I could go on with you about this for a while — do they want this in an employee, someone who is soooo assertive that they would even dare contact them post… Let me just say I am from NY/NJ. We are kind of forward. It has worked for me in the past and the email, after the initial auto reply, seems to indicate it paid off. I guess the reference checks went well and the hiring manager is to contact me tomorrow.

            We are all different. Sometimes, I honestly think, if you really want something you need to let it be known.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s not about “daring to contact them.” It’s about respecting their timeline and not seeming desperate.

              I assure you, when they’re ready to make you an offer, they will tell you. (Do you really think they wouldn’t?) What you want is to hear FASTER, and that’s different.

              1. AJ*

                It is absolutely not about daring to contact them. And, there was no timeline. I think I haven’t told enough of the backstory, and as for seeming desperate, I kind of am.

                I was hoping someone would bring up the fact that I sound like a terrible employee prospect and think you graciously have. That I appreciate.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s one thing to feel desperate, but it’s not in your best interest to show that to the employer. That will actually make you a weaker candidate.

    3. Grace*

      At my current job, I met and interviewed with my boss and it took 2 whole months for them to be able officially make me an offer. It was just because of business rhythm at the company. Although I was fairly certain that I had gotten it, I didn’t take this for granted and continued to search.

  11. Josh S*

    #6 — Manager got advice on firing
    OP, you speak of a supposed ‘right to privacy’ that you have, and seem to think that your manager violated it. Alison didn’t mention it, but it should be pointed out that you really don’t have any ‘right to privacy’ (assuming you’re in the US, at least).

    There *are* some protections for your personally-identifying information and data (like SSN, address, etc), but nothing that would even remotely come close to preventing your manager from discussing your performance–even mentioning your name and title–with pretty much anyone he wants to.

    1. The IT Manager*

      +1 My thoughts exactly. What is this right to privacy you speak of?

      Honestly it’s good that your boss got a different (hopefully rational) perspective even if in the end you did get fired.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      Actually, I laughed when I read that part. I do understand the feeling, though, but as long as your boss didn’t have his friend do the actual firing, I don’t think it was wrong. And I would rather have a boss spend some time thinking it over and not just yelling “You’re Fired!” in the heat of the moment.

      1. some1*

        I agree. I think the LW is upset and defensive at being let go and the fact that s/he feels like she was discussed behind her back unnecessarily probably feels like adding insult to injury. And because the LW admits to making a mistake that led to the firing, and thus, she can’t really be mad at the decision itself (well, she *can*, but it won’t help anyone), she’s concentrating more on how it was handled.

        I’m not saying the manager who got outside advice was in the wrong, I’m just saying I think I understand why the LW thought so.

    3. JennS*

      Your boss seeking advice from someone outside of your company is no different than you seeking advice from AM.

      1. Josh S*

        “Dear Alison,

        “I was recently faced with a decision on whether or not to fire an employee. After making my decision, I realized that the employee reached out to a very public advice columnist to discuss my behavior. Can he do this? Doesn’t it violate the company’s right to privacy and basically entail corporate espionage because he gave up company secrets?

        “Please tell me what I can do.

  12. Re: disorganized manager*

    For the love of everything they hold dear, I would advise against taking the job with the disorganized manager. I started a job 8 months ago with a manager that I recognized as disorganized from the start and I am trying DESPERATELY to get out of there. Everything has to be rushed at the very last minute, which stresses everyone out, our financial paperwork is completely out of order because she hasn’t looked any balances over in 3 months and work is at the bottom of her priority list (she comes in late because she had coffee with her daughter despite how far behind she is). Get away while you still can, gentle reader.

    1. Brandy*

      Another perspective– I report to one of the most disorganized and (IMHO) incompetent VPs I’ve ever met. It’s been a HUGE boost to my career, because I’ve been able to step in/ step up and take on so much work that she isn’t doing and/or isn’t thinking about. I’ve walked into meetings she’s flaked out on at the last minute, presented to the executive team, and been asked back again and again, and assigned new and better projects because of it.

      She often overbooks herself at client meetings, which means I end up going in her place. Our client relations have skyrocketed.

      When I end up leading internal meetings she can’t make/forgets about/hasn’t prepared for, our team is markedly more productive, and it’s clear why.

      I’m not trying to brag–what I’m doing is not complicated. It’s just that compared to my disorganized boss, I’m a beacon of responsibility and competence. I’ve gotten 2 big salary bumps and was given my own department (some of my bosses’ direct reports are now mine) last month , which is a pretty big deal given my age/tenure as compared to others in this position.

      This will obviously depend on how much you need/want to be “managed” vs. having a manager (someone that signs your timesheets). It will also depend on your level, how visible your hard work will be, and your general competence–can you walk in and kick butt at this role? Or do you need someone to guide you, show you the ropes, etc.?

      1. LisaLyn*

        You know, I am sort of the same position right now, although I was not looking at it in a positive light. I think I may take more of your attitude about it and look at how it’s helping me to be more visible with the higher ups, if nothing else.

        I do love my boss. He’s just a terrible flake. Nice guy, but just can’t focus to save his life.

        1. Chinook*

          You need to look at like this: your boss may realize he is not good about the details and, as a result, hires people who are so that things get done.

      2. Ruffingit*

        It’s awesome you’ve taken the opportunity to step up and kick butt at your job! That is a good way to turn around the “my boss is disorganized” thing and make it into something good.

        I will throw out a caution to the OP though – it is not always possible to do this. In some places, YOU will be blamed for your boss’s disorganization. Rather than the higher ups seeing you as the responsible/competent one, they will see it as “why aren’t you getting the things done that your boss needs you to do so she can be effective in her role…” They ignore the fact that your boss is so scattered and disorganized that it’s impossible for you to get things done that would be helpful.

        So, cautionary tale because I’ve seen it more than once – if you can walk in and take the bull by the horns and ride it to success like Brandy has done, that is awesome! Just be careful because the flip side is that you can also be gored by the bull…

        1. Sadsack*

          I am in agreement with the majority here, depending on what are your career aspirations, do not go to an unorganized mess of a manager. I am in the same situation. My manager and I are the only two people on our team. He is an expert in his field, but a terrible manager. He’s unorganized and forgetful, he also doesn’t understand our corporate procedures for such things as annual reviews and promotions. He focuses on his own work and pays very little attention to what I am doing, meaning he basically does not manage me. He loses every piece of paper he’s given and completely forgets conversations had earlier that week or the same day, sometimes by the end of one he’s forgotten that we just had an entire conversation! He causes havoc in the database we use because he constantly makes errors, then I have to try to figure out what he did and what he was supposed to have done to correct them. He has trouble following the simplest conversations and I have to explain things to him ten times before he understands. I actually believe that early onset Alzheimer’s may be the cause of some of this, it is in his family and his memory has greatly deteriorated in the past year. Even though I have compassion for him, it doesn’t make these issues any less frustrating. I feel like I am the one managing our team. He has been completely ineffective and I have been looking for a new job for the past 6 months. Your prospective manager may be a great guy on a personal level, but consider where you want to go in your career and if he’s the one who can help you get there.

    2. Jazzy Red*

      Yeah, it sounds like the boss might be an adrenaline junkie. The OP would be better off passing on this one.

  13. Sourire*

    #6- What right to privacy? Much like many of the “is it legal” questions, I am left scratching my head wondering where this supposed right is coming from.

    It’s probably a stretch, but I am almost wondering if whatever action OP took was illegal (or at the very least highly unethical), just because I have trouble imagining too much concern about a violated “right” over something more benign. Then again, we just recently had a post wondering if sharing performance stats is legal, so who knows…

  14. Brett*

    #6 The reference to “right to privacy” made me wonder if the OP was a public sector employee. There are confidentiality and closed meeting laws in the public sector that pertain to discussing employment decisions with people outside the organization. Since it was only the manager and a friend, and not anyone else, closed meeting laws would almost certainly not apply directly to their discussion. Those laws would apply indirectly though if the manager was revealing information that they obtained from a closed meeting. And there could be confidentiality laws that would apply to public sector workplaces; these vary wildly by state.

    1. Joey*

      That’s actually the opposite of my experience in the public sector. Besides your right to keep things like your, medical info, ss# and personal contact info private, the only real right to privacy I’ve seen (US) is essentially professional courtesy. Disciplinary appeals meetings are usually open to the public, agendas are public, and of course almost all records are subject to open records requests including termination records.

      1. Runon*

        I agree with this. Nearly everything for a public sector (not in classified jobs obv) is public or open to discovery. Pretty much everything you do or say is public information as a public employee.

      2. Josh S*

        I sit on the board of a local school (slowly outing my real identity), where I am the FOIA and Open Meeting Acts officer. All meetings are required to be open to the public, with a small handful of exceptions for closed meetings.

        In Illinois, one of those exceptions is to discuss personnel issues. Any decisions/votes need to be made in open meeting where anyone can attend, but the discussion can happen in closed session.

        That said, there is still no protection or law requiring that the things said in the closed meeting must stay confidential. You could immediately walk out of the meeting and spill your guts to any old person. (Normally, you wouldn’t, out of respect for the people involved and professional decorum, but you could.)

        Anyway. I feel like I’ve veered way down the rabbit hole, to mix my metaphors.

        1. Chinook*

          I think the idea of having a closed meeting for personnel discussions is great because it lets them discuss rumours or allegations about conduct without worry about them getting out to the larger public out of context. It also allows for private disagreement about an employee, even if just is as a devil’s aadvocate, and still allows them to have a united front in supporting their employees (sort of like how parents discuss discipline disagreements behind closed doors but try to provide a united front to Junior so junior can’t manipulate them against each other).

          1. Josh S*

            Exactly. Once discussion (in closed session) is over, the session MUST reopen so that a vote can be taken. That way, the final decision (along with voting record) is open record.

            1. A Teacher*

              Pretty similar to when you have to deal with student issues like suspensions, expulsions, and the like. There is nothing stopping people involved in the hearing (parents or the students usually, in my experience) from coming out and talking about it.

        2. Brett*

          “That said, there is still no protection or law requiring that the things said in the closed meeting must stay confidential.”

          I did say these vary wildly by state. In Missouri, you can be jailed for independently disclosing anything said in a closed meeting.

          1. Josh S*

            Wow. That’s pretty drastic, and seems to be somewhat counter to the transparency that FOIA and OMA laws typically try to create in a system of public governance. Weird.

            1. Brett*

              I think it is because of past scandals where people have used the information advantage from closed meetings for financial gain. (e.g. the discussion of RFP responses)

  15. Just a Reader*

    #1 can be a career development killer–managers like this rarely keep meetings with direct reports in my experience, so it can be tough to get feedback, develop a growth path, etc.

    Even if you’re a superstar it can be tough to stay on the radar and get what you need to do your job, much less be super successful.

  16. Anony1234*

    #6 – To some degree, what is the difference between your boss asking a trusted friend/advisor and those who write in to Alison asking for advice on how to fire their employee? I’m guess maybe your boss named you specifically (or maybe not?) while Alison keeps it anonymous and changes people’s names to maintain a level of privacy.

  17. Calla*

    3. If your boss is asking you to contact and set up a call with his sister, that’s weird. But I don’t find reserving “personal” time on his calendar or including more details to make his personal life easier wrong to ask for. I hold an hour or two a day when I can as “personal” time for my boss (a VP) because otherwise, people would be scheduling meetings back to back all day long, all week long, and he’d never be able to get lunch, or work on anything that wasn’t a meeting.

    In a previous AA job (also supporting a VP) I remember when she asked me to make up a “feel better” card for her sister — she wanted something very personalized and not bought in a store and she wasn’t very computer-savvy so she asked me to do it. I can’t imagine complaining about how she shouldn’t use company time for that when it literally took me maybe 5 minutes but means she didn’t have to worry about it.

    Seriously, how much time does it take to add a few more details about his travel to his calendar? It does seem like the reason you’re objecting to this is because you don’t like him.

    A major part of an assistant’s job is to make life more management for the person they are supporting. Obviously you can make some ridiculous requests but helping out with some “personal” things, if not inappropriate, can help them manage the more important *work* better.

    1. Just a Reader*

      I would think someone at a high enough level to need an assistant is working enough hours to need help managing the occasional personal item too…

    2. Yup*

      “A major part of an assistant’s job is to make life more management for the person they are supporting.”

      I agree with this statement, but I really struggled with the personal errands bit when I was an admin assistant. (And my boss was a lovely person that I got along with very well.) Clear work-related tasks like managing calendars and preparing expense reports and so forth was no issue. It was the buying cards for the sick relative and reserving the restaurant for the family party and arranging the dry cleaning felt vaguely like a misuse of company time. There were no hard and fast rules about the assistant role at my company, and there were plenty of other assistants who were asked to do far more in that realm that I was ever was. But I always had lingering doubts about whether it was really OK for me to be doing this stuff for my boss’s personal life while getting paid to support the company.

      I understand all the arguments about the value of time at the higher level. I just couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling. I guess it was because of my own assumption that I should leave my personal life at the door when I came to work. I didn’t feel like it would be OK for me to be conducting my personal business on company time, so it just seemed like a disconnect that my boss had this bleed from personal into professional world. Based on that, I probably just wasn’t cut out to be an assistant.

      1. Calla*

        I think I’d be uncomfortable if it was frequently happening outside of something that clearly overlapped with work (i.e. putting personal stuff/details on the calendar overlaps because it affects available work appt times, picking up his dry cleaning every day doesn’t). I’ve never had a boss ask more than a couple times for something truly personal so it wasn’t a huge deal. I also know that my bosses were frequently at work, in the office, until 7-8pm, sometimes coming in on the weekends, so while I got to go home right at 5 and take care of errands after work, sometimes they didn’t, so I understood.

        But if I had someone who left at the same time I did asking me to do clearly personal stuff for them often, or if it was happening enough that it was eating into my ability to do real work, I would probably think differently. I think it’s the line between them saying “I hate to ask, but I’m swamped, can you please do X personal task” and “I expect you to do X personal task all the time.”

      2. Mints*

        Yeah this is how i feel too. I understand the response, and I’m just going to keep sucking it up, but i still dislike it.
        I Guess in my head, i have a distinction between personal assistant and office assistants, but maybe that doesn’t really matter.
        I’m completely fine with doing grunt work in general, but the personal stuff continues to surprise me.
        Oh and people keep asking about the sister calls–Yeah i actually did actually email her to set up an appointment time.

  18. Anonymous Accountant*

    #1- Please consider very carefully how you will feel dealing with this type of manager regularly.

    I took a job under a disorganized boss that often lost track of commitments, would forget about deadlines, and often forgot about meetings he scheduled with clients. It was awful because I’m a planner and like organized things.

    On many occasions, clients would show up for meetings and he wouldn’t be there. We’d call him and “Oh, I forgot that was today. Well, send someone else instead”. It was just part of who he is.

    Some don’t have an issue working with this type of manager but others will. Please consider if you will be happy and productive working for someone like this.

    1. tcookson*

      My boss is like this; he’s very busy, and he will book appointments back-to-back and neglect to allow for travel time in between. I’m constantly sending him “are you running on time for this meeting?” texts.

      One time he had booked himself to judge student entries in a design competition in the conference room, and he already had a conference call tentatively scheduled to judge design entries for a competition for his professional organization. He told me that his plan was, if the conference call needed to start early, he just wouldn’t show up for the meeting with the local jury.

      I pointed out that the local folks would be fairly aggravated if he just didn’t show up. His answer: “I don’t give a s@#t!” So I suggested that he have a “pinch hitter”: another member of the faculty who could study the student entries beforehand, and be on standby to go into the meeting in his place if need be. That solution seemed to be a real revelation to him, and he actually added it to his tool chest, because now he’s always thinking of which faculty members could be called on to “pinch hit” for him in various situations. It has solved a lot of his (and thereby my) scheduling problems.

      1. JessB*

        This is great! I work at a university and there’s one academic I just can’t get to show up for a particular meeting. I’ve suggested a delegate before, but I wonder if the idea of a pinch-hitter would appeal more (he’s North American).

        Thanks for sharing, tcookson!

  19. AP*

    #3 – I am not the owner of my company’s assistant, and in fact I have a fully hectic, high-workload job, but he asks me to arrange all of his personal and family travel and I do it. For the following reasons – I’m good at it and it’s easy for me (whereas, it’s mentally painful for him to deal with); if I try to get him to deal with it, he gets it wrong and someone else has to sort it out later, wasting more time; if I do it then I know the company will be able to keep track of his schedule and not be surprised if he’s somehow in France when we thought he was going to be in the office.

  20. Michelle*

    2. Can I leave early when my work is done?

    If you regularly finish your work early, I would recommend talking to your boss about it. Many times remote managers do not fully understand your workload. They may be holding assignments back from you not knowing that you have extra capacity. And by letting your manager know that your plate is not full, you will be showing great initaitive which could lead to a pay increase or advancement.

  21. Grace*

    I used to work for a boss that would volunteer for charitable events (independent of the company – so, personal stuff) and then send me in her place to “represent her” (i.e. fulfill the obligation she made). I put a stop to it when she tried to send me to support something that violated my personal morals.

    1. Ruffingit*

      That is really weird. The whole point of volunteering for charitable events is to PERSONALLY support the cause. That is not something you send someone else to do unless you’ve been hospitalized and the event cannot go on without the presence of one more person. In other words, it would need to be a very serious situation to send someone else in your place for things like that.

      1. Grace*

        Yeah I agree. It’s like she wanted the “credit” but not to actually do the work. It was seriously annoying.

  22. Darcie*

    OP#4, in addition to asking to work from home some days, or at a different location, maybe you could also ask for a different schedule. If right now you work 9-5, maybe you could beat traffic by working 10-6 or 7-4.
    Also, carpooling?

  23. Laura*

    #6: I can understand why someone would find it upsetting that their manager discussed a firing with someone who had nothing to do with the situation – it does seem like a violation of privacy. But really, it happens all the time.

    I posted earlier in the week about a very difficult situation that resulted in my having to fire someone who was plagued with some devastating personal problems, and even though that guy had much worse problems than I did, I really had a hard time dealing with it and trying to figure out what to do. And I felt like the most heartless &%#$ in the world for cutting him loose when he was at his lowest point ever. My husband is the boss at his small business, so has been dealing with stuff like this for years. I talked with him about the situation quite a bit to get his input and advice.

    Now, to be fair, I never told the employee that, because he felt bad enough without knowing that he’d been getting talked about with people he’d never met.

    After I fired that guy, I felt so bad I told him I would meet him at the office on the following Saturday for him to clean out his desk, so at least he wouldn’t have to do that with people gawking at him. The HR guy who facilitated the situation said, “Now, I hope you don’t think I’m being sexist, but when you meet him here on Saturday I don’t think you should be by yourself, and if possible you should have a guy with you.” My husband, being 6’5″ and 300 lbs, fit the bodyguard requirement quite nicely, so he came with me, and we told the ex-employee that we were on our way to visit my mom and stopped at the office on the way.

  24. Anonicorn*

    OP #4, I totally feel for you. I drive ~30 miles one way for about ~50 min, 5 days a week. I don’t have any more advice than what Alison already offered, but I sympathize enormously because I would be in your situation if my work location were to move (which isn’t out of the question – our organization is kind of spread out).

    I hope you talk to your boss and everything works out!

  25. Cassie*

    #3: Thanks to the iPhone, my boss can usually schedule his own personal calls, but I still have to call in prescription refills to the nearby drug store. It’s especially fun when he doesn’t have the prescription in hand, hasn’t gotten it filled at the drug store before, and doesn’t remember the name of the drug (only what it was for).

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