my boss lied about missing our scheduled call, candidate black-lists, and more

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

1. My boss missed our scheduled call and blamed me

I was recruited to work at this company in February by a really great boss who I directly reported to for two months when he was suddenly laid off. I was then transitioned to work for my new boss. We are polite to each other, but there’s a level of passive-aggressiveness in her tone and the way she communicates that makes me uneasy. For example, we have a standing weekly check-in where she is supposed to call my cell phone (she works remotely). Occasionally, she will just not call in to the meeting. At first I would ask to reschedule, but after this happening several times I eventually accepted that she just will sometimes not make it for that meeting. She didn’t call in this past week but the next day emailed me saying I needed to be better about keeping our check-in. I apologized and asked if maybe the time scheduled on our calendars just wasn’t a good/convenient time for her. She said it was and that she had called me at the scheduled time and left me a voicemail.

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

Be straightforward and non-accusatory, like you would with someone who you were giving the benefit of the doubt: “Hmm, my phone didn’t ring and I don’t have a voicemail from you. Something must be going wrong with the phones. I’ll check with IT to see if there’s something they need to fix. Meanwhile, is there a good time to reschedule?”

And going forward, do two things: Call her if she hasn’t called you 10 minutes after the scheduled call time, and follow up with her to reschedule if she misses your check-ins. (Non-accusatorily — something like, “You must have gotten tied up during our scheduled call today. Is there a time that works for rescheduling later in the week?”)

That addresses this specific situation, but not the broader concerns you alluded to about her, so feel free to provide more details about that in the comments.

2. Can I get an earlier start date?

I finished my previous contract role in early May and am waiting to start my new permanent job in next few weeks. My new employer has provided me with July 1 as a start date, subject to reference checks. However, I would like to start in June (any day) to avoid a month gap on my CV and also because I am very keen to start work ASAP. Currently a third party is in process of reference checks, which should be straightforward. Can I ask my new boss to give an earlier start date based on the reasoning that I do not want a month gap in my CV?

Well, first, a month-long gap is nothing. No one is going to notice or comment on it. So that’s not a good reason, or anything you should worry about (and even if it were, it’s not a reason you should use in asking for this). However, if you want to start earlier for other reasons, you could certainly send an email saying something like, “By the way, I’m available to start in June and would be glad to if it works out on your end — but sticking with July 1 is fine too.”

The point there is to note that you can do it if they want you to, but not push for it — because they could have all kinds of reason for the original start date, including needing to prepare for you, wanting you to start after a big project is over or at the same time as someone else, the person who will train you being busy or away, etc.

3. Employer’s website says I’ve been rejected, but they invited me for an interview

I received an email saying that I had been short-listed for a position that I applied for. I went back into the online system to gain more familiarity with the application materials I submitted and remember exactly how I answered their online questionnaire. I was surprised to see that the status of my application, according to the online system, was “rejected.”

In your experience, is it possible that I was sent an interview invite by mistake? Their online system switched to a new one, a few days before I submitted my application, so this could just be some glitch that comes with a new system that people aren’t used to yet. Is this something I should raise with the HR rep who contacted me for an interview?

It’s more likely that your status is incorrect, rather than that the HR person contacted you by mistake. You could certainly reach back out and ask, but these systems are so often messed up that I’d recommend just ignoring the status.

4. Do companies keep a list of non-eligible candidates?

Do companies keep a list, for whatever reason, of non-eligible candidates?

They sure do. Some of us just keep it in our heads, but some keep a more formal list.

5. Can my company really make us take on this much work?

My company is having financial issues. They are about a year behind in paying their freelancers, and over the course of the last 6 months, some people have been laid off while others quit due to an increasing and impossible workload. Nobody who left has been replaced. Our team has shrunk down from 9 people (including 2 managers) to 3 people (no managers left). Each of the three of us has been juggling the jobs of the old employees, including our old bosses, without any extra pay. We are being asked to perform tasks that are beyond the scope of our positions and pay grades. The scariest part is that we can no longer keep up with the work.

Can I be fired for failing to perform the duties of an old coworker? Or for not being able to keep up with the workload (I am still getting all my tasks in on time — the issue is with the extra work.) I’d like to ask for a raise but fear I will be fired for speaking up and that my inability to handle 2 other jobs will be cited as the reason. Is this legal?

Yes, it’s legal. There are no laws forbidding unreasonable workloads or unrealistic work demands. There are also no laws forbidding an employer from firing someone for asking for a raise — although it’s not very common that that happens (not unheard of, but not common).

But given your company’s financial straits, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to get a raise, unless you’re very, very highly valued. Instead, I’d put as much energy as you can into finding another job as quickly as possible.

6. Applying when a company doesn’t have specific openings

If a company that you would love to work for gives you the option online to submit a general application (including resume and cover letter) that doesn’t correspond to a specific position, is there a benefit to doing this? How should I tailor the cover letter?

Yes. Sometimes they offer this because they might consider you for openings that aren’t so urgent that they’re being advertised, but which they’d still like to fill if the right person came along. Sometimes they’ll just keep you in mind for future openings. Sometimes — much more rarely — if you’re truly fantastic, they might find an opening for you.

Your cover letter should explain what kind of work you’re looking for and why you’re great at it, and why you’d like to work there in particular.

7. References for beginners

As a college student, how should I go about collecting references? Do most companies want to call references or read recommendation letters? How do I go about asking people for references if I know that they would be willing, but I have stayed in less-than-regular communication?

In the vast majority of fields, they want to call references and don’t care about letters. (Jobs in academia and law are sometimes exceptions to this.)

Ideally, your references are people who have managed you in jobs or internships. It’s best if you’ve kept at least somewhat in touch with them, but it’s not prohibitive if you haven’t. It’s fine to reach out now, let them know you’re job-searching, and ask if they’ll serve as a reference for you.

{ 93 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    #2 Something to consider is that July 1 is often the start of a new fiscal year, so the position may be budgeted to begin then (in which case there may not be flexibility).

    1. EM*

      Very good point about the fiscal year.

      As Alison said, nobody is going to notice or care about a month-long gap. Heck, it took me a few months after graduation to find my first job, and nobody has ever commented on it. Use the month off to relax and mentally prepare for your new job. Maybe visit friends or family. You are in the enviable position of having some time off. Take advantage of it!

    2. tcookson*

      . . . July 1 is often the start of a new fiscal year . . .

      That’s the first thing I thought . . . this is the time of year at my work where we don’t make any unnecessary purchases or open any new budget items until July 1, because of the fiscal year. July 1 also marks the beginning of any new line items in the budget. It might be the same thing for the other company, where they don’t have the budget for the position until July 1.

  2. Flynn*

    Re: 1. It’s possible she’s calling the wrong number (or more usefully, that you could ask her to doublecheck what number she’s calling, as a ‘nobody’s fault’ way of raising the issue and document that *you are not getting her calls*).

    Plenty of people have unhelpful voicemails, or maybe she just didn’t listen carefully, and phones keep a record of the number dialled – if she’s not using an ordinary landline, of course. Although if she is, the chances of a misdial are even higher, as it’s not saved in contacts!

    1. OP for #1*

      My cell number is in the event invitation and she’s called it many times before. Also it’s my personal cell so I can’t blame it on IT although I might say something about my carrier’s service being spotty. I can’t figure out if she knows she didn’t call me and is trying to provoke a reaction or if she honestly thinks she did call and is simply mistaken. Based on my history with her, I unfortunately am inclined to believe option 1. Long story short- I should get a new job!

      1. Flynn*

        Just because you know everything’s probably working as it should, and you ‘should’ know all of the how, doesn’t mean it’s not a good innocent pushback, though. The most innocent explanation for “I didn’t get a call and you rang” is a wrong number, and it’s a good way to get the fact you didn’t get a call documented.

        (but yes, your boss sounds… unpleasant to work with).

      2. The IT Manager*

        My cell number is in the event invitation and she’s called it many times before.

        The still doesn’t guarantee that she didn’t dial the wrong number; although, if your cell phone number is saved as a contact or speed dial that makes it more likely.

        I’d follow Alison’s advise this far “My phone didn’t ring and I don’t have a missed called or voicemail from you. Can we reschedule?” And next time this happens, call her 10 minutes after the start to CYA. And if you don’t reach her by phone, it might be a good CYA to send an email too aksing if she wats to rechedule.

        1. Alicia*

          I will be honest, in my personal life there are two numbers I dial the most, my fiancé and my parents. On more than one occasion I was positive I called my parents and received no answer though then my fiancé calls me back an hour later asking why I called. Sometimes it’s just stupid fingers :)

        2. EngineerGirl*

          There’s another reason to call her. The meta data on your phone provides third party evidence of you contacting her. When you get your phone bill go to your providers web site and download the detailed version of your phone bill (not the short one). Save it as a pdf if possible. Also print it out and keep it. This will show phone numbers called and minutes per call. You will have evidence. That you called her number. You will also have any evidence of her calling you.

          1. MentalEngineer*

            And if you have trouble getting the records from your phone provider, you can just call the NSA!

            (non-political throwaway joke only)

        3. Jessa*

          Yes I totally agree with the email also. Call her if she doesn’t call you, but ALSO email within a few minutes. That gives you a record that’s easier to trace and independent of your phone.

          If you are not having trouble getting calls from anyone else, I’d say it’s her not you. Simply because patchy service doesn’t constantly mean only one person at one time every week or so does not get through.

          The other option is to simply take full responsibility for the contact and INITIATE the first call. She can always wave you off if she’s busy (goes to her VM.) But you’d have outgoing cel records showing you called her at x time.

          That’s another thing you can do – in a non accusatory manner, ask her for redacted cell records so you can show your carrier “look she called at x time and y time and I got no voicemail nor live call.” If she CAN prove it up that she made the call, then you need to have your carrier reset your voicemail box you may have a glitch. You go about this by repeatedly blaming your phone and carrier but your carrier keeps saying “not us,” and you need proof to get them to FIX the thing.

          Her reaction to “I need information to give my side of this to fix it,” will let you know if she’s snowing you about making the calls, because if she IS making them she has a vested interest in helping you fix your side of it.

      3. fposte*

        Some networks–I’m looking at you, AT&T–are notorious for failing to deliver missed call messages and voicemails. So you’ve got plenty of cover if you *want* to blame the carrier, and it’s not completely impossible that you’d be right to do so.

        Can you call her instead, maybe using your carrier as an excuse?

        1. Jessa*

          This also, call your voicemail and see if you have stuck messages. You may NOT get a notice that there are actually messages out there.

      4. FiveNine*

        This seems … strange to me. If it happened once, of course I would assume it was a genuine mix up somehow. More than once? From someone in a position above you who didn’t jump on it immediately each time (and have the power to crack down on you for not coming through)? Red flags. I know it’s impossible to know the dynamics from just one letter to a blog but everything is telling me Get Out.

        1. Mimi*

          Same here. I worked or a similar type of boss. Don’t ask why (maybe I’m paranoid), but I could see OP’s boss using this to build a case….discipline, termination, who knows. But they already have a tense relationship, and this is strange behavior. The boss already has an alternate number for the OP; why not call that instead?

      5. Lydia Navarro*

        OP #1, I do agree with the other posters here that record-keeping is important and I like Engineer Girl’s idea of tracking the call records. I totally understand your frustrations as well; my boss at my first job in our new city had a similar issue. In addition to my usual duties (taxes, payroll, accounting, etc.), since this was a small business, I also handled tons of things outside my usual realm, one of them being our HR functions, and I had the worst time earlier this year getting my boss to remember interviews with candidates. I would clear a time/date with my boss, schedule the interview, double/triple check and confirm that it was all good with him and the others who had to attend. And then find myself having to rudely cancel on the candidate plus whichever co-workers were involved the day before or day of the interview – and find myself on the end of a very nasty accusation of intentionally screwing up the calendar about 50% of the time. My record-keeping plus approaching the confrontation in a super calm and matter of fact way was the only thing preventing my boss from exploding at me. If it’s any consolation to job seekers on here as well, you might not hear back from a company you applied to because they have a screwy owner like my ex employer was, so who knows, you may have been incredibly blessed and just not know it!

        (By the way, after two months of this “cat and mouse” game, we extended one offer to someone who was totally fed up with this game and turned us down. I have to admit that I was secretly glad, since I think it’s awful to jerk a job seeker around like that. And we almost lost a second person who was super qualified and awesome, especially since my uber-paranoid boss decided to bring the candidate in for a second interview that more resembled a police interrogation than anything else. Yikes, right? My old co-worker cc’ed me on a bet from her personal email about how long this candidate is going to last…not a good sign…)

    1. EM*

      Yes, run for the exit.

      Since you have more work than you can reasonably do, it’s probably a good idea to talk to whoever is above you (since the managers are now gone) and ask about what HAS to get done, and let them know that some of the things they consider non-essential might not get done as often or at all. It may be that some of your old tasks aren’t as important as some of your former coworkers’, and you just end up doing bits and pieces of each job.

      1. Kara*

        Exactly. A YEAR behind in paying freelancers? You’re going to show up one day to find the doors padlocked. Start looking for a new job, aggressively.

  3. ExceptionToTheRule*

    #1 – it could legitimately be either your phone or your provider. I went though a spate recently where my phone wouldn’t ring, no missed called showed up, but 8 hours later I got a voicemail. I would definitely second AAM’s suggestion of calling her if she doesn’t call you.

    1. Kay*

      I agree. It could very well be the phone. I often have all kinds of strange phone problems between my work cell and my personal cell (with different providers). Sometimes the phone won’t ring and I’ll get a voicemail later, sometimes the voicemail won’t even show up. Sometimes I will randomly lose service for no particular reason. I live in a small mountain town and everyone understands that sometimes communications fail here. So it could be a legitimate technology issue. But it also sounds like there are deeper issues and it’s time for a new job.

  4. Not so NewReader*

    OP 1, would like to hear more examples of what is going on with your boss. Alison’s suggestion in the phone example is a very good one that works well. However, if you have to go through this type of thing ALL. THE. TIME. then it is a big deal. Perhaps a previous employee of hers has left her thrown for a loop? I have seen rattled bosses come across as passive-aggressive and the truth is that they are shaken by the amount of errors a previous employee made unbeknownst to the boss. The boss needed to wind down from that terrible experience and figure out that her former problems were over. I handled it by being extra meticulous with my work. I made clear notes on my work and I checked in with her regularly. She did not respond every time I checked in but she let me know she really appreciated all the times I touched base. In a matter of months- the boss calmed down substantially. I ended up with an excellent boss.
    This may or may not be something that applies to your setting…

    1. OP for #1*

      Unfortunately there’s been a lot of strange, similar scenarios. Another frequent example is she will ask me to create materials for the sales team that I know they don’t need/don’t want. I’ll mention that I’m not sure they will find these materials helpful but she insists. When I create the materials, she’ll send a note to the sales team without copying me saying “[OP] really wanted you to have these materials, not sure why but just thought I’d pass along.” The sales team will forward these emails to me asking why I would create documents they specifically told me they don’t want.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        Whenever you get verbal instructions **always** email her back repeating the instructions “just to clarify”. Make sure you include “per your direction”. Add in the tag line “please let me know if this is incorrect”. That way you have discoverable date-time stamped documentation of her request. The next time someone questions why you did it you can forward it to them.

        Make sure you have written documentation for her verbal orders. Because this kind always gives verbal orders. If she asks for something shady always, always, always ask for her written direction to do so. Preferably in an email. She will insist that you do a verbal – just say “sure thing, once I get your written direction.” You’d be surprised at how many times slimers will refuse to put their sig on something. And start looking for another job. These kind are dangerous.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Some managers will legitimately not want to spend time putting every project instructions in writing and will reasonably expect that you can take your own notes. But you can email them after the verbal conversation with “to make sure we’re on the same page, I thought I’d jot down how I’m taking away from our conversation and how I’ll proceed — let me know you want to change any of this.”

          1. Jenna*

            I have done this, and it worked well for me even with a good boss. Confirming verbal instructions seems sensible in a lot of situations.
            Our situation was policy changes coming from higher up. My boss and I would talk, and then I would confirm via email. The title of the email was always something short and relevant to the subject so that I could find it easily when I needed it. Sometimes we had questions from other departments or a higher up(not my immediate boss) would question a change, and I would have the relevant change documented, including where it came from and its purported purpose.
            After I started doing this my next review was wonderful, but, my boss appreciated that I was keeping notes organized for both of us.
            (I wasn’t asking her for a go ahead; I was confirming a conversation. There was nothing that she needed to do if she didn’t want to, but she usually sent me a thank you for writing it down.

          2. Jessa*

            What Alison said, except that in this case the manager is passive aggressively throwing the OP under a bus. Making them do work they know is not needed and telling other people that the OP did it on their own without instruction. IE the OP is too stupid to know not to do this, see? They’re setting the OP up for a BIG fall. A pattern of “see the OP keeps doing this stupid stuff,” with no proof that they TOLD the OP to do it.

            IN this case it’s not a manager just giving verbal instructions. It’s verbal dynamite set to explode all over the OP, I wouldn’t open a window on a verbal request from this manager without “Hey you said you want the window open, are you sure? It might blow the papers off Shuvon’s desk.” in an email.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Loop the sales team in at the start — “Jane asked me to create these, so I’m working on them in the next few days. If you have input, please send it to both of us before Tuesday.”

        1. EngineerGirl*

          I like this. That way you can tell your boss that you want give the sales department what they need.

        2. FiveNine*

          This is great advice. Because my experience with one passive-aggressive such person was that any email trying to confirm or put in writing a verbal understanding of the division of the work load was met with pure silence — she flat-out just didn’t respond to the email, carrying the passive-aggressiveness to another degree.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            Which is why you include “please let me know if this is incorrect”. If its good,no action needed.

      3. Gilbey*

        Now with that example there is a much bigger issue here. Does she actually want you working for her? I don’t mean “you” personally but anyone at all?

        Was she was “given” you, as opposed to, that other manager who hired you? So she had no say in the matter? Is she reacting by blowing off calls because she can’t be bothered? And gives you bogus work just act like she is working with you?

        I might have a conversations with her, asking ( something to this nature) of duties, times to check in, expectations and so on, so at the very least you have it documented on what she says she wants. Not to throw it in her face but for your own sanity so you know you are not crazy. At least you will know what NOT to expect !

        Obviously you can’t change her and the way she does things but at least if you can see a pattern of what she does you can decide if this job is the right one for you.

        1. OP for #1*

          This is a good point – I didn’t meet with her during the interview process (although I met with the rest of the senior leadership team). When my boss was laid off, they just announced I would now report to her although it’s not clear whether she volunteered or it was forced on her. When we see each other in person or connect on the phone, she is syrupy sweet and tells me how happy she is that I’m on her team. But then there are these fairly frequent incidents that make me question our relationship. For anyone who has seen/read Harry Potter, she is like a real life Dolores Umbridge!

        2. cncx*

          this is a really good point. the only passive-aggressive boss I ever had was one who didn’t want me working for her. I found out *after* she threw me under the bus that her old boss got her former assistant fired, so getting me fired was going to be payback time.

      4. Kay*

        Ugh – something similar happens to me too. My boss asks me to bring people together and schedule meetings because he urgently wants to discuss something. Then when the meeting begins, he will be like “Well, you wanted this meeting. Why are we here?” I’ve just learned to roll with it and be ready to run any meeting that my boss is involved with….

      5. Not so NewReader*

        OP, I am so sorry. She’s a terrible boss. Ok, I am not saying exactly what I think here….sigh… but you get the idea.
        You can find something better than this. And all those “useless” reports you generated? That only sharpened your skills for the next boss who will genuinely appreciate your nice reports.

        One poster below here mentioned the little spoon. I am shaking my head… if the boss has a drug or alcohol problem you will never win. We just cannot reason with a chemical. And the chemical will always be more important than we are.

      6. Lindsay J*

        I actually laughed out loud at this. I’m sorry you have to deal with it, though.

  5. Paul S*

    I work in IT and we are routinely scapegoated as the source of all problems. Your solution to #1 is helping you skirt around an awkward situation at the expense of the IT department’s credibility which you know is inevitably going to tell you nothing is wrong. You should know this already yourself, since other calls are working fine?

    1. OP for #1*

      Totally agree! In fact, we are so small that we don’t have an IT department and it’s my personal cell. As the admin for a lot of our software, I have to sensitively field many of those “stupid technology” complaints when really it’s user error

      1. sugaraddict*

        I think what Alison and the other posters are saying is similar to their advice on a previous post where GPS tracked an employee’s stolen iPad to her supervisor’s house, but the supervisor denied having it, so the OP took it up with HR and eventually the police.

        Right now it sounds like you and your supervisor is stuck in “He said, she said” mode. By bringing IT into it, you’re showing that a) there’s nothing you’re doing wrong on your end, and b) you are actively taking steps to fix the problem.

        1. sugaraddict*

          btw, I’m not saying OP#1 needs to involve HR or the police, just that that’s what occurred in the previous post!

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s not about scapegoating IT. It’s about something appearing not to work as it should and checking with the logical dept. If IT says all is fine, she can report that back to her boss.

    3. Jamie*

      Yes, we get scapegoated all the time, but that’s not what Alison was suggesting. Nothing wrong with consulting us to rule out a technical issue (if it was a company phone, the OP has since clarified hat it was her personal phone and this her personal problem.)

      But in general there is too much scapegoating of IT based on a lack of understanding of the technology and our function and those people need to cut it out – but that isn’t what is happening here.

  6. saro*

    Can you just say, “That’s odd, I received no calls or voice mails. I’m also sitting by the landline. In the future, I will call you if I don’t receive your call on time.”

  7. 05girl*

    Random resume question —

    I have a volunteer experience I want to highlight (skills used would be related to target jobs). I also have other volunteer experiences that I do not want to highlight. What is the best organization of my resume sections? I worry that because the volunteer experience will be below some of my older jobs, it’ll get lost (since older jobs are less transferrable to target positions).

    Basic Oultine? –>
    Work Experience
    Related Volunteer Experience
    Other Volunteer Experience

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hi O5girl, since this is off-topic (and I try to keep comments related to the post), feel free to email it to me to get it in my question queue.

      1. Elizabeth*

        Do you answer pretty much every question people send you, Alison? (Except spam, etc.) Or do you cull them down? I know that really big advice columnists like Dear Abby and Miss Manners can’t possibly answer all their questions, but I’m curious about your load. I see far more answers from you than for most of the advice columnists I read – 6-10 a day – are there even more that you have to cut for lack of time?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes! I get about 30 questions a day, answer about 6-10 publicly here (including the the answers in the short answer posts) and answer a bunch more privately, but no longer can answer everything. For a long time I used to try to get everyone a response — which for most letters meant a few sentences sent privately — but I’ve recently resigned myself to that no longer being possible. But I do still try to answer as many as I can.

          1. Lydia Navarro*

            Wow, you are like Super Woman! If I ever get bored of accounting I think I might like to get in on the HR and recruiting side of things and I know I will have a question or 2 for you if I ever go that route. Thanks again for offering this resource, it really is incredible!

  8. Kathryn T.*

    WRT candidate blacklists: a former colleage of mine had a resume thumb-tacked to his office door with a post-it on it that said “DO NOT HIRE THIS MAN.”

      1. Kathryn T.*

        He was his cousin, and he suffered terribly from the Dunning-Kruger effect — he had a radically inflated notion of his own competence and efficacy. He also had a habit of calling my colleague weekly and whining about why he wasn’t working at our company yet. AND every time my colleague co-authored an article or whitepaper, the cousin would call the co-author and whine to HER about why he deserved a job at the company. Just a jawdropping lack of boundaries, skill, and professionalism.

    1. Lydia Navarro*

      I know that at least one of my old employers kept an informal interview blacklist but you had to be really egregious and rude to get on it, not simply incompetent or bashful at your interview. One guy threatened to put my bosses on a SPAM LIST when he did not get hired and the hiring manager forwarded his email to everyone in the office. It was so rude and entitled that I still wonder to this day whether he has found a job!

      I also know that I was blacklisted at a temp agency back in the 90s . I was a December grad and I got the worst case of the flu ever a couple weeks after graduation, and unfortunately it was the weekend before I had set up a series of screening interviews for local temp agencies. I was too delirious with fever on Sunday night to remember to call off for my Monday interview, and only remembered when I stumbled awake that Monday afternoon to a message on my answering machine: Lydia, consider yourself ineligible for seeking work at ABC Temp Services going forward. I deserved what I got and learned my lesson, being sure to reschedule the others ASAP…but I don’t believe the list was forwarded around my city because I got a contract to hire job from a competing agency 7 weeks later.

      1. Lydia Navarro*

        Do you guys think it would be different nowadays with so much recruiting going on through email and social media? On the one hand, I could see more blacklisting going on because it doesn’t take anything to forward a list of undesirable candidates. But on the other, people are so busy because online work seems to “expand to fill the time available.” At my office, we all get dozens of emails everyday and I know some of my coworkers have fallen in love with that “Urgent” flag. I know my friends report similar, so maybe people just don’t have time to blacklist. I wonder…

  9. Oxford Comma*

    #7 – I’m in academia so things are a little different regarding references, but in general when I agree to be an applicant for someone, I want to be a)asked ahead of time; b) given a copy of the resume & job posting that the applicant is using; and c) when they email me to notify me they are using me as a reference, I like an email saying something like Wakeen Smith – Chocolate Teapots Inc, so if I get a call I can pull up the info quickly.

    You may also want to get in the habit of periodically emailing your references to keep them up-to-date with what you’re doing.

    1. Jessa*

      This totally. It’s like tailoring a resume. If I have no idea why you want me to be a reference, or what I’m referring for? Bad idea. Makes you look sneaky and makes me look stupid.

      Don’t use someone for a reference if you haven’t asked them in reference to the SPECIFIC job on the table, unless they’re writing the usual academic reference and you’re using it as a blanket submission.

      1. Ariancita*

        Yes, and that gets back to the sticky situation I’ve asked before in comments: when hiring managers call previous employers not listed by the candidate, it can really damage that relationship, so what can the candidate do?

        1. Oxford Comma*

          I’ve been called a couple of times for circumstances like that. It’s always been a more casual call as opposed to the usual formal reference call I get. Like a “hey, do you know Jane Jones or Wakeen Smith; what can you tell me about them?” I don’t think there is much an applicant CAN do.

          1. Anon1*

            Not much you can do. Because of the industry I’m in and it being a very small world, I’d likely know people at your current employer, so could find out whether any other relevant partners, etc… exist that aren’t listed as long as they’ve moved on . I’d almost never call an unlisted person at your current employer as my goal isn’t to get the interviewee fired. In my view, an “unsolicited” reference check can provide good support (or lack of it) for an employee’s past performance.

            Going back to the OPs question, N0rth American references (outside academia and a few specific niches) are best collected by keeping in touch with former supervisors/owners who you’ve impressed. Treat them like gold. See AAM’s other suggestions on how to preserve these valuable people by dodging unnecessary application form requests like providing references up front. Very bad idea.

        2. fposte*

          I can see it could damage things if the people don’t know the applicant is looking–are there other scenarios I’m not envisioning?

    2. Oxford Comma*

      er I meant when I agree to be a reference for someone, not an applicant for someone.

  10. Ruffingit*

    OP#1…sigh. I feel for you. I worked for a similar boss and it was a nightmare after awhile. She routinely missed meetings she had scheduled, she was passive-aggressive in so many small ways, and she outright lied about things that she didn’t need to be lying about. I worked on projects that no one found useful and the things that would have been useful never got done because she refused to give me the manpower I needed to complete them.

    It’s enough to drive you crazy. I know what you mean about the little passive-aggressive things, I’ve dealt with those and they can be hard to quantify when someone asks, but put together and dealing with it every day is just so difficult.

    Look for another job and do the CYA that others have suggested such as keeping the sales team in the loop by asking for their feedback before you begin the project and therefore they will know the boss asked for the materials you’re working on. It’s possible she could still lie to them and say “No, I didn’t ask for that, I don’t know why OP said I did…” but there’s nothing you can do about that. Do what you can and job hunt like crazy.

    Good luck. I know what you’re going through. It’s not easy.

    1. OP for #1*

      Thanks for understanding, I’m a people-pleaser at my core so it’s really uncomfortable feeling like I can’t win with her. I know I sound paranoid, but I’m sure this wasn’t a simple misdial or my service provider not coming through. I will definitely take everyone’s advice though and start calling her 10 minutes into the scheduled meeting time as well as looping in other team members when she asks me to work on projects.

      I do however get most of my direction from her via email (including the sales materials I mentioned above) but have so far not fanned the flames any higher by forwarding those to the colleagues she’s misled. I guess that’s the next step but I just didn’t want to get sucked into this insanity.

      1. Ruffingit*

        You can’t win with her, so no use trying. I used to think maybe I could do things with my boss to make things better as well, but then I realized I couldn’t. Nothing was going to stop her from the bad business behavior she was exhibiting. She had issues that I couldn’t combat, nor was it my job to do so, and it helped me to remember that.

        If you don’t want to fan the flames by forwarding the emails to colleagues she’s misled, you don’t have to do so. You can shift your attitude from trying to make things work at work to giving most of your emotional energy to the new job search and just doing the bare minimum you need to do at your job to survive it emotionally. That is not to say you stop doing your work to the best of your ability, just that you shift to giving the bare minimum of your emotional energy to work. This takes some doing – you have to separate your mind from the work by realizing that investing emotionally in anything at work isn’t worth it.

        I did this by pretending that I was on my way out within the next week or two. And that helped me to have a mindset of “Get things done, who cares if the boss/colleagues are bitter, passive-aggressive, etc.?” It helped me just to think differently about it. We all get emotionally invested in our work and the people there to some degree. Try to break that emotional investment and job hunt like crazy!!

        Hang in there. As I said, I know what you’re dealing with here and it’s not easy. Chances are, this boss is missing the scheduled calls and blaming you. That, along with the whole giving you work that doesn’t need to be done and then acting like doing it is your decision is really passive-aggressive and sh**ty. Hard to handle that on a daily basis. You can do it though if you know that it’s not forever and a new job is on the horizon since your most important task at this point is to find one!

        1. Mimi*

          I worked for a very similar boss – this post is giving me horrible flashbacks of all the crap she pulled, and how miserable I was! OP, start the job search. Ruffingit has good tips. I have my fingers crossed for you.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        People pleasing is a problem if the other person wants you to do something wrong or if they want you to self destruct. Focus on doing the right thing instead.

      3. Marina*

        My first step would not be to send her email to the sales team, but to reply to the email she originally sent to you asking you to work on the project, with a note saying, “I thought you had asked me to work on x project as per email below. Did I misinterpret this?”

        Second step: during one of your phone call check ins (if it ever actually happens) bring it up with the same phrasing. “I have an email here dated May 10th asking me to work on x project, but yesterday I saw an email from you to the sales team saying you weren’t sure why I created these materials. Did I misinterpret what you wanted me to do?”

        Third step: “This has happened three times now, and I’d really appreciate your input on what I can to do make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

        The key to dealing with passive aggressive people is to be as transparent as possible. Act as if you’re taking everything she says completely at face value and follow up as you would if her claims were actually true. Document out the wazoo, not just privately but with anyone else who should know what’s going on. Key word: should. There’s no need to, for instance, forward her boss the emails you’re getting from her. But if you’re asked to do a report for the sales team? Absolutely bring the sales team in, AND make sure she knows that you’ve brought them in the loop.

        1. Lydia Navarro*

          All the advice here is really great for OP #1. I did a lot of these things with my last boss and it seemed the more transparent I was the angrier he got. So, I see the value in emotionally checking out for sure. It got a lot easier when I decided I didn’t care what he thought of me because there was no pleasing him anyway. He never remembered anything he told me to do, he never remembered anything we had scheduled, he changed his mind constantly and forgot everything he said just hours ago (or yesterday or whatever). And it was all my fault regardless of how meticulous the notes were, how calm I’d be when trying to figure out what he REALLY wanted, etc.

          I got pragmatic about it and decided I was investing far too much energy for no result, and that honestly, I didn’t have it half as bad as most of my coworkers did, who did work that directly affected the bottom line. With caring less, I saw that I started having a lot more energy in the mornings and on the weekends to pursue my job search and the process of getting out was fast and smooth once I “checked out” of that job.

      4. AB*

        OP #1 wrote: “I do however get most of my direction from her via email (including the sales materials I mentioned above) but have so far not fanned the flames any higher by forwarding those to the colleagues she’s misled. I guess that’s the next step but I just didn’t want to get sucked into this insanity.”

        One thing you should be thinking about is how to protect your reputation with your current employer. If you don’t have a chance to explain to the entire sales team what’s going on (and rather only clarify to the people who ask about it), you run the risk, when you have to apply to another job in the future, of someone who knows one of the salespeople getting a less-than-stellar reference from them. If a contact informally asks them, “Hey, Jane has submitted an application with us, what can you tell me about her work?”, and they don’t know what was going on, the answer may very well be “she seemed to waste a lot of time creating useless reports for my team, even after we had told her we didn’t need them”.

        Remember, reference checking often goes beyond than what candidates list on their applications, especially after you’ve moved on to another company. At that point it will become more likely that people from your curent job will be contacted the next time you start job searching, and keeping people in the dark may very well hurt the type of reference you will get from this employer.

  11. Elise*

    #6 – Definitely go for it! That’s how I got my current job.

    They had a general ad on their site so people could apply without a specific position in mind. I sent a cover letter that said, “I want to work there, so pick me!” (not actual phrasing) And they called me for a phone interview to discuss which department would be the best fit.

    1. OP for #6 and #7*

      Thanks so much for the encouragement – I realize it won’t happen every time, but your success story at least gives me some hope ;)

      Thanks as well to all those who commented on #7 above.

  12. Cruciatus*

    For #4, is “non-eligible” just meaning rejected based on not enough skills/experience? Or is there a more specific meaning of this word in relation to job searching? What if you’re put on *the list* but you eventually get the skills/experience needed? Are you blackballed or something?

    1. LD*

      Non-eligible typically means that you are not to be considered for any position openings and not that you are ineligible for reasons having to do with specific skill deficits. For example, non-eligible because an applicant was rude to the receptionist or the hiring manager or the applicant is accused of stalking a current employee (as in a previous letter to AskAManager), or any number of things. There are a variety of reasons that someone would be ineligible and it typically isn’t something that can be overcome by gaining new skills.

    2. Anonymous*

      You can also be non-eligible for hire at one place because you’re non-eligible for hire/rehire at another place. My place of employment (an university) hardly ever fires anyone, and has no problem rehiring people who have left. If someone is not eligible for hire or rehire at my workplace, then it’s a big red flag to every other local business to not hire that person.

      1. Anonymous*

        If this is in a college town, that could be probably the closest modern equivalent to being driven out of town.

        1. Anonymous*

          Yes. And there’s no privacy laws (?) that explicitly state that HR has to state if you’re not/are eligible for hire/rehire (also it’s good to know for HR what’s going on “under the radar”), so you can’t know if your status isn’t getting to other businesses.

  13. LD*

    OP #1, forgive me if this has been mentioned already, but have you considered that there may be some lingering issue from your previous boss that is tainting your relationship with your current manager? You mentioned that your former manager was laid off only a few months into your being hired. Alison’s advice to handle this current situation and other future conference calls and the CYA emails are great. But it does sound as if there is something else going on and I wondered if you’d considered the relationship or reputation of your former manager. Can you talk to people who knew your former manager? Can you talk with anyone who knows or has worked (is working) for your current manager and get their perspective? Are you her first direct report? I’m just offering this as another option for finding out what has created this dynamic where it seems she is trying to make you look incompetent. I wish you luck but you might be better served by looking for another job.

  14. Anon*

    In this context I took non-eligible to mean “horrible, don’t hire” instead of simply not chosen. You’re right, the OP didn’t say that. I sometimes serve on hiring committees, and there’s a big difference between ‘didn’t hire’ and ‘don’t hire.’ We see a lot of the same names, and many people interview several times before finding a good fit (I was one of them!). However, we had one guy who made a past committee super uncomfortable-if I remember right, he was a starer-and the HR lady definitely remembered his name. Another lady was qualified on paper, but was po

    1. Anon*

      Sorry, cut off! Stupid tiny phone keyboard!…She was pompous and dreadful in person. We also discovered she had misled us on her app, and she dodged when given a chance to clarify. I’m guessing she’ll be quietly passed next time.

  15. Forrest Rhodes*

    #1 Once upon a time I worked for what may have been a similar employer. Example: On Tuesday, Boss tells me he desperately needs me to generate a detailed summary of, say, the business phone bills for the past three months, and he needs it for a Thursday morning meeting. I work diligently and late to assemble the report, and hand it to him Wednesday afternoon.

    He examines the report front and back (backs of the pages are blank), then turns the pages sideways and then upside down; then says to me, slowly and carefully, in that tone of voice usually reserved for dealing with the severely deranged, “Well, this is nice … really VERY nice, but … I don’t understand why you want me to have it.”

    “Oh,” I reply, “sorry. Should it go to [his assistant] Griselda instead?”

    “No, no, no,” he responds, testily, “nobody I can think of would WANT this information. But,” his tone brightens, “you did it VERY neatly!”

    Repeat incident ad infinitum, ad nauseam. After this, and after many instances of his coming into my office at night and removing or rearranging files, notes, etc., and after seeing his mood ricochet in microseconds from mouth-foaming rage to Disney-character innocence, I finally identified the problem: Boss was spending way, WAY too much time with his little silver spoon. (Duh!)

    Final event: As I headed for the exit on my last day, my closest friend at the office told me that Boss had just instructed her to fire me. No, I didn’t report to friend; we were at the same level of responsibility and didn’t even work in the same department. And yes, I’d given three weeks notice. I (and not too much later, my friend) couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

    Not saying that this is OP#1’s boss’s problem, but wow–will we never run out of these types of one-taco-short-of-a-combination-plate bosses? I wish you well, OP#1. Hope it all works out in the best way possible for you.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Wow, that sounds unpleasant to say the least. It’s not easy working for people who are literally mentally ill or doing drugs that make them seem like they are. I had a boss like that once too (I’ve got tons of crazy boss stories unfortunately) and it’s enough to make you go crazy yourself. Glad you got out of there and your colleague did too.

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        For the sake of more appropriate semantics, let’s flip that:
        People who are doing (certain) drugs, or have mental illnesses that make it seem like they are, can be very hard to work with.

        I.e. my future potential direct reports will likely have no problem with my weekly crying in therapy or frequent panic attacks that only happen at night or (so on and so on), just examples of how the “mental illness” umbrella isn’t all-applicable.

    2. Mimi*

      Yep, same here. Former crazy boss would go through my desk drawers when I left for the ladies’ room. When I returned and asked what she needed, she’d say, “Oh, just seeing what you’re up to…”

  16. Miss Displaced*

    5. Can my company really make us take on this much work?

    OMG! I’ve totally BEEN there!
    This is a hallmark of a company going quickly down the tubes. The worse things get for the company financially, the nastier things get for any remaining employees. It never ends well, and likely one day you will come to work only to find the doors padlocked and your 401k gone.

    My advice is to start looking for another job pronto!

  17. KimmieSue*

    #3 – As a corporate recruiter, I’ve accidentally selected the wrong status in applicant tracking systems (essentially rejecting candidates that we were in fact interested in). When it happens, I apologize profusely. Although, I’d love to blame it on a system, each time it was me moving too fast.

    Please follow up. I bet it was a simple error.

  18. Anonymous*

    Regarding references and letters…

    My case might have been a black sheep, but a letter of reference was part of the reason I got the job I’m currently in. I was just graduating college, and I had to get these letters from my internship supervisors in order to graduate, so I brought one along with me to an interview.. it went well, and when she asked for my references, I gave her a list with the letter attached. It was a VERY good letter, so I’m sure that had something to do with it, and she did end up calling my reference to confirm what the letter said, but I was such a wild card at the time (new graduate applying for a non-entry level position) that I think it’s one of the things that made my now-manager take a second look. I’m not in academia or law, so YMMV

  19. Rob*

    Really appreciate your comments. I will use the reasoning provided by you with the HR. thanks again.

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