my new job was delayed 2 days before my start date, when a beloved manager leaves, and more

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

1. My new job was delayed two days before my start date — and I was scolded when I asked about it

I recently just went through a lengthy interview process consisting of 6 interviews over a period of over a month with a nonprofit for a program that consists of almost a dozen grant positions. We all got the acceptance email over a week ago, did our paperwork including a background check, and were supposed to start Monday.

On the Saturday before we were supposed to start, we got emails saying the state has not authorized the funding yet. We were offered no new start date. I sent a polite but assertive email asking if the funding was secure and how long the delay could be. I also asked about the written offers, which she had said specifically in an email were supposed to go out after our background checks and references cleared.

She then replied in an email which had a huge tonal shift in the second half, saying I was “less than professional” and “unnecessarily forceful.” I actually met another member in the program saying she had a similar experience whenever she asked questions about the interview process. I should also note the positions are at different sites, and in the reply she also sent the email to my would-be supervisor who had no prior involvement in the conversation.

At this point she wants to know if want to still participate in the program, which I do. But I am just not sure how to respond and was I wrong for asking questions? I understand its not her fault, but she has to understand I was starting a job Monday and now I am not.

Without seeing the email you sent, I can’t say whether it was “unnecessarily forceful,” but anyone in her shoes should understand that people are going to be stressed out and concerned upon hearing two days before they were supposed to start a new job that it’s now on hold. Expressing concern and asking for more information is an appropriate response to that — in fact, NOT doing those things would be odd. Since another person got the same reaction from her, my money is on your email being perfectly appropriate and your hiring contact being the one with the problem.

As for what to do now, I’d politely explain to her that you’re obviously very concerned since you had thought the start date was certain and had planned accordingly (and if you resigned another job to take this one, mention that), and try to get any information you can about what’s going on. If you’re not able to get answers that make you comfortable, I’d continue to job search in case this doesn’t ultimately come through.

2. How should I treat a conversation with a manager about a potential new role?

A couple of weeks ago, a manager from a different department asked if I was interested in having a conversation about a role that’s open on his team. I’m very interested and responded with enthusiasm. We’re talking later this week.

I’m not sure how I should approach and prepare for this conversation. I genuinely am not sure whether it’s an interview, a casual conversation to share information about the role as a precursor to a standard application process, or a near-final job offer… which leaves me confused about what my next steps are. What do you think?

Ask him! I’d say something like, “Should I prepare for this like an interview or consider it more of a preliminary conversation?” But if you’re not comfortable doing that for any reason, then I’d still prepare for it like you would an interview so that you’re covered in case it turns out to be (and it’s hard to go wrong with being really prepared, regardless) but follow his lead on where he takes the conversation.

3. Dealing with the departure of a beloved manager

I don’t have a specific question per se, but I’m looking for general advice, words of wisdom, and/or consolation regarding the recent departure of a beloved manager. This manager hired me to my current role (an entry-level role at a consulting firm) almost exactly a year ago – he actually reached out to me himself through Linkedin (we had a connection in common) and met me for coffee to discuss what we both do before referring me into the hiring process. We worked fairly closely together across the past year and he made a great effort to develop me and give me opportunities to grow in my position while providing me helpful feedback when appropriate.

This manager just left the firm in early February and I have to say, I’m whatever the professional equivalent of heartbroken is. He was a great mentor to me and I learned so much working with him. We’ve been in touch since – he’s demonstrated an interest in staying in touch with me and has been very conversant via email so far. I am not interested in leaving my firm or trying to follow him to his new employer (which is in a different city). I guess I am just looking for some advice on how to “rebound” from this situation, or tales of similar experiences that can make me feel less disappointed about losing this great mentor in my workplace, and help me turn it into a positive thing.

Well, people like this are going to come and go throughout your career, and all you can really do is to take advantage of their immediate presence while you have it, let them know how much you appreciate them (don’t skip this step!) and make a real effort to stay in touch when they move on.

Keep in mind that he’s leaving you with a barometer for what great management looks like — which can be hugely important when you’re trying to assess others or find a model for your own management practices later on. Plus, since he was fantastic, you presumably learned a lot from him — and now’s your chance to apply it on your own, which is the ultimate test of whether his lessons will stick or not.

4. How do I know if I’m exempt or non-exempt?

I am employed as a manager in a small company. I am salary but have no way on knowing if I am exempt or nonexempt. There is no policy manual (!) And no notation on my pay stub. Short of asking the boss, how can I determine the answer? And, is it a law that we have a policy manual?

Nope, no law requires a policy manual.

Whether you’re exempt or non-exempt isn’t up to your employer; it’s determined by the government, based on the type of work you do. You can read more here:

You’ll know whether your employer is treating you as exempt or not by whether you get paid overtime when you work more than 40 hours in a week. If you do — and/or if your pay is docked when you work fewer hours — you’re being treated as non-exempt.

Of course, plenty of employers mis-categorize people, whether intentionally, or through ignorance of law, or because they just got it wrong .. so it’s worth looking at the law yourself and making sure it’s being done correctly in your workplace.

5. What kind of contact should I have with my references and when?

I’m in high school. I am very new to applying to jobs, and your blog has made the process seem less frightening. I am a bit confused about references. I recently applied for a summer job, and when I applied I asked three people to be my references. I’m happy to say that I have gotten a request for an interview. Should I let my references know? Do I need to give them a copy of my resume? The three of them know me well; one is my piano teacher, one is my boss, and the other is a volunteer coordinator. But they don’t know me out of these capacities. Would it be a good idea to let them know about the job description?

Also, if I apply for another job and use them for references do I have to ask them again if I could use them as a reference?

Usually the best thing to do is to let your references know once you’re at a stage of the process where they’re likely to be contacted (usually toward the end). However, with summer jobs, they’re often checking references after a single interview, so I think it would be fine to let them know now — or, alternately, right after the interview if the interview goes well. (Or, if it was very recent that you asked them for permission initially, you may not even need the second notification, since it’ll still be reasonably in the front of their minds. The same goes for asking them a second time if you apply for another job — as long as the initial request was within the last couple of months, you should be fine.)

You don’t need to give them a copy of your resume, since reference-checkers will want to ask them about their own work with you and their knowledge of you; they’re not going to get into other work you’ve done for other people.

Letting them know the job description is sort of a bonus but not necessary, especially for summer jobs. (That can be more useful later on, when you’re applying for higher level jobs, which have more nuanced demands.) Good luck!

{ 113 comments… read them below }

  1. Jessa*

    Regarding the exempt/non exempt, is there any reason you can’t just ask? I mean it’s a perfectly reasonable question so you can plan expenses. It makes a huge difference whether or not you get OT for instance. Also shouldn’t this have come up in salary negotiations. Someone who is not due overtime would normally want a slightly higher salary to make up for the fact over time.

    1. TheSnarkyB*

      I think the problem here is whether OP feels they should already know this. Esp if they’re not new to the job, or if their manager isn’t always receptive. In the same situation, I’d be afraid of someone laughing in my face and saying, “How do you not know that already?” But I also worry a lot, so that may not be a rational expectation.

      1. Elysian*

        I would be more worried that if OP asks outright, that her manager either wouldn’t know what exempt/nonexempt means (you’d be surprised) or if he knew, would think that OP’s question insinuated a threat of a lawsuit or something. If overtime is the crux of her question, OP might be better off asking “Is this position eligible for overtime?” rather than Am I exempt? A less “legal” framing to the question might be less off-putting.

        1. AB*

          Or if the OP has already done overtime and is wondering if she’ll get paid for it…
          If she got an offer letter when she started, it would probably say on there.

          1. Ethyl*

            That was my thought — my offer letters have typically stated that. But yeah, there’s no reason your manager or HR should react badly to you wanting to know how overtime is handled — it’s not always “get paid or not get paid,” some places (like many of the environmental firms I worked for) compensated OT by giving you the equivalent amount of PTO.

              1. Gjest*

                Would it be legal if the employee is exempt, but the company is just offering PTO for OT as a benefit? Not sure if that’s what’s going on here, but just curious.

                1. fposte*

                  I would bet it would be legal, because in that case you’re not talking legally mandated OT but essentially an organizational perk, and the FLSA wouldn’t even apply to the employee.

                2. Elysian*

                  I believe that state employees can get PTO instead of OT, but it must be at a rate of 1.5 hours PTO per hour of OT (and therefore a lot of departments might choose not to do that as a policy). Federal employees can get time off in lieu of OT pay on a 1:1 basis, so I think it’s more popular in the federal sector. That’s my (potentially incorrect) understanding.

                3. Elysian*

                  It could – I believe it’s permissible under federal law for states to grant nonexempt employees PTO in lieu of cash OT, but states could certainly set their own laws/policies about whether or not they want to do it.

                4. fposte*

                  Elysian, just to be clear, you still mean states can grant that to state employees, not to private employees in their state, right?

                5. Elysian*

                  fposte – Correct! Sorry if I was unclear – states can give PTO in lieu of cash OT to state and local employees. If they want to. The FLSA does not allow private employers to give PTO in lieu of cash, and state law can’t trump the FLSA. Any PTO in lieu of cash OT would have to be with a government employee.

                6. Gjest*

                  Elysian, what if it’s not in lieu of cash though? If you are exempt, and not going to get anything anyway, but your company offers PTO just as a perk? Note, I have no idea if US companies try to do this, I was just curious. I am currently working in Europe, and this is what I get- no OT, but time off in lieu.

    2. Jennifer*

      Well, I got surprised at finding out my own status something like 11 years into the job when they changed everyone’s paychecks based on their exempt status or not. In my case, we can TECHNICALLY be paid overtime, even though nobody ever works overtime (I did it once, ever), so surprise, we’re non-exempt. If you never, ever work overtime, then it doesn’t exactly come up as something you’d know. The exempt people here seem to have more flexible hours, i.e. they’re supposed to work 8 a day but they work 7-4 or something like that. Again, how would we be able to tell?

  2. HRAnon*

    Alison I think you have a typo in #4… if you don’t get overtime you are being treated as exempt, and if they dock your pay for fewer hours, non-exempt.

  3. coconutwater*

    3. OP, were you able to let the Manager know just how much you learned from him? Was there a going away party? Maybe you need to connect for closure and let him know either in person or in writing, how much you learned from him and how much you appreciated your year training with him. Sounds like it was quite an honor to work with him and you are somewhat grieving. Allow yourself to go through the process. The good part is that you are still in contact so he is has not left your life completely.

  4. Sara M*

    For what it’s worth, #3, you’re not alone. I also had a manager I thought was amazing, and I grieved when I left that company for unrelated reasons. Definitely write a note to him/her and talk about specifically what was so great about their management. It will mean a lot to him/her.

  5. Gjest*

    #4 Just curious about exempt/non-exempt. In my last job, I was exempt, so no overtime for working over 40 hrs. However, if I worked 12 hours one day, then came in 2 hours late the next day, they would take 2 hours PTO away from me (even if, over the course of the week, I worked 40 hours or more). It always felt like they treated exempt meaning we could always work more than 40 hours, but we could never work less.

    How is PTO factored in? I know they can’t dock your pay, but can they get around that by forcing you to use PTO?

    I know this sounds dangerously close to an “Is this legal?” question :)

    1. Chuchundra*

      There aren’t any federal laws and very few state laws governing PTO so employers can make you use it as they direct.

      If you’re out of PTO, however, they can’t dock your pay.

    2. Anne 3*

      As the commenters above stated, I think they can do that, but it’s a very bad policy. The employer won’t create any goodwill by doing this.

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      That’s the kind of management that gets people to watching the clock and dropping whatever they’re doing after exactly 8 hours.

    4. Joey*

      Well technically DOL says its okay when you deduct leave for an exempt employee in any amount subject to a policy. So my interpretation has always been if there isn’t a policy they shouldn’t be doing it.

      But do you really want to nickle and dime employees for an hour here and there when they don’t recieve compensation for working beyond 40 hours?

    5. AFT*

      My current employer is the same way. And I’m realizing that policies like this don’t inspire much loyalty.

    6. Gjest*

      I figured there wasn’t anything legally wrong with it, but yes, it did not create goodwill. That is only one of the many reasons that it was my last job, not my current job :) They pulled crap like this all the time.

  6. Not So NewReader*

    OP 1. I have had some extraordinary bosses and coworkers, too. One little thing that has helped some is to adopt some of their finest characteristics and make those my own characteristics. And yeah, if any of these people popped back into my life, I would help them in a heartbeat, if they needed something, even though we have been out of touch for longer than a decade.
    It’s fine to grieve their absence. But look around. Is there another awesome boss/coworker around you? Perhaps someone is looking up to YOU and you have not noticed them? I don’t expect to ever stop missing the awesome people I have met but it does help to ease things if I look for ways to pay it forward.

  7. Not So NewReader*

    OP 1: Clearly, I had you on my mind while writing another post. I am seeing a huge red flag here. For myself, I would consider withdrawing my application. If they are willing to behave this way when they have just met you, what will they be doing once you have been there a few years? People are usually on their best behavior when they first meet. Is this an environment where no one is allowed to ask questions? Do you want to work in an environment where you constantly get corrected and feel you have to explain/defend yourself?
    At best this is Tension City. It sounds like HR is in melt down because the status of the grant is up in the air. Unless she is new on her job, I would expect her to be used to this by now and have a SOP that she falls into for such situations.

    The reason I think this way is because you said someone else had the same experience. You are seeing their true colors. Back to the dating parallel- if someone you were seeing spoke to you like this early in the relationship, then how long would you stay in that relationship?

    1. PEBCAK*

      The only reason I’d dispute this is that the weird email came from HR and *not* the supervisor. A dysfunctional HR department may have absolutely no effect on your day-to-day job.

      1. Dan*

        I had a nice five year run at my previous employer. If I would have let the aloof HR guy at the time cloud my judgement on whether or not I should have taken the position, I would have missed out on an awesome opportunity.

        HR is something job seekers learn to put up and dance the dance with. You are right, we rarely see them after hire.

      2. Gjest*

        Yes, HR at my last job was horrendous at communication. I suggest the OP contacts her potential supervisor, rather than HR, since this HR person has not proven helpful (and actually kind of bitchy).

  8. Anon Accountant*

    OP1- If I were you, I’d advise to keep job searching. If I read/am comprehending correctly if they don’t receive the grant, there’s no job for you? What if the grant doesn’t go through at all?

    And a reasonable person should have understood why candidates are worried, especially if they resigned jobs to accept this offer.

    1. Chinook*

      I agree, OP #1, you need to go back to job searching because the grant may have fallen through. And while the stress of the lack of funding would explain that person’s harsh reaction to you, it also shows either a lack of planning on their part (I.e. They didn’t want for confirmation before sending out job offers) or a lack of commitment from the government. These are both red flags.

      1. Gilby*

        Agree with all above.

        It concerns me a lot that they offered jobs to people when they knew the funding was not there yet to support it.

        That shows nothing good about the company regarding their planning as well as their respect to employees. They have to have known that some people probably quit their jobs for this one and to just pull it like that with no new date leaving the new employee with no income and/or ins is terrible.

        And to be rude to people inquring about it? How can she not know people will be upset and want to know what is going to heppen with the job?

        Even if HR was frazzled herself, responding to you as if you should have just been like….. ” Oh,,, No problem……” without any concern and wanting some answers shows a lack of professioanlism on her part, not the OP’s.

        Look for another job….

        1. Dan*

          I’ve been in the government contracting business long enough. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the offer letters are pre-mature — I’ve never seen anybody wait until the funding is *in* before making offers. Offers are made when people are available and companies want to snag them.

          IME, it seems like funding that comes as planned is a rare event. Which is why when I interview for jobs in “my field” one of the longest parts of the interview is a heart-to-heart talk about funding and its stability.

          None of that excuses HR’s behavior, however.

  9. FiveNine*

    At the same time, it sounds like this is one person in HR. It’s hard to know if it’s worth ending the relationship over someone who might never again be a major factor in OP’s dynamics with the six people who conducted the interviews.

    That said, there has been no written job offer, and in a sense there’s no formal relationship to ask whether can be saved. It sucks, but I would advise the OP to say yes, she’s still interested, but not expect the phone to ring.

    1. Artemesia*

      It is pretty outrageous for a company to set a start date when they don’t have the money to hire the person. My daughter just went through a hiring process like this and they were VERY clear that the hoped for offer was not final until they had the expected contract signed and delivered. The start date was entirely tentative until they had it in the bag. Ethical companies always make a situation like this crystal clear so that no jobs are quit or other unrepairable steps taken until everything is secure.

      For the OP to be told a start date and be surprised when told it was on hold suggests a breathtaking level of incompetence or dishonesty on the part of the company. The OP may want to keep this on the burner, but an aggressive further job search is definitely necessary. Assume this one is not going anywhere.

      1. Observer*

        It could be dishonesty or just a communications gap. The OP is absolutely correct to be concerned. On the other hand, if you’ve been in the non-profit field, especially dealing with grant specific positions, long enough it seems obvious that the job probably won’t start without a sign-off from somewhere outside of the organization.

        I’m not giving the HR person a pass here. It’s her job to make sure that the situation is crystal clear, and not to depend on assumptions, especially since this seems to be a relatively entry level position. And, someone absolutely did drop the ball in not giving the new people more notice.

        As for getting huffy about expressing concern, that’s just stupid. But, lots of “HR” people are absolutely NOT really HR people by training, and they just don’t know how to deal with this stuff.

        1. Joey*

          See I have a different perspective. If I managed a grant funded position I really wouldn’t count on HR to ensure my new hire was crystal clear about what that meant for her. If they do it great, but because if something goes wrong it affects me most its pretty careless of me to not ensure its taken care of. So if I were the op I’d be concerned about working for a manager that doesn’t really have her shit together or value me enough to ensure I know what I’m signing up for.

      2. fposte*

        I think it’s outrageous to hire before they’re *awarded* the grant, but sometimes the problem isn’t the award but the disbursement. If that’s what it is, it’s not the organization’s fault. If you know the grant name, you might be able to check on its status–these things are pretty heavily PRed and very public.

        However, HR is handling this absolutely horribly. I agree to keep looking, but if there’s an actual direct supervisor, I might check in with her as well to clarify (or “clarify”). Sometimes HR just doesn’t know anything.

        1. TL*

          Yeah, the grant I was hired off of had already come through but right before they wanted to hire me, the organization changed/overhauled its accounting system so they had to pause on the hiring to figure it out and make sure all the money was coming from the right place and getting signed by the right person.

          But they were very upfront about what was happening.

        2. Diane*

          We start the hiring process before a grant is awarded so we can have people on the ground and running as soon as the grant starts–but we are very clear with candidates that positions are contingent on funding. We would not be snippy with a new employee.

          The snippy HR person is an ass. How is the hiring manager behaving? If she is dismissive, there’s a huge red flag.

    1. AVP*

      Sometimes. I would suggest it if you do that, since the person you call might be confused and wondering why the person they fired three months ago is listing them as a reference! (I get those calls occasionally, and they usually leave me wondering.)

  10. the gold digger*

    Keep in mind that he’s leaving you with a barometer for what great management looks like

    I have mixed emotions in my current job now that I realize that the bosses I have had up to now have all been wonderful and I was really spoiled. I didn’t know how good I had it and I didn’t appreciate it at the time. I had never had a bad boss before so I didn’t know they all weren’t like the ones I had.

    PS Yes, I have emailed them – we keep in touch – to tell them what great bosses they were.

  11. Anon*

    #5 When I was in college and asked my professors to write letters of recommendation (for internships, summer programs, grad school, etc.) they often asked to see my application materials and the job/internship description. Seeing my essay or cover letter helped them understand why I wanted the position and let them see why I was telling the hiring manager I would be great at it. So they were able to tailor their comments to that. Letters of recommendation are a bit unique because they’re not a two way conversation like a reference check. Still, it’s gotten me in the habit of sharing all that information with my references.

    I also think it’s important to give your references a copy of your resume if you haven’t worked with them in a while. Sounds like this isn’t the case with the OP, but it’s nice to let your references know what you’ve been up to and how you’ve developed professionally since they supervised you.

    1. themmases*

      I do the same thing, and now that you mention it it’s also probably from requesting letters of recommendation. I just see it as minimizing the work involved for someone doing me a favor– I don’t want to make them guess what I’m doing or ask for materials I could have just sent them.

      I think a lot of that can and should be covered in the email to ask them to be a reference. Just by way of catching up, I usually thank people for the last time they were a reference for me, because it helped me get my current position doing X, Y, and Z. I’m ready now to look for positions focusing more tightly on X, and would they mind being a reference again during my search? I also let them know if I think my job/employer is a good opportunity for their other students/employees, so it’s less of a one-way street. Then I offer them my updated resume if they want it, because I don’t like sending attachments out of the blue to people I may not have contacted recently. Most people have wanted it.

  12. SA*

    I have been in this situation. I worked for a truly awesome manager for 7 years. He changed roles and I started working for another manager, not quite as awesome. I was fortunate that original manager is still at the company and we continue to have a great relationship.

    Try to keep an open mind about your new manager and not compare everything she does to your old manager. Look for something in her that you can also admire and hopefully you will find it. And be aware that her management style will likely be different. You can build up a lot of goodwill by welcoming her and not showing resentment, even if you feel it, or constantly talking about your old manager. This last part comes from my experience both as a manager and an employee. I have taken over teams from managers who were loved (and hated) and been on teams taken over. The employees who welcomed me I ended up having a much better working relationship with than the ones who repeatedly said ‘that’s not how we do that.’

    1. AdAgencyChick*

      This is such valid advice. Even if your next manager doesn’t quite have the connection with you, she could be fantastic, and you’ll learn from her style just as you learned from your old boss’s.

      Having been on both sides of this situation, I’ll say that OP, you haven’t lost a mentor. A boss who cares about you enough that you’re “professionally heartbroken” when he leaves isn’t going to stop caring, stop offering advice, or stop answering your questions. (Obviously, now that he’s no longer your direct boss, you need to keep those questions to more significant issues than “how do I do this TPS report?”) In fact, this could be a great thing for you. Even if you don’t want to go to his new company now, chances are that at some point in the future you’ll want another job, and at that point this boss, if he doesn’t hire you himself, is probably going to be willing to put in a good word for you with his industry contacts — and he’ll have more industry contacts than he would have had if he’d stayed at your company. Bingo, your network has expanded, and you didn’t even have to do anything!

      I can tell you that being on the other side of this situation recently, I still have regular contact with the one of my former direct reports who was the most, as you put it, “professionally heartbroken” at my departure. I actually like things better not being his boss, because now I can allow myself to connect on a more friendship level, while still acting as a mentor when he wants one. There’s no way I would have cut off contact just because he’s no longer reporting to me!

  13. Joey*

    Why not just ask when you have or are scheduled to work over 40 hours? Obviously it would have been ideal to ask before you accepted , but unless there’s reason to believe you’ll work more than 40 its a non issue.

    1. Sadsack*

      If OP#4 is hesitant to ask the manager, couldn’t he or she ask HR? That shouldn’t be a big deal. I would frame it as, “This may be a silly question, but is my position exempt or nonexempt? Just curious.” I think there are other benefits to being exempt, such as better severance deals, but I am not sure what other differences there are.

  14. Ella*

    #3 – “I’m whatever the professional equivalent of heartbroken is”.
    Been there, dear me, been there.
    He was, is, will be my benchmark.
    I try and see it this way – I am happy I have had such a wonderful experience in my life. I do not take it for granted.

  15. Artemesia*

    I think it is important to provide references with, if not a resume, with information about yourself that will strengthen their reference. Teachers, former employer etc may not remember you very well and vague references don’t do you a lot of good. If it is a teacher a note that describes some of the work you did with them and the activities you participated in the school gives them the ability to be specific in their recommendation. They have hundreds of students over a short period of time and a vague sense that you are a good students is not as powerful than being able to talk about your leadership in a group project, or your excellent work on the school paper.

    The resume is also helpful in helping them recall in specific details about you but if not that, at least a note that reminds them of some of the things they might ‘know’ about you is a good move. This is triply important if they are writing a letter of reference. I know when I was hiring we always required letters, often after talking with the person giving the reference. I realize that this is not the case with many jobs.

    1. Elsajeni*

      Very true, especially for teachers and professors — depending on the type of classes you took from them, they may have seen all kinds of different aspects of your work, and it’ll be helpful for them to know what type of position you’re applying to so they know whether to focus on your great writing skills, the really insightful data analysis you did for that one presentation, or your amazing ability to keep your project group working smoothly even when they didn’t all get along.

  16. BCW*

    #1 Let me just say that overall, grant funded jobs kind of suck. One of my earlier jobs was grant funded. During the hiring process I was never told that this was an issue, since the grant had been renewed for years, and they didn’t think twice. However some things happened during my first year with the funding agent, and no one was sure if they would renew it. Essentially my manager pulled me in and said “We are going to keep you on, but if they come back to us and say that they aren’t renewing, we’ll have to let you go immediately”. I didn’t wait around to find out what happened, I found a new job (luckily) pretty fast. But if this is an issue now, when you do get it, I’d find out all kinds of information such as how long the grant will last, how long before the end will you know if they aren’t renewing, etc.

    1. pgh_adventurer*

      These are all good questions–even if the grant does come through and OP1 is indeed hired, how long will that job last? The same thing could happen all over again in a year.

    2. Artemesia*

      All good advice except that the OP has already been scolded for asking the obvious questions that any sensible person would ask when told that the Monday start date was bogus and the position unfunded.

        1. BCW*

          Exactly. It wasn’t an HR issue at my place, it was more between development and my manager. So if the OP does decide to keep it, those should be the people she is speaking with.

    3. themmases*

      This is a very good point. I’ve seen research grants pulled or put on hold in situations that I would have thought were a done deal. Once, I volunteered to be a research subject for another department that had secured a grant. They’d set up the whole study, had a fund, and had space and personnel ready– I actually went in for my first appointment and was given a bunch of study materials. (This would have taken months of work and negotiations and a signed contract to set up.) The PI called me that afternoon to tell me the funding had been pulled and I didn’t need to do any of the study procedures.

      If I secured a grant-funded job, especially just a single grant, I would basically never stop looking. You just never know.

  17. kdizzle*

    In regards to #1, I don’t know if this is the norm with grant frunded positions (since I only have one data point), but at the university I used to work at, it was absolute administrative torture to get the money into our accounts to pay for the work to do the grant.

    Sometimes, we’d only get the money after the grant period was over(!) How are you supposed to hire someone and expect them to work on a project when you can’t pay them? It can be an extremely frustrating process. I’m not defending the person at the organization, as it seems like their reply was a bit much…but I think it’s important to consider that relying on grant funding for your livelihood is inherently stressful since so many things are outside of your control.

    1. fposte*

      That’s what I’m wondering. Federal grants ran into this last year because of the sequester, which both affected current funding and delayed the awards until they ran into start dates. I have a relative who’s been on soft money for over a decade and finally took a hard money position that paid less just for the stability.

      No question HR is handling it horribly, but the initial problem might not be the organization’s.

      1. fposte*

        I just looked up stuff about grant funding in my seriously broke state, and there are definitely indications that funding is sometimes not coming through when it should. So again, this might not be the org’s bad planning.

      2. Dan*

        The other way to look at it is that the uncertainty for “soft money” positions requires a risk premium, ie better pay. Why? ‘Cause when you’re out on your butt with no notice, you need some $ to tide you over. All else being equal, it makes no economic sense to take a “soft money” position that pays the same as a hard money position.

        1. fposte*

          Right. My relative is getting older and decided a solid but slightly lower hard money position was preferable from a security point of view, even if it was a lower income.

          1. Dan*

            I realize we’re picking nits here, but you phrase it as if he is/was making a concession by taking lower pay. I don’t see it that way. To me, it’s a simple math game, assuming you properly quantify how long you would be on soft money and the unemployment line, compared to the hard money secure job. I realize making those estimates can be a tall order.

            When I started my career, I looked at some fed jobs. Best case scenario, I would come in at a GS9. In the DC area, that’s not a whole lot of dough. I took a job with a contractor for the same agency, making $20k more PLUS overtime at straight pay. And I worked a lot of it.

            Having just spent two months on the unemployment line, I can say that was a gamble that paid off.

            1. fposte*

              He felt he was making a concession. I think since it’s his money, he’s entitled to feel how he wants.

        2. TL*

          That’s interesting. In my field, you get paid a lot less in academia research (which is mostly soft-money funded, though stable) than you would in industry, which has hard money.

          But there aren’t really hard money nonprofit positions that I’m aware of.

        3. kdizzle*

          All else being equal, sure…

          What I’ve found is that the demand for many of these jobs (grant funded, non-profit, etc) is high enough where you wouldn’t need to pay a compensating wage differential to offset the risk of being on soft money. I’m thinking…people often sacrifice salary and job security for an altruism effect and warm fuzzies knowing that they’re “making a difference.”

          Of course, warm fuzzies don’t put beer in the belly (or food on the table), but it’s a nice notion, nonetheless.

            1. Dan*

              Yeah, I put the “E” in STEM.

              More to kdizzle’s comment, I think a lot of us do want to make a difference, the only question is how.

              A few guys left my old company to go for Google. Why’d they leave? Because the work they were doing wasn’t going anywhere. At a place like Google, they’re always trying to innovate, so your work should be making a difference.

              1. kdizzle*

                I can completely understand why someone in a STEM field would require additional compensation for the risk of a soft money job. Point taken.

                My experience has been more with poorly compensated young people who need the job, like the mission, and end up making copies and doing lit reviews. We used to get hundreds of completely qualified applicants for each of those jobs.

                Really interesting perspectives though. Good comments.

          1. Observer*

            Actually, you DO need to pay it, but most organizations don’t. And they suffer for it. The smart ones do a lot to keep good quality staff, but there are some good reasons why it’s so hard to keep really good people in the non-profit sector. One of them is this – no job is ever “guaranteed” forever. But the level of instability in too many positions is insane and eventually drives a lot of people out.

            It’s not obvious unless you are really close to it, but I’ve seen it happen again and again. And, the costs are hidden but very real.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I’d quibble with that a bit — many nonprofits jobs as just as guaranteed as for-profit jobs … which is to say not at all if layoffs happens, but otherwise not grant-dependent. Nonprofits have lots of roles that aren’t grant-funded — like finance, admin, operations, I.T., as well as lots of core program work. They can certainly be eliminated in a funding catastrophe, but that’s true of for-profits facing funding crunches or restructures too.

              1. Observer*

                That’s true. And that’s really what keeps the whole thing going – and makes the other roles, including the grant funded ones, possible. But, these roles tend to be under constant scrutiny (I mean more than is reasonable) and face constant pressure because many of them are seen as “Overhead” which is EVIL. Fortunately, there is FINALLY beginning to be some push back in this area, but it’s going to take a long time till mainstream (and mainstream funder) attitudes reach a more sensible balance.

                And, in my experience, even direct service in the core mission can be more unstable than the private sector, assuming reasonably well run organization. For instance, New York State went for decades without having a budget ready on time. The effects of that on core services can be lovely. It’s hard to plan around that -especially if you have a lot of government funding, which mostly effectively prohibits you from keeping much of a cash reserve… Then there are the policy pivots that government agencies do, some of which you simply can’t really predict – in NYC, there were certain sharp changes in funding due to Mayor Bloomberg’s attitudes, and they hit a lot of very well agencies very hard. Pivots can be even more sudden with private sector funders (like foundations) because they don’t run for office and they don’t have the same policy making rules and requirements as government agencies.

                So, yes, more stable than grant funded positions. But still a real headache.

            2. TL*

              I worked at a very large non-profit and only the actual researcher staff was on grants. Support staff, administration, high-level management, ect… all of them were paid from the institution and not from grants.

              And it also gave occasional internal grants to researchers, when meant it basically paid some of the researchers as well.

          2. TL*

            In the sciences, many of the grant-funded positions are intended to be short-term (research tech, post docs, even graduate students to a certain degree) and generally any long-term employees, like lab managers, are put on a core grant or are on several grants.

            They pay (a lot) less than the hard-money industry jobs and you work more, but you get more freedom in choosing research projects and you can get published in much better places, which has significant impact on your resume.

      3. Dan*

        I just started a new job, and was lucky in that I had another offer to turn down.

        My position is very well funded, the other position is not funded nearly as well. While the outright pay at the job I took was only slightly better than the job I turned down, some of the benefits are phenomenal. In fact, there was nothing at the job that I turned down that was better than the job I took.

        Yet, the job I turned down tried to give me a guilt trip “we were really hoping you would come and work for us… is there anything we can do?” They also had their CEO call me, presumably for the same purpose.

        What I wanted to ask them, but didn’t, was why I would take a job with more uncertain funding for less money.

  18. ChristineSW*

    #1 – This is probably a common scenario in the nonprofit world with government funding being so thin these days. Also, as we’ve learned here at AAM, no job is secure without the written offer.

    Is it possible that the reference and background checks have not been cleared yet? Might that be why 1) the offer letters haven’t been sent and, more importantly, 2) why the funding hasn’t been approved yet?

    All that being said, I think the employer could’ve handled this better. Did the email even acknowledge the extreme short-notice nature of the delay of your start date? Also, while we don’t know what your email said, it sounds like what you were asking was completely appropriate and warranted. I’d say go ahead and express your continued interest, and watch for how they respond going forward. Meanwhile, continue your job search in the event this falls through.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, interesting, Christine–there are situations where funding release is contingent on things like background checks? Our funding never is–even if we’re supposed to do it, it’s part of execution rather than a funding release requirement. I suppose you’re used to situations of extremely vulnerable populations where it would make more sense.

      1. ChristineSW*

        Oh I have no idea–I was just guessing about funding being contingent on background checks. This being state funding, it wouldn’t surprise me. FTR: My experience is with county-level funding, but I don’t look at the administrative aspects–the county staff does that (I’m a volunteer advisory council member).

        Sorry, didn’t mean to suggest that as fact, but now you’ve got me wondering!

  19. Anonniemouse*

    A similar question to #5, would an interviewer think poorly if I didn’t bring a reference list to a first interview? Is that normal, or do they usually not ask until later?

    1. BCW*

      I’ve never brought one with me to an interview. If they want them, I just say I can email them when I get home. Never had a problem with it.

    2. Elysian*

      It’s not essential to bring a reference list to an interview, but I usually bring copies of all my prepared application materials, even stuff I’ve already sent to them. (For me, that’s resume, transcript, writing sample, reference list, cover letter.) Then you have copies if you need it; if your interviewer didn’t print things out, or if someone decided to add an additional interviewer at the last minute who didn’t have time to review your materials. This has happened to me, and I think it reflects well. The person pulled in at the last minute didn’t have to go without a copy of my resume, because I had one I could give him.

      So it’s not weird if you don’t bring it. You can always email it later. But it never hurts to show up prepared.

    3. Q5Asker*

      For the summer job, the company requested that everyone bring a reference list to the first interview. I’m not sure about what type of job you’re applying for, but I think it’s normal for summer jobs…

  20. ETF*

    OP 1. Red flag # 1: 6 interviews. Red flag # 2: employer who acts like you are in the wrong to ask a perfectly reasonable and legitimate question about your salary, start date, and written offer. They are taking you on one heck of a bumpy ride, and you haven’t even started yet. If I were you, I would not continue to invest time in this abusive organization.

    1. Dan*

      I read enough from people on this board who go on “multiple interviews.” In my professional career, that’s only happened if I needed to speak with key people who just couldn’t be available on the day everybody else was. Every time I’ve flown out for an interview, it’s usually a half to a full day affair — but never in any sort of “elimination” round capacity.

      My field pays well, so if the company screws up, there’s plenty on the line. What I would like to know is what it is about these jobs that require multiple “rounds” of interviews. If they can hire me at a decent salary on one round, why do they require more rounds for less money?

      1. ETF*

        Everyone has a different threshold for what they will endure prior to being hired. I suppose if the nonprofit is super prestigious and the hiring process is extremely competitive, so that employment there will greatly benefit the OP’s career, or the OP really really really wants to work there, there might be a reason to acquiesce to multiple interviews.

        But to me, it seems crazy for this organization to demand the OP come in for six interviews, and then, after putting the OP through all that hoopla, chew the OP out for asking fundamental, important questions about what the OP can expect from the company. Frankly, that is disgusting behavior on the nonprofit’s part.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Multiple rounds of interviews makes sense for very senior or high-profile positions, or roles that are simply tricky to find the right person for and that involve very particular combinations of soft skills.

      3. Jen in RO*

        I find it pretty normal to have multiple interviews (2-3, more would be weird). For my previous job: HR interview, team lead interview (both on the same day), written test (at home), manager interview (different day – on video conference since he was in another country). Job I’m currently interviewing for: HR interview, peer interview (same day), written test (at home), product manager interview (different day), division manager interview (to be scheduled). I was told in advance that the process is lengthy and I’m pretty happy about it really – I get to meet more people and see if it’s a good fit.
        (Note: all this happened in the city I live in, no long travel involved.)

      1. Elysian*

        Eh. It really depends on her job duties, and we don’t know them. Companies can title anyone they want ‘manager’ but it doesn’t mean they’re exempt.

    1. TL*

      My friend was titled a manager so the business that hired her could get away with not paying overtime (nevermind that she made a lot less than $24000/yr) but her duties would not have allowed her to be exempt.

      1. fposte*

        Titling her a manager isn’t enough to make her exempt if she doesn’t meet the pay standards; it just makes their attempt to dodge federal law more obvious.

  21. Dan*


    OP, most of the conversation has centered around HR being a bunch of morons, which I agree.

    But something that’s been discussed, although much more subtly, is that you aren’t getting answers because they likely don’t have any. While I have no experience with grant funded positions, I do have enough in the federal contracting world. Money rarely comes in on schedule, even when management has no reason to believe it would be delayed.

    IMHO, that’s the only thing that’s important here — the funding is uncertain, and may not happen. Continue job searching for this reason alone.

    1. ChristineSW*

      That I can vouch for. I wrote a Letter of Support for a former professor at my university (at her request) for a federal grant that’d enable expanded curriculum within her School. As it turned out, they recommended for funding, but the money wasn’t there. Not sure of the specifics, but yeah…it can happen. We were so disappointed.

    2. Ruffingit*

      Such good advice. Anything contingent on funding that isn’t already in place will be uncertain. Keep looking.

  22. Ruffingit*

    #1 is definitely Red Flag Town. I’m guessing the woman is a bit embarrassed that she gave a start date that is not correct and is now trying to put it on the OP as being “outrageous” to even ask about it. That way, the OP can feel like maybe she’s the unprofessional one meanwhile truth is that it’s the hiring manager who is a problem.

    In any case, it’s absolutely normal to ask about start dates and when you might be able to expect to receive a paycheck. Most people do not have even a month to wait around if they’re not going to be working. They have to keep on looking.

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